Plane Types & Choices | Using, Sharpening, And Tuning (Fettling) | Wooden Planes | Technical

Hand Plane Information Part 1 - Plane Types & Choices


This is a bunch of longish posts I have made about hand planes on the WoodNet Hand Tools forum. They were all answers to specific questions; you get to try to guess what the original questions were. As you participate in the Hand Tools forum you will see that the same basic questions about planes keep coming up over and over again because there is so much to learn about the subject. That's why I have compiled these posts. I hope they are a help to new plane users.

Many of the posts have been edited since they were posted. That has usually been done to correct errors, clarify the language. In a few cases, such as the list of useful books on planes, significant additions have been made as well. I have kept the editing true to the original posts, though, not adding significant material beyond the original post. For that reason, if you search the forum for the thread in which a post appeared using specific words or phrases in these posts it may be necessary to make several tries, in case what you search for doesn't appear in the original.

Because of the specific questions that have been asked, and because of my own attitudes, these posts tend to deal more with, "How many different planes might a woodworker find useful?" than with, "I want just a couple of planes to do everything; what should I get?" Actually, though, the biggest reason people can't figure out which small set of planes would do them the most good is that they do not understand why there are so many in the first place. The material in these posts will explain that. I believe that will make it easier for you to make your own decision.

The best place to get a lot of this information, along with photos and drawings, is in books. Good books that are either about planes and planing or about refurbishing and tuning planes are available. Several books I like are listed at the end of the post titled Plane Numbers and Types.

These are one person's opinions. Most of them are pretty mainstream, but some are arguable to say the least. If you can Search to find the threads in which these were posted, you will often find some divergent views. Well, actually, the post First Planes--What Kind? is pretty much a summary of a consensus that had been reached in another thread asking essentially the same question just about a week earlier.

I much prefer antique wooden planes to metal ones when it comes to bench planes. I'd probably like the wooden planes made by current planemakers, too, but have not had any reason to try them with good antique ones so readily available at good prices. Keep them in mind. I seldom mention the wooden planes in these posts because so few people want to hear about them. Anywhere I mention a specific bench plane by Stanley number, I'd personally be using a wooden plane of the same size instead. The wooden planes perform beautifully, are easy to fettle and/or repair, and easier to adjust for shaving thickness than Stanley Bailey style planes. Adjusting them does take some getting used to, though.

For various reasons, none of these posts really gives a decent answer to the most common question of all: "What one, or two, or three planes can I make do with." The primary reason is that there is no reliable simple answer to that question. However, there are several reasonable answers that are usually given, even if they are oversimplify the issue. Here are several worth consideration.

A single plane
A low angle block plane This is probably the first plane to get for most people. There are a lot of things you can do with a block plane, such as cutting small bevels and fitting drawers. Unfortunately, the low cutting angle can cause tearout in figured hardwoods. But it is superior for softwoods and endgrain of all woods. A version with an adjustable mouth is the most flexible. Both Lie-Nielsen and Veritas currently make them. The Stanley #60-1/2 is the most common version.

A jack plane In terms of metallic planes there are three basic types: smoothers, jacks, and jointers. The jack is Mr. Inbetween. It is almost short enough to do a good job smoothing, and in fact there are those who prefer its heft and length for smoothing. On the other hand, it is almost long enough to do a good job straightening. In fact, you can do just as good a job straightening a face or edge with a jack plane as you can with a jointer, but it takes more workmanship to be able to do it. The #5 jack plane has been the mainstay of carpenters for ages. Many people these days prefer the wider and heavier #5-1/2, but it is less common and more expensive.

A large smooth plane The #4 smooth plane is probably the most commonly used plane of all. Personally, I would not select a #4 as my only bench plane because one of its most common uses would be for straightening edges, and a #5 does a better job of that.

A low-angle jack or smooth plane Although I do not have much experience with these planes, the favorable things I keep hearing about them from people I respect make them sound like a viable choice. Although Stanley made the #164 low-angle smoother and #62 low-angle jack plane, they are both rare and expensive. Both Lie-Nielsen and Veritas now make these planes. They are mechanically simpler than standard bench planes, making these low-angle versions a little less expensive from those expensive marks. Their proponents say that by equipping them with an additional iron or two with the bevel ground at a higher angle you can make them perform excellently to smooth hardwood surfaces. The stock iron angles are good for softwoods and rough work. If so, one of these planes with two or three blades sharpened differently could well come close to being a universal bench plane. I want to emphasize that I do not have enough personal experience with these planes to be comfortable recommending them myself.
Two planes
A low angle block plane plus a jack or large smooth plane The jack or smoother can be either regular-angle or low-angle. If it were me I'd choose the jack plane as the sole bench plane. In fact, that's what I did years ago. Dad had only two planes his whole life, a cheap little #102 block plane and a #5 jack plane. Those are the planes I learned on.
Three planes
A low angle block plane, a #4 or #4-1/2 smooth plane, and a #7 or #8 jointer For this option, where you can have two bench planes, it makes sense to pick one of the smaller ones and one of the larger ones and leave the Mr. Inbetween jack plane out. The difficulty that gives you is that since both smooth and jointer planes are used for fine to medium work, you have nothing to handle rough work and large amounts of stock removal. However, unless you flatten and thickness rough wood by hand, you should be able to do with any roughing planes. An interesting thing to note about this three-plane solution is that you can't get here from the two-plane solution unless you chose a #4 or #4-1/2 as your only bench plane.
Five planes
Add a #40 scrub and a #5 or #5-1/2 jack plane to the above three-plane suggestion. To save money, an old #3 or #4 can be converted for use as a scrub plane by opening its mouth wide and grinding a pronounced curve on the cutting edge. These additional two planes, especially the #40, are only needed if you are flattening and thicknessing rough lumber by hand. Lie-Nielsen currently makes a scrub plane, and I understand that Veritas will be adding one to their line in 2005. To me, though, the absolutely best scrub plane available is the wooden one still being made by ECE. As a bonus, it only costs about half as much as the Lie-Nielsen and Veritas ones.

