Power tools are cool and have several advantages over hand tools. But sometimes when carrying out certain types of projects or tasks in the workshop, the simplicity of a simple hand tool gives it an edge over a power tool.
One of such simple but very useful hand tools is a hand plane. The earliest known examples of a hand plane for woodworking were from ancient Rome (Pompeii), but yet, even with the invention of power tools performing seemingly the same function, they are still being used till date in several forms and types.
Unlike an electric planer, a hand plane is used to shape and flatten wood using muscle power, forcing a beveled cutting blade over the surface of the wood.
This has some advantages over using an electric powered unit. For one, a hand plane leaves a much flatter surfaces without groove marks or ripples left by the cutter of an electric planer.
That also results in less sanding after planing, since a much flatter surface is much easier to sand than one with groove marks all over it.
In its most basic form, a hand plane is a combination of a sharpened metal plate attached to a firm wooden, plastic or metal body, with just a small portion of the sharp metal edge protruding from the base, so that when slide on a wood surface, it shaves off some thickness off it uniformly.
Although almost all hand planes look the same and are in the same form, they come in different types, shapes and configuration, and they have different uses.
Here in this article, I’m going to talk about the different types of hand planes, the ones you should buy or the most important ones you should have in your workshop, so you can choose the most essential ones for your projects.
Table of Contents
Types of Hand Planes
Like I said there are several types of hand planes, but majority of them fall into 2 main categories, which are block and bench planes.
Block planes are smaller and typically have their blades at a lower angle than that of a bench plane. The low angle block plane has a blade angle of 12 degrees, while a standard block plane has its blade angle at 20 degrees.
Another common feature they have is that the blade is beveled up in contrast with that of a standard bench plane which is beveled down.
Most block planes can be held with one hand because of their small size and are commonly used for cutting or planing end grains, cross grains and miters.
They’re very good for trimming excess materials off the ends of boards, tabletops, cabinets and shelves. If you want to soften or chamfer edges of boards, a block plane is also a good tool to use.
Another area where a block plane can come in very handy is when you have circular cuts or arcs made with a bandsaw or jigsaw that you have to clean up. Due to its small size, the block plane can easily clean off all the irregular parts and saw cuts on the edges of the circular board or arcs cut with the band saw.
A bench plane on the other hand is used for removing material, flattening and smoothening wood along the grain. They’re often much bigger than block planes, and mostly require both hands to handle one.
There are several types and sizes available to choose from. They’re also numbered according to their size (length) from number 1 upwards. A number one is the smallest bench plane, and it’s just a little more than 5 inches in length. 2 is longer and so on.
Some are designated with a number and ½ or a number and 1/4. For instance, a number 4-1/2 means that it’s a number 4 length but with a slightly wider width, while 4-1/4 means it’s a number 4 length but it’s slightly narrower.
Bench planes are named according to what they’re used for. For instance, there are scrub, jack, jointer, smoothing and polishing planes.
A scrub plane is designed for removing large amounts of material quickly. It’s usually around 9 inches long with a convex cutting edge and wider mouth to accommodate thicker wood shavings.
Jack planes are usually 14 inches long, and they’re also used to remove material from the wood surface, but not to the extent done with a scrub plane. They remove materials more accurately and flatten it better, leaving a much better finish.
Jointer planes are some of the longest you’ll find, and as the name implies, they’re used for flattening or jointing a board. They’re usually between 22 and 30 inches in length. The longer length ensures it remains on the same flat surface as it rides and shaves over the high spots in the wood to produce a uniform flat surface.
A shorter plane cannot do this because it will fall into the low spots in the wood and shave off potions of it as well, making the material even more inconsistent.
Next is a smoothing plane. It is probably one of the most important bench planes you may need and it’s typically the last one use on a surface before finishing it. It’s used for removing very fine shavings off the surface to make it very smooth. Sometimes the surface produced using it is even superior or smoother than that produced using a sandpaper if used properly.
Number 1 to number 4 bench planes are usually smoothing planes, with lengths ranging from 5-1/2 inches to 10 inches, which makes them the shortest compared with other types of bench planes.
Best Hand Planes for Beginner Woodworkers
If you’re just starting out as a beginner woodworker, you don’t need to buy all the hand planes mentioned above.
There are several other essential tools you can invest your money on instead of spending all on hand planes.
If you already have a thickness planer machine and a jointer, then you basically don’t need a scrub, a jack or a jointer plane, those machines can already perform the same job.
However, a low angle block plane is quite essential. Like I said earlier, they’re very good for shaving off, flattening or removing excess material from the end grain of wood, miters, leveling veneers and so on.
After you get a block plane, you can also get a 4-1/2 smoothing plane. This you can use for working along the grain or smoothing the surface of your boards after you’ve passed them through a jointer or a planer machine.
A low angle jack plane is another important one you should get, because it’s very versatile. First of all, it can be used for removing ripples or machine marks from boards that have been jointed using a power jointer.
The length also makes it ideal for flattening rough boards that are too wide to fit into a jointer machine. It’s even ideal for working end grain and miters just like a block plane.
In conclusion, when getting hand planes, buy the best you can afford, make sure the blade is sharp, handle it properly and you’ll get the best results with it. As time goes on, if you need other types or sizes, you can always upgrade as you grow your workshop.