Full Chisel Blog

December 4, 2008

Building a Coffin Smoother

This is not, I repeat not a tutorial on plane making.  I am not a plane maker, although I have made a dozen planes or so.  I can make a decent plane but they just don’t compare to Clark and Williams, they are plane makers.

Lacking the proper beech, I ended up using hard maple for this small coffin smoother.  It is a copy of an old single iron smoother with a 50 degree pitch blade.  I am using a standard block plane blade (replacement blade for metal block planes), as it is about a 16th inch larger in width than the original.  The original blade is also a bit thicker.


I start out by laying out the shape of the smoother and located the mouth and opening for chips, wedge and blade.


I then drilled with a fine LV Duck Billed Spoon Bit to remove excess in the throat.  This only worked for a while then it was all chisel work.  I noticed that the firmer type chisels worked much better than those with a bevel on the top like a bench chisel.  The flat sides gave better registration on the wood to make more precise square corners.


Here are some of the tools including two saws, not made for this purpose initially they worked well in forming the slots for the wedge and blade, especially the larger saw.  The float was for bedding and end grain work.  To get the angles correct, I would check by placing a straight edge on the outside line drawn on the side with a small straight edge placed on the inside and when they were parallel, the inside angle was correct.


The wide thin (square or rectangular in profile) blade chisel worked well for initial shaping, the float for end grain and the tapered file, using its edge to clean out the throat of the plane.  The original plane has a large throat and works fine, so this one is wide, not quite as wide as the original but I made no attempt to make a fine mouth for this plane.

Note at the top edge, the small red spot, yes that is blood, that sharp piece of maple is very sharp.

I used soot on the back of the blade to mark the high spots on the wood, worked them over with a wide flat chisel then took the float to finish up.  This part has to be flat.


I cut it from the long blank, which help hold the plane while I was working on the throat and mouth.  I did the initial shaping and I have sanded it smooth.  Now I violated a rule here by sanding before scraping, that is not good for the scraper.  I needed to round the edges and top edge and coarse sandpaper (80 grit) did the job. 

I still need to add a bit more bevel and some rounding to the top edges and I need to fancy up the throat a bit to remove the sharp edges. When I am happy with the shape I will scrape the surface smooth.

I still have to make and fit the wedge, but the hardest part of the plane is completed so I can turn my attention to the wedge.

I am considering a nitric acid/water stain on this as that concoction does so well on maple.  Then again I might just slather on some Moses T’s St. John’s Oil, a little burnt umber pigment and call it good.  A final finish will be some Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish



  1. Plane making is indeed quite the art and science.

    I have started making a smoother out of solid Ipe. It has been a challenge. I haven’t ruined it yet, but I haven’t gotten to the really fine points yet either.

    I have cut out most of the rough stuff, and I think I am going to try soaking it in linseed oil to soften up the wood enough to finish cutting out the mouth and other interior parts. It is just too hard and splintery to work satisfactorily in a fine way without some help somehow.

    Another problem I haven’t solved is how to make the layout lines visible. Most marking utensils lay down a dark line and it blends in quite well with the dark wood. I already made one or two minor boo-boos because of not being able to see the lines properly.

    On the bright side, working Ipe has brought out idiosyncracies and irregularities in my techniques that I probably would not have realized for years. It is so hard to work that it seems to multiply my bobbles enormously so that what would work fine in other woods produces effects that totally ruin the piece with Ipe.

    I am hoping I come out with a working smoother, but I sure am not expecting perfection this time around.

    Comment by Luke Townsley — December 4, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

  2. Looking good, Stephen! I have experienced the same thing in planemaking–hogging out the throat is the most time consuming part. Your plane is cute. : )

    Luke, you might be able to paint a white, water-based pigment on the side of your plane and mark your layout lines on top of it.

    Comment by The Village Carpenter — December 4, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  3. Luke,

    Yes I too have also learned the issues with Ipe, so I have chosen to Never work with with it again. It will probably make an excellent hand plane when you are finished. At least it was a learning experience.


    Cute? Well I guess it is cute, I will probably not use the term when I offer this type of plane for sale. I love my original coffin smoother, the single iron set at 50 degrees is such a pleasure to use. And this plane was fun to build and the next ones should go much faster. I call it the SHEPHERD #1, although I do not plan on making any other style bench planes, I do make a toothing plane the same size, I use the same blade but it is serrated with grooves on the flat side.

    Good point on using white paint to ease layout on dark woods.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 6, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

  4. As it were, I gave the plane a coat of St. John’s Oil (linseed oil, turpentine and proprietary ingredients) as a first coat. I will let this dry and will add some stain (burnt umber). By putting the oil on first, I can control the stain uptake in end grain.

    This image is the completed plane before the oil is applied.

    Coffin Smoother


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 6, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

  5. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about having a big thick blade. Does this really make much of a difference?


    Comment by thewoodshopbug — December 6, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  6. Wood Shop Bug,

    Thick blades are the result of laminated blades (thin veneer of steel forge welded to a much thicker backing of wrought iron) and those blades can be hardened beyond solid steel blades.

    A thicker blade will reduce chatter which may or may not matter. I do like laid steel blades and larger ones are available. I have used the blades for toothing planes and the blade in this one is toothed, and I just used it as a pattern, I will buy and sharpen a new blade for this plane. I am not sure how well it will wear for planing but they work fine for toothing.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 6, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

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