With my plow plane back from Lee Valley after having been machined to accept the new beading blades, I decided it was the right time to upgrade my skills in using it. Plow planes are not the easiest tool to use because you need to keep the fence right against the workpiece and the plane consistently upright. Sounds easy but it isn't.
The best references I could find are from Lee Valley and from Chris Schwarz. I have my own twists on their advice though. To start, it turns out that the white oak scraps I have are quite a challenge to groove. Lee Valley blithely notes that the plane is best used with nice straight grain, but that is easier said than done. The white oak tends to tear out quite badly and the cutter wants to follow the grain so if you aren't very careful you find the fence soon isn't against the workpiece and you have an ugly, curved groove. I tried my dual marking gauge to help combat this and it seemed to work. Fairly deep marks very slightly wider than the intended groove helped me to keep going straight and to combat tearout. Then if you take fairly short strokes starting at the far end to establish the groove it seems that you can avoid most tearout and having the fence wander away from the piece with the grain.
How you hold the tool matters a lot. The advice Chris received that each hand has a separate job is solid. The tote hand only pushes while the hand on the fence holds it against the piece and keeps the plane perpendicular. The specific grip Chris recommends felt awkward on my plane and I have trouble not using the pushing hand for control, so this is what I settled on:
For some reason I end up with a death grip on my tools if I am not careful, so having only one finger around the tote helps and the dragging finger helps with maintaining perpendicularity while the open grip on the fence helps me to just push on it and the dragging fingers help orient the plane just as they do on the other hand. The handhold seems curved just right for this and this is close to what Lee Valley recommends. The dragging fingers definitely seem to help and not having the forefinger pointed seems less than ideal but alright.
You'll notice that my workpiece is resting against another board that is holding it just slightly proud of the edge of my bench. I've always struggled with holding small pieces while grooving, so I made myself a t-square like appliance that I can clamp in my end vice and it seems to work well.
You'll also notice that the lumber stamp is still on my workpiece. As a further defense against tearout and a way of removing the marking gauge lines, I decided to create the groove before surfacing. I can then touch up the groove before assembly. This is the only way I could get close to the pristine grooves in the sources above. Being risk averse, it's also a way of avoiding spending time on joinery if the groove doesn't turn out well. Sort of like the drawer stock they sell at the yard.
Lee Valley recommends an auxiliary fence, and I had one, but I took it off and had somewhat better results, possibly because I could then drag my fingers. If you look at their picture, you'll see a dowel in the top of the fence that is a visual reference helping to keep the plane perpendicular. If what I have tried so far doesn't get the job done, I may try this.
Both sources recommend thick shavings, which obviously makes sense. If you made .005" shavings, it would take 50 strokes to make a 1/4" groove. On the other hand, I found that the thicker the shaving the harder it was for me to control the plane. There's a tradeoff and, for now anyway, I'm willing to take a few more strokes.
Finally, Lee Valley says the blade should be flush with the skate but my plane came back from them with it set to be noticeably proud, with the result that the skate is in a little from the edge of the groove. This seems to work OK and I can't see why it would be a problem, so I left it this way. This way the fence is in total control of the groove's position and that might be a good thing.
This experience has been another example for me of the value of really thinking through how you use each hand tool. A lot of little things matter.