Whether shaving down a wood door that’s sticking or smoothing the surface of a wavy board, no tool works quite as well as a hand plane. Although these simple hand tools have been around for hundreds of years, they still have a place in today’s wood shop.
These wood smoothers that run on muscle power, not electricity, are a craftsman’s best friend. Most hand planes are similar in shape, but they come in sizes and types, and each type performs slightly different tasks.
The best hand plane for you will depend on the types of woodworking projects you do. Learn what factors are essential in choosing the best hand plane, and discover why one or more of the following models deserves a spot in your workshop. Below I’ll talk all about different types of hand planes, and share advice on buying handplanes.
What is a Hand plane?
New woodworkers might be wondering what a hand plane is. A hand plane (also spelled “handplane”) is basically a sharp chisel that’s held at an angle, in a wooden or metal body, that allows you to flatten, smooth, or shape a board for furniture making. Hand planes come in many different shapes, sizes, and materials. Heck, I’ve got well over 100 different handplanes. So I know it can be really confusing to understand which handplanes you need. But don’t worry, in this article I’ll try to simplify this for you and show you which handplanes to get first, which ones can wait until later, and which ones you may never need.
When Would You Use a Hand Planer?
A hand planer can pare off just a thin slice of wood, no tool is better for shaving the edge of a sticking door, chamfering the corner of a board, or straightening one that is twisted or warped. That’s why most carpenters still pack a hand plane or two in their toolboxes.
A decent new plane will cost $40 and up at the hardware store. Woodworking catalogs carry a more extensive selection. But don’t overlook the many fine used planes for sale at flea markets and antiques shops. These vintage tools were built to last, and there’s plenty of life in them still.
Types of Hand Planes
All hand planes remove excess wood by shaving it off, but within the hand plane classification, you’ll find different types that are suited to specific woodworking goals.
Common bench planes range in length from 9 to 22 inches or more. The longer the plane, the better it will straighten an edge, because the long body bridges dips and rises in the board’s surface. The blade, or iron, of a bench plane is pitched at 45 degrees, bevel side down. A cap iron stiffens the blade and directs shavings away from the mouth.
- Jointer: At 22 inches or longer, the jointer is the largest bench plane and the best choice for trimming, squaring, and straightening the edges of doors or long boards.
- Jack: Before power planers, a jack plane smoothed and squared rough lumber. Good for truing long boards and removing warp or twist. At 12 to 17 inches, it’s more versatile than the larger jointer plane.
- Smooth: Designed to flatten and smooth the face of a board, this 9- to 10-inch-long plane is ideal for leveling off high spots and for general planing. The best all-around bench plane if you have only one.
The pocket-size block plane is ideal for trimming small areas, but it’s too short to straighten boards. The blade is positioned bevel side up; better models have an adjustable mouth for a super-thin shaving. Block planes come in two varieties: standard, with a blade pitched at 20 degrees, and low-angle, with a 12-degree pitch.
- Low-Angle Block Plane: The low-angle block plane severs end grain easily and is comfortable in one hand, making it perfect for fitting shingles, quickly shaving down the corners of swelled doors, and fine-tuning miter cuts on trim.
Planes are meant to be used only on wood and can be dulled by other building materials. For shaping wallboard, plastic, or wood products containing adhesives, such as plywood, choose one of these alternatives.
- Replaceable-Blade Plane: The double-edged blades are disposable, so you can use them on plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard that will trash a good plane iron. They’re also good if you don’t want to bother with sharpening.
- Surface-Forming Plane:The blade resembles a cheese grater and files away material rather than producing long shavings. Good for fast shaping of drywall, PVC, or plastic laminates, but leaves a rough surface on wood.
Features to Consider When Buying a Hand Plane
Type of Frog
The frog is an important consideration when buying any bench plane as it is the one part of the plane that supports the blade. How well designed the frog is and how well it fits onto the body of the plane will ultimately determine how well the plane performs. There are two main styles of frog common today, Bailey and Bedrock. The Bailey frog is found on most hand planes and sits on top of a machined surface on the plane body.
Fully adjustable, this type of frog is held in place with two screws which can only be accessed when the plane iron assembly has been removed. Once the screws are loosened, a fine adjustment knob at the back of the frog can be used to change the position of the frog to open or close the plane mouth.
