How to choose and use hand planes

Get back to woodworking basics with this traditional hand tool

By Adrian Jones

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Basic technique

One of the most common uses I have for my regular bench planes (No. 4, No. 5, No. 7) is levelling panels such as tabletops or door panels. I start by finding the high points using a straight edge and marking them with a pencil. Then I focus on those areas, cutting on the diagonal across the panel. Remember that you physically have to lift the plane off the surface on the other side of a raised area or it will cut a little deeper than is ideal to reach your goal. Set the blade to cut just 0.001″ to 0.002″ at a time, unless you need to remove a lot of wood. The thicker the shavings, the harder it is to push the plane as well. Once I have the surface flat enough for my liking (usually .003″ or better over a smallish tabletop), I then plane in the direction of the grain to improve the surface that has been left somewhat rough from my diagonal strokes.


Another common use for both my No. 4 smoother and my regular-angle block plane is trimming solid-wood edging glued to a plywood panel. The cambered blade I use allows me to set it so that the centre cuts just 0.001″ to 0.002″ deep, while the outside corners of the blade don’t cut at all. I can be careful with face veneers simply by moving my plane over so that the corner of the blade is over the veneer, not the middle. I also use my regular-angle block plane for trimming iron-on edge banding. However, I tend to use solid-wood edging more so that I can rout decorative edges.




Whenever I glue up a mitred frame, which could be a picture frame, mirror or even a tabletop with recessed glass, I use my No. 4 smoother to level all of the corners, always working from the lower areas to the higher ones, although I have to respect proper grain direction at the same time. I don’t care what kind of joinery method you use for mitred frames, I can guarantee that the corners will never end up perfectly flush on the faces. While most people just use a sander, a hand plane is far more precise and can get the job done without rounding over the surfaces or introducing a bad twist into the frame.




A low-angle block plane does a fine job on end-grain areas. For example, it is fantastic for levelling dowels used as through joinery, or maybe to pin a half-lap or mortise-and-tenon joint.





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