by Christopher Schwarz
Hang around enough woodshops (or Internet discussion groups) with a block plane in your hand and you’ll eventually be derided for owning a “carpenter’s tool.”
It’s a criticism that I’ve never understood. Small trimming planes – no matter what you call them – have been a common tool in furniture shops for centuries. And while you certainly can build furniture without a block plane, I sure as heck wouldn’t want to.
When I travel overseas to work and I have room for only one plane, I bring a block plane because I can easily alter it to do the job of many other tools, including a smoothing plane, miter plane, pencil sharpener and even a toothing plane.
Despite its versatility, a lot of woodworkers are confused about how to choose, set up and use this tool for basic chores. And through misuse and misunderstanding, they create a plane that will not take a fine cut. So if you have a block plane that isn’t working well, or you don’t feel you get much out of it, read on.
The Different Kinds of Block Planes
During the early 20th century when the metallic plane nearly defeated the wooden plane, block planes were produced by the millions for everyone from the homeowner to the professional woodworker. As a result, there are so many varieties that it’s easy to get confused about which features are important for furniture folks.