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Making a Plane Iron into a Toothing Iron

Something draws us to imperfection-"that hint of ugliness without which nothing works," as Edgar Degas is supposed to have said.

Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing, 1994

The idea for making a regular plane iron into a toothing iron I first saw in Guitar Making, Tradition and Technology, by Cumpiano and Natelson. I had always dismissed it because I am good at thicknessing a piece of wood.

I ruined a good four inch saw file doing this!

I reconsidered using a toothing plane after reading this post on Finely Strung. Christopher Martyn makes some wonderful instruments, so I reasoned "why not try it?"

I bought another Hock Tool blade for my No.3 Stanley plane, marked it for teeth, filed away at it and got it razor sharp.

This is the reason why I thought I would try a toothing blade--fiddle back maple. The seven string classical guitar that I am making has curly maple back and sides, the last thing I want is tearout.

Yes, when I sharpen my plane iron for this task I put a 5-10 degree back bevel on it and I honed the front edge of the Lee Valley chip breaker to 50 degrees just like the guys at Lie Nielsen say you should do. All that work makes the iron work wonders, but I want to give myself a little extra security-this is expensive wood. If I ruin this piece...

I used the iron on the Sitka spruce top for the seven string guitar, it leaves tracks for me to follow with a regular iron.

After smoothing away the tracks with a regular iron I followed up with a well sharpened card scraper to reach the final thickness that I want for this top.

A shot of how fine the toothing lines are on the maple

I will reduce the maple back and sides down to that realm that is a 5/64th to 3/32nd of an inch, my goal is to make a light and responsive guitar.

Why not use a thickness sander, you ask?

I don't want-
the noise
to set up a dust collection system
to use more electricity than I need to
to wear a respirator
or build another tool

I have a head and a heart, and
hands that are attached to my arms,
that are connected to my shoulders, my back,
my hips, my legs, my feet and then
the world--I think they are good enough for doing the work.


  1. I couldn't agree more with your last two paragraphs. Well said!

  2. Hear here!

    Finding ways to work without noise, and maybe with the sounds of guitars, is always welcome in my shop.

    That toothed iron sure does a nice job.

  3. Did You temper the blade to make it softer before filing it and quench it again after?

    1. Nope! Just get a 4 inch saw file and do the work. Do not mess around with heat treating a high quality plane iron unless you have a lot of experience doing the process!

  4. Triangular diamond files are cheap to get and would do the job without moaning.

    Cheers Pedder


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