A plane is a woodworking tool used for leveling or adjusting a flat surface, or plane, of a piece of wood, hence the name. Planes have a long history as woodworking tools, going all the way back to the first century, when the Romans used them in building and carpentry.
Up until the eighteenth century, all craftsmen made their own plane tools, with iron soles and sides plates attached to a wooden stock. After 1700 or so, various craftsmen began to specialize in making such woodworking tools for others.
A number of different standard types of hand planes have since developed for different usages, and powered planes are also now available.
Bench Planes- Jack, Smoothing and Jointing Planes
Jack planes are around 14 inches long, with a cutting iron of 2 3/8 inch width. It is primarily used for sizing raw lumber to uniform dimensions. The body was composed of boxwood or beech wood originally; modern versions are of metal. Smoothing planes are smaller and have finer edged cutting irons useful for the final surfacing and clean-up of lumber. The cutting width is 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches.
Jointer planes are longer than jack planes, at 22 to 24 inches, with cutting iron widths of 2 3/8 to 2 5/8 inch. They are used for preparing lumber edges for jointing by squaring them off. All these types of plane are known as bench planes, and have cutting irons set at a 45 degree angle to the work surface, with a downward facing bevel to the cutting edge.
How to Use a Bench Plane
Before using the plane, check the wood for any nails, tacks or screws; these could damage the cutting edge. Waxing the bottom surface of the plane (known as the sole) with a candle will assist the plane in traveling easily along the lumber.
The wood you are working on needs to be securely held at all times, in a woodworking vise or clamps.
Using the longest plane on hand for smoothing a long edge; this will ensure any gaps will be bridged by the plane instead on deepened. Grasp the plane firmly with both hands, one on the knob in the front, and one at the handles at the rear of the plane.
In order to maintain even pressure throughout the stroke, apply more pressure with the hand at the front of the plane during the beginning of the cut, and follow through with more pressure on the hand at the rear of the plane at the end of the cut.
To level two surfaces to one another, a sharp jack plane can be used. For hardwoods, plane across the wood’s grain direction; for softwoods, plane diagonal to the grain in two directions. For a final finish to the leveled surface, plane along the grain direction.
The block plane is smaller than a bench plane, ranging from 3 to 8 inches long and 1 to ½ inch wide. They are meant to be used single handedly, for a lighter touch, for trimming end grain and miscellaneous fine work.
The cutting blade is mounted at a low 20 degree angle; this shallow pitch means the cutting edge bevel faces upward. Most block planes have a blade that is adjustable with a knurled wheel for depth of cut.
Compass, or circular planes include a flexible, adjustable bottom surface (sole) for use in cutting convex and concave sections of wood. The rest of the tool resembles a bench plane in size and construction.
The work piece is usually roughed out in shape with a saw; the surface of the cut is then finished smooth with the compass plane. It is useful for decorative millwork and furniture shaping.
Bench and block planes are available in rabbet versions, also known as rebate planes. The design is the same, except that the cutting edge extends all the way across the width of the sole. To create the rabbet cut, a piece of wood, called a batten, is clamped to the workpiece and used as a guide.
During the cut, the side of the plane is kept pressed against the batten, which controls the width of the cut. The depth of the cut needed is marked on the workpiece, and the cut is checked throughout the process with a square for the proper angle. Once the cut shoulder has been established, the batten can be taken off and the shoulder of the cut can be used as a guide.
See Also: How to Sharpen Planer Blades