Know Your Tools: Hand Planes

Know Your Tools: Hand Planes

Johnny Williams
Nov 2, 2009

Never mind the pain — when it comes to woodworking, it's no plane, no gain. Hand planes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all designed to flatten wood surfaces. Their function makes them key to every craftsman's kit and their beauty drives collectors wild.

Though its origins are ancient, the hand plane as we know it was conceived by toolmaker Leonard Bailey in the 1850's. His innovative designs attracted the attention of the Stanley Rule and Level Company, which bought Bailey's business and the right to his patents in 1869. Up until the onset of WWII, Stanley forged a Golden Age in plane manufacturing — to this day many woodworkers (myself included) hunt these cast-iron relics down and restore them to working condition. But if mending old planes doesn't fly with you, nothing beats Lie-Nielsen's first-class tools. This Maine-based manufacturer charges top dollar for its exemplary wares, and rightfully so — use one of their planes and your boards will be flatter than a month-old soda.

A hand plane is essentially a wide chisel fixed in an ergonomic base. As the tool plows across a board, a steel blade cuts into any high spots, leveling the wood's surface. If properly tuned, a few passes will produce a beautiful pile of wispy wood shavings. Today, most planes follow Stanley's numerical classifications: those labeled #1-4 are called smoothing planes, #5 and 6 are jack planes and #7 and 8 are jointers. As the numbers increase, so does the length of the plane.

Smoothing plane (#1-4) - Smoothing planes do just that: smooth. They are utilized in the final stages of surface prep to eliminate any remaining bumps or rough spots.

Jack plane (#5, 6) - A jack plane earned its name by being the "jack of all trades." Most people, however, rely on them to remove large amounts of material, ridding the board of any warp.

Jointer (#7, 8) - A jointer, the longest of all the planes, is used to level out the faces and edges of a long board.

(Images: 1 The Boat and Tool Shack , 2 Lie-Nielsen Toolworks , 3 Lie-Nielsen Toolworks , 4 Bill Hughes Flutes , 5 Wikimedia )

Johnny is currently blogging his experience as a student and amateur woodworker. You can keep track of his projects on his blog, Woodlearner.

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