All You Need To Know About Hand Wood Planes

One of the tools whose importance in woodworking has not diminished over the years are perhaps wood planes. They can be typically used to smooth, straighten or shape any piece of wood or lumber. Undoubtedly an

hand plane
A modern woodworking hand plane.

indispensable tool, that is a must have in any woodworker’s tool kit. Whether you want to shave the edge of a door for better finish, or want to pare a thin slice of wood or want to chamfer the corners of a board, a wood plan can come in really handy. However, for a beginner in woodworking choosing the right type of wood plane can be quite a task. In order to make it easier, we will discuss all that a beginner needs to know about wood planes.

Choosing the right kind of wood planes for your needs:

Not only beginners, seasoned woodworkers can be in a dilemma over choosing the right kind of hand wood planes for a particular job. The dilemma is compounded by the fact that there are a huge variety of them available in the market and in various online shops. The fact is each type of plane has its own particular use and to know how good a wood plane is and which type is most suitable for a particular job, one should equip oneself with the right knowledge. The best way is to read books, magazines or online resources on woodworking.

Typically, most of the types of planes can be divided into two groups – one is the bench planes and other is the specialty planes.

Bench planes can either made of wood, metal and even plastic and typically have wide blades and flat soles. They find use in smoothing the surfaces of boards and also in leveling, squaring or joining. Various types of hand wood planes include jack, smooth, panel, jointer, etc., each of them is named as per the job they are meant to carry out. The typical length of these planes can range from 8” to 24” or more. The blade in these types of hand wood planes is placed at an angle of 45 degrees making them suitable to work on both hardwoods and softwoods. There is a shorter variety of bench planes also known as block planes in which the blades are set at an even lower angle –around 12 to 25 degrees. These types of wood planes are best for trimming end grains.

Here we have described the various commonly used bench planes in brief along with their uses.

Jointer: Of all the types of bench planes, a jointer is the largest with a length of 22 inch or longer. It is best for trimming, straightening and squaring, the edges of long boards, doors, etc.

Jack: Before the evolution of power planers, jack planes were used to smooth and square rough lumber. Its length ranges from 12” to 17 inches and is more versatile than the jointer plane. It is used for truing long boards and removing warp or twist.

Smooth: Its length typically ranges from 9-11 inch and is good for general planning and for leveling off high spots. This is an all-rounder wood plane and in case you own only one plane this is the one you should have.

Block Planes: Since, block planes are quite small in size, they are ideal for trimming small areas. They typically come in the standard 20 degree blade angle. However, another variety of it also known as the low-angle block plane is also available. In this type, the blade angle can be as low as 12 degree making its suitable for severing end grains.

The specialty planes are characterized by narrower soles and typically find use in rabbeting, molding edges of boards and in making grooves in wood. One can find a wide variety of planes in this category as well.  The angles of the blades in specialty planes vary – there are some with angles lower than 45 degrees while many other have higher angles.

overview of hand planes
Example overview of the most used hand planes for woodworking projects.

Choosing the right type of plane depends on the type of work you will be executing with it. If you choose intelligently, a couple of hand planes will be enough to do most planning jobs for you. Ideally, the first wood plane that you should own should be a jack or a smoothing plane, though jack plane with its typical length is more versatile. The second one that you should put your hands on is a block plane. With its length of around 6 to 7 inches, it will keep you covered when working on smaller jobs and for end-grain jobs. And the third one that you should ideally own must be a jointer plane. With its longer length, they are great for flattening the edges of board.

Once, you know how to use these wood planes in the best way for your work, you can consider owning a couple of specialized planes like the rabbet plane, or a plow plane.

Whichever plane you choose to buy new or second hand, there are some finer points that you need to take into consideration for it to work flawlessly. Second-hand planes might even need to be cleaned up properly. Here are the other things that you need to check.

  • A plane won’t make the mark if its blade is not razor sharp. Even if you buy a new plane, make sure to check its blade and sharpen it as per your need. A sharpening stone or a sand paper should be good enough to do the job. Make sure that you know how to sharpen such tools before setting out to do it.
  • It is important to adjust the Plane as per the requirement of the job. If the plane takes a larger bite than necessary, it can get jammed or quite possibly tear out the grain. So, the best way to start is to set the blade for a shallow cut and once you start getting continuous shaving, you can gradually increase the depth. Even after increasing it, it should be able to give you uninterrupted unbroken shavings.

A good quality wood plane that is taken proper care of can last for a lifetime and can efficiently carry out all the tasks it is meant to.

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