Handplanes for Beginners

Once you understand the anatomy of a handplane, you’ll be well on your way to using it with success.
By Michael Dunbar
Pages: 70-77

From the June 2007 issue #162
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Handplanes are the king of woodworking tools in that they are the most versatile tool in a shop. They do so many varied jobs, that the more you know how to use planes, the more planes you own. The converse is true. If you own just one, there is a good chance you do not know how to use it.

If you do not know how to use a plane, you are not alone. In fact, when history judges those of us who teach and write about woodworking, it will be harsh. We bear responsibility for the loss of knowledge of handplanes. For thousands of years these tools have been the mainstay of every woodworking shop, and in a matter of decades we permitted this knowledge to almost disappear. These days, the handplane is used more frequently as a logo on woodworkers’ business cards than in their shops.

I experience this lack of knowledge directly in every class I teach. Our tool list specifies a handplane, “either smooth or jack, such as a Stanley No. 4 or No. 5.” Students putting their tools together frequently call and ask for clarification. One recently repeated what I have heard many times: “I’m a professional woodworker and I don’t know what a ‘smooth’ or a ‘jack’ is.”

Students frequently ask us to show them how to adjust the plane they brought. When they go to work, we frequently observe them struggling with their planes. It is not uncommon for us to find the blade upside down, or even the chipbreaker mistaken for the blade. The purpose of this article is to describe the basics of handplanes starting at the most nitty-gritty level. Until you understand these basics, handplanes will remain a mystery.

From the June 2007 issue #162
Buy this issue now