Plane Numbers And Types

The numbers are Stanley model numbers. They go from 1 to 608 and mostly there is little or no rhyme or reason except for three oases of rational thought. The planes usually have the model number on them somewhere, but not always. The importance of the Stanley numbers is that they originated the system and over the years sold more planes than all of their competitors many times over. Over the years their Bailey and Bed Rock planes have been of consistently high quality for the time, so that they are both easy to find used and desirable as user planes because of their trustworthy quality. Stanley has also had several lower quality lines, such as Handyman, that are not good potential users. The three rational oases are:

#1 - #8 are bench planes--what most people think of as planes #1 is the smallest, #8 is the largest, and the sequence is by size. In addition, in this range there are fractional numbers for inbetween sizes. #4-1/2 and #5-1/2 are larger than normal #4 and #5, respectively. #5-1/4 is smaller than normal #5. #1 through #4 are smooth planes. #5 is a jack plane. #6 is a try, or fore plane. #7 and #8 are jointer planes.

#602 - #608 are the premium Stanley Bed Rock versions of #2 - #8 By the way, the normal #1 - #8 Stanley bench planes are also known as Bailey planes because they usually have both Stanley and Bailey names on them somewhere. Bailey was also a manufacturer of planes before he was bought out by Stanley, so a Bailey plane can also be one made by the Bailey company before the sale. These are very rare, so depending on the context you can sometimes tell the difference between the meanings.

In general if a plane number has a fraction, it is a variant of another plane with the same integer number.

With bench planes 1 - 8 and 602 - 608 there are also "types" numbered 1 - 18 (I'm not sure about the highest number). The types are not Stanley numbers at all, but numbers collectors use to distinguish small variations between the planes as Stanley gradually modified the design over the century or so of manufacture. There are charts you can use to check the presence of maybe two dozen features on a plane and then determine which "type" it is, and hence the date of manufacture to within a few years. There are collectors who try to accumulate every model number of a particular type. That makes some types more expensive, often with no corresponding superiority of performance. The type number can also be important when buying a plane for use because it tells you whether there is a lateral adjustment lever, high front knob, low front knob, etc., and because some types have better performance qualities. Also after WWII many of the more recent types are considered to be of diminishing quality.
A full catalog of all Stanley hand planes with photographs and explanations of all the above plus much, much more is available on the Internet at Patrick Leach's Blood & Gore web site. You can find it by Googling Leach Blood Gore. The bible of plane identification.

Some other manufacturers just used Stanley numbers while others, such as Millers Falls and Sargent, used their own. There are charts online cross-references the different model numbers.

There is no commonly accepted numbering system for wooden bench planes--they are identified by just their length and width.


The three best books on planes for users, not collectors, are:
The Handplane Book by Garret Hack, which has beautiful color photographs of unusual and beautiful planes plus a very good discussions of the physics of the way planes work, how to fettle a plane, how to sharpen the irons, and also how to use planes to smooth, flatten, and straighten wood. This book also explains the purpose and often how to use all the different types of specialty planes. Actually, this is not just one of the best books for users, but one of the best for everyone. This has a huge number of beautiful color photographs. It is the biggest, prettiest, and most expensive of the books.

Plane Basics by Sam Allen , an out of print book that has good "basic" information on how to use planes. You can usually find a used copy of this book for $8 - $15 at or if you search for it for a little while. This book is one of the publisher's "Basics" series of books, so keeps to down to earth useful information.

Planecraft: Hand Planing by Modern Methods by C. W. Hampton & E. Clifford. This was originally published in 1934, when hand planes were still an important tool in any woodshop because power jointers and planers were only available in large manufacturing models. It was "revised and enlarged" in 1950 and 1959 and has been reprinted 23 times. An exact reprint has been published by Woodcraft. It is inexpensive and may be available only from Woodcraft. This book is a manual for the use of Record planes, which include nearly copies of most of the popular Stanley planes, including specialty planes and spokeshaves. Usually their plane numbers relate in a direct way to Stanley ones (like 05 for their Jack plane) but sometimes there is no obvious relation. The contents of the book are heavily Record-chauvinistic and continually extoll the advantages of metal planes over wooden ones, evidence that wooden planes were still popular in 1936. This book includes more practical information about exactly how to cut joints, dadoes, grooves, rabbets, and moldings than any other single book I have seen.
The two best books for understanding how a plane cuts, which has profound implications to fettling and sharpening planes, are Hack's The Handplane Book, mentioned above, and Leonard Lee's The Complete Guide to Sharpening. The latter book is also the best available book for understanding the finer points of sharpening blades of all kinds: chisels, planes, knives, scissors, axes,. It focuses on what sharp means for different tools used for different applications and explaining the physics of cutting so that you can determine what bevel angle is best to put on a given use of a particular tool. Other books usually give a bevel angle to use; this book explains the significance of the bevel angle and explains how to determine the best bevel angle for each individual tool for maximum sharpness, because the best bevel depends on the qualities of each blade's metal, how the tool will be used, and the type of wood it will be used on. That information lets you understand the more general guidelines elsewhere and therefore helps you understand when it may pay to deviate from them a bit.

