How To Use Planes – Smoothing The Wood By Hand

Smoothing is a very important part of woodworking. Almost all wood you purchase will need smoothing, either to get out the defects or to give a desired finish to the project. 

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There are 2 main ways of smoothing wood, sanding and planing. In this post, we are going to speak of planing with hand tools. 

Despite the existing power tools that do the job, you will often want to reach out for planer to do a smoothing job. Reason? Believe it or not, using some hand tools can be faster and easier in many situations. 

The simplest kind of planes are hand tools made out of wood. They are rectangular blocks of solid wood with a blade that goes in from the top and juts out ever so slightly from the bottom at an angle. When this block is run across the surface of the wood the blade takes off a thin slice of the wood surface.

using planes to smoothen wood

Modern Planes

Modern planes are not necessarily made out of wood. They are also made from metal. They also have design features like knobs for tightening and adjusting blade angle. They also tend to have a nice gripping mechanism both on the front and back of the planer. 

Whether you prefer to work with a planer made of solid wood or one made out of metal is up to your preference. 

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If your plane allows you to adjust the angle of the blade, start with as flat an angle as possible, i.e. as parallel to the board surface as possible.

That is the basic mechanism of how a planer works.

However, you have different planes to accomplish different results. Here they are: 

  • Bench Planes – These are the basic kinds of planes that we have described above. They are rectangular blocks with a blade set at an angle that takes off a thin layer of wood when moved in the forward direction. The length of the plane (side) depends on the kind of bench plane you are using. There are 3 major kinds of bench planes:
    Jack Planes: Jack planes have medium length soles and are used for smoothing flat boards.
    Jointers or Try Planes: These are very long planes and very useful if you are going to be joining edges of 2 or more boards, for examples, when making a table. Basically, they are used to get surface defects and blemishes out of large wood boards.
    Smoothing Planes: These are the smallest of jack planes, 6-9 inches in length. They are used to give a smooth finish and often used to give the final finishing touch after other planes have been used. 
  • Block Planes – Block planes are small and designed to be held in one hand. They are only meant to smoothen the end part of a board. They come in 2 varieties – regular and low angle. The low angle is preferred for use on very hard woods because it slices through the wood easier. 
  • Plow Planes: These planes are not popular or in common use anymore. But you might still have use for them if for some reason you cannot use a router. They are used to create curved shapes. Different kinds of blades enable many kinds of variations. But it is a lot of hard work, which is why they have been replaced by a router for most part. 
  • Rabbet Planes: As the name suggests, this plane is designed to smooth out rabbet cuts. But again, with the advent of the use of a router, this plane too is not used a lot. 

The Right Way To Use Planes

What you are doing with a plane is taking of the surface of the wood. This can yield unwanted modifications if the plane is not used properly. Here are some pointers for the right technique of planing. 

  • Make sure the blade is sharp.
  • Adjust the blade according to the job so that its edge is properly aligned. 
  • Hold the plane with both hands, unless it’s a ‘one hand’ block plane. Apply even pressure throughout the stroke, unless you are planing off a particular defect like a knot in the wood.
  • Try to be squarely behind the plane whenever possible and use combined force of elbows, shoulders and body weight. 
  • Clamp down the wood if it is likely to move during planing this will make the job much easier. Clamping is also necessary when planing the end grain. Clamp a support block to prevent tearing out the end of the board. 

Using Planes To Fix Rough Lumber

A lot of woodworkers work with rough lumber. Rough lumber usually consists of boards that have defects on the surface, are warped and not of desired width. But the upside is that it is cheap. You will need to do some good planing to get out the surface defects, to straighten the board and to join multiple boards together to make a board of desired width. 

Think carefully before using rough lumber. In order to make it usable you might have to lay to waste a lot of wood. So make sure that the cheaper price is worth your time, effort and the usable wood you are left with. Rough lumber makes sense for certain projects and not so much for others.

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