Last Updated on 2021-03-09 by Harry Masterton
The woodworking hand plane or wood plane is one of the oldest designs of hand tool that are still regularly in use. The woodworking hand plane is used to shave and shape wood with a flat, angled blade. The body of the plane is usually a metal or wooden device between 8 and 24 inches long and several inches wide.
The long planes are for smoothing, and the shortest, widest planes are for finishing. There are two handles on a woodworking hand plane. The hand planer is pushed forward with a knob on the front and a pistol grip in the back for pushing.
The blade extends out through the bottom at an adjustable length and angle. The flat bottom of the body, called the sole, keeps the plane even as it cuts. Planes are generally used to flatten, smooth, or thin out a piece of wood.
Planes are also used to create wide, flat surfaces that are uniform across the entire section. There are electric woodworking machines that have taken the place of the hand planer in some situations. These machines, like jointers and thickness planers, are usually used for larger jobs that would require too much time and effort for a standard woodworking hand plane.
Regardless of the project's scale, you will need a woodworking hand plane at some point. It's nice to have a few options, but even one plane has the versatility to perform several different tasks.
Types of Woodworking Hand Plane
There are many different types of hand plane variations. They each have their own function and purpose so our job here is to make choosing your next, or first woodworking hand plane as simple as possible and cut through the confusion.
A few of the better-known types of wood planes are the scrub plane, bench plane, block plane, and then the various specialized woodworking planes that generally get grouped together.
The Infill plane which is made with a metal shoe and sides with a wooden plane body ‘core' or insert. The infill plane dates back to roman times.
The completely wooden plane has now been largely superseded by the modern metal bodied planes.
There is quite a bit of overlap between the different types of planes and their functions, but they are unique enough to support having their own names. The wooden hand plane is used for every job in the woodworking shop from initial rough lumber out to hand planing cabinetry and fine woodworking.
The most common difference, in types of woodworking hand plane, is how rough or fine the plane cuts. The different widths, lengths, and blade angles determine the function of those particular types of woodworking planes.
Hand planes are like fine musical instruments. Anyone can pick one up and start using it, but the experts can really show its depth of ability.
The modern metal plane with a well sharpened and honed plane iron and well adjusted chip breaker will give you years of service in your woodworking shop. Keep a good sharpening stone on hand and learn to use it.
What is a scrub plane?
What Is A Scrub Plane Used For?
Image Source: Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. You can buy this beautifully engineered Scrub Plane by clicking here or the image above. The Lie-Nielsen No 40 Scrub Plane superb piece of woodworking craftsmanship.
What is a scrub plane, and what is a scrub plane used for? Scrub planes are used to remove large amounts of material from lumber. This type of plane is for rough bulk work when you're getting started getting a project into shape.
The scrub plane is usually the first plane used on a woodworking project. It starts to even out the lumber if there are any large grooves, angles, or divots that need to be removed. It's a quick and rough shaping woodworking hand plane that gets the piece ready for finer work.
All you need is a few strokes with your scrub plane. The open throat lets large amounts of wood shavings through so that it won't bind up when you're slicing off coarse and dense material. The scrub plane is great if you're a beginner and ready to start using a woodworking hand plane in your shop. A scrub plane is used for such preliminary work that you can't really make a mistake that won't be taken care of by other planes further down the process.
The Bench Plane
There are a few different planes that fall into the Bench Planes category. The bench plane family is very similar to each other and work in a series to achieve increasingly finer cuts and finishes on your woodworking projects.
Starting with the Jack Plane that roughly gets the piece into the basic intended shape. The Jack plane and fore planes perform, pretty much, the same job. You'll find that some woodworkers even use their names interchangeably.
The jointer plane prepares the lumber for use by making sure the sides and angles are straight. The smoothing plane gives the wood a sleek finish.
The Jack Plane
It's just a bit more delicate, but it serves a similar purpose. The jack plane can still remove a significant amount of wood like the scrub plane, but it can be adjusted for finer cuts as well, and it can roughly level wider pieces by running it across the grain.
The jack plane is the most common type of woodworking hand plane and should be one of the very first woodworking hand planes that you buy.
You'll find it's pretty handy for most situations. If properly sharpened and cared for, a sturdy jack plane will be one of your most frequently used tools. There are other planes better suited for specific jobs, but with a little patience and elbow grease, your jack plane can probably get it done. In a best-case scenario, you'll have the full set of woodworking hand planes and you won't have to rely solely on your Jack Plane.
The low angle jack plane was made famous by the Stanley plane No 62 Sweetheart Low Angle Jack Plane
The Fore Plane.
A Fore Plane is similar to a jack plane, but it is longer.
It's the next step in the sequence, and it's just a little bit finer. It's called the Fore Plane because it was to be used before the other planes. We'll have to group the jack plane and the scrub plane with the fore plane so that its name makes sense, but they're similar enough for it to make sense.
Like the other planes in this initial group of woodworking hand planes the fore plane is designed to remove bulky strips of wood from the lumber so that it's ready for the smoothing plane. You'll need to have the blade as open as possible while still being able to maintain control.