Mike Dunbar's Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools covers a lot more than hand planes. The material in Hack's The Handplane Book is better on tuning metallic planes, but Dunbar's covers refurbishing antique wooden planes much better.

A substantial part of Graham Blackburn's Traditional Woodworking Handtools covers hand planes, especially the wooden ones. He covers much of the same ground as Hack's book, but is no means a duplicate.

The Internet provides a lot of information on hand planes if you can find it. One of the most impressive is Patrick Leach's Blood and Gore, which has descriptions and photographs of every plane model Stanley ever made. It is at He also provides links to several places where you can find dating information on the Stanley bench planes.

PM 9/13/04 rfeeser edited 9/29/04 to add the Dunbar and Blackburn books and Blood and Gore

A Dozen Useful Bench Planes For Preparing Rough Lumber?

[Question] ZaMo said: "If you have a #4, 4 1/2, LA 5, and a #8, do you need any of the other bench planes? For instance, I am currently drooling over a #2 and normal angle #5. Does one NEED such planes, or does one merely WANT such planes?"

[Answer] This is an explanation why a person who starts with rough lumber and prepares all his stock with hand planes instead of a power jointer, planer, and table saw might well use a full dozen bench planes for that task.

Note: Bench planes are the normal hand planes that have a wood knob in front and a wood handle (tote) at the rear. Stanley bench planes are numbered 1 - 8, plus additional 4-1/2 and 5-1/2 (large versions of the 4 and 5) and 5-1/4 (small version of the 5).

[Simple Answer] I'm sure you could do just about any bench plane work with the planes you have plus a scrub plane. In that sense you do not "need" anything else but the scrub plane. The ECE wooden scrub for about $75 is the best available in my opinion; I prefer it to the Lie-Nielsen and period Stanley #40s).

But if you do much hand work, there are good and valid reasons for having additional planes ("reasons" are in between "needs" and "wants"). You can have about dozen bench planes without being a collector. The reasons mostly have to do with the cutting angles, cutting edge shapes, and mouth sizes that are required for different operations. Some people who don't understand hand plane work may still look at you as a collector and shun you, but that's just their ignorance; what do we care?

I will list a dozen bench planes below that are reasonable for a user. The number of planes needed is a continuum, though. You can do the work excellently with four planes and several additional irons, or all twelve planes listed, or any number in between. Each plane you add reduces number of times you encounter the inconvenience of having to change the way the planes are set up. After you have had to switch from one setup to another and then back to the original one again several times, additional planes begin to feel more like a "need.".

I have over a hundred planes, having inherited the vast majority of them from dad, but I was happy for decades when I had a #3, #4-1/2, #5, #5 with scraper insert, and #7. With them I was able to do anything I expected to do with planes. With the dozen planes I now have available, however, planing is easier, and I use hand planes instead of machines a lot more than I used to.

I have not gotten to know the low angle smooth and jack planes I inherited, yet. You can change the cutting angle and mouth size with these bevel-up planes so easily that switching blades is probably a more reasonable alternative to additional planes than it is with Bailey style bench planes. Not having much experience with them yet, I am concerned that the lack of a chipbreaker may keep some of them from performing as well as Bailey style planes for some applications. For smoothers, set to make very thin shavings, the argument that chipbreakers do not help if the throat is very narrow is plausible. I can't see a 0.001" shaving being strong enough to require being broken off by a chipbreaker to keep it from pulling up a chunk of wood before the iron can cut it. However, for other applications, where you make medium to thick shavings, the chips are a lot stronger, and the argument for the chipbreaker seems plausible. I have not included any low angle bench planes in the list because I do not have experience with them.

The following is a list of the dozen bench planes I actually use when hand working wood. Well, almost. I use antique wooden planes mostly. But because most people are interested only in metallic planes, I listed the metallic plane that I would substitute for each wooden plane. Regardless of whether a person is wooden-headed or metal-headed, the same number of planes would be used, set up the same way. However, for jointer planes I listed wooden ones specifically because I think they are really superior. The weight of the wooden jointer in the list 65% of the weight of the same-sized #7, and is already heavy enough that additional weight is not an advantage. A 25 to 36 in. long metallic smoother is simply not available, probably because it would be too heavy. If you stick with metallic planes, the 22 in. #7 or 24 in. #8 would be substituted for the pair of wooden jointers. I don't think I could make a case for requiring both #7 and #8, though.

Since the reasons for using so many planes have to do with the shape of the cutting edge, mouth size, depth of cut, and cutting angle, I have mentioned a typical setup for each plane. Because terms like cambered (slightly arched), tight, narrow, open, very thin shavings, and medium shavings mean different things to different people, I added dimensional estimates to make the meaning apparent. None of these dimensions, especially for the coarser setups, should be taken literally and are really just representative of typical values. However, when I talk about 0.001" shavings and mouths 0.005" - 0.008" for smooth planes I do mean that literally.

If nearly all the work you do is with large parts or with small parts you can eliminate some of the planes in the list. If you do not use hand planes to work rough lumber down to boards ready to boards ready for joinery to be cut and finish to be applied, you can several more.

Here is the list. Items 1 through 8 are for flatting and smoothing the faces of rough lumber. Items 9 - 11 are for jointing edges. Item 12 is for miscellaneous uses.
What planes do you need?

For Flattening and Smoothing Faces

1. Scrub plane for the first step in preparing rough lumber. This is used primarily diagonally across the grain to get rid of coarse saw marks on rough lumber, take off the highest spots, and find all the pieces of metal in the board. It leaves a rough surface that is covered with diagonal gouges but smoother and cleaner than the rough lumber, Metallic and wooden jack planes are easily converted to scrubs but are not ideal. Set up with heavily cambered (0.25") edge, thick (0.01" - 0.03" or more) chips, and very wide (1/2") mouth.

