A little discussion about specific tools for those people who are considering making a plane by hand – first and foremost, make sure you have a good high-tension hacksaw, and be prepared to use it a lot. There are any number of sources for these – and my local home center even carries a fairly good one. I use 18 tpi blades for almost all steel work; 24 and 32 tpi blades are nice to have around for work on copper alloys, and thinner work. I’ve had good success with Starrett and Lenox bimetal blades, but I think any good quality blade is probably fine. I lubricate my hacksaw blades with parrafin – the same chunks I use for plane soles – and have never felt it necessary to try anything else. I should also say that I am very quick to toss blades when they show signs of wear – I’m doing enough work with the hacksaw as it is without fighting my tools on top of it. I will often go through as many as half a dozen blades in the course of making a smallish bench plane.
With respect to files, there are two types that I think are indispensable for planemaking, neither of which are typically found in the average wood shop. The first is a barrette needle file – shown below left. Barrette files have teeth in only a single face, with safe knife edges and a safe back; these are key to getting crisp corners and filing any acute angle.
The second type are pillar files. Pillar files are toothed on two faces, and have safe ‘edges’ that are precisely ground perpendicular to the faces. At least one of your pillar files should be of a narrow type – I have a stash of 3/16″ 00 cut narrow pillar files (shown at right in the photos above) – this is in my hand more often than any other single file I own. If you have the resources, it’s nice to have a few larger, and also finer cut pillars as well, but they’re not strictly necessary.
You can also make very usable ‘versions’ of these files with a bench grinder and a few typical files from the local home center… grinding safe edges at an acute angle (30 degrees is a good place to start) on a 6′ or 8″ mill file will get you into most of the corners. Add a few sizes of triangular saw-sharpening files for getting into small spaces, and you have a very capable file set that will let you do almost anything you’ll need to in making planes. Personally, I think the step-up to more dedicated – and higher quality (read: swiss pattern) files is well worth the cost, but for someone just dipping their toes into the planemaking waters, I see no need to take on any more expense than absolutely necessary.
Whatever you’re using for files, please be sure to lubricate them properly and clean them from time to time. The most convenient form of lubrication I have found for files is simple blackboard chalk. A couple of swipes against the teeth will do wonders for keeping the file sharp and free of metal dust, and will give you much cleaner results.
For cleaning, I use a small file card and the occasional dental pick to remove obstinate bits of metal.
About three or four times a year, I soak my most-used files overnight in a mild citric acid bath to freshen them up. Once a year or so, I send a batch of well-worn files to Boggs Tool in southern California, who do a magnificent job resharpening them.
I have a pretty extensive cabinet of at least 40 or 50 files, all of which get used at least occasionally — but these two files are capable of covering at least 75% of the work I do on planes. Having a wider range of files available makes many things easier or faster, but it isn’t a strict necessity by any means.
One final bit of information regarding safety: please don’t even think about using any file without a handle on it. You can buy a range of sizes, or there are plenty of good ways to make a handle for next to nothing. I don’t use them myself, but I know many people who swear by wine corks as handles. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it keeps the pointy tang out of your palms.