Hand Planes for Beginners – A Working Guide

Hand Planes for Beginners - How a hand plane works

If one tool symbolizes the craft best it’s the Hand Plane

Where skill meets finish

And where a woodworkers knowledge of wood really shows

In my high school woodwork classroom we have a set of planes

But before I tell you about mine (and why), let’s look at a few hand plane basics…

Choosing a plane

Here are the basic principles:

  • The longer the plane, the more even surface you can get (Jointer Planes)
  • The shorter the plane the more smoother the surface you get (Smoothing Planes)

Hand planes are ordered in terms of size. 1 being the shortest and 8 being the longest.

The numbering system is a bit whacky. 5 is considered the ‘Jack plane which makes it the middle of the scale and there are a few ½’s thrown in for good measure. Take it as a guide not a rule.

A few other things to know

  • Keeping plane blades sharp is very important
    • For a good finish, and also so you aren’t pushing too hard through the tool.
  • Plane with the grain
    • Otherwise there can be chipping out on the face of your timber
  • Bock planes are used for end grain
    • Due to the lower angle on the blade, and the size fitting into one hand.

To high school students, I usually make the comparison of a hand plane with a pencil sharpener. Because Hand Planes take off small shavings of timber. It’s easy for them to visualise.

So what exactly what are hand planes used for?

Hand Plane
  • Removing timber
  • Flattening timber (flatten a surface)
  • Straightening timber
  • Providing a smooth finished edge/surface
  • Chamfers

These days…

Back in the old days hand planes used to do all of these jobs. However these days you can do all these jobs different ways and generally faster and more accurately with less room for error.

A thicknesser will give you a flat surface faster and flatter. A static planer (buzzer) will give you a straighter edge and square corners better than planes will.

Thicknesser

Static sanders (and power sanders) will give you a pretty good finish (orbital sanders) as well as remove timber easier than with a plane (belt sander).

Static Belt Sander

Chamfers are better done with a trimmer (palm router). They will be more accurate, easier to do and have less room for user error.

And that’s not to mention the power (electric) planer either (pictured above). Although its really designed for manufactured boards like chipboard and shouldn’t be used for planing surfaces.

So why get a hand plane?

  • You want or need to use hand tools
    • If you don’t have machinery then a hand plane is a good option.
  • Makers mark
    • Hand planes also offer more input from the maker. This can be important for woodworkers wanting to put their stamp on what they make and show their love of the end product and the craft in general.
  • Safety first
    • Hand tools are typically safer than power tools or machines.
  • Speed
    • Using hand tools can be faster on small jobs.

In my situation, when prepping materials I need stuff done accurately and also fast.

The classroom though safety plays a big part. So students do use hand planes a bit. Like when we complete our pencil box project.

High school students do think it’s ‘cool’ to use power tools and machines, although in the classroom though safety plays a big part.

So students do use hand planes quite a bit during projects, like when we complete our pencil box lids.

In the workshop

The hand planes I have in the woodwork classroom are almost all Stanley no 4

I do have a few module planes that are setup as block planes (im not sure where they came from) but I don’t bring them out very often.

The Stanley no 4 has been around for a long time. And the design has not really changed in over 100 years, although the handle and knob are plastic now when they once were wood.

The parts

  • Chip breaker
  • Plane blade (plane iron)
  • Adjustment lever
  • Frog
  • Body
  • Handle
  • Knob

When you need to clean the plane out or sharpen the blade, simply take off the lever cap, and use the end to unscrew the chip breaker from the blade

It’s a great design which is why it has lasted so long.

Why the Number 4 for the classroom?

  • It helps with students in their early teens to be able to use two hands on a plane
  • Adjustable while being quick and simple to adjust
  • Few parts means less to go wrong
  • Built strong (Cast Iron), Brass knobs and high-impact polymer handles

The No.4 isn’t impervious to issues. It does require some tuning but overall it’s a workhorse.

You can buy antique stanley no 4 planes, but I usually buy these:

You can also get pretty much the exact same design made by different brands. Here is an example. (Note the wooden handles on this one)

There are other no 4 planes out there like this one

And lastly, I dont recommend these hand planes for beginners, but if you want the ‘rolls royce’ of planes, then you can see them here (Veritas). They can be quite a bit more expensive.

What to look for in a plane?

  • Easy to disassemble
  • Easy to sharpen
  • Weight
    • You want some weight (and solidness) depending on what plane it is. It should feel solid in your hands.
  • Planes do have specific purposes
    • Apart from different sizes, some have a low cutting angle, some allow for a scraper to be used instead of a blade and others are for specialised jobs.

Specialised planes

Router Planes

A two handled plane used for grooves mostly. More detail about router planes here (hand routers).

Block planes

Block planes are typically for planing end grain. They are small and compact. They are also typically used one handed.

This plane (pictured about) is a multifunction plane. To be honest I hadn’t heard of it until I looked. At the moment it is setup as a block plane which is how it gets used.

Image of the multifunction plane for your reference. I couldn’t find similar ones in a search.

Shoulder planes

Need to use a plane but the timber has something in the way? A shoulder plane will butt up against another surface no worries. It’s the type of tool you don’t bring out often and usually buy for a specific job in mind. 

Japanese Planes

I haven’t used a Japanese Hand plane yet so I haven’t put them in here. Looking at different projects done by woodworkers they look to work great. The price is also quite reasonable as well.

Power Planer

Cordless or corded, power planers are great for planing the edges of manufactured boards like chipboard and plywood. They can’t do as many jobs as a hand planes but at planing the edges of manufactured board and removing material, they are a lot faster.

FAQ:

What do Hand Planes do?

  • Remove timber
  • Flatten timber (flatten a surface)
  • Straighten timber
  • Provide a finished edge/surface
  • Chamfers

Why are there different types of Hand Planes?

The different lengths help with different types of jobs. To put it simply a longer plane will give you a flatter surface, a shorter plane a smoother surface.

Other sources:

If I haven’t yet bored you with planes you must be really into them. Here is more information for you:

Thanks

It takes hours to put these articles together. So thanks for reading my hand planes for beginners guide. I hope I have been able to answer some of your questions.