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How to Use a Hand Plane

This Old House general contractor Tom Silva demonstrates the proper way to use hand planes.

Woodworking Hand Planes

  • Bench planes are used to flatten and smooth broad wood surfaces and narrow edges.
  • Long bench planes are best suited for smoothing very long surfaces and edges.
  • Specialty planes, such as a shoulder plane or rabbet plane, have plane irons (blades) that come flush with the edges of the tool.
  • Block planes are compact, versatile, and ideally suited for smoothing edges, small surfaces, and end grain.

How to Use a Hand Plane

  1. Rotate the adjusting nut to control the depth of cut.
  2. Pivot the lateral adjustment lever to square up the iron to the plane body.
  3. Release the iron cap and extract the plane iron from the plane.
  4. Test the sharpness of an iron by standing it on your thumbnail. If the iron slides off, it needs sharpening.
  5. To sharpen a plane iron, start by applying machine oil to the coarse side of a sharpening stone.
  6. Set the iron against the oiled stone with its beveled end facing down.
  7. Tilt up the iron until its bevel is flush with the stone. Maintain that exact angle as you slowly rub the iron across the stone in a circular motion.
  8. After a minute or two, flip over the iron and place it flat against the stone. Rub the iron back and forth to remove any burr from the back surface.
  9. Next, flip the stone over to reveal its smooth surface. Apply oil and repeat the sharpening process.
  10. Then raise the iron just a fraction of an inch, and make two or three passes across the stone.
  11. Repeat the thumbnail test of Step 8 to check the iron's sharpness.
  12. When planing the narrow edge of a board, inspect the direction of the wood grain on the side of the board.
  13. Always plane in the direction of the up-angling wood grain. Don't plane against it.
  14. Adjust the throat (mouth) of the plane to increase or decrease the gap between the plane iron and the bed of the plane. The proper adjustment will help prevent tearing out the grain.
  15. Decrease the gap when planing end grain, and increase it when planing edge grain or making deep cuts.
  16. When planing end grain, prevent tear-out by planing in from both ends toward the middle.
  17. Another technique is to clamp a sacrificial wood block to the end of the board prior to planing. Then, any tear-out will occur in the block, not the board.

What’s the Difference Between an Electric Planer and a Hand Plane?

A planer is a power tool that either sits on a benchtop (and is sometimes called a “surfacer”) or is hand-held. The hand-held versions are usually called power planers, or just planers.