How to Use Hand Planes
Generally, hand planes are used to flatten wood down to the size you will be working with. Although much of the hand plane’s job is now being done by machines, these tools remain indispensable in any woodworking shop. There are still some things only hand planes can do. As such, you will do best by mastering how to use hand planes.
There are many kinds of hand planes, but we will be focusing on the 4.5 for this particular article. It is just the right size for your everyday smoothing work.
Items Needed for this Project
Here is the list of materials and tools you will need to complete this DIY woodworking project.
- Hand plane
A Lie Nielsen or a Stanley 4.5 is best for this kind of work. If you do not have access to these two, though, you are free to use the best one you can find. The parts are the same across all models anyway.
- Scrap wood for practice
Step 1: Master the parts of your hand plane.
Before you begin, familiarize yourself with the parts of your hand plane. You have your rear toe, front toe, chip breaker, cam lever, iron or blade, lateral adjustment lever, depth adjustment wheel, frog, mouth, and body.
The front toe is what you hold to guide the plane along, the rear toe is where your driving hand goes, the iron or the blade is what cuts into your wood through the hand plane’s mouth, the frog is where that blade assembly sits, and the lateral adjustment lever and depth adjustment wheel are what you use to adjust the depth of cut and how evenly it cuts on both sides.
Step 2: Make the proper adjustments.
Make sure you have a razor-sharp blade that is well-adjusted for depth and lateral alignment. You can test the depth by running your thumb over the length of the body of the plane, once on the right side of the blade, once on the center, and once on the left, so you get a feel of the evenness.
If the blade is off its lateral adjustment (i.e., one side is shaving off more material than the other), push the lateral adjuster to the side that is shaving more until it is properly aligned.
Then, adjust the depth adjustment wheel according to how deeply or finely you want to cut.
Step 3: Start planing.
Plane your wood following the direction of the grain. This is absolutely important because you can end up ruining the surface of the wood if you do not mind the grain.
Plane along the entire length of the wood, beginning from one side, then gradually moving to the other like the pattern you follow when mowing your lawn. Once you get to that other side, start working your way back to where you started.
These instructions are very simple and easy to follow, but you can only produce good results if you pay attention to technique. Here are some helpful advice you can apply when using your hand plane.
Pro Tip #1
- Mark well before cutting any lumber
Hand planes are numbered according to size. The most widely used ones are the 4-½’s. You can use them primarily for smoothing. The number 5 is the most versatile, as you can use it for smoothing, joints, and others, earning it the nickname “Jack of all planes.” Large planes like 7’s and 8’s are purely for joints.
Generally, the larger the body of the plane, the more capable it is of flattening stock. The length enables you to ride over low spots and bring high spots down to flatten the wood.
Pro Tip #2
- Don’t be too eager to cut.
Start by cutting finely. If you push the blade too deep right away, it will not cut. That, or your blade is not sharp enough, which is a mortal sin in hand planing.
Pro Tip #3
- Keep the hand plane upright.
Avoid laying the hand plane on its side because it can damage the tool in two ways: by exposing the blade and possibly throwing it off its lateral alignment. Simply find a nice, clean spot and place it there in an upright position. That way, the blade is protected, the lateral alignment is untouched, and you can easily get it when you need it.
Pro Tip #4
- Avoid ending up with tapered surfaces.
Apply a nice amount of pressure down on the hand plane as you smooth out the surface of the wood. As the blade exits the wood, transfer the pressure toward the back of the hand plane’s body. Maintain that until the plane is completely off the wood. That way, the edges don’t taper.
You will find a lot of help from this video uploaded by Homestead Heritage School of Woodworking. Award-winning woodworker Frank Strazza demonstrates the proper way to use a hand plane and shares a lot of helpful tips along the way.
Your choice of tool is important in woodworking, and it makes a huge difference in how your workpiece will turn out. However, it should not be purely about the tool. You should apply the proper technique to make it work.
The hand plane is a humble tool that is slowly getting taken over by machines. For now, though, there are still certain jobs only these tools can do. Until they completely get discontinued, it is imperative that you know how to use hand planes.