Planecraft, Part I: Scrub, Jack & Smooth Planes


Basic strokes to get you planing like a pro in no time.
By Michael Dunbar
Pages: 62-67

From the April 2008 issue #168
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Bench planes are the most versatile of woodworking tools. In “Handplanes for Beginners” in the June 2007 issue (#162), I explained bench-plane basics. In the first part of “Planecraft,” I’ll explain how to use the scrub, jack and smooth planes. In part two of this article (in an upcoming issue), I’ll explain jointer and block planes, and some advanced planing operations.

Before the Industrial Revolution, bench planes were the workhorses, but they were also precision instruments. A woodworking shop had a large number of bench planes, many of them dedicated to particular jobs that were performed regularly.

Bench planes were so crucial to woodworking that without them, woodworkers would have starved. Before the Industrial Revolution, every piece of lumber that came into the shop was rough sawn and had to be prepared with handplanes before it could be worked. Today, woodworkers tend not to begin with rough-sawn wood; and when we do, we usually do the preparatory work with a thickness planer and a jointer. Even though we have been relieved of the brute work that was once required to prepare lumber, handplanes retain their historical versatility and still offer to make our woodworking easier, more efficient and more pleasant.

It is nigh on impossible for me to catalog all the ways bench planes can be used. Such a catalog would have to sum up all the experiences of all the woodworkers who use handplanes, all their varied projects, and all their varied working styles. In fact, in trying to write an article about how to use planes I risk impeding the reader by creating the false impression that what I am able to mention here is all there is. Instead, I invite you to take the techniques that this space permits me and master them. Then, having developed a facility with handplanes and being open to them as tools adaptable to your needs, you will find your own individual techniques and uses for them.

As I noted, there was a time when every board a woodworker used had to be prepared with handplanes. While few of us today would want to start every project this way, there is good reason to do some of this work once in a while. When using hand tools, one is truly working wood, as opposed to machining it. The visual and tactile feedback that wood gives when it is worked by hand teaches one a lot about this material we all love so much. You do not receive this sensory information when a board passes out of sight into a thickness planer – when your ears are protected from the roar, when the machine’s vibration obscures the cutting action.

While pushing a handplane you actually see what is happening. You hear the whisking sound a sharp tool makes, and you feel the differences in resistance. Above all, you see the results occurring right before your eyes. While at first these results may not be what you expect and will frustrate you, overcoming them makes you a much better woodworker. Here’s an analogy. A surgeon and butcher both work with the same material, but the surgeon has a much deeper understanding of it.


From the April 2008 issue #168
Buy this issue now