Let’s Bust Another Myth ** NOT **

My #4 user

My #4 user

Since posting this I have talked to several people, most notably, Carl Bilderback of the Midwest Tool Collectors Association, and have reached the conclusion that the wear created by dragging the plane back on the return stroke is increasing the wear bevel on the iron and is therefore adding to the cutting edge wear. That said, I still drag my planes back on the return stroke, though as I stated in a reply to a comment, with significantly lessened pressure. Over time I have noticed no noticeable difference in sharpening intervals when lightly dragging the plane back or lifting it off the work on the return stroke. It is far less fatiguing to drag the plane back on the return stroke than to lift it from the work, especially on a long planning session. BUT PLEASE NOTE THAT BY DOING SO YOU ARE ADDING TO THE CUTTING EDGE WEAR.

original post below

I remember being taught never to drag a hand plane back on the return stroke. Always lift it on the return. Just another “old wives tale“. In fact it is good to lightly drag your plane back on the return stroke. Most wood contains silica in varying degrees. Silica is an abrasive. By lightly dragging your plane back on the return you are doing a little sharpening. this method is also a lot less tiring. When you plane all day this little trick can make a difference in your level of fatigue.

As always thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment.


Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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9 Responses to Let’s Bust Another Myth ** NOT **

  1. Rob Porcaro says:

    For bevel-down planes, especially when working hard with a jack, yea, I agree. But for bevel-up planes, I think the abrasive effect that occurs on the flat side of the blade contributes to the “wear bevel,” which is undesirable since it takes extra work to remove it on the next sharpening. However, if you use the “ruler trick” on the back of your bevel-up blades, it shouldn’t matter significantly. This is one reason I now use the ruler trick on my BU blades. And it creates less than a one-half degree bevel so it doesn’t significantly change the clearance angle.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Interesting! I didn’t know this or the myth. Thanks for sharin’ and nice lookin’ plane!

  3. David Weaver says:

    It shouldn’t take so long to sharpen that it matters either way, BUT, if you look at the profile of wear that Steve Elliot has provided on his site (which is basically traced from pictures of worn edges that kato and kawai took), you will come to the conclusion that dragging the iron is a good way to limit clearance faster, and will wear the edge faster.

    A good sharp edge will still fight you when the clearance becomes zero or less than zero (as the active edge moves above the lowest point of the iron contacting wood).

    All that said, I tested irons for a maker at one point and found that the current generation of A2 irons will cut about 1500+ feet of wood before they will absolutely not take a 2 thousandth shaving. If that’s 1000 instead, it matters fairly little to someone who can sharpen their plane in two minutes.

    • Thank you for taking the time to provide this great information. I’m not talking about laying on the plane on the return stroke, but simply taking the downward pressure off and sliding the plane back to the beginning of the stroke. In my experience I have noticed no discernable difference in the sharpening interval using either method – (lift on return or drag it back). But I have noticed a difference in my fatigue level at the end of the day especially when working with a heavy plane like the Veritas bevel up jack plane.

      Also, we can’t assume that everyone is experienced enough and capable enough to re-sharpen a plane iron in 2 minutes. In fact I know very few who can. That aside whatever time spent sharpening is just another of many possible distractions, which to me are anything that is not actually working on the current project, that can often add up during the course of a work day and my philosophy has always been to minimize or eliminate these distractions.

      Over the years I have done well dragging the plane back on the return stroke and finished the day with less fatigue. So I stand by what I have said. I can only report on what works for me. As is often said YMMV (your mileage may very).

      Thank you for telling us what works for you.

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