View Full Version : first time using a hand plane for thicknessing the sound board....with a question.

02-13-2011, 08:58 PM
Dear all, I hope you all had a great weekend.

I just started to build my super soprano this week. I was trying to bring my engelmann spruce top down to ~ 2 mm, from 4 mm. First I just try to use sand paper. After almost two hours, I only have sanded it down to 3.5 mm.
I thought..man, this is harder than I thought. I then went to the nearest home depot and got a 7" block plane.

This is the very first time I use a hand plane actually. After watching a few video on youtube about how to use a hand plane. I then started to plane the board.

The result was...I almost destroy the board. I managed to bring the thickness down to ~2 mm. The surface was not flat at all. Luckily, after a lot of sanding, I think the soundboard "look quite ok", but I am not too sure whether it is still usable.
I have heard someone mentioned that the soundboard does not have to be absolutely in the same thickness. Is it true?

I truly truly understand now that having a good plane is super important.
I also want to ask you to recommend me some good plane for my next thicknessing attempt. I am only building it in a small apt on my dining table, so it is not possible for me to buy or make a thickness sander.

I know that Lie-Nielsen, and Veritas make great planes, but I hope I don't need to spend over a hundred for this plane. what would you recommend?
Do I have to use a bench plane or block plane? Can I use a smaller plane, like a mini plane or palm plane to do the thicknessing?

Thank you so much for your time.

Ken W
02-14-2011, 04:40 AM
Good for you for even picking up a hand plane! With a little practice and a good sharp tool you will get good results. Though the Lie-Nielsen and other high end tools are great to look at and use, there is no need to spend that kind of money. Find a good, restorable, vintage Stanley, Millers Falls, or Craftsman plane for a under $25 at a flea market or yardsale. Spend some time tuning it up and you will have a tool you can use for several lifetimes. I use an old Stanley #4 for tops and backs but I'm sure that some people prefer a larger #5 and others might even use a smaller block plane. The #4 seems about right for me. Check out this wesite for some good ideas on restoration. Don't be intimidated...it won't take long and the result is well worth the effort.


02-14-2011, 05:17 AM
A couple of things to keep in mind next time:
Make sure the blade is razor sharp. Depending on the blade you may have to sharpen it pretty regularly.
Practice with a piece of scrap wood next time (and always keep a scrap piece handy to check the sharpness, depth, angle etc. of the blade). I wouldn't go near my englemann soundboard before getting really good with a new plane.
Different planes work well with different woods. I almost ruined the Fun Build back when my favorite plane jumped off the surface and ended up gouging the maple in several places. So remember, even with a good plane that's super scary sharp you never know...
Use a steel ruler or other straight edge to check for high/low spots as you progress.
I always leave a little extra wood on and take off the last few tenths with a cabinet scraper (i.e. tenths of a millimeter).

Anyway, I hope these points are helpful.

02-14-2011, 05:18 AM
I 2nd the recommendation for the older flea market Stanley. An additional improvement would be to replace the blade and cap iron with a modern upgrade from Lie-Nielsen or Hock Tools. I have found these blades can really help.


02-14-2011, 05:29 AM
In Cumpiano's book, Guitar Making - Tradition and Technology, they have a section on thinning tops with planes. One little trick they recommend is to use two planes. One has a toothed blade, and the other uses a regular blade. The toothed blade has two purposes. First, it lets you plane difficult grain with less tearout. Second, it makes little grooves that you then shave off with the regular plane. These give you a depth-guide to keep things as even as possible. He also does a diagonal pattern, first with the toothed blade, and then goes across it on the other diagonal to remove the grooves. He repeats this sequence as many times as are necessary to get the thickness he wants. Some people make the toothed blades from regular blades with a small triangular file.

Here is a GoogleBooks shot from that chapter


Sharp blades are essential.

02-14-2011, 05:48 AM
I guarantee you will need to sharpen the blade of any plane you buy at a big box store. Or any store period. Look plane sharpening up on the net. Other adjustments probably need to be made too.

The Curious Kid
02-14-2011, 06:27 AM
AH! I wish I had seen this thread when I started my own build a week ago! It would have saved me a lot of grief.

I found an old Stanley plane in my basement, got all the rust off, tuned it up and spent ages learning to use it to plane my piece before cutting my 1/8" boards on my band saw. I did this to ten boards just in case I goofed up on some. What I ended up with was ten boards planed flat on one side and very rough on the other. I tried to plane the other sides, but I was defeated in the task of securing them to my workbench. I ended up using them as they were and had many issues as a result

So what I'd love to know for my next build is: How the heck do you get a 1/8" thick board to stay put on a workbench while you are planing it?


02-14-2011, 08:44 AM
@ Curious. Use a bench hook. Google it, you can make one in 5 minutes. Also, it is easier to plane with the grain runout than against it.

