Scrapers are the secret weapon of many woodworkers in the fight against tear out (a quick overview of their function can be read here). Many woodworkers have never heard of them and in my experience the few who have struggle to get them to perform as they should. Once you become comfortable with them, however, they become one of your best friends in the shop. If you are already using scrapers with great success pat yourself on the back, you’re part of an elite woodworking minority.
Scrapers fit into three major categories (at that’s how I view them). First is the simplest, least expensive, and most useful form of the tool, the card scraper. Just a piece of steel typically rectangular in shape, though curved scrapers exist for handling (not surprisingly) curved profiles. The edges are sharpened and honed like you would a chisel or plane iron, but unlike other hand tools these edges are honed 90 degrees to the faces. A burnisher is then used to turn a hook, or burr, which is what actually allows the tool to remove a small shaving (not dust) and leave a tear-out free surface. Many good card scrapers exist from companies like Lie-Nielsen, Bahco, and more.
The second category is basically a card scraper held in a jig (I’m not sure what to actually call this category), the most famous arguably being the Stanley #80 which Veritas did a wonderful job recreating (and improving). There were dozens of these contraptions put out by Stanley and others over the years, their advantage being that the handles keep you thumbs from burning (which happens with heavy use on a card scraper), they leave a flatter surface (card scrapers can easily dish out a localized area, this is both an advantage and disadvantage of card scrapers), and they are easier to sharpen since the cutter looks like a traditional plane iron (though a hook is often added after sharpening).
Finally, the third category is that of the scraper plane. The large sole keeps the surface being worked extremely flat, they are comfortable to use, and unlike the category 2 tools, scraper planes have an angle adjustment that allows the user to optimize the cutting angle based on the hook. Since turning a hook/burr is typically done by hand it will tend to vary slightly from one sharpening to another, being able to adjust the angle in the tool to account for this is an excellent feature not offered by the category 2 option.
The two premium options available today are from Lie-Nielsen and Veritas and both are modeled after the Stanley #112. I recently picked up the Lie-Nielsen and Alan (Walke) owns a vintage Stanley, so I decided to compare the two and pass that information along.
The LN is almost identical in size and shape compared to the Stanley. Some notable differences were the slightly larger angle adjustment knobs (from 1″ on the Stanley to 1-1/8″ on the LN) and two ribs added across the body for rigidity.
To test their performance, I used each tool on Bubinga and curly Maple, both prone to tearing. Each tool was capable of delivering good results, but I had an easier time on the LN, largely due to the blade. The blade in the Stanley was very thin and was so short it was difficult to adjust… this may not be the original blade, so I don’t want to fault it too much, the tool itself is well made and felt solid in use. On the downside, I tried using the LN blade in the Stanley tool, but it was too thick and would not fit in the Stanley. The blade on the Stanley was also thin enough that I could feel it flexing in use which limited how thick of a shaving I could get from it.
When using scraper planes, you’ll want a few extra accessories compared to standard hand planes. A 4 oz hammer (brass prevents dinging up the blade) is crucial for fine depth and skew adjustments and waxing the sole helps to reduce the force to push the tool in use (same as with a hand plane). I found a small brush to clear the mouth to be essential as well. Unlike hand planes where shavings tend to flow out of the tool, scraper shavings bunch up and are often so thin that they break apart. And because such a small amount of material is being removed, even the slightest shaving hanging out of the mouth can get pinched under the tool and lift the blade off the wood. I found my self brushing the mouth clean every four or five strokes. This is a bit tedious, but if you’re using the tool appropriately you shouldn’t have too many strokes to take before you’re done so it didn’t really bother me and the results were worth it.
And how were the results? Well, I was able to take full shavings that measured just over 0.001″ thick. This is about as thick as you’d go with a scraper plane, it gets very difficult to push the tool if a thicker shaving is being taken (remember you’re scraping the wood, not slicing it, so you can’t take nearly as thick of a cut as you could using a hand plane). In general, I was scraping shavings a little under 0.001″ and leaving clean, smooth surfaces behind. I also found you could hold the tool comfortably by gripping the front knob alone, or by wrapping your fingers around the knob and placing your thumb behind the bronze blade holder, which lead to a little trick I am calling the “thumb trick”. If the shaving is a bit on the light side using a normal grip, try placing your thumb behind the blade holder and applying some pressure during the stroke. This deflected things enough to give the blade just a bit more bite in use. It doesn’t sound like much, but it allowed for some control over heavy vs light shavings without having to reset the tool (not the easiest operation to complete with a scraper plane). I should note that I don’t over-tighten the blade clamp wheel, if you do you may stiffen things up so much that the thumb trick is not effective.
So should you go out and buy a scraper plane? For most the answer is probably no, at least not yet. They are a bit tricky to master, both in their setup and their use. If you aren’t comfortable with card scrapers yet, start with those. They are cheap and will be used far more often than a dedicated scraper plane. If you’re comfortable with card scrapers, do you work tricky woods, particularly larger surfaces you want to keep as flat as possible? If not, again there is probably little benefit of owning a scraper plane. However, if you’re answering “yes” to the previous statements, a scraper plane might really be useful for you, just be patient with them, it may take some time to come up the curve.
A few final comments, I purchased the LN #112 used and it arrived with some damaged handles. I contacted Lie-Nielsen about getting some replacements and they sent them for free. What a great company to work with and purchase tools from. Also, I focused on the #112, but LN sells a smaller version, a rabbet version, and offers toothed blades if you’re trying to rough up a surface slightly for veneer work. They also have helpful videos on their website discussing the setup and use of their scrapers.