Best Hand Planes for Beginners

Earlier last year, I challenged myself to build a cabinet for my wife. As a beginner, I started thinking of buying a workable hand plane to actualize this incredible project. I also began searching online for beginners’ best hand planes, knowing that I would need one to make a good finish for the cabinet’s components.  

As a beginner, I soon followed the traditional path and learned the hard way by using simple hand planes. Making heavy use of hand planes, I made exciting changes to wood pieces and came up with an excellent finish. So, I am sharing here some concise tips on how to use hand planes and how to zero in on the best hand plane in the market today.

What is a Handplane?

A hand plane is as ancient as civilization. As you research online, you will discover that hand planes have been here for thousands of years. As a tool, you will find the hand plane useful in shaping wood using your muscle power. Moreover, a hand plane features a sharpened metal plate that is attached firmly to a body. When you move it over the board surface, it produces uniform shavings, smoothening the material’s surface.

You can use a hand plane by pushing it across a wood while holding it in one hand. This pushing motion is essential to create that smooth surface. Yet, it is not always the pushing force that makes a plane work. If you would look at the Japanese hand planes, for example, you will discover that they are pulled inward toward the body instead of being pushed.

Hand planes come with many standard parts: the mouth, the iron, the lever cap, depth adjustment knob, cap iron, lateral adjustment lever, tote, cam lever, frog, and the sole. Hand planes also feature a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and made. Hence, if you search online, you will find myriads of models and types of hand planes that may confuse you if you are a beginner in woodworking.

Types of Beginner’s Hand Planes

If it is your first-time doing woodworking jobs, you should know the different types of hand planes at hand. Moreover, you should know the most appropriate one for your needs. First, you need to choose between a manual or an electric-powered hand plane. 

Each option is fraught with its advantages and disadvantages. A manual hand plane, for example, does not need electricity, and it provides a more precise finish. However, it is tiring to use because you will use your brute force to make it work.

If you opt for the manual type, you will once again get confronted with many types of manual planes. So, you will get confused further. In my research, I found 6 most common types of hand planes that most suitable for beginners.

1) Jointer Plane

Also known as the trying or try plane, the jointer plane works primarily to straighten the edges of wood or board. You can also use it to flatten and smoothen the face of the board. It is long, and its length is useful in letting it undulate over the uneven surface, skimming and smoothening this rough surface. Yet, before you start using the jointer plane, you sometimes need to do a prework using the jack plane or the fore plane.

The blade of the jointer plane is usually as wide as its sole. It is 22-inches long, making it one of the longest hand planes. Regarding its usage, you can use it for straightening, trimming, or squaring the edges of doors and longboards.


2) Bench Plane

In some regions, the hand planes are also called “bench planes”. This plane does three tasks; first, it straightens the board or wood; then, it smoothens it; afterward, it removes the rough edges. Bench planes also come in various sizes, the tiniest of which maybe 5-1/2-inch long up to 24″ long. 

Bench planes are also categorized according to number, ranging from number one to number 8. The 5-1/2-inch bevel plane, for example, is numbered 1. You will also see different sizes of bench planes. Moreover, aside from the numbered categories, you will encounter bevel-up bench planes. The addition of new bevel-up bench planes further adds to the confusion. Hence, you may end up further confused as to which bench plane to purchase. 

With myriads of sizes, you will do yourself a favor if you would only choose the size that you would mostly need in your shop. The fact is that you can perform all the bench plane chores by having a good bench plane at hand.


3) Block Planes

As a small plane, the block plane comes with a bedded blade at a much lower angle. With its bevel up, it can cut along end grain. You can use it to engage in finish or touchup work. You can also use it using one hand because of its tiny size. 

Since the block plane’s blade is at a shallow bed angle, you can also frequently pare end grain using this plane. Its blade’s angle lets it slice efficiently through the end grain. Moreover, you can hold it 45 degrees toward the travel direction, allowing its cutting edge to slice through the wood fibers while it passes. 

Besides paring end grain, the block plane can also clean up components by getting rid of thin wood shavings to make the wood fit well with other components. You can also use it for angling square edges. Plus, you can utilize it to remove glue lines from the materials.


4) Jack Plane

The jack plane, or fore plane, is used as a general-purpose bench plane. You can use it for reducing timber into its correct size to prepare it for edge jointing or truing. Among the different hand planes, the jack plane is the first plane utilized on rough wood. However, in some instances, the use of a scrub plane precedes the jack plane’s use. 

The size of a jack plane ranges from 12 inches to 18 inches long. It is also around 2.5 to 3 inches wide. The size of its blade, however, ranges from 1.75 to 2.25 inches wide. Its blade is also slightly convex for preventing it from marking or digging into the wood.

Using the jack plane, you can quickly get a cardio workout that could make your heart a bit healthy. Moreover, the jack plane lets you work on a broader board without disrupting its grain pattern by regluing or ripping. It will help if you have a jack plane at your disposal.


5) Smoothing Plane

Also called smooth plane, the smoothing plane is another type of bench plane that you can use for woodworking. It is the final plane used on the surface of the wood. It produces a result that would even rival the one made using sandpaper. The smoothing plane achieves this smooth finish because it planes in strips the wood instead of successively scratching and buffing the wood.

The length of the smoothing plane ranges from 8 to 10 inches. You can also adjust its throat for a tighter opening, allowing for an excellent shaving. This adjustment also lets you reduce tearing out the grain. It will be best if you use both hands when working out this plane.


6) Shoulder Plane

In the case of correcting ill-fitting rabbets, dadoes, tenons, and other joints, nothing can beat the shoulder plane. The shoulder plane thrives in trimming tenon shoulders, and for this reason, it is named a shoulder plane. If you want to engage in a host of precision tasks, you can always count on a shoulder plane.

The shoulder plane comes in a wide range of styles and sizes. To choose the one that is perfect for your woodworking needs and preference, you should consider the materials you will be working on. You can use larger shoulder planes in quickly removing stock and in flattening longer surfaces. Hence, if you are always engaged in large-scale projects, you should choose a larger shoulder plane. The smaller shoulder planes, on the other hand, are perfect for fine-tuning joints.


Conclusion

Various high-powered woodworking machines like the electric planer can correctly produce excellent joinery and lighten your works. Yet, you may be kidding yourself if you would only rely on them and dispose of the traditional hand planes. The thing is that if you want to achieve accurate joineries, you need to be precise up to the several thousandths of a centimeter or an inch. To achieve this level of precision, you need to use hand planes for fine-tuning any joinery.

If you intend to have the necessary hand planes at your disposal, the best thing to do is to choose wisely and start slow when collecting hand planes as you work on different types of woodworking projects along the way. At the start, you should only buy the multi-purposes hand plane that you can afford before buying another one. Once you’ve got the hang of its use, then you can be specific with your needs.

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