I keep seeing the experienced gurus here talk about the miracles they
can do with hand planes (along with the high prices one can pay for
some of the best :). Unfortunately, I just have a borg-quality
standard stanley plane and some even cheaper HF stuff - but I think I
could cut better with a butter knife...
I would like to start learning this art and need some recommendations
on where to start. Unfortunately, I have been confused by the
overabundance of varieties and prices on the net.
- Of the gazillions of types of planes, if I were to get just a couple
or so, what would be the most useful ones for general carpentry and
(I'm thinking of things like planing down a stuck door or planing an
edge joint since I lack a jointer, or just generally removing that
extra bit of material when it is too little for a saw and too much
for a sander)
- What specific models & manufacturers give a good tradeoff between
quality and price?
(I don't want to regret buying a cheapo tool but on the other hand
this is not like something I will use every day so I don't
necessarily need the hand-made rosewood handle type quality either)
- Are there any good books, websites or videos on technique (for both
use and sharpening) that you would recommend?
Try tuning up your current ones first. Narrow the mouth (opening in
front of the blade) and flatten the sole (the bottom). Then flatten and
polish the back of the iron (the blade), and then put a proper bevel and
microbevel on it. It should be sharp enough to shave with.
If you're only going to have one, then a jack plane is good--this is how
I've started out. If you know you're going to have multiple planes,
then you might consider a jointer and a smoother instead. A block plane
(smaller, often used one-handed) is useful for smaller and more
Try checking around your area to see if there are any woodworking guilds
or clubs. You might be able to find some used planes in reasonable
condition. For the money they're likely better than a cheaper new plane.
Too many to mention. Try your local library for books/videos. If there
are local woodworkers they might run hand-tools classes.
I agree with Chris, tune up your current ones first. I have a cheapo
Borg Stanley block plane and after lapping the sole and sharpening the
blade I can get thin shavings of Maple (If I don't go against the
grain). Right out of the box this plane would barely cut SPF
construction lumber. I use this plane constantly for a quick chamfer,
fine tuning a joint or leveling a glue up. I have even used it to
plane the edges of boards for a panel glue-up.
Here is a simple jig that will allow you to get the blade 'scary-
Once you spend a little time on your current planes you'll be amazed
at how well they can cut. You may even find you don't need to upgrade.
Sounds like I need to learn how to tune (and sharpen) my
plane. Hopefully, I can find something good on the web because
frustratingly, I have never been good at getting my Stanley borg plane
to work. But I think the problem has been that I didn't really know
what I was doing. Mea culpa.
It is not hard to do just takes a little time. A piece of glass (or
MDF) some wet/dry sandpaper (automotive or Borg) and you're in
business. Lapping the sole allows the plane to slide smoothly across
the work, without a smooth sole you can't get a good cut. Even a poor
quality blade can be made amazingly sharp. Then you have to get the
blade set right in the plane, practice on some 2x4s since they are
soft & cheap. Here is one link to get you started but Google will
provide hundreds more.
Don't worry about buying a loupe and the carbon content of your blade
until you can get a cheapo cutting well. Of course for all I know a
Lie-Nielsen or Veritas may need no work and cut like a plasma torch
right out of the box...
And as was already said the best way to get your plane to cut better
is with one of these:
I have some great old planes that I have bought, found, and was given.
Like most, I have many hours tuning and getting these planes in shape
as working on planes and sharpening edge tools one of my favorite shop
chores but.... my personal suggestion for the best all around plane to
carry on every project you do it would be a Lie Nielsen 60 - 1/2R low
angle rabbet block plane. Link to Nielsen's site -
Other than framing or demo I have this plane in its own pouch on my
belt all the time. Whether I am haning trim, kitchen cabinets, fitting
base, crown, working in the shop, whatever this is by far the best and
most handy plane I have ever carried. I have been carrying block
planes (standard and low) for a long time but this plane is really
impressive. The rabbet design is indespensable for getting into
corners. The low angle handles wild grain, knots, and end grain really
well. Once you get it dead sharp it will cut see through shavings like
no tomorrow and the blade holds an edge forever. The only drawback is
that its heavy but thats what makes it work so well.
As you can tell I am just really impressed with this plane. I've been
in the home building business for about 20 years and have carried a
lot of different block planes most of which I still have. We have a
fair collection of bench planes and other specialty planes at the shop
but even when I am there, this is the plane that gets the most use.
Its a pricey plane and at $150 was a tough purchase but after the
first pass I havent regret buying for a second.
I use my Stanley Handyman jack plane the most for carpentry work.
Then my other Stanley jack plane and Stanley #7 for higher level
carpentry work and beginning woodworking. Or if the Handyman blade is
dull. And finally the various Clifton and Lie-Nielsen planes for
upper level woodworking. Start with a jack plane as your first
plane. Its size is easy to use and its versatile.
Use a sharp blade. Makes a world of difference. And keep it sharp.
