How To Control Tear Out With Hand Planes – Understanding The Cap Iron

How To Control Tear Out With Hand Planes – Understanding The Cap Iron

In most of my planes I actually find that the
cap iron is a bit of a hindrance and that’s because in most of my planes it’s not actually
doing anything other than adding an extra process to the sharpening. You see with a,
with a wooden plane like this where it’s just got the single iron, it’s got no cap iron,
a cap iron’s also known as a chip breaker, just to keep the terminology similar there
but this is just a single iron plane, it can also be called a double iron plane, you know
it’s a back iron, that’s another name for it. Nut yea, that’s a single iron plane, just
the wedge and then the stock. So to sharpen that all I have to do is clunk it on the back
of the bench the iron and the wedge come out, I can rub it about a bit on the stone and
put it back together, it’s moments of time to get that going. It’s like a chisel, sharpening
a chisel there’s nothing easier. Something like this, this here has the double iron,
the cap iron, I have to take it to bits, I have to rummage in my pocket for a copper
to unscrew the cap iron and then, then I do my sharpening I’ve got to set it all up I’m
trying not to nick the iron, it’s a pain in the arse, that’s why they annoy me, and if
I could have it my way I would have all of my roughing to medium planes with just a single
iron because it’s quicker it’s easier. Now not everybody is always going to agree with
what I say, I’m well aware of the infinite ways and different approaches that pretty
much every job in woodworking seems to have, but any advice that I give, whether it’s in
these videos, or our blog, it comes from my experience of what puts food on my table I
suppose. It’s from my training what I was shown and that’s really what I do it for,
I like to do my blog and these videos to just pass on a little bit of what I know and hope
that it can help others. So what I’m showing here is not the be all and end all, you may
have your own approach, stand by it stick to it if it works, don’t change if you’re
happy. But with that said I want to move on to the positive of the cap iron, it really
to me makes a smoothing plane, particularly a cheap plane, it turns a cheap plane like
this in to a super smoother. You don’t need to worry about high angles, we don’t have
to worry about tight mouths we can see how open that mouth is, very open. Bloody hell
for smoothing I should be shot for having a mouth that wide, but still you’ll see in
a minute. So I’ve got this plane, this is just a number three, and I’ve got this other
Stanley I think that’s a four. Both of these planes work tremendously well they’re both
set up the same, they’ve both got flat soles I use them both daily, they’re lovely planes.
I have set both of them up with one little difference, and that is that I’ve set the
cap iron marginally further back on this number four. On this plane, on the number three I’ve
got it set to how I’d want it if I looked at a piece of wood and thought oh no, that’s
gonna be a sod. That’s how I would set it. And I wanted to just show the difference on
what a cap iron can make, and well you’ll see for yourself. I’m not going in to bloody
high angled tight mouthed bloody super smoothers here this is just on the cap iron. So I’ve
got this bit now I just dug this out the firewood pile, it’s not the worst piece of wood in
the world I know but I know full well if I touched this with a normal plane set up normally
it’s gonna tear. We can see there’s a great big knot there, there’s a tremendous amount
of reversing grain there, and it’s kiln dried ash, and kiln dried ash is a pain in the arse
at the best of times. It is approaching us as well back here. So we’ll plane them with
both and see what happens, to be honest I know what’s going to happen because I’ve already
tested it with this plane and it works a treat, you’ll see. We’ll wax it up, now remember
this is the one with the cap iron set with a bit more time. So you can hear the difference
when we approach that nasty stuff. So it sounds horrible but wait until you see it. Now I’m
looking at that as close as I bloody can and there is not a speck of tear, and this is
where I just, I always say it I know I wish I could somehow make the cameras see what
I’m seeing because you just can’t get it, but I’ll get a close up later. I’ll do it
again and get a nice close up but you can see hopefully there is nothing there, no tear.
You can see all the barker and lighter colours as you’re going against the grain. I mean
some of that that darker stuff is because we’re almost on end grain, that’s how hard
it’s coming up at us. Get rid of that bugger. Now this has been sharpened to the same standard
like I say the only difference is that cap iron is set back just a smidge more. So far
so good, just let it level out. Sometimes with a plane you’ve got to take a few shavings
just to get it beyond the previous plane, oh yea, did you hear that? ohh, that’s going
to plague me. Ohh. It doesn’t matter even though you plan to do this it still hurts,
we’ve even tore up here, I wasn’t expecting it actually to tear that far up, that is terrible,
oh it’s chipped completely out there. That, when that happens it’s bugging because you’ve
really got to lower that area to remove it, I bet you can’t see it. There it’s terrible,
