Observations on the Spill Plane

I made my first spill plane as a demonstration tool for a 4th grade field trip several years ago, and the children (and adults too) were fascinated by it.  It was neat to have them guess what the spills were used for in colonial times, which they usually did not know, but when they found out the answer, they tended to think it was a pretty ingenious solution to a common need.  Without a doubt, the spill plane is the biggest crowd pleaser  at demonstrations, especially when attendees get to make their own spill.  In just a few minutes, several dozen spills can be produced.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

There are a few things that need to be kept in mind when using the plane.  First, the wood used for the spills needs to be a soft pliable wood; I find white pine to be ideal.  A hard wood will not curl satisfactorily into tight spills.  Clear straight grain is also essential.  I have found nice pieces from shipping crates by cutting around the knots.  The piece needs only be about 12″ long.  I am not sure how many spills can be made from one board, but it would be in the thousands.  Be sure to use wood that is not too dry.  I have more trouble in the dry winter weather getting nice spills, because the wood is not as flexible, and tends to split.  Storing the wood in an unheated environment helps.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Two other tools are necessary to keep the spill plane in top working order.  One is a plane hammer, and Sterling Tool Works makes a very nice well balanced hammer for this purpose.  I highly recommend this fine tool.  Lee Valley also makes a hammer that will do the job at a lower cost.  The hammers are designed to adjust the plane without damaging either the wood body or the blade.

Wax is also essential for the longevity of the wood body.  I use paraffin wax, the type used for canning, but a candle will also work.  Rub it on the sole and sides of the fences every few dozen strokes.  This reduces the friction on the plane and makes it easier to push.  Under vigorous use, the sole of an unwaxed wood bodied plane will actually generate enough heat to discolor and burn the wood.  It will smell like burning wood!

If the board gets out of square, most likely the blade is not square to the sole of the pane.  Using the plane hammer, tap the blade toward the lighter cutting side.  Sighting down the sole, look for an even protrusion of the iron across the width of the mouth.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Spills were often kept on the mantle, which is where they would have been used most often.  Find an old cup or vase to display them, and wait for the  “What are these things?” from guests.  Of course, a demonstration is then in order!

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *