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A few months ago, I read about Schwarz’ ambitious teaching schedule here. I’ve taught a few classes and enjoyed them thoroughly. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty since I always feel as though I learn as much or more than the students.

In a recent class, I got to see the performance of a wide range of hand planes working along side of my cheap, antique, wooden planes. I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I DO want to be clear: I continue to be unimpressed by metal jack planes, the bevel up planes, and indeed most new planes FOR THE WORK I DO. With the machines switched off, I need to remove wood quickly and easily. And my planes haven’t seen their equal in any classes, conferences, or demos I’ve seen or conducted.

I’m looking for a plane that has a slippery sole, a cambered iron (pretty sure you can do this to any plane, but BU blade geometries will be different), that is light weight and holds it’s adjustment through rough work. Ditto, work benches need to have super stiff (and I prefer wide) planing stops (loose bench dogs designed for tail vises just don’t seem to cut it).

In my shop, and I think ANY shop without machines, jack planes need to remove wood fast. I’m looking for shavings that are .060″ or thicker. You should be able to remove an 1/8″ of pine from a 1″x6″x3′ in a matter of minutes.

I think there are things you can do to a metal plane to improve it for the functionality I seek. Waxing the sole really helps. Cambering the iron helps. With so many replacement irons on the market, it makes sense to buy a spare and experiment with camber. Of course, this will necessitate you learn to hone free hand. You can adjust throats by moving the frog. You can even file the mouth open a little. But this is an awful lot of work.

Wooden planes seem to offer many objective advantages. Their irons are always quite thick, their beds extend all the way to their soles, they are liight weight, and offer low friction.

Maybe you’d be better off just buying an old woody from ebay, or your local antique shop. The plane you buy will be one less plane for TGI Friday’s walls or Cracker Barrel’s ceiling of shame.

Most importantly, if you want a sense for the capability of hand tools, you need to focus on tools that remove wood quickly. Your saws, planes, and chisels need to be capable of removing great amount of wood. This is a different value then that held by manufacturers and tool reviewers. We need to do something about that.

I have this dream of teaching hand tool only classes. But I continue to be concerned that the project I want to do will be too difficult for folks who lack tools like mine. I’m currently trying to wrap my head around supplying future students with full kits of 18th c style tools. Like most other things I do, the cost is insanely prohibitive. But that hasn’t stopped me thus far.

I’ll write more about this in the future, but you can help by thinking about how you remove large amounts of stock and how long it really takes you. I think most guys are using machines to prepare stock and just finishing the boards with hand planes. This “hybrid” approach (hybrid is probably the wrong word) has skewed manufacturers and users values to think of all planes as essentially smoothers. This approach is limiting what we are capable of, what classes I can teach, and what tools our kids will be able to buy. Seeing good woodworkers with expensive planes struggle to do what my planes can do was a real eye opener.


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Showing 16 comments
  • G S Haydon

    I could not agree more on the Jack plane issue. A Jack plane is a roughing tool after all. My £1.00 wooden jack is perfect for the task. I would advise anyone looking for a rapid stock removal tool to look at a wooden jack. Preferably a nice grizzly one that looks like it’s had plently of use. Adam, I know it’s a topic you have aluded to not wanting to comment on but how do you sharpen your period tools?

  • frank arcidiacona

    Hi Adam what is your opinion on transitional planers for thick stock removal. frank.a

  • Brian R Gilstrap


    I am only moderately experienced with metal hand planes, and completely inexperienced with wooden planes. If they allow me to do the rough work with wood as quickly as you describe, I’m interested (I’m moving more and more towards hand work in my woodworking).

    One concern I have is the amount of physical size needed for these planes. I’m in pretty good shape for a guy in his 40’s, but I’m not tall or big. I weigh in at just a bit over 150. Are you failing to account for your size and mass when advocating for these planes?

    Regardless of the answer to that question, I’d love to know where I can learn more about acquiring, tuning, and using wooden hand planes.

    Brian Gilstrap

  • Ter rence Timmer

    Working with hand tools exclusively, my approach to quick stock removal is hatchet, course saw, and a medium length plane with a wide mouth and a curved iron coursely set. One important element to quick, heavy stock removal, is the amount of physical effort required. This is hard work. Mind the woods grain direction and use good planing technique, but work hard and fast. There is a difference between stock prep and the final finnish. Dressing lumber for me is not a time of fluffy shavings and continplative plane strokes. The shavings should be more like wood chips. The work is sweaty and tireing, and it contradicts notions of the continplative and gentel craftsmen. There’s no around it, if I want to dress lumber efficiently, I have to get my "hands dirty". Don’t let this discourage you, consider this approach as part of a physical fitness program. Terrence Timmer

  • Derek Cohen

    Hi Adam

    I am sure that there are many who would welcome a handtools course run by you. It would be a gas!!

    Why not get the class to make their own planes? Or renovate vintage ones – even those that are quite far gone can be brought back to life with a new mouth. And this is easy to do with a woody.

    Here is a link to a pictorial on the jack I built. Not quite 18C, but the design is easy to adapt:

    Thin shavings versus thick shavings should not be an issue – I agree that many equate the thinnest shavings with high performance … well they are indeed a good measure of a well-tuned smoother (I have used this measure in a number of plane reviews) … but it is the neophyte that fails to understand basic handtool strategy, that is, woodworking with handplanes requires that they are used, not in one way, but in a variety of ways as the circumstances demand.

    Woodworking on the web is the domain of the hobbiest woodworker. However I do see many maturing and becoming increasingly aware of these factors. There is a growing number, it seems, that long for a simpler woodworking experience, such that the 18c supplies.

    Warm regards from Perth


  • Stephanie Pace

    Hi! Love your blogs and articles, and I too am really looking to improve my hand tool skills. Would you have a list of what you would consider your essential, full 18thc tools kit? We all know the famous Studley’s tool box contents, how about Cherubini’s?
    Keep up the good work,

  • Danno

    First of all, I agree with you entirely and I want to move in your direction, sans puffy shirt.

    I’ve tried some wooden planes and I love them for the reasons you state. I’d really like to change my Stanley planes for woodies. It must be possible to work figured stock with wooden planes, Dunlap surely did it all day. Is there a trick without an adjustable frog/mouth?

    Go to a Woodworks Show and see the Veritas display and try a low angle on that block of highly figured tiger maple they have there. You will see that the fundamental question in life is BU jack or BU smoother.

    It’s a frustrating business for a neophyte. Any info on buying good woodies would help me get started toward where I probably belong… in stockings and buckled shoes.

    We’re all glad you are back at least for now. Thanks for another great post.

  • Brian Sullivan

    Great points Adam. I bought a 2" blade from Hock at the F+W hand tool event last year. I have not made a plane for the blade yet, but your post is lighting a fire for me.

    I think you should offer classes, but just make some prerequisites of others. First class would be making a wooden Jack plane. Following class will use the jack to make ______? You get the point. You would need a couple of beginning classes for every single advanced class (where you need to bring the tools you made).

    Where do I sign up?


  • Jamey Amrine in Ann Arbor

    I have a razee jack plane I love, but the mouth is s tight I can’t really pass really thick shavings through it. I like the razee form though, so I have held out on buying another wooden jack for rough flattening work until I can locate another razee-bodied plane. The plane I have now is too nice to intentionally open the mouth on, so I want to save it for less rough work. It certainly isn’t smoother-tight, but it is too tight for real fore plane-type work.

    Keep up the posts, Adam. I know life is busy, but I enjoy your entries when they come around.


  • Joe Sullivan


    Forgot to note that the blade on that 6c has a 10" camber.

  • Joe Sullivan


    I take your point and will look for some wooden jacks to experiment with. However, I must say that I just two days ago finished flattening a 10 ft x 24 inch oak workbench top with a Stanley 6c. It is hard to imagine bigger shavings. The wood was an overlay made of salvaged white oak t&g from my living room When checked with a straightedge, it had lots bumps and valleys. The cambered blade (with a 35 degree secondary bevel) really tore through it. I didn’t detect undue resistance even without wax. Perhaps the corrugated sole really helps.


  • Joe McDaniel

    Hi Adam,
    I’m a reproduction window and door manufacturer who mainly uses handplanes in the manner that you described, for final smoothing and tuning of parts after they have been machined. I mostly use metal bodied planes to accomplish this. However, when I am in the process of hanging a door or casement window and I need to trim a great deal of stock to a scribe line, I reach for a Japanese smoothing plane. It’s lighter and much easier to use on a hanging door because it is pulled. It can also easily remove 1/16th of an inch per swipe on an oak door. I would argue that this tool can even be faster than a power planer because there isn’t as much dust to clean up, which is an important consideration in a finished house.

  • Bob Rozaieski

    I agree Adam. I think most older metal jack planes can be set up to take a pretty thick shaving, but not like the old wooden jacks. It was an eye opening experience for me when I got my wooden jack and compared it to my old #5. I got rid of that old #5 and never looked back. I think you are right that most people think of their hand planes as smoothing tools and don’t realize what a properly set up roughing plane is capable of. I’ve even had folks who thought their jack planes were set up to take a pretty thick shaving look at mine and say WOW!

    I think one reason we see so many planes (regardless of length) being set up as smoothers is because of the guys writing the articles. Honestly, you and Chris are the only ones I have read to date that extole the virtues of a plane set up to take a thick shaving (well, Dunbar wrote about the scrub, but I don’t like them). Most articles about tuning planes talk about how to tune them up to be smoothers and don’t make the distinction in the article about setting them up differently based on their task. And for goodness sake, please tell these guys to stop measuring shaving thickness with a caliper. It seems the shaving has become more important than the board. I burn shavings, that’s their only importance to me (they make good fireplace tinder) :). The surface of the board is what I’m interested in, not the thickness of the shaving.

  • Jim Tolpin

    Hey Adam…you must have been reading my mind–or visa versa. I was just today pulling out my old collection of wood planes and going through them to sharpen up the blades and true the soles. I’ve been using my Lie-Nielsons, Lee Valleys and older stanLEES and I finally decided to take a break: enough already with the lees as my grandpa would have said. Nothing wrong with the lees, but the metal bottoms do seem to stick to the wood annoyingly unless you constantly rub them over a block of wax. I was about to grind a blade to an 8-in radius for setting up for quick stock removal when I remember an old wooden jack plane in my collection. With your post, I’m now inspired…I’ll report back soon!

  • The Village Carpenter

    Really interesting insight, Adam. All the wooden planes I’ve made were made to take a thin shaving. Fortunately, one made from apple needed to be flattened so much the mouth opened up, so now it can take a much thicker shaving. It was a welcome surprise. For removing big chunks of wood, I love my scrub plane.

  • David Cockey

    Your comments about most folks today thinking of hand planes as being finish tools is a good one. How thin a shaving can be removed seems to be what a lot of folks are concerned about. For rapid stock removal with .060 or thicker shavings flatness of the sole and the like are not critical. Metal planes can be set up for rapid stock removal easily and older ones are available at very reasonable prices. I wonder how an inexpensive, older Bailey type metal plane with a cambered blade (possibly aftermarket), end of the chipbreaker honed so it rests flat against the blade and set away from the edge, and the throat adjusted to the desired openning would compare to a wood plane also set up for rapid stock removal? The wood plane would might be lighter and the grip different, but I doubt the wood being planed would notice the difference.

    I hone cambered blades with a honing guide – either an Eclipse copy or a Veritas Mk II with the auxilary roller. Not a problem, just rock the blade and guide while honing.

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