And rub cnadle wax, or canning wax, on the sole of the plane. Makes
it easier to plane. All the rest of the plane fixing up and fettling
and such can be ignored until you have everything else in your life
done and need something else to do. Sharp blade is the key, the only
key. Nicer planes are nice to use but not needed to plane wood. If
you got to have a nice brand name plane, Lie-Nielsen are quite good.
As are Clifton. Probably any and all of the higher priced name brand
planes are quite good. Can't really go wrong with their quality and
performance. But they aren't needed.
As already mentioned, public library. And PRACTICE. PRACTICE.
PRACTICE. With a sharp blade.
I asked this a few years ago of Patrick Leach. His response was:
> About the other planes - you're going to need them all! ;^)
> Seriously, look for a jointer, a few block planes, and a #78
> rabbet. After that, it's all downhill.
I bought most of my old planes (users) from Patrick plus found others at
antique stores, etc. If you're after users, you can get Stanley #4's for
around $20-$25, jointers (#7 & #8) for around $125-$150 and block planes
for around $20-$30.
See archives at:
It's a repost of John Gunterman's magnum opus on tuning a plane.
Along w/ the other recommendations -- all sound, btw -- I'm remembering
there was a pretty nice Fine Woodworking article a year or so ago on
tuning hand planes. The Taunton site may (or may not--seems like
there's more pay for view content these days) have it accessible online.
Even if not, I'm sure a search will find the issue and then if you're
lucky your local library carries the mag...
I don't recall if it was the same article or not, but I also remember
one in where a fella' tuned up a cheapie Anant and compared it to "the
good stuff" -- it did quite credibly though it couldn't handle the
figured grain and didn't hold an edge so well, of course. It w/ a
better/thicker blade was still _much_ less initial investment than the
high-priced spread and probably perfectly adequate for the kind of work
you describe. It takes time, though, to work thru the tuneup for an
inexpensive plane; that's one of the things one's paying Lee Valley and
similar. But, if you're not really dedicated or not sure yet, perhaps
the effort to tune up what you have would yield the most "bang for the
In my opinion the first plane that a power tool user should get is a
good block plane. Follow that with a no. 5 Jack (just because they are
"jacks-of-all-trades" and are plentiful and inexpensive on the used
market). Then if you are serious about jointing a long edge with a
handplane, get a No. 7 or (my favorite plane) a No. 8. Now the No. *
may be my favorite plane, just because it is big and heavy and
imnpressive. It is NOT my most useful plane because I have a small
jointer. ( note I do not have a rabbit plane or a bullnose and some
folks would say those are near the top of needs).
As to what to buy, I am a big believer in good, older used Stanley and
Miller Falls planes. That said, I have a 60-1/2 Stanley block and 9
Miller Falls block and I thought I had them all "fettled" and sharp.
Then I bought a Veritas (Lee Valley) low angle block. Out of the box
it put the others to shame. If the bigger ones are as much better then
they must be great, but I can't afford them. Good older Stanleys and
Miller Falls planes, with a lot of time and care in preparing them,
will do great jobs. The preparation will also get you to really know
about the planes, how they work, what is important, etc. before you go
dropping a couple hunnert on some shiney new LN or LV hunk-o-iron. I
would hate like hell to buy a really good plane and F it up because I
hadn't a clue how to sharpen or adjust the darned thing.
LEARN TO SHARPEN. If not, all planes will disappoint. Even the new LV
or LNs will cut like crap after a fairly short time if you can't keep
them appropriately sharp.
The plane numbering thing you see works like this for bench planes: the
larger the number, the longer (and/or wider) the plane. Common bench
planes are numbered #3-#7. If you can get two planes, a #6 fore plane
and a #3 smoother would cover the range well. If you can get only one,
perhaps because you're spending for a quality new plane, go for a #5
Jack which will be around 14".
Bevel-up planes offer more flexibility, where you only have to change
the blade to change the cutting angle for difficult grain. That probably
won't be an issue, though, unless you know you work with tough, highly
figured wood. The geometry or bevel up planes also works better, at
least on paper.
Factor the cost of a sharpening system into your purchase. You could go
the sandpaper and glass plate route, which is fairly economical, or get
a few water stones. A jig is probably also a good idea if you want to
get started fast and with minimal frustration. The Lee Valley Mk.2
sharpening jig should be the last one you need to buy, for ~$50.
I started off with a pretty cheap jack
plane. I think I paid $35 for it. It's
about 12" long and made by Footprint.
I was grateful that the first pass i
took with it was on scrap. That piece of
scrap went directly to the kindling pile.
After I tuned and sharpened it, I tried
again. Lovely little shavings appeared.
In no way was it as nice as Lie-Neilson
or Veritas plane, but I still have it,
and I use it constantly.
The point is, if you're willing to play
with your plane a bit, it might surprise
you. I believe there are sites on the
Net that can help you with the tuning.
