I am new to hand planing. I have some S12E cedar and when I take my smoother (old Sargent) to the rough face I just get dust in the mouth and it gets stuck on the board. The blade is sharpened to 1000 grit and stripped and shaved hair with no force. I have the blade forward to keep a tight mouth. What could be causing this? I am not using the cedar for anything. It was some scrap from a project.

  • Forgot to shoehorn in something to do with sharpness. The ability of an edge to shave arm hair actually doesn't tell us as much as one might expect about its ability cut wood. A much better proxy is the ability to cut wood...... so keep scraps of pine on hand and use their end grain to test sharpness in a meaningful way. It's important to use pine/a similar softwood for this testing as harder woods are more forgiving about slightly under-sharp edges (the fibres are stiffer and put up more resistance). The fibres of a soft wood on the other hand want to bend over and not be cut.
    – Graphus
    Dec 11, 2022 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


the rough face I just get dust in the mouth

This contains its own clue. It's fairly typical not to get shavings at first when planing rough wood, simply because the cutting edge is initially encountering lots of high spots in the texture, rather than a fairly contiguous surface as you get later in the planing process (and later in the planing process is ideally when the smoother should actually be brought to play).

Rough planing should ideally be done with a tool suited to that task. Historically this work was done with a 'roughing jack' or a fore plane1 and these are still the best way to do this (IF doing the whole process by hand).

Although no. 4s are now very commonly used as more multi-purpose tools than they would have been in workshops back in the day, they were never intended to be anything other than smoothers and rough planing is not really in their wheelhouse.

and it gets stuck on the board

This is an unrelated issue and there are various possible causes.

I have the blade forward to keep a tight mouth.

And this is the clue to the cause or part of the cause.

When doing anything other than smoothing — which should result in shavings of no more than a few thou — a tight mouth is actually detrimental to the function of a smoother2.

Additionally you may have an issue with the prep or the positioning of the cap iron/chipbreaker.

If you don't own another plane and need to use the Sargent for this

  • Position the frog fully back so the mouth is as open as it can be;

  • set the cap iron well back from the cutting edge;

  • ensure the bevel side of the iron is opposite to the cap iron (sorry had to mention this as occasionally newbies put them in upside down, so the bevel is facing the direction of travel);

  • adjust for a heavier cut;

and have at it. The performance difference should be stark.

Once you're down to a reasonably flat and smooth surface convert the plane back to smoothing settings before proceeding.

  • I would recommend leaving the frog where it is.

  • Set the cap iron fairly close to the edge (see previous link for some rough numbers) and see how it goes. If there are knots and/or other irregular grain you may need to set the iron very close to the edge, IF the goal is a tearout-free surface.

  • Adjust for a very very thin shaving initially and go heavier if it feels like this is possible.

If you do still get any clogging issues it's likely shavings getting jammed under or up against the cap iron, which means its leading edge needs to be fettled3.

Bonus material.

If you need to do this lots and you want to stick to one plane
It would be advisable to have a second iron (and ideally cap iron also4) set up specifically for rough work — i.e. with a cambered edge — that you can swap into your Sargent as needed.

If you're lucky enough to live somewhere where there are abundant secondhand tools I would suggest picking up a spare vintage iron for this. These can often be had for next to nothing if separate from a plane, or you can buy a basket case of no. 4 or 5 and just steal the iron from it. Do not sweat it if the iron is very rusty and even if quite heavily pitted.

If you want to or have to buy new, there are numerous sellers of new irons on AliExpress or eBay. If you still buy from Amazon they may have very similar stuff (possibly the exact same products from the same factories in China) but there may be a markup.

1 What we now call scrub planes weren't ubiquitous and possibly were only used for hogging off lots of excess material, e.g. to take down excess material from riven boards, which weren't merely rough but could be super rough and not at all flat.

2 In actual fact I would recommend that you don't rely on this, pretty much at all. Many many experienced plane jockeys set their frogs in the fully back position (this is, with the front face of the frog perfectly aligned with the rear edge of the mouth) and then literally never touch it again. See Mouth of a Plane for a bit more on this.

3 Just a quick thing on this, most guides suggest or state outright that this takes "just a couple of minutes" but they're either exaggerating or fibbing. In my experience it usually takes longer (although occasionally you do get lucky!) and sometimes takes MUCH longer; it all depends on the original shaping and condition of the cap iron you're dealing with (as well as the flatness of the forward part of the back of the cutting iron).

4 With a spare cap iron as well it makes the swap much faster as you can simply drop in the whole iron assembly, instead of having to take off your only cap iron to position it on the cutters each time you make the change.

  • Thank you so much. I do have a jack plane and jointer plane but haven't used them or set them up yet. Life got in the way.
    – salisboss
    Dec 10, 2022 at 15:35
  • Welcome! Is your jack also vintage and if so what condition is it it?
    – Graphus
    Dec 11, 2022 at 15:22
  • I have an an old Millers Falls No14c.
    – salisboss
    Dec 12, 2022 at 16:04

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