Like the scrub plane and the jack plane the fore plane is used to cut through a bunch of wood quickly.
The Jointer Plane
What is a jointer plane used for?
Since the previous woodworking hand planes have already taken care of the bulk of the work, the jointer plane takes care of the finishing touches of shaping the edge of the board.
This jointing process with smooth square right angled edges allows you to join several boards together to create one large wide piece such as a table top.
The blade will be at a much tighter angle and you'll remove far less material than you did with the jack or fore planes.
With a jointer plane and a bit of practice and patience, you can be certain that your wood will fit together without any gaps.
The Smoothing Plane.
What is a smoothing plane used for?
The Smoothing plane does exactly as it's name suggests. The smoothing plane is the final step of the bench planes process. They are the shortest and most maneuverable. They have a low angle blade that removes such a fine amount of wood that it literally becomes smooth to the touch.
When used correctly, a smooth plane can produce a finish equal to or better than sandpaper. It can be a time-consuming process to use the smooth plane well on every side of every piece of lumber.
A sharp enough blade at the correct angle can produce some impressively smooth wood. It's finally finished the long process from coarse lumber to smooth usable wood.
Now it can be further processed by the specialty planes to cut mouldings and other decorative edges.
The Block Planes.
What Is A Block Plane Or Low Angle Block Plane Used For?
The block plane is a smaller woodworking hand plane used for cutting the end grain of the lumber. The block plane is also used for touch up or finishing work. The block plane has the blade at a lower angle with the bevel facing up and they produce very thin and fine cuts.
The block plane gets its name from one of its earliest uses. Butcher blocks would get chopped up over time and this handy plane could quickly and easily remove the damaged surface.
The butcher would get a fresh top block with minimal effort. The block plane is also used to remove wood glue lines or very minor imperfections.
The low angle block plane can also be used for chamfering. That's the process of removing the sharp edge of a 90-degree angle and creating a transitional edge between the two adjoining right-angle faces.
The low angle block plane is a fine work touch up plane and is normally used with one hand for a greater degree of control.
Specialized Woodworking Plane
Bench planes are great at what they do, and they take care of the lion's share of the initial woodworking hand plane work, but there are other planes that are designed for much more specialized woodworking tasks.
Specialized woodworking hand planes either take care of one or two specific tasks like the rabbet plane or they can be incredibly versatile like the combination plane.
Some of the more unique planes are today almost antiques. They've been replaced by routers and other woodworking power tools, but if you're interested in learning the real craft of woodworking they can still be enjoyable to use.
The Combination Plane
What is a combination plane?
A combination plane can be set to perform various tasks from mouldings, cutting grooves, rabbetting and shaping ‘tongues'.
The combination plane was originally designed to replace the need individual woodworking planes each with its own distinct cutting blade.
The combination plane can cut out rabbets, beading, reeding, and fluting.
Changing the blade combination also creates a unique design for moulding.
The combination plane saves enormous amounts of time by quickly transitioning for its various tasks. It can swiftly produce custom moulding and it's excellent for restoration work.
The combination plane is fairly intricate and it has a lot of moving parts. The older versions had a tendency to jam up, and the blades could move out of place.
Modern combination planes no longer have those problems, but they are still quite complex and require a fair amount of practice to operate effectively.
Image Source: Lee Valley – The Veritas Combination Plane is a superb piece of woodworking engineering. It's not cheap, but it is the pinnacle of craftsmanship and will last you a lifetime and more. You can buy this superb combination plane at Lee Valley or by clicking on the image. (We are not Lee Valley Affiliates, we just love this plane)
The Rabbet Plane
What is a Rabbet plane used for?
A rabbet or rebate plane is used to make these cuts. It shaves down a certain area on the edge of a board until it reaches the desired depth. These joints are then fitted together and secured with glue, nails, or screws.
Precision is very important with the rabbet plane, so it will commonly have a depth stop and a fence. This allows for a uniform rabbet on each piece of wood. Gaps will cause problems when you try to secure the pieces together.
There is also commonly a spur attached that helps to keep a clean edge on the cuts.
Rabbet Plane vs Shoulder plane
The shoulder plane is a woodworking hand plane that is very similar to the rabbet plane.
It can cut to the edge of a piece of work. The blades of the shoulder plane extend out past the width of the body. The shoulder plane is a woodworking hand plane with a blade set at a lower angle than the rabbet plane.
This allows it to cut end grain or cross-grain more smoothly.
The Moulding Plane
Moulding planes are used to make the complex shapes for crown mouldings, decorative edges and composite mouldings. They were made by shaping a piece of hardwood into the intended moulding and then the specially made blade or iron is used.
You would then run the plane along the edge moulding to remove the material and create the desired shape. Each pass makes the pattern deeper and deeper until the full shape of the design is cut across the length of the board.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Cabinet makers would have dozens of different moulding plane options. Usually, they would only be an inch or two wide, but they could also be quite large for crown mouldings.
These larger versions would sometimes need more than one person to push it down the board.