2. #5 or #5-1/4 jack plane for the second step in preparing rough lumber. This is used diagonally until the rough gouges from the scrub plane are removed, then the shaving thickness is reduced to about 0.01" for a few final passes with the grain. The aim is to remove most of the wood that has to be removed, leaving the board flatter than it was with the scrub plane smoother than the scrub plane left it. The wider #5-1/2 plane could be used for this, too, but the additional width and weight are not advantageous. Set up with medium cambered (1/16") edge, medium (1/32") thick shavings, medium to wide (1/8") mouth.

3. #6 fore plane for flattening faces and getting them nearly smooth. The goal is to work the face of the board to final flatness, getting rid of the coarse plane marks left by the jack plane. Use it after the jack plane and before smoother. When you finish with this plane, the board is not smooth enough to finish but is much smoother than it was when you finished with the jack. This plane is mainly stroked parallel to the grain. Set up with medium cambered cutting edge, for medium (0.002 - 0.004" shavings), and narrow (0.01") mouth.

4. #4-1/2 large smoother for final smoothing of faces. This is the primary smoother, the one to have if one has only one. The edge must be kept extremely sharp. On uncooperative wood one has to very fussily move the frog to get the mouth as tight as possible without choking. If one has only one smoother, a #4 would be a reasonable choice instead of a #4-1/2, being more convenient for smoothing smaller parts. Set up with lightly cambered (0.002") cutting edge, very thin (0.001") shavings and very tight (0.004" - 0.008") mouth. Rather than a cambered edge, some people prefer a straight edge slightly rounded at the two ends.

5. #3 small smoother, for final smoothing of faces of small parts. Set up same as #4-1/2.

6. A good smooth plane with high cutting angle, 50 degrees, for smoothing hardwoods that can't be planed with the standard smoother without unacceptable tearout. Alternatives include a #4-1/2 Lie-Nielsen smoother with a high angle frog, a wooden smooth plane with 50 degree bedding angle, a low angle smoother with a 38 degree bevel (for a cutting angle of 50 degrees). Or use a second blade with a 5 degree back bevel in a #4-1/2 or wooden 45 degree bed smoother. If you go the second blade route you can move it in and out of your #4-1/2. But if you do that very much you will want to get a second #4-1/2 to keep set up with the 50 degree cutting angle. Smoothing difficult woods often requires trying several different planes or blades in several different areas on the face, making switching blades a PITA. A #3 with 50 degree frog would also be nice for use on small parts, but not so nice that I will count it as a needed plane. This plane is not useful on softwoods. Set up same as #4-1/2.

7. Smooth plane with a cutting angle of 55 to 60 degrees for smoothing hardwoods that even a 50 degree cutting angle can't smooth. This is a useful plane, but you can do without it by avoiding figured woods that require such a high cutting angle, or turning to scrapers and sandpaper if the available planes do not work well enough. This plane pretty much has to user made or special ordered from a maker of wooden planes. This plane is not useful on softwoods. Setup same as #4-1/2.

8. #112 or #85 scraper plane for final smoothing of hardwood that none of the smoother planes can cope with. A #5 jack plane with a Veritas scraper insert can be substituted, but is less effective and harder to sharpen. If you are trying to keep the count of bench planes down you could leave this one out because it is not actually a bench plane, but it does look like one. This plane is not useful on softwoods. I would also add a hand scraper to the list of needed tools for smoothing wood faces with planes, but it's not a bench plane.
For Straightening and Squaring Edges
9. 22" wooden razee jointer for jointing edges (same length and iron width as #7 but only 65% of the weight). This is the primary jointer, the one to have if you only have one. Set up with straight edge (some like a slight camber), medium thick (0.003") shavings, and wide (0.012") mouth.

10. 32" large wooden jointer for edge jointing long boards. (fully 8" longer than a #8, the same iron width, and about the same weight) Set up same as the 22" jointer.

11. #5 or #5-1/2 with jointing fence. Used in conjunction with the jointer planes, the fence makes it easy to ensure the board's edge is square to a face. Used as soon as the jointer plane has achieved a completely straight edge. Followed with a single full length pass with a jointer to be sure the edge is still straight. This is only for sissies; a skilled worker should be able to square an edge without a jointing fence on a plane. I use it all the time, which means I will never learn the proper technique for jointing but will have squared edges on workpieces. Set up same as the 22" jointer.
Special Uses
12. #5 or #5-1/2 large jack for all around work. Setup depends on the application. This is a good plane for use squaring off or mitering board ends with a shooting board or miter shooting clamp, in which case it would be set up with a straight cutting edge, very thin (0.001") shavings, and wide open (1/4") mouth. For this use a tight mouth does not help, and keeping it wide open minimizes the possibility of damaging the cutting edge against the front of the mouth. A low angle jack would probably be ideal for this use. This plane could also be used for jointing short to medium length boards, shooting square edges with a shooting board, or shooting beveled edges with a donkey's ear shooting board. For these uses, set up same as the 22" jointer.
Posted 9/04 rfeeser

Fifteen Useful Planes, Including Specialty Planes But Only Six Bench Planes

This is a largish set of 15 hand planes for use of hand planes for doing just about everything by hand. This is restricted to planes that I actually have and use, except for the LN high angle frog, and Record #078, which is surely better than the Anant #78 I have. Really doing everything by hand would also require a large number of wooden molding planes, rounds, and hollows in addition. I have no experience with them, but use a router for that work for now.