you can see it’s actually chipped a chunk off, you can hear that, that’s the step it’s
created. So, I mean that kind of says it to me. I bet we can get that out with this. You
can see with that shaving how it’s gone over the tear, can you see and it’s made it all
straggly that’s because it couldn’t take a full shaving because there was a load, there
was nothing to take. Lets just get this down. I’ve almost removed that nasty bit. Back gone
again, see back up here it’s fine, got rid of all of that. So I’ll show you now even
I mean this is bloody risky, if you know much about planing don’t skew the plane on something
coarse like that. You watch, so we’re able to gain ease of planning with not a single
bit of tear out. You can do anything you like, a kid could plane this. If I did that with
this I mean it’d be hell to pay, but that shows what the cap iron can do, it just doesn’t
care about the opening of that mouth. So what on earth is that simple piece of steel doing?
And that’s all it is really it’s just that little bit of metal that sits un top of the
iron. And what I was taught it was, what I was shown when you do the Dad, Dad, what’s
this do? Is it, it’s basically creasing the shaving it is bending it and through that
bending, obviously you think of, well think of me finger if you bent it the wrong way,
you’d compress the top of it wouldn’t you the bottom would stretch, the top would compress,
it. Well I’ve got a good example here, we’ll pick a suitable one, I’d say that one. Lets
say that’s a fibre of wood, that’s, it’s just one fibre running through the board, and as
usual it normally looks like that you never get one that’s nice and straight do you? So
lets bring our plane iron through, our plane blade through, and for the sake of it lets
just say we’ve got a relatively open mouth, just to make it a but easier to explain. So
my mouth is where my finger is, the iron’s going to come along, it’s going to be cutting,
cutting so nice. As it cuts is going to obviously inevitably getting under a piece of grain
or it’s going to cut in to that piece of grain. And you can see as it pulls, you know as we
feed it’s putting pressure it’s bending and I can feel the force in this finger it want’s
to break it, and if I keep pushing it it breaks. So what we’ve done is we’ve ripped out that
fibre and everything stuck to it and everything above it and that’s just going to be planed
in to the shaving and we’ve left and awful little divot we’re going to have to repair.
What the cap iron does is it adds this really high angle to the mix and if that is, you’ve
truly got to be a gnat’s nadger back off the cutting edge. You literally just want light
to reflect on it. That’s why it’s useless on anything for coarse cutting, anything with
a camber on it because you’re not going to be able to get it close to the cutting edge.
You’ve got to have, you know just such a microscopic amount of camber in your smoothing plane and
then it works tremendously well, get it right up close. And it adds this edge and what it,
this high angle and what it’s basically doing is it’s bending the shaving right over itself
and in to itself. I mean it’s not breaking like that, this is because it’s a bloody twig.
But it’s, it’s basically folding it , it’s putting tiny folds on it. It’s taking all
the integrity, the strength out of that fibre, therefore it can’t lift because it’s being
crumpled as it goes, so it can’t lift and break it out. And that’s what it’s doing,
and that’ why it’s irrelevant to the mouth opening because it doesn’t need that. A very
tight mouth can eradicate tear out, but the trouble is with a tight mouth is it’s a super
hot wear spot and every time you shaving’s feeding through it’s rounding that mouth over,
and in a matter of a few shavings and you already start moving it back out again, it’s
a hard upkeep a tight mouth. Now I’m gonna wait for some questions to come in on this
and we may do a detailed blog post on this to try and detail it a bit more, maybe with
some nice drawings. But we have got a video coming out very soon, we’re gonna try and
push it out as fast as we can, and I’m gonna take you through the steps of getting a new
iron and a cap iron, basically it’s just out of a Stanley plane. Helen’s got herself a
little number and I’m going to tune that up for her or show her how to do it And I want
to show you the work and how I work a cap iron and how I make it work basically, we’re
going to go through every step. So if you subscribe as they say and if you wait for
that I’ll….. yeah that’ll do. So I’m just taking another few strokes just to try and
get some clearer footage of that tear, so I hope you can see it a bit better. And again,
I’m just going to clean that back up now with that number 3 with the cap iron set right.
Now I’m going to be a complete wazzock and set that depth right in, I want a nice deep
cut here and you see nothing still happens, even though the plane is fighting me, it just
doesn’t have the camber in it to take this sort of depth of cut, see still no tear. An
one more just to be a complete an utter idiot, we’ll use that same depth and now we’ll skew
the plane, and again no tear, you can make it tear out it just won’t. And I think that,
with that knowledge, if you can take that and apply it you can say goodbye to scrapers
I never scrape, the planes are always the last thing to touch my work.