Moulding planes are now considered to be outdated. They've been mostly replaced with spindle moulders, wood shapers, and routers.
The Chisel Plane
It can easily scrape layers of old paint or varnish in hard to reach places, excess glue and getting right into corners.
Image Source: Lie-Nielsen Toolworks
The chisel plane is good at basically any task that requires a quick scrape. They have the ability to scrape along a surface to remove anything not flush while not removing any of the surface itself.
The chisel plane acts like a paring chisel with very precise depth control. They are also very handy for working on flush surfaces like edges, corners, dovetails, and dowel holes.
Our recommended Chisel Plane is the heritage grade Lie-Nielsen Small Chisel-Plane
The Router Plane.
The final specialty plane is the router plane which is used to create open, stopped dados or precise grooves cutting. This tool takes a great deal of skill to master
The Japanese Hand Plane
How do you use a Japanese hand plane?
Japanese hand planes are unique in a few ways. They are composed of a block of wood and a blade.
The Japanese hand plane is the only woodworking hand plane that is used by being pulled toward you rather than being pushed away. The Japanese hand plane blade is made by laminating a piece of quality cutting steel onto a softer iron body.
The blades are tapered both length ways and in thickness so the blade itself acts as the wedge. Japanese planes are a lot of work to maintain, set up properly, and sharpen. It can all add up to a serious time commitment, but the results can be very much worth the time and effort. Japanese hand planes have a slightly recessed sole.
The only parts of the plane that come into contact with the lumber are the blade and the very ends of the woodblock. This gives the user a very precise feel for the cutting surface by drastically reducing friction from the cutting motion. It also allows for surprisingly thin cuts.
There are actual contests in Japan where carpenters using a Japanese plane will compete to see who can pull the thinnest cut. The winning cuts are so thin that they're measured in microns.
Best Woodworking Hand Plane To Start With
Best Hand Planes For Beginners
It's important to work on a well-rounded set of woodworking hand plane skills if you want to be effective. A good joinery plane even if its a vintage tool of your Granddaddies will give you a great start
What is the best first hand plane to buy?
A good place to start is with a sturdy jack plane. It's probably the all best woodworking hand plane for beginners It's the workhorse of the plane family. It's adjustable enough to give you practice with rough work and finer work.
Working with a jack plane gives you the room to make mistakes without ruining the lumber. It requires a lot of strength and a lot of plane strokes. You'll start to develop a feel for how the tool works on a foundational level.
You'll then start to build muscle memory for that motion which allows you to become more and more precise in your cuts. At the point where you feel like you have a solid grasp on the fundamentals, it's then alright to move on to the jointer plane.
This tool needs more focus, and you'll have to draw on your experience with the jack plane. It's much more precise and it has a higher bar to measure success. The work requires patience and finesse.
The lumber needs to be suitable for jointing. The edges and angles need to be crisp and straight. This tool will take much more practice to master than the jack plane. If you can stick to it then you'll no longer be a beginner.
Anyone that can scrub down some lumber, joint it, and get it ready for use is at least in the intermediate skill group. Running a smooth plane shouldn't be too difficult to grasp once you have the fundamentals down.
Best Hand Planes
The low angle rabbeting jack plane by veritas is a remarkable woodworking hand plane. Sometimes called the jackrabbit it's an incredible versatile woodworking hand plane. It has a plane blade that goes right to the edge of the body so that you can do any kind of rabbeting work.
You can cross-plane against the grain with a low angle blade, or pare end grain. If you set the blade at a steeper angle you can do harder wood surface planing like a standard jack plane.
The jackrabbit also has a knicker blade on a cam screw that can be set to different depth thicknesses. It actually cuts the wood grain when you're paring across to avoid tear-out. When it comes to a North American iron body woodworking hand plane the jackrabbit has you covered.
It's perfect for any kind of jointing or rabbet work. It's a stellar woodworking hand plane, but it's not the best. The best plane is the most useful plane.
And so the most useful plane is a Stanley 12-200 block plane. This woodworking hand plane should have a special holster on your belt. It's a light, sturdy, functional, and affordable woodworking hand plane.
There are plenty of times that a simple little woodworking hand plane is needed to fix something. All you need to do is grab it, slice off what you need to slice, and then it easily drops back into place.
You might not use it as much as a screwdriver or tape measure, but it has definitely earned its spot in the belt. It's a woodworking hand plane that will last forever and you'll use it any time you're in your shop.
Shaving And Shaping Up Your Lumber
The simple idea of shaping wood breaks down into thousands of different tools and tasks. Planes are a fundamental of woodworking whether that's a manual hand plane or an electric hand planer.
A woodworking hand can drastically change a rough piece of wood and turn it into a piece of fine cabinetry or a sturdy backyard storage shed. Skill with a plane opens a lot of doors when it comes to what projects you can choose.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the woodworking hand plane and their versatility it should be easy to incorporate more plane work into your woodworking projects.
Grab a sturdy jack plane and practice on scrap wood until you get the hang of it. Challenge yourself to take on more and more difficult designs. After enough time, you'll be as good as a professional carpenter.