How to choose and use hand planes

Get back to woodworking basics with this traditional hand tool

By Adrian Jones

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With a bevel-up plane, you can control the effective cutting angle based on the grinding angle you choose for the blade. Based on the usefulness of this configuration, companies such as Veritas Tools now make larger hand planes in bevel-up styles, such as smoothers, jack planes and even jointer planes.

Build those skills

The number one reason people don’t use hand planes is that they don’t have the skills yet (and it takes a while to gain them). But you won’t learn how to use these tools just dreaming about it. Buy two or three basic planes. Learn how to tune them well and use them. Two years later, while your friends are still complaining that they can’t use a hand plane, you’ll be cutting off 0.001″ shavings and achieving accuracy they only dream of. It’s hard to beat the sense of pride you’ll get from becoming proficient with at least a few hand tools, and your woodworking projects will rise to a whole new level.

Beyond the first three planes already discussed, I recommend a longer plane, such as a No. 7 or No. 8, which is very useful for levelling very large panels such as larger tabletops. A longer plane is also necessary if you plan to joint the edges of boards by hand. A No. 5 jack plane is useful if you want a somewhat longer plane at a lower cost and with less weight. I only resort to my No. 7 plane to level a very large table, whereas a No.5 is a good starting point for something medium-sized. In both cases, I go back to my No. 4 plane for final smoothing.

When the going gets really tough on difficult timbers, such as the reversing grain of ribbon-striped mahogany, I go right to my Veritas scraper plane, which works more like a card scraper than a plane; having the scraper blade held in a plane body with a flat sole is far superior to a card scraper if you want to keep the surface flat. Then there are some more specialized planes as well, such as my Stanley No. 90 and the Veritas medium-shoulder plane. The former converts to a chisel plane for those tight spaces inside a cabinet or up against a stopped cut, while the latter is great for tenon shoulders or cheeks.




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