76 thoughts on “How To Control Tear Out With Hand Planes – Understanding The Cap Iron”

  1. That was the most entertaining no nonsense video I've seen on this subject. Bring on the next rant!

  2. I am still learning about using planes . Coming from a rough carpentry / stage building background .. using a plane to smooth out a piece of wood instead of using my power sander is liken to magic to me.  🙂   , I am enjoying this series of videos. 


  3. Thanks so much for that video. I only have a Bailey no. 4, no.5 and a no.7. My go to is the #4 and have been able at times to produce beautiful shavings leaving a incredibly smooth surface, but didn't really understand why at time it worked and at other times it didn't. Thanks so much for your statement about scrapers and scraping. Right now that seems to be my nemesis with trying to get a sharp scraper. All I seem to produce is dust.

  4. It's 1.08 a.m. here, and I was going to bed when I decided to cool down in front of the pc, because a few minutes ago I was just planing some merbau and what I believe is ash, now that I've seen that chunk of wood of yours.

    I had just put a 23 degree angle on my no.5 blade for a higher pitch. There was no tear out with the merbau – even against the grain the tear out was miniscule – but the ash is a bit of a primadonna it seems. I just can't calm it down at all at the moment.

    I would love nothing more than to have at it again with the cap iron really close to the blade edge, but I have to get up early tomorrow. However, this is definitely something to look forward to. Thanks so much for making and posting this vid.

  5. Thank you Richard for the most sensible and clear presentation I have ever seen on this subject.  I look forward to the next instalment, as I have been negligent in my cap iron setting.
    I have been pondering the making of a small wooden smoothing plane myself, as I have an I. Sorby 1-5/8" double iron I don't need, and a piece of hornbeam that is too short for most uses, but suitable for a small woody. I'm now going to wait for more insight from you.

  6. richard richard well you sound just like what the world needs right now a straight talking man .
    i have a full set of marples baily patten planes but i go straight to my marples transitonal plane i get the ease of wood on wood and the ease of the baily adjustment if you come accross 1 you realy owe it to yourself to try it .
    please keep up the great work .
    you are a fine ambassedore for woodworking

  7. Planes were used for centuries without cap irons. And they didn't work as well…
    It didn't make quite as much difference when using wood with very straight grain. Especially wood that was riven. You can get around the problem some with very high pitch irons, changing planing direction and scrapers but the cap irons certainly make life easier.

  8. I have been struggling with my #4 to get the cap iron to sit flat against the blade. There's always a corner not sitting perfectly and shavings jam up until it. Ive tried flattening both so many times. The very old blade does have a bit of a kink in the back of it from god knows where so Im thinking maybe thats throwing off the cap iron.

  9. I just came across This, with the aid of microscopes, shows very well what is happening to the wood fibres as you plane, and appears to very much agree with you on the effect of the cap iron. Worth watching in full. Have you experimented with changing the angle of the cap iron? If having a cap iron at 80 degrees does indeed make it less critical to having it positioned very close to the edge then that seems like a useful tip.

  10. Good video about a much debated subject. One small observation, if you permit is the seemingly lackadaisical interest shown by the company dog; has he heard this before I wonder?

  11. So extraordinarily helpful I have struggled terribly with tear out, not having a clue how to stop it, now perhaps I can beat it. Thank you!

  12. I have no advice about this video.  It simply cannot be improved upon.  Very good explanation and great work piece in which to show it with.  Keep sharing your knowledge.  Thanks from Texas.

  13. Great stuff thanks. I remember a few years back finding your benches and drooling over them but never thought to see if you were on YouTube. Your an inspiration.

    Just wondering about that bevel up/low angle(?) plane you have and why, if it does work so well on end grain and long grain (as the manufacturers say, would anyone bother buying a normal bench plane? It also has no cap iron yes? So it's like the metal version of the wooden wedge planes? I'm fascinated by japanese planes which until the introduction of western methodology didn't use any separate wedge – the bodies were the wedges. Kinda cool. Also, any chance of a video series on bench construction? It would be a great lesson to how you apply your planes to each stage, such as flattening your worktop sections flat for gluing up.

  14. I'm sure someone else has addressed the topic, but this is the first practical example I have seen of what the cap iron is accomplishing while you plane. The twig may have seemed silly at the time, and yet it was a perfect teaching tool. Fantastic job, sir. Well done.

  15. You've deepened my understanding, thank you for taking the time to make the video. I will recommend it my fellow club members.

  16. Richard
    I stopped twice this video because I wanted to test your theory and after the first test I must admit: You're absolfuckinlutley right about that (excuse my French).
    I have a piece of flooring board that I suspect from the looks is the same like yours (Ash, kiln dry, or should I say, the "wood from hell") and every plane I used, including Low Angle Veritas, and in any angle or direction teared the wood, only my LN scraper plane came to the rescue.
    I have a WoodRiver #4 (a cheap LN imitation but works great, and I'm not crying for what I payed for it) with a blade sharpened to 35 degrees, so, after I made sure it's hair shaving quality, I set the chipbreaker at 1/32" distance and "Voila" no tear !
    My second stop was to set the chipbreaker even less(about 0.5 mm) and try a "heavy" shaving, well it works!
    Thanks for this, it really frustrated the hell out of me.

