How to Set Up a Handplane: It’s Easier to Learn How to Use a Western Handplane


A frequently heard argument about Japanese planes is that they are harder to set up than Western planes. Recently, we filmed “How to Use Japanese Woodworking Tools” with Wilbur Pan, in Frank Klausz’s shop. So naturally, we had many conversations during the shoot, and one that came up was on just this topic. One of Frank’s favorite planes is a wood-bodied plane with a similar setup to a Japanese plane (tapping the iron, or body to advance or retract the blade), so it was quickly obvious that we weren’t discussing a difference in East versus West.

Ultimately we realized that it was more a situation of being able to tell the student “how much” to adjust. When using a knob to advance the iron you’re able to say, “a quarter-turn, or a half-turn.” When using a hammer to advance the iron, you can’t tell a student how much force to use with each tap. It’s hard to quantify taps and it becomes a trial and error situation … and because of that, it’s easier to teach how to set up a Western handplane. But once the student is familiar with the process, it becomes a matter of experience and no more difficult with either plane design.

This was a great conversation and I think we need more conversations like this one in woodworking! Enjoy the short video we captured (by accident) about this interesting discussion.

– David Thiel

4 thoughts on “How to Set Up a Handplane: It’s Easier to Learn How to Use a Western Handplane

  1. rwyoung

    Wilber & Frank —

    So, I’ve had a similar issue when showing people how to sharpen a card scraper. In particular, the part about rolling a burr. The method I’ve settled upon doesn’t require great pressure with the burnisher so when they ask “how hard are you pressing” I can simply reach out and “shove” their shoulder. Just enough pressure to make them re-balance their stance is about the same as the pressure I’m applying to the burnisher as it strokes out the burr.

    I do not however, suggest you tap your students with a mallet.