Hand Planes

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Hand planes are a subject near and dear to my heart.  Among the very first woodworking tools I owned were a Stanley #220 block plane and a #5C jack plane with a broken tail that I inherited from my grandfather, who probably inherited them from his grandfather.

And I still have them both, although my collection of hand tools, and planes in particular, has grown considerable in both size and tool quality.

Safety First!
Safety in the workshop is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY alone; I make no warranty as to the safety of any technique or tool shown or described on this site.  Before beginning any project, you must understand woodshop safety, know how to safely operate any machinery that is to be used in the project, and understand the safe use and any potential safety hazards involved in the use of all materials to be used in the project.  See the General Safety Notice and the Chemical Safety Note for additional information.

Bench or Smoothing Plane:    

Smoothing Plane
    Sole length: 8-10"
    Blade width: 1½"-2¼"
    Bedding angle: Usually 40°-45°, specialty planes for hardwoods may be bedded at 50°.
    Use: Final smoothing of surfaces and sometimes trueing of small boards.  A well tuned smoothing plane can produce a much better quality surface than sanding on straight grained wood.  A plane cleanly and smoothly severs the wood's fibers, while sanding scratches the wood and fills the grain with dust.  On wilder woods like curly maple, a smoothing plane will produce very slight roughness where it goes against the grain, and this can be removed by using a scraper plane.  A smoothing plane can take shavings as thin as .001".  With a shaving that thin, any tearout will be microscopic.

Jack Plane
    Sole length: 14"-18"
    Blade width: 1½"-2¼"
    Use: Flattening larger surfaces.   A general use plane which is more comfortable to use hour after hour than a heavy jointing plane, and more accurate than a smoothing plane.
 Often followed up by a smoothing plane to achieve a smoother final surface when used on the outer faces of casework.

Jointing Plane
    Sole length: 20"-24"
    Blade width:2"-2½"
    Use: Flattening and trueing large surfaces, especially in preparation for gluing up panels, where a precisely flat surface is important.
 Often has a grooved, or corrugated sole to reduce friction.

Carriage Maker's Plane
    Similar in size to a jack plane, but with a blade that extends the full widthe of the sole.
    Used for flattening and for cutting rabbets.

Adjustment:  Hand planes have many factors which must be balanced properly for the best results.  
    The opening, or mouth of the plane, should have a straight, nick free leading edge.  The distance between this edge and the cutting edge of the blade should be adjusted according to the job:  About 1/32" for fine work, to about 3/32" for thick shavings.  Roughing planes need an even wider opening for the thick shavings they produce.
    The distance from the cutting edge to the chip breaker also relates to the work being done:  About 1/32" for fine work, and 1/16" for coarser shavings.  The chip breaker helps minimize tearout by breaking off the chips, so a finer setting will make shallower tearout.
    The blade on a smoothing plane is not sharpened to a perfectly straight line, rather the edge is rounded slightly by pressing harder on the corners of the blade during honing to produce a broad, smooth curve.  The idea is to have the edges of the blade set back about 1/100" to prevent the corner leaving ridges on the work.  The blade for a jointing plane is ground perfectly straight across, with slightly rounded corners to minimize marks.  A carriage maker's plane must be ground straight across with sharp corners for rabbeting.  In any case, the back of the blade and the front of the chip breaker must be absolutely flat to prevent chips from lodging between them.
    The sole on a plane must naturally be dead flat if it is to make the board flat.  A little paste wax applied now and then reduces the work of pushing the plane across a board by about 2/3.  Paste wax leaves a very thin and slippery protective coating, which will not cause any problems come finishing time, as long as it is applied according to the directions.
    Last comes the adjustment of the blade in the plane.  First, the lateral adjustment must be made to provide for an even projection of blade across the width of the sole.  Second, the depth of cut is adjusted by planing the board with no blade showing and advancing the blade until either the proper fineness of shaving is produced, or a moderately heavy shaving is produced without bogging down the plane or leaving unacceptable tearout.

Use:  Proper technique is also vital to getting good results.  When planing the edge of a board, doing several boards at once, side by side, increases the stability of the plane from tilting.  In smoothing the faces, pushing the plane slightly sideways (skewing it) can help reduce tearout, while leveling any high spots across the width of the stock.  Planing diagonally across the board removes twist and cup, while planing lengthwise removes bowing and leaves a very smooth surface.  To prolong the time between sharpenings, never drag the blade backwards across the work, and fully retract the blade when not in use.

Roughing or Scrub Plane:

    Sole length: 10"-14"
    Blade width: 1½"-2"
    Bedding angle: 45°
    Use: Quickly removing large amounts of wood, such as removing rough saw marks, or thicknessing.  The blade is usually very thick and sharpened to a somewhat more convex edge profile than a smoothing plane.  This allows for a heavier cut to be taken without tearing the wood fibers too much.  The techniques of use are similar to bench planes.
 Usually followed by a jack or jointer plane to flatten the surface.

Block Plane:

    Sole length: 5½"-8"
    Blade width: 1½"
    Bedding angle: 20°

    Use: Small trimming or flattening jobs, can be used one-handed.  The blade can be sharpened to a blunter angle for difficult hardwoods.

    Sole length: 5½"-8"
    Blade width:
    Bedding angle: 12°-12½°
    Use: Especially for trimming end grain, the low bedding angle reduces crushing of the fibers.  Can also be used for the same jobs as a regular block plane, but not always as well behaved on difficult hardwoods.