Stock Preparation Without Jointer And Planer 1 Wooden scrub plane
2 Wooden jack plane 14" - 16"
3 Wooden fore or trying plane 20" - 22" (optional)
4 Wooden jointer 24" - 36"
5 & 6 Two wooden coffin shaped smoothers, one with 45 degree bed and one with 50-55 degree bed, OR standard #4 or #4-1/2 and a LN #4 or #4-1/2 with a high angle frog OR a 5 to 10 degree back bevel
7 #112 large scraper plane

Metal planes could be substituted for the above bench planes except for the long jointer and the scraper plane, of course, and are preferred by many. They would be Stanley #40 (scrub), #5 (jack), #6 (fore), and #7 or #8 (jointers).

Rabbets, Grooves, Dadoes, And Fitting

8 For end grain and working small pieces: #65 or other large low angle block plane.
9 For miscellaneous small stuff, especially cutting bevels, a normal angle rabbet block plane with adjustable toe.
10 For cutting rabbets: Record or Anant #78 duplex fillester & rabbet plane. This is one case where a used Stanley may not be the best alternative.
11 For fitting joints: Large or medium shoulder plane such as Record/Clifton/LN #73, one of the Lee Valley Veritas shoulder planes, or a Stanley #92 or #93.
12 & 13 For fitting dado and groove widths: Two #79 side dado planes (one with a blade on the left and one with a blade on the right--this pair is cheaper than a pair of #99s and they have longer soles).
14 & 15 For cleaning out grooves and dadoes cut with a saw and chisels and for making flat, smooth bottomed hinge mortises: Both #71 (large) and #271 (small) router planes.
15+ For cutting grooves and dadoes: #45 combination plane. I'm afraid this is optimistic, so I am not counting it in the 15 planes. I hope a #45 would do a good job at these jobs, but with the little time I have spent on the one I recently bought, I am not convinced yet. If it works I'd use it instead of saw, chisels, router plane, and side dado plane for these functions.

Posted 8/19/04 rfeeser

Advantages Of Lie-Nielsen Planes Over Refurbished Period Stanleys

This post was responding to a specific question about the advantages of Lie-Nielsen planes over refurbished Stanleys. Therefore, it does not include the converse advantages of the refurbished Stanleys, which are many. It also does not mention the Lee Valley planes, which are of about the same quality as the Lie-Nielsens but are significantly less expensive. I use about an equal number of Lie-Nielsen planes and refurbished Stanleys. Actually, I mostly use antique wood planes, but seldom post about them unless in response to a very specific question or need because few others on the forum share my preference.

Here's my list of advantages of LN plane over well tuned old Stanleys. Many of the items have already been mentioned, but there are some new ones that haven't. You only asked for one side of the picture, advantages of the LN, so that's what you will find below. I inherited a lot of planes, including about 8 or 9 unused LNs, and after using them and getting to know them, I have a lot of respect for them but prefer antique wooden bench planes after they have been tuned up and early Stanley Bed Rocks. If both old and LN versions of the same planes are available I generally opt for a used Stanley for no good reason other than the lower cost, the aesthetics of an old plane that has aged well, and the satisfaction I get from turning a plane that badly needs tuning into a fine tool that performs outstandingly well. If I had to consider the value of my time, though, the difference in cost would not be as great.
Posted 9/29/2004 rfeeser

First Planes-What Kind? It's deja vu all over again, right?

I see pretty much the same opinions and arguments here as in several other recent threads on this subject.

Learning to plane involves learning three separate processes: sharpening, fettling, and planing. And each of the three have to be at a certain level or you will have trouble with the other two. Unfortunately, this is a situation where small improvements in any of the three have no apparent effect until you get close with all three, at which point ANY small improvement is immediately noticeable.

My experience tells me that having a very good plane to start with really accelerates learning all three processes. - It's easier to use a plane because you know anything wrong is you, not the plane. - You will be motivated and better able to learn to fettle planes because you have an acceptable example of what performance you are trying to attain. - You will have an example of "sharp." Most beginning woodworkers do not mean the same thing by this word that experienced hand tool users do.

Another difficulty is that in one way this is similar to learning to play a musical instrument. Until you know what good playing sounds like you will never achieve it, but until you can play well you will not hear the difference between good and mediocre playing. In other words, it is a gradual learning experience where learning to tell the difference is an important part. You learn to do a little better and as a result you get a little bit better at evaluating the result. You then see where you can improve a little. It's a cyclic path. That's fortunate, too. Just like kids starting music lessons, you are not immediately overwhelmed by the knowledge that you aren't Horowitz. You just keep at it, gradually becoming more demanding and keep getting better.


I highly recommend getting one professionally refurbished plane from someone like the folks here that perform this service. Make it the model you think you need most, a block plane, a #4, #5, #7 bench plane, or a shoulder plane, for example. That gets you a good instrument right from the start, it isn't expensive, and if you happen to mess it up (unlikely) it's not a big deal. But DON'T start learning to fettle by practicing on this. Keep it as your reference standard. Use it, but don't improve it--yet.

It is safe to learn sharpening on your pro's plane. Most sharpening mistakes can be corrected; and anyway, standard plane irons are cheap.

Also, get an old Stanley or a new Anant plane sometime, and try to learn how to tune it to work as well as your pro's plane. It's not too unusual to screw up a plane or two while learning. By practicing on a cheap used plane you allow yourself the opportunity to experiment. If you screw up, it's no great loss, and well worth the education. Remember, experience is the fruit of the tree of errors.

Use a cheap plane to practice fettling until you get confident of the process. Then keep inch-worming along the learning curve on all three parts. If you get really good you will probably eventually be able to improve even the pro's refurbished plane if you want to.
Which Single Plane?