  17. How are there any thumbs downs? Maybe someone is a hippy who is upset that you need wood for your job… haha. You know all those dead trees. But seriously I love watching your videos. You have something very personable about you.

  18. You've got everyone's interest except for the bloke on the couch.! Breaking the fibers at their weakest (thickness), prevents tear out, if the cap iron sets further from the iron edge it gives the shaving a chance to gain thickness before breaking, resulting in a tear instead of a shear.

  19. I learned so much from this – plus your teaching style is great and i laughed out loud probably louder than I should have at this hour. I've noticed you get all fired up about getting people to understand the principles behind whatever problem you video is attempting to solve. I am the same way so I really appreciate when people take the extra time to articulate themselves so well as you have done here.

  20. thanks for the well thought explanation
    P.S.: your dog was like "come on, how many times more you want to practice such script?" haha

  21. Great video! You are the first Woodworker on YouTube who doesn't make me want to fall asleep. And for a younger person who is just starting out, your detailed descriptions , coupled with your enthusiasm, and passion is something this hobby/industry so desperately needs. Will highly recommend.


    Ash is a bear sometimes.Thank you for this video it is truly helpful!

  23. Brilliant! I've seen so many explanations, and even taken classes from some high-end woodworkers, but I find your explanation the most helpful, really. I can't wait to try out my Stanleys, again. I frankly got a bit frustrated with them and switched to the high-end fancy new-wave planes plus a generous bit of scraping to get my work done. Thanks, again!

  24. Thank you Richard. I'm new to woodworking and was having problems with grain tear out near knots. I watched your three chip-breaker set-up videos, adjusted the chip-breaker and no more tear out. It was that simple! Thanks again.

  25. This is a really helpful video. I just bought a new plane (my first) that I am working to set up. And, this really helps me to understand how to set up the chipbreaker in relation to the blade. Thanks for putting this out there!

  26. I'm a bloody beginner at woodworking/planing – afaik the tear only shows if you work against the grain !? – btw English is not my first language

  27. Great demo of what happens with different settings to the plane iron. Perhaps some information and demonstration of what the differences are between the two would be useful. Your thoughts?

  28. Very interesting. I just made my first wood plane and was wondering if I needed to add a cap iron. The wedge is about 1/4 in h from the edge now. Still learning to adjust and use this plane.

  29. Brilliant. you saved my life. I love old knotty wood and I enjoy 'up-cycling'. Been making stuff out of pallets a lot recently and tear out is a mine field for me. sometimes I found planing the opposite way helped but I had no clue the cap iron helps so much! been loving wood work recently. I cleaned up all my dads old tools and have been building a lot. he had some stanley and record planes and some nice chisels amongst other things. Taught myself dovetails and stuff. Love your videos mate.

  30. It's not often you see someone pull out a tree from under their bench lol!! Enjoyed the video though 😉

  31. Pile of shit, I set up my chip breaker that way and the blade couldn't even come far enough to perform any shavings.

  32. Great channel mate. I'm having a hard time planning Wenge, I'm able to get great results with slightly softer wood like mahogany. The planer refuses to dig in and grab on when it comes to wenge. Is there anything I'm missing?Any way I can plane it without a machine?

  33. To better show the tearout, dust the surface with coloured carpenter's chalk. It will highlight any imperfections.

  34. I am a veritable sponge for your info. please keep giving to this old bloke that also loves a rant and a bit of woodwork.

  35. But why would you set the cup iron in any different way then? Through this vid I got the impression, that the results are generally better with a cup iron. Why wouldn't I always use it then?

  36. +The English Woodworker: Excellent educational video. Look at this japanese video. Pure cap iron science. Excessive to say the least but excellent. Set up autotranslate. Must see.

  37. thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with straight to the point, and entertaining information… you're brilliant..

  38. I’ve been fighting some terrible tear out on some douglas fir. Didn’t matter how sharp I get the blade, what direction I plane, skew. This helpful video has made it very obvious that I am not using the cap correctly. Thanks!

  39. Great video and I learned much from you! But afterwards I realized that you never showed us a close up of the blade/cap iron setting setting side-by-side of the #3 & #4. So I can’t really emulate what your settings were. That would be so so helpful. I long for that feeling & finish of that #3 u show here. Hope u can provide this. Cheers mate.

  40. Man! I just watched one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen on YouTube. The demo with the twig was just excellent. “Oh no, that’s gonna be a sot!” lol.

  41. I think you brought up some great points.. Going to reset my chip breakers now. I have always as a machinist coming to woodworking felt calling it a chip breaker is the wrong term, but the purpose is much more clear to me now

  42. Love the videos and love the accent. I actually let my son watch these videos to get used to hear english and get better in school😂😂😂

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