Fully illustrated, animated and with a smidgen of audio-visual experience. Thrill as the groove comes out straight. Gasp as beads are effortlessly produced. Laugh as ovolos are planed even in the presence of knots. With a thousand elephants!

So you've got yourself a metal Plough, Combination or Universal Plane. Now what? Perhaps you've got something nice and simple like this. Chances you feel pretty confident; should be a pretty simple learning curve, huh?
On the other hand you may be looking at this and panicking. Fear not. The basic principles for using both are exactly the same and it's not as hard as some would have you believe. We'll start with the simplest bits that are universal to all combis and plough a simple groove.

First up we'd better establish some terminology. Throughout I'll refer to them all as "Combis" - if you think I'm typing out plough/combination/universal all the time you're crazy. Secondly, if you don't already have one, get hold of the manual for your plane or a similar model and actually look at the diagram of parts. There are enough variations out there that I cant even begin to cover all eventualities so you'll need to translate for you own plane where necessary. If you're familiar with its parts then it'll be a lot easier. Okay? Off we go then.
The Body

The heart, centre and crux of the plane. This is where the cutter goes, where the fence rods fit, the depth stop is set and where you apply the motive power. Considering all that it's amazing just how much doesn't need doing to it. Naturally make sure all the bits that should move, do so. I'm firmly in the the camp of If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It but there are a couple of areas where you can run a straight edge or square over just to see if there's potential for problems.

Check the skate is straight along the sole and, more importantly, along the sides. A simple plough won't have any problem if the side of the body curves in at the toe and heel, but the other way could cause it to bind in the cut. On a plane capable of taking beading cutters, even a curve inwards can bind. Make a mental (or written) note of any possible problems but unless it's demonstrably out of whack don't do anything to it yet. Chances are you won't have to do anything to it, so if all this is worrying you, forget it and skip ahead without a backward glance. Also worth checking that the fence rods are straight and ideally that they stick out of the body at 90°. Remarkably even that isn't necessarily crucial; make a note for now.
The Depth Stop

Check it's there. That's it. I love depth stops â?? they're so simple you don't have to do anything to them.

The Fence

The fence, on the other hand, needs care and attention to get the best results. Check it's straight; if it's already got a wooden facing then adjust it if necessary to make it straight and square. Some users of 45/405s report having had trouble with the fine adjuster screw causing the wooden face to bow - I gather a simple clearance hole in the rear of the facing for the over-long screw cures it. The #55 has extremely complicated fences - check they tilt to the extent they're meant to.

Larger models already have wooden faces while smaller ones have provision for fitting them in the form of a couple of screw holes, so take the hint and fit one. For some inexplicable reason the common 50/050 has neither. Grrr. It's been suggested I include drilling holes in the fence as an option, but I don't want to get type-cast as someone who encourages people to drill holes in planes... Luckily in this modern age we have the wonders of double-sided Carpet Tape instead. Take advantage of it and fit a face.
Any scrap timber will do; a bowsaw-famous friend made me a luxury one of lignum vitae which is of course self-lubricating. That got me thinking and I tried out a modern equivalent - UHMW plastic or "Slick Plate", sold for the power tool types to make jigs and such. Works a treat if you happen to have some skulling about.
The fence can have enormous impact on how good the results from your efforts are because it can help you keep the plane upright and square. That's one of the fundamental requirements of using combis, so pay attention. Common advice is to fit a deep fence facing which'll give you greater bearing area on the edge of the workpiece, and it works. Of course if the workpiece edge isn't particularly thick then there isn't so much benefit, and more irritatingly it can foul on the bench preventing some cuts. So I gave it some thought and came up with a variation on an idea used in saw sharpening.
The dowel can go either in an upright hole in the auxiliary fence face, in the depth stop hole on the sliding section or make a little block with a hole that you stick to the top of the existing fence. The long dowel exaggerates the angle so you can quickly see if you're even slightly off square. Works pretty well.
The Cutter

Lay 'em down on a known flat surface bevel up

Flat: Probably okay

Convex: (the back is higher in the middle and the bevel and adjuster ends are resting on the surface: Very bad

Concave: (the middle is on the surface and the bevel and adjuster ends are clear): Excellent

Combi cutters in many cases are clamped down quite a way from the bevel end, so they're naturally wanting to curve away from the "bed" at the crucial cutting end. Flapping about ensues and consequently a poor cut. Concave cutters compensate for that tendency by creating a bit of tension and help to keep the cutting edge firmly down on the bed. I don't need to spell out why you don't want convex I hope...

To solve the problem a little gentle persuasion in a vice with three strategically placed dowels can impart just enough concavity to solve the problem. Careful - you don't want to inadvertently snap a cutter with adjuster notches in the back by applying pressure over the weak point created by said notch. Nearly a DAMH... but not quite.

So that's the basic bits. Now onto getting them lined up to use.

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