[Question] Okay, I'm ready for a plane that can live in my full, too-heavy tool bucket, shoot miters, trim the mating piece of a too tight half-lap, and other uses as they arise. I don't have a 300# bench or a place for one, I can use a lathe without becoming addicted, and this could be my last plane also (famous last words). I don't know what a tuned plane feels like, so I need quality.

I'd jump on the LV apron plane (with better blade), but the mouth doesn't adjust. Do I need their low angle block (remember, weight is an issue). Any others I should look at?

[Answer] You see, the examples of your needs show why it's so hard to have just one plane: No one plane can do everything you want it to. You have to foresee your uses and pick a compromise that best meets your needs. And who knows, you may later end up buying another plane if you are not happy enough with the compromise.

Take a look at the uses you mentioned. For instance, for shooting a plane without a rabbet mouth is required (that's a "normal" bench or block plane, where the cutting edge and the mouth stop about 1/8" away from the sides. That 1/8" of sole on either side of the blade, where the blade can't cut, is what keeps you from cutting into and thus ruining the fence on a shooting board.

On the other hand, to trim the mating piece of a too-tight half-lap joint you need a plane that does have a rabbet mouth. That is, the mouth and cutting edge do extend all the way through the sides of the plane. Having the ends of the cutting edge line up with the outside cheeks of the plane is what lets the plane get into the corners of the joints. With a non-rabbet mouthed plane you can only cut up to about 1/8" of the inside corners of the joints.

There is a reason why rabbet-mouthed planes were invented. There is also a reason why all planes aren't rabbet-mouthed.

Then there's weight. A light plane is easy to carry around, but a massive plane works a lot better for things like cutting end grain or miters with a shooting board.

The advantage of a low-angle block plane over a normal angle one is that it does a better job of cutting end grain smoothly. The low angle is not necessary; if your cutting edge is really sharp you can cut end grain smoothly with a normal-angle block plane. But it's harder--takes more force--and requires a sharper blade. On the other hand, a low-angle plane doesn't cut hardwood with the grain as well as a normal angle one does. The low-angle plane is more inclined to tearout. But the low angle plane works better even with the grain in softwood. You can get it to do better if you keep the iron really sharp, keep the mouth really tight, and cut very thin shavings. You can also get a second blade and sharpen it with a higher bevel angle, and then by changing blades you can make your low angle block plane act like a normal angle block plane. Low-angle vs. normal-angle block plane is not a big deal that absolutely makes you need one of each, because with care you can make do with either one or the other. But if you are willing to keep different blades with different bevel angles, and change blades and readjust everything when you use the plane for different purposes, the low-angle plane is the more versatile.

An adjustable mouth is an advantage because it lets you make the mouth small enough that the shavings you cut can just barely get through. That does a lot to help control tearout when planing along the long grain. But a tight mouth is not a help when planing end grain, so an adjustable mouth is no advantage in a plane that will only be used to plane end grain.

I have a Lie-Nielsen adjustable-mouth block plane and a Veritas (LV) one, and in my opinion the Veritas one is the better plane because of the more precise depth and lateral adjustment mechanism, the wider blade and body, the captive swivel foot on the spin wheel used to clamp the blade to the plane, and the availability of the large wood front and back knobs.

Posted 10/152004 rfeeser

First Non-Bench, Non-Block Plane

That's hard to answer. It would be easier if you had a specific need in mind. However...

It sounds like you feel that at this time you have the bench plane and block planes covered well enough with your #4, #7, and #60-1/2 and are wondering which plane would let you do the most important "something completely different."

The two non-bench planes that I find the most useful are a shoulder plane and a router plane. If I were being determined not to use routers and table saws I would have to put a #78-style rabbet plane first on the list.

If a shoulder plane is the only rabbet-mouthed plane you have, you would probably use it to trim and fit cheeks and shoulders of tenons, lap joints, bridle joints, etc., as well as to cut the occasional rabbet, and other miscellaneous trimming. It is a very useful plane for these purposes even if you cut your joints with a table saw and/or router. My projects tend to stretch over long periods of time, so I usually deliberately cut my tenons a little bit oversize (whether by hand or machine) and then trim to fit just right immediately before assembly. The reasons for delaying the fitting are to get freshly cut wood surfaces for the glue joint and because if I had cut them to fit just right originally they probably wouldn't fit well at assembly time.

Router planes are useful for cutting shallow mortises for hinges, latches, and other hardware and for adjusting groove and dado depths and smoothing and flattening their floors. I find I use the small and large router planes about equally often. This is work that can also be done with a chisel, but the router plane makes getting the bottom flat and the depth exactly right much easier. Router planes perform these functions very well both in terms of end product quality and working time. Machine methods are faster only if you have a lot of identical cutouts to make with the same setup, and you still have to square up the corners.

Rabbets are used often, and cutting them is what rabbet planes were designed to do. If I want to avoid machines, a rabbet plane jumps to the head of the list. However, I put it at the bottom because rabbets are so easy to cut with table saw or router and come out so accurate. Between a table saw or RAS and a router in a table or hand held, machines do a great job cutting rabbets accurately in nearly all situations. The only reason I can think of for using a plane to cut rabbets is simply to avoid using machines with their dust and noise.

If you were flattening rough lumber by hand, a scrub plane (either a #40 or the really nice ECE wooden scrub plane) would probably be the first additional plane you need.

Posted 11/1/04 rfeeser

Which Brands For First Planes?

