Thicknessing plates

The mandatory "shavings bin" photo...

The mandatory “shavings bin” photo…

At school thicknessing the soundboard, sides and back of the guitar always was a lengthy process: After joining the outside was made flat and sanded (soundboards got there rose before sanding). We had to measure the plate with a large caliper, writing down the thickness with a pencil on the surface. Then the hand plane came out and was used to remove the first layer. This process was repeated over and over again, until the required size was achieved.

It worked fine, but was a lot of work and quite slow. I sometimes suspected the teachers of using it as a form of occupational therapy.

When you start in your own workshop it needs to go faster. Not to cut corners, but use time (one of the most scarce resources) more efficient and effective. So let’s look for some aids to help.

A modern tool, used by many makers today is the thickness sander. A horizontal drum sander which makes the job easy and precise. But they are rather expensive and occupy a fair amount of shop space. I have made a small one for myself, using an IKEA rolling-pin and bar stool (more on that later). This one is only wide enough  to use on ribs and sides.

I asked myself how historical makers tackled this. One clue was found among Stradivarius tools.

Give it a punch

Strad puncher

This thickness puncher is a real timesaver. You set it for the thickness needed (or slightly above) and make indentations in the surface. Then you start planing until the markings are gone… the board is ready…

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In theory it is, but it’s a smart move to keep it slightly thicker and use a card scraper to bring it to the final thickness.


Scrub plane

Scrub planeAnother way to speed up the process is using a scrub plane to get rid of the first layer of wood. A scrub plane is like a normal hand plane, but the edge of its blade is shaped in a rather round form. It sticks out quite far, making a deep cut, taking off a lot of wood in one pass.

In the past blades of the so-called “fore plane” were shaped like this. In Dutch this plane is called a “voorloper” (fore-walker), not because it’s used before other planes (as some people assume), but because it makes “voren” (furrows) in the surface of the wood.


I wasn’t familiar with this type of plane until I saw these two clips by Paul Sellers. One about the history of scrub planes. Once you know about this type of plane you will notice them in old toolboxes and books about woodworking.

The other is an instruction on how to convert a standard Stanley no. 5 into a scrub plane.

When you don’t want to buy an extra plane for this purpose only, simply get a second blade and cap and use them in one plane body… I used a Stanley with a corrugated sole, simply because I don’t use it for anything else. Never liked those grooves in the underside of a plane.

This entry was posted in History, Lute, Research, Tools, Uncategorized, Woodworking, Workshop and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thicknessing plates

  1. alexholdendotnet says:

    I always thought the fore=before plane theory sounded a bit dubious. I wonder if our derivation is equivalent to yours. Apparently the Old English word for furrow was furh.

    I converted an old wooden coffin smoother with a badly worn mouth into a scrub plane, but I find it difficult to use because with a short sole, no handle, and very little mass it keeps wanting to stall and tip forwards.


  2. I used a drill stand in the same way when building a cello.. with something round underneath, because the cello soundboard is not flat, and the drill stand set so that it drills only deep enough to leave the right marks..


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