In comparison, the Bedrock style frog, which also sits on a machined surface on the body of the plane, features a recess at either side which positively locates the frog on to two ridges in the plane body. This keeps the frog square to the body. The Bedrock frog can be adjusted to open and close the mouth of the plane, without having to remove the plane iron assembly, using two screws at the back of the frog.
Angle of the Blade
The angle of the blade in a plane has a considerable effect on how and what it can cut. Blades presented at a lower angle to the wood, such as block planes, are perfect for cutting end grain as the blade slices rather than scrapes. Blades presented at very high angles like the scraper planes and some of the Chinese planes are ideal for working exotic timbers and burrs with complex grain patterns as they minimise tear out.
Most bench planes, unless otherwise specified, will present the cutting edge at an angle of 45 degrees to the wood which will allow the plane to work most hardwoods and softwoods efficiently. It is worthwhile considering the types of timber and the type of planing you will be doing before choosing a plane.
Thickness of the Blade
The thickness of the blade determines how rigid the blade is. If the blade is particularly thin, then the blade can flex slightly during cutting, causing chatter. This will leave a poor, almost ridged finish on the surface of the wood. Thicker blades are more resistant to this flexing and give a noticeably smoother finish.
Metal or Wooden Body
Both metal and wooden bodied planes have their advantages and disadvantages. Metal bodied planes are considerably heavier than their wooden counterparts and are much more wear resistant, especially when working with more abrasive woods. The lighter weight offered by the wooden body is beneficial when planing for long periods and the wooden sole will not mark or damage the work like a metal bodied plane may do. Metal bodied planes are the workhorses of the workshop, while wooden planes excel at leaving a particularly fine finish on any wood.
Our Top Picks
The following hand planes are meant for different jobs, and one or more of these will be a boon in your workshop whether you make furniture or cabinets.
Smooth with or against the woodgrain, or shave away the splintery ends of cut boards with the YOGEON Woodworking Hand Planer. The razor-sharp blade is milled from ⅛-inch steel for precision and accuracy.
The blade on this classic plane is fully adjustable using a mallet, and the rosewood block-style case is smooth and fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. The small YOGEON hand plane (just 4.1 inches long and 2.4 inches wide) fits easily in a tool belt, so you will always have a hand plane at your fingertips whether you’re in the workshop or on the job site.
This model is a low angle jack plane that’s a perfect tool for shooting miters, primary smoothing, and also in working end grain. Its cherry handle and knob do not only look great but offer a remarkably comfortable grip. The Norris type adjustment is also easy to use. The low angle jack planer has a 2” blade, ³/₆” thick. The planer’s length measures 14”. It also features an adjustable throat plate for various types of wood.
This well-designed tool is solid, with a remarkably machined base. This manufacturer’s reputation in this field is exemplary, and they offer a lifetime guarantee on all hand tools.
Another plane from the manufacturer whose name is synonymous with quality hand tools, the Stanley 12-220 Block Plane is designed for use with one or two hands. The 21-degree angle of its cutter blade is ideal for shaving across the wood grain, and a block plane is the plane of choice for smoothing the rough ends of boards.
The cutter blade’s depth is fully adjustable, and the tool measures a compact 7.7 inches long by 2.1 inches wide and weighs in at 1.9 pounds, so you can use it in the workshop or slip it in your toolbelt. The plane is made from epoxy-coated cast iron to resist rusting.
If you need to straighten out curved boards, check out the Grizzly Industrial 22-inch Smoothing Plane that falls into the jointer plane category. Sometimes called a #7 plane or a leveling plane, this hand tool creates an even surface on wood so you can join two pieces of wood together without gaps.
The plane’s bottom features lengthwise corrugations (grooves) designed to reduce friction and allow the tool to glide smoothly over the wood. This jointer plane weighs 8.55 pounds and is 3.5 inches wide, making it the longest hand plane in the lineup. It features smooth-to-the-touch rosewood handles, a fully adjustable blade, and a durable cast-iron base.
At just under 100, this Taytools Jack Smoothing hand plane is of such a high-quality standard and is a favorite in our list of the best hand wood plane.
When it comes to quality and craftsmanship, this manual hand planer defies its price. It measures 14¼” in length and 2” in width. It also features high-quality brass for durable adjustment knobs and a 45-bed angle, with a fixed steel blade.
As one of the widely used types of planers, it’s clear to understand why this one is so popular. Users like the comfortable grip of the hand-rubbed Sapele knob and tote.
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.