Try a google for "Tune Hand Plane".
Once tuned, it needs, must, has to
be......sharpened. A perfectly tuned
plane with a dull blade is still a POS.
Leonard Lee has a stunning book on
sharpening, found on the Lee Valley
site, which I can't find right now.
Instead it lists a DVD:
Also on the LV site is a sharpening jig
that I can't say enough about. It's easy
to use, and more importantly it's
consistent from time to time that you
I'd highly recommend both of those items
before you spend any money on another
plane. I'm not saying don't get a good
plane - just hold off till you've played
around a bit with your inexpensive one.
I played in my shop for a long time
before I got a block plane, and truly
don't know how I managed without one. If
you're going to buy any plane get a
block first. HF has them for about $20
and I'd advise against that one. Stanley
has a nice one for maybe $50-$60.
As has been said about many aspects of
woodworking, this is the top of a very
slippery slope. Once you've planed
something properly, it's almost like
smoking crack (or so I've been told).
You'll want to get that same feeling
with anything you plane, and that leads
to more trips to high-end tool stores. I
now own 10-12 planes, and my collection
is tiny compared to other guys.
But keep coming back and asking
questions. Even with the book, the jig,
and websites on use, it's not going to
all jump out at you. Lots of folks here
to help you spend more money on better
and brighter tools.
1. Low-angle block w/ adjustable mouth
2. No. 5 jack
3. No. 4-1/2 smoother
4. hefty shoulder plane
5. No. 7 or 8 joiner
In that order.
Brands: Lie-Nielsen, Lee Valley, old Stanley. Be wary of E-bay, you
can buy a lot of rusty, worthless trash there (DAMHIKT). Wait until
you've perfected the skill to go searching for bargains.
Considering what the ancient Egyptians did with what they had, you can
do pretty damn good with new, "low-cost" planes. I'd consider
Clifton, even Stanley, over Anant. They all respond well to "tuning",
no matter the initial cost. For the cheaper brands, consider
after-market upgrades for irons and chip breakers (e.g. Clifton,
Just my $0.02 worth.
Yes, I would agree--what I was trying to get across was that even a
really cheaply made plane if tuned up can perform reasonably well for
simple uses, not as a recommendation--it was simply an Anant the guy
used for his comparisons...
Do you want to use hand planes to fill in or speed up machine work, or
are you wanting to make items completely with hand tools?
I can answer only the first scenario and suggest the following starter
tools, in acquisition order:
- Low Angle Block (for all kinds of stuff, a must have for everyone)
- Medium (3/4" to 1") shoulder plane (fast tuning of machined tenons and
- 4 1/2W smoother (remove thickness planer marks with no sandpaper)
- #7 (for jointing edges, flattening and shooting miters)
A high-angle smoother or scraping plane are very handy for woods that
jointers and thickness planers destroy.
With my machines, I rarely use my #5 or my normal #4. I currently have
the #4 set up for a rougher cut and the #4-1/2W set for rice paper shavings.
I'll leave the list from a hand tool enthusiast's POV to someone else.
The most important planing accessory out there is a solid way to hold
I _love_ Veritas planes for just those reasons. Older Stanleys can be
tuned up with Hock or Lie Nielsen irons and chipbreakers, but some
examples have enlarged mouths or other damage. In some cases, the
"collector" market has driven old tool prices to the level where I
simply went for the new Veritas. Plane fettling is not difficult, but
it can require a hunk of time and patience.
"The Handplane Book" by Garrett Hack and "The Sharpening Book" by
Leonard Lee. Don't try to read the Lee book like a novel, it's _really_
Two? Block & jack.
One of the handiest planes I have is a little mini one...all steel,
blade about an inch or less wide, total length 3" or less. It was
made by Stanley, no idea what it is called. I use it to trim solid
wood edging on sheet goods.
I like it because it is very controllable and I can use it in one hand
using the heel of my thumb and fingers as guides so as to tip it
slightly outward so I don't acccidently take off a slice of plywood.
Something that I think gets over looked a lot, when disucssing hand
planes, is that having the plane is only one part of the equation.
To use a plane properly, for typical woodworking applications,
requires you to have a decent bench. If you don't have a a proper
means to securely hold your stock, even the best planes from
Lie-Nielsen are useless.
For me, I've found the planes from Lee-Valley/Veritas to be the best
quality for the price.
A book that I've found to be particularly useful is "Working with
Handplanes", ISBN: 1-56158-748-6, published by The Taunton Press.
This is basically collection of articles from the magazine Fine
Woodworking. The book has information on different types of planes,
plus has some information on technique.
With regard to sharpening, there's any number of different ways to do
it. Try them all and then use whatever works the best and fastest for
you. Avoid any method that takes too long. When you've learned how
to tell your blade needs some attention, you want to get it sharp
quickly and get back to work.
(Amazon.com product link shortened)
If you want to reply via email, change the obvious words to numbers and
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.