[Question] leapfrog: "Here is what i found. For a NO 4# bench smoothing plane ( what ive read to be a good "first" plane) these are the prices

Lee Valley$180
Anant $50
Harbor-Frieght$12 <-----just kidding

Huge difference in price! and for someone who still doesn't know how to use them, how can i not waste my money on something too good or too lame? For any standard bench plane, #3 - #8, add the following to your list: - Record. The Record planes are practically identical to the Stanleys of the same period (for any given period when they were both made). They are essentially interchangeable, but used Record planes don't appear nearly as often. I understand that Record planes are no longer being made.

- Refurbished old Stanley from rarebear, waltq, timberwolf of this forum (if I have missed someone it is just from ignorance or forgetfulness). $40 - $70 I'm guessing at the cost, but it's in that ballpark.

A refurbished old Stanley will be better than an Anant or new Stanley and the substantial work that has to be done to getting a new plane to work well will have already been done for you. Everyone who has posted anything on this forum about having bought one of their refurbished planes has raved about them. I don't recall a single complaint. If you are concerned, ask them about their return policies; I have no idea what they are but would be surprised if they were not liberal.

When you get to the LN and LV standard bench planes you get a more beautiful piece of metal and slightly better performance, in my opinion. Whether the difference in performance is worth the money, or whether you can detect it at all is very depending on your experience and expectations. The difference is most important in a smoothing plane like the #4 if you are really going to use it exclusively for smoothing. As a general purpose plane I think the difference is moot. In a jack or jointer plane (#5,7, and 8) the difference, even if detectable, isn't significant because of what a jack plane is used for. The differences can have some significant in a #6, but most people don't use #6 planes.

I would add the personal opinion that the importance of the brand-name of a plane is nowhere near as important as it seems to be for machines as long as you stay away from the real bears. New Stanleys and Anants (and recently made Records--they are no longer made) are near the borderline between good tools and real bears. I think folks will argue them both ways. Aside from the bears, all the planes can be tuned to about the same level of performance by a knowledgeable woodworker. The more expensive LN and LV will require much less work and knowledge, though. One aspect of the brand names in planes that is different is that the very expensive ones are quite beautiful. I wouldn't say that about the expensive brand-name machines.

Another consideration is that in general the older Stanley planes were made with a lot more quality consciousness than the new ones. The older ones were made when a lot of workmen had no reasonable alternative to hand planes, and consequently they were made to really be used by discerning woodworkers. Later, machines took over a lot of the duties hand planes had served, and plane manufacturers deliberately dropped their quality standards in order to lower the price so they would be attractive to the new flood of DIYers who were not as demanding. Aside from the older Stanley plane's needing to be cleaned up, the old ones any harder to tune up than the new Stanleys--actually, I am severely tempted to go farther and say they require less work. A new Stanley, Record, or Anant plane is not ready to do good work out of the box.

Posted 10/17/2004 rfeeser

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About #4 And #5 Bench Planes And Weren't Afraid To Ask, Plus Some Other Things. But Wait; There's More

#4 Smoother Plane
The #4 is a smooth plane, used to finish-smooth board faces if the wood is kind enough to allow that. To that end it is usually set up to take a very thin shaving (0.001 to 0.002 in -- half the thickness of most paper -- at the most) and the frog is moved forward for a mouth opening of somewhere around 0.004 in., or just wide enough to allow the shaving to pass and not clog up. The very thin shaving and narrow throat minimize tearout when planing with the grain. The blade of a smoother is usually sharpened either straight across with the corners relieved a trifle, or cambered (convex across) with a VERY slight deviation from straight so that the 0.001 in. of slightly thicker shaving is nearly as wide as the blade in spite of the curved cutting edge. These edge shapes are used because the planed surfaces are often wider than the plane, so that the corners of the blade would dig in if left sharp, leaving abrupt planing tracks down the wood. A very, very sharp blade is required to do a good job of smoothing. Planes have blades for a reason.

Such sharp blades are usually tested by shaving with them, so if a woodworker has a beard you immediately know he must use machines and sandpaper to smooth his wood. God help him, he probably uses plywood, too. Avoid buying anything from him.

Metal bench planes are easily adjustable, though, so you can open up the mouth and set for deeper cut, and use this plane for other purposes. Its short length means it will not do much to help you get a surface flat or an edge straight. You can still do it, but you have to pay more attention. Instead, it will follow gradual curves, reaching down into the valleys instead of skipping over them, which is why this short size plane is intended for smoothing. Smoothing is done with lengthwise strokes down the board with the grain, or where unruly grain makes it difficult to avoid tearout, in circular strokes while keeping the body parallel to the grain, cutting sideways as much as head-on. Since it is used to smooth the surface rather than flatten it, smooth planes are short so the boards they are used on can be a little less than perfectly flat.
#3 Smoother Plane
The #3 is just a narrower smooth plane (also often a little shorter, too). It's lighter, and because of the narrower cut it is easier to push. In other words, it's for wimps who can't handle a #4 or who work on smaller pieces than macho guys do.
#5 Jack Plane
The #5 jack plane is about 50% longer than the smooth planes, and therefore helps you a little more to get a flat or straight surface, but not as much as a longer 22 in. or 24 in. long jointer plane So the jack is not usually picked for straightening long edges or flattening boards. Although with its middle of the road size you can tune it appropriately and do a fair to middl'n job of either. (I have read that "Jack" is a carpenter's term for "short", so the term "Jack plane" referred to a plane shorter than the jointer plane, which was too big and heavy for a carpenter to carry around to his job. Others say its name refers to it being a "jack of all trades". However, in traditional use, where the worker has one of each type of bench plane (jack, jointer, try, and smooth) the role of the jack is to remove moderate amounts of wood from the face of a board, to flatten it in preparation for smoothing it with a smooth plane. To do this the jack plane's blade is set for relative thick shavings (around 0.004 in., the thickness of a piece of paper) and cambered more significantly than the smoother's, so that the width of the resulting thick shaving is somewhere between half the plane's width and 80%. The mouth has to be opened more than a smoother's, to allow the thicker shavings to pass. If you prepare rough lumber by hand all the time, you might well have two jack planes, one set coarse and the other fine, and switch planes part way through the flattening process.