Palm Plane
    Sole length: 2"-4"
    Blade width: ¾"-1¼"
    Bedding angle: 20°
    Use: Quick one-handed trimming jobs, like chamfering corners.

Adjustment: The blade is usually sharpened between 20°-30°.  If it is to be used for smoothing surfaces, the corners must be rounded slightly; otherwise the blade is sharpened without any rounding for use in trimming the edges and ends of boards.  Lateral and longitudinal adjustments are similar to the bench plane.  Some block planes have an adjustable throat to help control tearout.

Use: Block planes are not usually used for flattening the faces of boards, since their size allows them to follow contours and they are not designed to produce a smooth surface on face grain.  Instead, block planes are designed to be used for trimming end grain using a shooting board.  A shooting board is a board with a shallow rabbet across one end for the plane to ride in, and a fence along one edge square to the rabbet.  A board is placed against the fence and the rabbet guides the block plane in trimming the board's end square to its side.  Block planes are also the perfect tool for any accurate trimming job, such as trimming the fingers of a box joint flush to the surface, chamfering a sharp edge, and fitting joints that are just slightly too tight.

Rabbet Plane:

    Sole length: 6"-10"
    Blade width: Usually 1" or less.
    Bedding angle: 45°
    Use: Making rabbets, may also be used to form the tongue for a tongue and groove joint, but not as accurate as a dedicated T&G plane.  Some rabbet planes come with a forward blade position so they can be used as a bull nose plane, some have skewed blades for cutting cleanly across grain, and most have a spur to score the fibers when cutting across the grain.  Also called a rabbet and fillister plane or a rebate plane.

Adjustment: The blade must be ground perfectly square on the end, and its edge must be aligned to the edge of the plane, else the rabbet will not be cut square.  If the rabbet runs across the grain, the spur must be sharpened and in the lowered position.  To be properly sharpened, the bevel of the spur must face in, and there should be a skew angle with the sharp point towards the rear of the plane.

Side Rabbeting Plane:  A smaller rabbeting plane, usually ~4"-5" long, with a blade angled so as to widen a rabbet or dado.  May be made in pairs (one left-handed and one right-handed), or double-ended, with a left- and right-handed blade on opposite ends.

Shoulder Plane:

    Sole length: 5"-8"
    Blade width: 1½"-2"
    Bedding angle: 12½°-20°
    Use: Trimming and smoothing shoulders and cheeks of tennons
for mortise-and-tennon joints.  Similar to a block plane with a blade extending the full width of the sole.

Compass Plane:

    Sole length: 8"-10"
    Blade width: 1½"-2"
    Bedding angle: 45°
    Use: Trimming and smoothing curved surfaces, such as the edge of a round table top.  features a flexible spring steel sole plate which is usually bent by a screw mechanism.  Can conform to inside and outside curves with a radius of about 12" or more.  Care must be taken in use to avoid cutting against the grain, and to keep the plane facing straight forward, rather than being slightly skewed.  Skewing the plane effectively changes the curvature of the sole and will produce uneven results.

Router Plane:

    Sole length: 1½"-4½"
    Blade width: Varies; 1/8"-3/4"
    Use: Making or trimming grooves and dadoes.  Consists of a small base which holds a special chisel at a consistent depth below the surface.  A small router plane is often called an "old woman's tooth".  In trimming a groove or dado, the depth of cut is typically incremented down until the full depth is reached.

Molding Plane and Plow Plane:

    Sole length: 8"-15"
    Blade width: Varies
    Bedding angle: 45°
    Use: Before routers and shapers, this was the best way to make a profiled molding.  Many designs exist for shapes like table top edges, crown moldings, rule joints, and raised panels.  Many wooden molding planes come in left- and right-handed versions to allow cuts to be made with the grain, as the plane cannot be reversed due to the profile.  Metal models are called plow planes, multi-profile planes, combination planes, or rabbet and fillister planes.

Wooden-Bodied Planes:

    Bedding angle: 40°-50°
    Use: All the same uses as metal planes, but slightly different working properties.  Some traditional woodworkers prefer the feel of wooden soled planes, as they have a different mass, weight distribution, and feel when sliding over the wood.  Very old planes have a simple wedge adjustment, while newer ones may have the familiar wheel adjuster.  Adjustment on the older planes is as follows:  
    To increase depth of cut, tap the blade lightly.  This can also adjust the lateral movement.
    To decrease depth of cut, tap the wedge, or tap the button on the front of the plane to loosen the wedge and remove the blade for sharpening.  Some planes require the back of the plane be tapped, rather than the button.


    Sole length: ~1"
    Blade width: 1-½"-2"
    Bedding angle: 45°
    Use: As the name suggests, spokeshaves were invented for shaping wheel spokes.  They also come in handy for shaping cabriole legs, and rounding and chamfering corners.  Spokeshaves also come with concave and convex curved soles, the former being better suited for shaping small spokes, etc., and the latter for hollow surfaces.  Spokeshaves with soles curved front to back are also available for shaping inside curves, such as at the end of a stopped chamfer.

Japanese Planes:

    Pulled, not pushed, in most cases producing a better force vector for fine work.  The design reflects an eastern philosophy of centering; pulling all tools towards oneself.  Bedding angle of 45° to 47.5°.  Laminated iron similar to chisels.  Wooden body.

Chinese Planes:

    Pulled by transverse spokeshave-like handle low on the body, which results in excellent control and stability.  Bedding angle of 60° which is especially well suited to dense tropical hardwoods. Wooden body.

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