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Sharpening the Stanley #80 Scraper Plane


Back in the olden days before 3M and Norton, before Klingspore wasn't a household name and Neanderthals ruled the Earth :), a woodworker was just as likely to smooth his or her wood with a scraper as use a sheet of paper covered with sand. Ahhh, those were the days. Instead of an off-white patina covering everything in a shop, little curls of wood lasagne would grace the floor and get caught between the treads of your Nikes.

Oddly, I'm a big fan of power tools and use them with reckfull abandon when I think they will save me some time. The roar of a planer is little distraction compared to it's alternative of hand-planing for days.

Believe it or not, I think scraping wood is also faster. When it comes time to remove the snipe from a costly piece of wood I grab my scraper. Whenever I have a scratch or ding in a veneer and sanding will be too slow or aggressive, I grab my scraper. Whenever I've flushed out an edgebanding but have a little more to remove, I grab my scraper. In fact, nearly every one of the journeymen and apprentices I've ever worked with have taken one look at my scraper and what it can do, then mysteriously have one just like it a few days later. Honest!

Of course, this doesn't mean scraping is right for you. It has some limitiations. Scraping soft woods is often an exercise in frustration - the edge tears instead of cuts. Scraping also doesn't make hardly any dust. If you've invested heavily in downdraft sanding tables, mega-belt sanders and can tell which grit is on your ROS blindfolded, scraping your wood will be akin to landing on another planet. Sorry...

But scraping, or the act of using a scraper is only part of the equation. The key to success isn't in the scraping technique compared to the talent required for sharpening. When we look back on our magazines and books, our eyes just glaze over when we try to transpose what we read to actual performance in the shop. No matter how hard we try, learning to sharpen a scraper just doesn't gel until we SEE someone do it. Then it all makes sense.

This is the theme behind our first offering to the Woodworking Channel. The tool of choice isn't your basic flat, steel rectangle but the Stanley #80 scraper plane. When I first saw this winged wonder at my local hardware store, I thought I was buying a spokeshave - I was younger then...:) They don't carry them anymore, nor do newcomers Home Depot or Wye River (hint, hint) but you can find one at Woodcraft or Highland Hardware. For me it's a bargain at any price.

The differences between the #80 and regular scrapers are many. Regular scrapers can be pulled as well as pushed, their depth of cut can be easily adjusted by curving your grip and they will, unfortunately, follow dips or soft spots in the grain. The #80 doesn't follow dips but knocks off high spots and it's curvature is adjusted via the thumbscrew you see near the center of the base. A slight twist takes a fine shaving. Really cranking it removes a thick ribbon of wood regarless of the grain direction. Some say you can do the same with a finely-tuned hand plane. I don't know, I can never get my planes to cooperate but sharpening the #80 is easy.

The blade of the #80 also differs with regular scrapers in that it's filed at an angle instead of straight across. Regular scrapers, with their square edges, allow you to draw a burr on both corners of an edge. Drawing these burrs, however are a little more time consuming - with the #80 and it's angled edge, half the work is already done for you.

It's also typical to sharpen both edges at one time and hiding the backup edge under it's protective cover. (Photo Right) This cover is a must as it protects you as much as the blade. Though I usually rest my #80 upside down, having such a tool with it's razor-sharp edge sticking out can be a great way to meet your local ER surgeon. Watch out!

Pictured at right and above is the leading view of the scraper and the bar which holds the blade in place. During installation, the two clamp screws are hand tightened (screwdriver optional) and the pressure to keep the blade from slipping is applied by the thumb screw from behind. I only use the screwdriver to tighten the clamp screws after the blade slips for some reason or other. The rest of the time I don't bother and it usually works fine.

Installing the blade parallel to the sole is easy: make sure the sole is clean and set it on a flat surface. Slip the unguarded edge behind the clamp bar and with one hand, hold the scraper body and blade down while you tighten the clamp screws. Swapping a dull edge for a sharp one takes all of ten seconds if all you have to do is turn the blade around. Putting that razor burr on the edge takes a bit longer. Did you pop some popcorn and find a seat in the front row? :-)

The first step in returning a really dull blade to sharpness is filing. You need to clamp the blade in a sturdy vise; a metal vise with protective pads works best for providing the proper clearance for the angled file. In the clip at right I file from right to left. This drags any filings down and away from the edge I want to keep clean and unjagged - less time spent honing.

I try to file as evenly as possible and I'll sometimes check the edge with something I know is straight. A couple swipes usually does it; then I'll knock the corners off to prevent the blade ends from gouging while in use. We don't want to cause any more problems than we're curing.

