Lateral Blade Adjustment – Stanley, Norris or Plane Hammer…

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We have been working on a new bench plane design. One of the many aspects to the proper function of a hand plane is the lateral blade position. To make shavings the width of the blade the cutting edge of the blade obviously needs to connect fully with the workpiece, if it is skewed by any amount the shaving width is diminished.

In our early plane manufacturing days we ensured our blades were very snug, not allowing much sideways movement at all. Our technique was to keep the blade very straight to make the cutting edge attack the workpiece its full width, because our new blades were ground perfectly square to the side of our blades.

One day, a well known & respected Australian luthier mentioned our snug blade fit on one of our planes. He agreed it was excellent precise machining but it did not give him much room to adjust the blade laterally. He went on to explain that his day to day sharpening did not always ensure the micro bevel was always exactly square to the blade side, fair enough. He wanted a smidge more lateral ‘play’ to allow his plane hammer to have more affect, point taken by us…

Originally Stanley low angle bevel up planes did not have any lateral adjustment mechanism. A tap left or right on the blade while it was clamped firmly by the cap iron did ( and does) the job well. Stanley’s bevel down bench planes use a lateral side adjustment lever. This works quite well, often wear and lever flex (it’s quite long) can affect the preciseness of the lateral movement.

Stanley type lateral adjuster.

The Norris adjuster was invented and patented by UK tool manufacturer T. Norris & Son in 1913. This mechanism allows you to adjust the plane blade depth of cut as well as lateral sideways adjustment. Over the years, a Norris adjuster can wear which affects the preciseness of adjustment. Also, thread backlash can diminish performance. Modern plane manufacturers have improved the Norris type adjuster by removing the previous ‘faults’.

The Norris adjuster is still not a perfect solution. You need to loosen the cap iron pressure on the blade to allow blade depth adjustment as you do on any plane. When you do this and rotate the adjustment knob is is reasonably easy to allow the lever to move to either side which adjusts the blade laterally unnecessarily. Of course there is a sweet spot where you loosen the cap iron pressure just enough to allow plane depth adjustment but not allowing unnecessary sideways movement, but it can be tricky. I am sure there are fans of the Norris adjuster who use the adjuster often and successfully.

One manufacturer has a screw each side of the blade inserted in the plane body to laterally adjust the blade, to us, it seems over engineered and awkward to use.

Many woodworkers have a wooden head hammer, a lightweight Japanese hammer, or a brass head hammer which they keep handy to adjust their plane blades laterally, to me it is a quick and effective solution if lateral blade adjustment is ever required.

We have had feedback from many of our customers who advise lateral adjustment is not required on our planes, maybe they take advantage of our now ‘snuggish’ plane blade fit and they use one of our honing guides! to ensure micro bevels are square to the blade sides.

To us there is no simple obvious solution, certainly open to conjecture, we’re still working on a pathway forward, more later…

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