For flattening a face, you start by planing diagonally, working gradually down the board, and then diagonally in the other direction down the board. Planing diagonally takes less force, so you can set the blade deeper and remove wood faster. Also, planing diagonally gives less tearout, so the wider open mouth is not a drawback. Once you get the board flat with diagonal passes with a Jack plane, you make a few lengthwise passes down the board, with the grain, until the diagonal plane tracks have been removed.

The jack plane has a medium length for a bench plane and can also be adjusted easily, so people who have only a jack can manage to do a middl'n job at smoothing a face, flattening a face, and straightening an edge all with this one plane. Like most general purpose tools, it can do all of these jobs but it won't do any of them as well as the plane specifically designed for it, and it takes some more ability on the part of its user. Nevertheless, it is capable of doing all to a carpentry level of proficiency. My father did carpentry work with dimensioned lumber and had only a block plane and a jack.
The Halves vs Halve-Nots

The #4-1/2 and #5-1/2 are just wider, heavier versions of the #4 and #5, respectively. You use them if you want to make a slightly wider cut, assuming you are strong enough to handle the correspondingly greater resistance, or if you like a heavier plane and are strong enough to use it. In other words, the 1/2 versions are macho. However, a real macho guy would own only one plane--a 24 inch 10 pound #8. When you would use a block plane, he just uses the #8 plane one handed.

The additional width of the 4-1/2 smooth plane also means the camber across the edge of the blade is a little more gradual, so the slight scooping tracks left when smoothing a board are less noticeable. These shallow (0.001 in. deep) ripples could be sanded flat easily, but hand tool workers often prefer the finished look of a planed but not sanded surface, so this slight reduction of the rippling is valued. Flat Faced

The traditional hand tool worker's method of flattening a board face will help clarify the way the uses of a #4 and #5 differ.
1. Remove saw marks and remove any gross cupping, warping, or twist with a scrub plane used diagonally. A scrub plane is lighter, narrower, and shorter than a jack plane and has a very wide open mouth and a very curved cutting edge than can easily make deep cuts. It makes hogging off the outside of a rough board go very fast.

2. Refine the flattening to a moderate extent and work out the scrub plane tracks with a jack plane with mildly cambered blade. Use a straight edge and winding sticks to see where more wood needs to be removed. Plane the board in both diagonal directions first, then reduce the cut depth and plane lengthwise until you get continuous shavings the length of the board. The surface is left moderately rough at this point. It's OK; don't worry about it.

3. Switch to a #6 try plane (in between jack and jointer length, so it does more to help you straighten or flatten) with moderately fine blade set and a slight camber because the plane is narrower than the surfaces it usually planes. Work the face as flat as you are ever going to get it. Use a mix of diagonal and lengthwise strokes, but finish with lengthwise strokes. The surface is now smoother, than it was when you finished with the #5, but not good enough to apply a finish to. Many people forego the try plane and just do a better job with a jack plane. The try plane is generally regarded to be the easiest bench plane to do without.

4. The board is now flat and reasonably smooth, so switch to a short smoother set to take a very fine cut, blade very sharp and very slightly cambered, and mouth very tight. These settings minimize tearout. Planing only lengthwise with the grain, or with circular strokes in difficult areas, really smooth the surface out, removing any residual plane marks and making the surface smooth enough to apply a finish to. In general, you try to cover the board evenly with full length strokes because any concentration on a particular area will create a hollow that might be obvious when the finish is applied.

5. If the surface left by the smooth plane is not good enough, because you couldn't avoid getting some tearout, switch to a hand scraper, cabinet scraper, or scraper plane. These tools will smooth even wood with unruly grain that you cannot plane without some tearout. They do not work well with softwood, however.
The board is now ready to finish without going anywhere near a piece of sandpaper.

Your Mileage May Vary

This is one commonly documented way of going about preparing wood with hand planes. With all the planes Stanley and others offered, differing in size by little increments, individual woodworkers varied the recipe, finding what worked well for them, and tailored for the number of planes they had available. This is one of the more popular recipes.

I've Had Few Planes and I've Had Many Planes. Many is Better

I've also had lots of money and I've had little money. Lots is better. But having more planes makes it harder to have lots of money.

A worker who spends most of his time preparing wood with hand planes would have many planes of different types and with different setups, allowing him to work efficiently by switching to the ideal plane for each step, or in the case of smoothers looking for the one that leaves the best finish on each board. As you can see, it is really necessary to have a large number of planes. Those who wonder why real woodworkers have more than 10 or 15 bench planes or so just haven't learned the fine points of the craft. Yet. Be understanding with them. Give them time to come up to your standards. Most of them are capable of learning. And remember, the best indicator anyone has ever come up with of the quality of the work that comes out of a shop is the number of planes on the shelves.
The information I've posted here regarding hand planes was written and compiled by Robert Feeser, aka rfeeser among the fine gentlemen who frequent the WoodNet Forums. He has graciously allowed me to reprint his exceedingly helpful document here on my website where I hope to add to its value by formatting it for easy reading and re-reading, navigation and the addition of links to all referenced resources online.

Thanks, Bob. I suspect the effort you've put into writing and compiling this guide to hand planes will be a godsend to countless beginners like me. - T.J. Mahaffey []