How to Use a Block Plane for Beginners

Are you using a block plane for the first time? If you are then you must be wondering how to use this tool. You must also be thinking how to use the block plane in different projects. The block plane is actually one of the earliest and basic tools for woodworkers. It is a tool used from start to finish in any woodworking project. It is used to shave off imperfect outer layers of wood, to prepare the piece for cutting and it is important at the end of the project as the piece is finished before applying a coat of varnish or paint.

A block plane is a basic tool. The most common block plane is made of a single piece of thick and strong wood with a blade or a cutting tool fastened at the bottom of the block. This metal piece will glide over the surface of wood to remove a thin layer; as the block plane is moved across the wooden piece, layer upon layer of wood is removed, revealing a clean, flawless surface that the woodworker can work on.

You need to learn how to efficiently handle a block plane to be able to create perfect wooden projects. Here are a few tips on how to use a block plane for beginners like you.

Get to know the parts of a block plane

The block plane has a few parts but each part is important in using the tool really well. First is the block plane handle which is the part of the plane that you hold on to as you move it across the workpiece surface. The handle takes on a variety of shapes and the most common one is made of wood. The blade is located underneath, usually this part is screwed on the block near an opening where the shaved off parts jut out. The blade is made of steel and can be removed for sharpening.

There is an opening near the blade where the pieces of shaved off wood comes out. This opening can also be used as a viewing piece to check the workpiece. The block plane is made of wood but there are hard plastic versions that are lightweight and easier to handle. The shape of the blade has not changed so much but these could be made from stronger materials aside from stainless steel.

Study the surface that you need to work on

Different kinds of wood have different surfaces, grains, textures, colors and qualities. You must get to know all these before starting any project. Some types of wood are easy to prep; you can move through the grains easy and may need only a few stokes to get the right piece to work on. However there are other kinds of wood that need multiple, deep strokes with a plane to get the best surface to work on.

You might need more time to completely understand different wood types and surfaces but eventually you will learn how as you take on more projects. But if you can, visit a lumber yard or hardware shop to find out more about the best wood for different kinds of projects.

Learn how to hold the block plane well

There is a certain way to hold the block plane to

  • Efficiently move and glide over workpieces
  • Control the tool well
  • Avoid accidents and mishaps
  • Preserve the function of the tool

Your dominant hand must hold the handle with a firm yet flexible grip. This hand will provide the primary force that will move the plane across the surface of the workpiece. Your other hand will hold the front part of the plane to control its movement.

Learn how to glide the block plane effortlessly

In some cases you will find some resistance as you move the block plane across the piece. Stop and inspect the surface for metal pieces, nails or screws which can also “injure” the plane blade. Sometimes you just need a bit of elbow grease to conquer a rough spot or a notch of wood. Start a few centimeters from the tough area and just plow the plane through. Use a larger plane to remove larger pieces and to ultimately complete the task.

Learn how to apply the ideal force

You can use the plane lightly over the area to remove a thin surface of the wood. You don’t really need to place much pressure using your dominant hand to move the block plane. This amount of force is ideal for finishing pieces or for removing a small imperfect area on the wood. Apply a much stronger force to quickly remove a rough surface or to skin the wood to prep it. To do this you need to apply a good strong force using your dominant hand while the other hand steers the plane in place.

Planning flat surfaces

Planning planks of wood will be a challenge at first but can you imagine working on a large flat surface like a table or door? Preparing wood as well as finishing wood requires a lot of patience and the right skills to plane, plane, plane. Get your block plane and slowly make your way across the flat piece from one side to another.

Lay the flat workpiece on a table and clamp it down with a vice. Work from left to right, from top to bottom to get an even result. If your goal is to simply remove the outer layer of wood then plane with strong and even strokes. If you are preparing wood for a project, use a straight piece or a square to check if the area is flat.

Move across the wood using strong, even strokes. As you finish one pass, check if the area is level or flat. Some straight pieces or square have bevels to check if the surface is even. You can other wise use a straight edge to do this. Simply place the straight edge on the newly planned surface and check if there is light that shines from the plane. Uneven light means you still need to shave further. A few flashes of light or none at all means the area is completely flat.

Choose a block plane with an ergonomic handle

You will be using the block plane in almost all woodworking projects and this means you must not just be familiar with its usage but you will also be experiencing pains and strains using one. The most common complaint when using a block plane is pain on the wrist and pain across the shoulders especially during prolonged periods of using the tool.

Choosing a block plane with an ergonomic design will help reduce discomfort and ailments as a result of prolonged use. Some planes have rubber handles designed based on the contours of hand while lighter and more efficient materials are used for the plane’s body.

Caring for your block plane

The most important maintenance that you need to give to your block plane is a good sharpening. The blade that cuts and glides through wood could stay sharper and become more efficient when sharpened on a regular basis. Obviously, the blade has to be removed from its rest using a screwdriver.

Sharpen with a block sharpener or a sharpening stone or tool. You may also opt to have a professional sharpen this blade to make sure that you have a nice cutting edge each time you use the block plane.

The actual body of the block plane does not need any kind of maintenance. You can wipe it with oil or sand it down if it looks old and worn out.

Storing a block plane

Storing or keeping away a block plane is no complicated matter. You may simply place it anywhere inside your shed or in a tool kit. You may also designate a place for the plane on top of your workbench so it’s handy anytime you want to use it.

When you store your block plane, make sure to keep the blade dry and free from any dirt, oil and grease. Wipe the blade dry and clean every time you keep it away. And like any other woodworking tool, the block plane has to be kept safely away. This is very important especially when your shed or working area is located at the same space as your home.

Conclusion

A block plane is one of the most useful and woodworking tool that you will use in almost all projects. It is a tool that will be used from start of a project till the time a project is done. It is used to skin wood and create a flawless surface to work on. It is also used in finishing woodworking projects. It removes any irregular surface to create a clean area ready for varnish or paint.

Using a block plane in an efficient manner takes time and could take many projects to master. But with a few simple tips and techniques, you will be able to use a block plane more confidently and easily just like how a professional would.

After mastering the use and maintenance of a block plane, a beginner woodworker can move to using a power sander or more complicated tools used for prepping wood and finishing projects. He will also confidently learn other finishing and prepping techniques for woodworking.

Do you have tips and techniques on how to use other woodworking tools? Tell us using the comment section below. Share this article to anyone who needs a few good tips on how to use a block plane for the first time.

  • October 27, 2017
  • DIY
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