The art of planing

A plane’s job is to slice oil’ unwanted portions of wood, reducing the wood to the exact size required and leaving it smooth and flat.

Bench planes

These are made up of the same parts and have the same adjusting and sharpening procedures. They come in four lengths. The jointer plane is the longest, measuring approximately 550mm, the fore plane is about 450mm, the jack plane is 350-375mm and the smooth plane 200-250mm.

A long plane cuts flatter than a small one because the short one rides the bumps instead of just straddling them. The jack is good for straightening up and levelling pre-finished timber of any length. The jointer plane is used for getting a dead level, straight surface, especially on long, narrow pieces of wood.

The plane blade has two angles forming the cutting edge—the ground angle of 25° and the honed angle of 30°. The plane’s ground angle is already formed on a new plane and will need only occasional renewing on a grinding stone but the honed angle has to be sharpened before you can use the plane. If the blade is not sharp it will tear the surface of the wood making it unsightly and sometimes completely unusable.

Taking apart and sharpening

Remove the lever cap by releasing the cam and sliding the cap upwards until it will lift off. Remove the plane blade and the cap iron. Place them on a flat surface and undo the cap iron screw. Slide the blade forward. twist it through 90° and remove from the cap iron.

If you have a honing guide sharpening the blade, set this according to the manufacturer’s structions. Alternatively, use an stone box with a medium stone.

Use enough oil to keep the surface of the stone moist. Hold the plane iron so the blade is at 90° to the stone with the bevel side of the blade down on the stone. Tilt the iron until you feel the bevel flat on the stone—this will be about a 25° angle. Tilt through another 5° to get a 30° angle. Then rub the blade evenly up and down the stone, maintaining the angle.

Continue doing this until you feel a burr or wire (a roughness) on the flat side of the blade. When you feel it burred evenly all the way across, turn the blade over and place it flat on the stone. Holding it flat with both hands, move it up and down at a slight angle until the burr has been removed from the edge.

Repeat on a fine stone and then, if you want a very sharp edge, do the same again on a leather strop impregnated with motor car valve grinding paste to provide a good abrasive.


To put the plane together again, hold the cap iron screw side up and place the blade at right angles to it over the screw. Slide the blade so that the screw goes three quarters of the way up the slot, then twist it back through 90° and slide it back until only 1.5mm of blade projects beyond the cap iron.

Finger-tighten the screw and readjust the blade to a clearance of 0.5-0.7mm. Hold the blade flat on a bench and tighten the screw. Place the blade back on the plane—taking care not to damage the sharpened edge—so that it lies fiat on the frog. then replace the lever cap. Look along the bottom of the plane from the front at eye level and move the lateral adjusting lever to the right or left, if the blade is not level. It must be exactly level to give an even cut.

Block planes

These are very like the bench pla_nes but they are smaller. They are made up of similar parts but there are fewer of them. They have to be taken apart and the blade sharpened in exactly the same way as the bench plane.

The standard type has the same cutting angle as a bench plane. Others have a cutting edge of 20° and 12° which make it easier to use on small items. They can be used one-handed quite easily.

Block planes are particularly suitable for using on small pieces of timber, for working on the end grain of timber and for trimming plastic laminates.


If the wood you are going to plane is covered with old paint it is worth taking this off with paint stripper before you start, otherwise the plane will not be able to bite into the wood. Remove any nails as they would damage the blade.

Put the wood on a solid, level surface so that it will not move while you are planing. Have the end of the wood against a stop.

If you are supporting the workpiece in a vice, make sure that it is sandwiched between two offcuts to prevent the jaws from bruising the wood.

The frog part is adjustable, which means that the mouth of the plane can be altered according to the type of material you are planing. For rough planing and soft timbers, the blade should be set with half to three-quarters of the mouth open. For fine finishing of hard woods and for planing end grain, the frog should be adjusted to give a very fine mouth opening of about 1.5mm.


Hold the plane firmly but comfortably with both hands and with your body balanced over the top of the plane. Push the plane forward over the wood keeping the cuts shallow and even. Never plane against the grain of the wood or the blade will catch on the ends of the fibres.

If you are planing correctly you should be producing ribbon-like shavings of equal width and thickness.

When planing long edges apply more pressure on the front knob of the plane at the beginning of the stroke, even out the pressure in the middle of the stroke and at the end of the stroke apply more pressure at the back of the plane. Make the stroke the whole length of the wood each time.

As you plane, make sure by frequent checking with the try square that the edge you are working on is at right angles to the other surfaces. And use the edge of the try square, or a steel rule, to see that the edge is straight.

End grain

If you are planing end grain, cut the wood 6mm longer than it needs to be. Put the piece of wood upright in a bench vice, with a waste piece of wood behind. Plane across both pieces of wood—that way any splitting will occur on the waste wood rather than the wood you want to use.

Alternatively, you can bevel all the four corners and then plane from one end towards the middle. Turn the wood around and plane from the other end towards the middle. Remove the piece left in the middle very carefully. The plane needs to be very sharp and finely set for this or you will be left with an uneven surface.

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