To Hone or Not to Hone
Once the blade is filed, you have two choices: either take the blade onward to burnishing or hone the blade first. Honing results in the smoothest cut but if you are planning to sand anyway, it's optional. If you don't hone the blade, the drawn burr will be nicked and jagged but it will still work like having badly worn jointer knives. The edge isn't as durable either so lets hone this puppy.

Honing is pretty straight forward and those who can do a nice plane blade will have no problems. If you vacillate between water and oil stones, you might pick a nice oil stone for this operation. Some water stones might be too soft for the scraper's thin steel leading to gouging the stone and/or catching an edge. You'll also need to use oil for the next step so avoiding greasy fingers is impossible...sorry.

BTW, I get a nice polish from a fine India using light mineral oil as a lubricant. Standard honing technique applies so we won't get into it here. When you're done, the edge and back should be burr-free, smooth and ready for burnishing.

The key to drawing a fine edge and turning it over to form a hook is in the burnishing. As far as I can tell there are five different types of burnishers you might use. The first is one of those automatic burnishers with a wheel or some odd thing to draw the edge. Never tried one so I can't even tell you how they might work on the #80's angled edge.

Choices two three or four are round, oval and triangle burnishers. These are handled lengths of steel harder than the steel in the scraper blade and when you run them along the edge, they compress the scraper's steel forming it into the required shape.

All things considered, it really doesn't matter which type you try as each will work. A round burnisher focuses the force onto a smaller area thus making it the faster of the three. You also can force too much and unevenly cause the edge to scallop. Smooth and light works best for the #80's already angled scraper blade.
I use a triangle burnisher with only one face polished. It's slightly convex and seems to allow pretty agressive burnishing if that's desired. Triangle burnishers only work on straight blades. Look for a round burnisher when drawing a burr on a curved scraper.

The last category of burnisher is nearly anything hard laying around: screwdrivers, chisels, gouges, drill bits, etc. For me they have all doubled for burnishers at one time or another with varying degrees of success. Experimenting might find the ideal burnisher already in your toolbox.

Drawing the Edge
The first step in forming a razor-sharp hook on the edge of your blade is drawing the edge. Lay the blade bevel-side down overhanging the edge of your workbench and hold it securely with your other hand. Apply a drop of oil along the edge and then stroke the burnisher back and forth to draw the burr. The angle of the burnisher can be anything between 2 and 5 degrees off horizontal and I usually do about 20-30 strokes to get the burr wide enough for efficient cutting.

It's not necessary to stop burnishing at any given point. If you aren't drawing the steel outward enough, a few more strokes might be needed. You can drag your finger from blade flat across the bevel to feel if you have drawn the burr correctly. The burr will have hooked backward across the bevel.

I've found it best to stop earlier rather than later as too much drawing can make the burr too thin and fragile. If you haven't drawn it enough, made painfully obvious with your first cut, it's simple to yank the blade out and redraw the burr. Without doubt this is the step which takes the most trial and error; it helps to develop a feel for the process. Practice, practice, practice! :)

If everything has gone OK, popping the blade back in the vise should reveal the following view. In the picture at right, the hook is turned back towards the bevel as evidenced by a thin reflection of light at the blade's point.

Turning the Hook
The final step in sharpening the #80 scraper requires you to bend the burr over the other way - away from the bevel. As it is now, about the only thing it will cut is wet glue.

In the vise with edge up, wipe a fresh drop of oil onto the bevel. Set the burnisher firmly down at one end a few degrees towards horizontal from the bevel. Draw one hard stroke along the full length of the blade. When finished, you can pull your finger across the edge and feel the burr on the other side. Wipe the oil off and reinstall the blade, making sure the hook is angled towards the nose of the plane...:)

And how does it work? The video clip at right demonstrates scraping at it's best. The wood is a crotch piece of red oak resawn from the firewood pile. It is extremely dense and the grain goes every direction.

Although you might want to sand it a little, 150 grit or finer, it really isn't necessary if the blade is sharpened correctly. The harder the wood, the smoother the finish.

Naturally, your blade will dull as you use it. Some woods like teak or some plywoods which still have embedded sanding grains will dull it quickly. The edge will last longer if you only sand AFTER you scrape. If the dulling isn't too severe, a new edge can be drawn several times before filing is required again.

If your first attempts at scraper sharpening aren't that successful, don't get discouraged. It will get better the more you try it.

Jim Mattson

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