02-14-2011, 08:54 AM
If the idea of tuning up an old plane scares you, the cheapest ready-to-use plane you can buy is probably this guy:


Reputed to be pretty good out of the box, it's plenty long enough for ukulele-sized wood. Make sure you camber the cutting edge or at least round the corners of the iron so that they don't gouge, and then go slowly.

The hardest thing for me about thicknessing tops by hand is securing them to the bench.

02-14-2011, 09:30 AM
In the picture I posted the link to, he uses a fairly large jawed clamp on one end of the piece. You can see the jaw of the clamp against his belly in the picture as he leans over it to plane. Then, he planes as much as he can diagonally, and turns the piece around and re-clamps it while he finishes that diagonal course. He just keeps rotating the piece as he is doing those diagonal planing strokes until he is finished.

02-14-2011, 12:08 PM
@ Curious

This is what I did as the first time thicknessing the top.
I clamp the board to the bench/dining table with bar clamps and planed the first half. Then rotated the board for planing the other half.
After I planed the board, I sanded the board with a long sanding bar.

In this post, Koa soprano used bench dog. http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?39903-Build-Blog-of-Ukulele-for-my-Nephew
It looks good.

02-14-2011, 12:23 PM
by the way, do I have to use a bench plane?

have anyone use a block plane or mini plane for thicknessing?
like this one:

02-14-2011, 12:59 PM
Those finger planes have convex bottom faces - they're for carving tops that aren't flat (archtops).

02-14-2011, 01:29 PM
I've used the 2 different plane method. Works great for beginners. The toothed blade lets you see where you have gone already, the normal one lets you clean the tooth marks up.

I go at an angle to the wood as described in the Guitar making book. It has some great tips.

This was pretty easy if you take it slow and check progress often. Felt like a decent exercise for my arms as well. Loads cheaper than buying a thickness sander and it feels like you are a little more "one with the wood". ;-)

02-14-2011, 03:07 PM
It helps if your work surface is perfectly smooth. I use an old piece of kitchen counter top for a work surface when doing this kind of work.

When you are finished planing, you can use a scraper instead of sanding.

The only time I use sandpaper is before applying a finish. !/2 hour or so before sanding, I quickly wipe the surface with a wet cloth. This will raise the areas of the surface that had been compressed by planing and scraping.

The Curious Kid
02-14-2011, 03:27 PM
@ UkeforJC, I feel really incompetent for not thinking of that myself. Thanks for sharing.

I would not use a block plane for thickness planing, it's blade is meant to be perfectly straight and have corners and is more for cutting endgrain. The Jack plane, or bench plane, has a beveled blade and doesn't leave gouges, and if it is used well, then you don't have to sand afterward.

Another useful tip I found is that if you need to take off a lot of material with a jack plane, like cup warp, that it is never a sin to go against the grain. Just be careful not to take too much, and always clean up afterward by going with the grain.

hope that helps.

02-16-2011, 01:58 PM
Here you go. Everything you need to know about planes and planing. http://ebookee.org/David-Finck-Making-amp-Mastering-Wood-Planes_917368.html thanks to David for making this free.

09-09-2011, 12:50 AM
I got in touch with David Finck about this download, here is his reply - " Thank you so much for alerting me to this availability! The download is most emphatically not authorized. 10 years ago I took a year to write the book which was published for a time by Sterling. Three years ago I acquired the rights to publish it myself, and so, I now have several thousand copies sitting in a warehouse awaiting interested readers such as yourself. I would also deeply appreciate it if you would post to your uke forum that the download of my book is unauthorized. "

So instead of downloading, buy the book!

09-09-2011, 01:19 AM
I've seen bowyers make their own jigs to take a plunge router - which you move all over the piece to get an even thickness. (so the depth guage is the runners on the side)

may be worth a shot? but use a test piece first to check thicknesses.


09-09-2011, 08:26 AM
I was just treated to a Veritas apron block plane for my birthday. A little smaller than a standard block plane. It's a joy to use, and I'd highly recommend it, even though it's not cheap.

I have a toothing blade on order - these are expensive, hand-made to order with a two month waiting list! But it will be worth it.

This planeis perfectly fine for thicknessing a soprano top. I don't worry about the odd mark from the edge of the blade because I do the final thicknessing with a scraper plane.

As someone already wrote, get the blade sharp. I have an ultra-cheap block plane as well, and bought a Stanley (i.e. mid-range) blade for it. Properly sharpened it's not bad.

Also think about the bevel angle you're going to sharpen to. A fairly steep angle can help with tricky grain.

09-09-2011, 11:07 AM
"I got in touch with David Finck about this download, here is his reply - " Thank you so much for alerting me to this availability! The download is most emphatically not authorized. 10 years ago I took a year to write the book which was published for a time by Sterling. Three years ago I acquired the rights to publish it myself, and so, I now have several thousand copies sitting in a warehouse awaiting interested readers such as yourself. I would also deeply appreciate it if you would post to your uke forum that the download of my book is unauthorized. "

So instead of downloading, buy the book! "

Apologies for this major gaff on my part