The case for hand planes

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Blog entry by SST posted 03-04-2008 11:27 PM 1275 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I took the opportunity, on my recent project, to use a Stanley 45 combination plane to do the edge beading (I think that’s what it’s called) instead of setting up my router or shaper. I’m trying to do more and more with hand tools as a way of connecting to the fundamentals of the hobby/skill/pastime/avocation. (whatever this really is called)


I’m also, of course, doing it to keep telling myself that I’m not a collector, I’m a user. (Hello, my name is Tom, and I’m a plane-o-holic….[group response, “hi, Tom”]
From a time standpoint, at least on a small project, it actually seems to be a bit faster than the machine set up, but if I really wanted to save time, I’d just buy whatever it was I was making, so let’s just take that out of the equation altogether.

As I’ve begun to work on my (to this point somewhat limited) skills with hand planes, I’ve had the occasion to think back to 8th grade woodworking class. A time, for many on this site I venture to say, that was before they existed…when “Leave it to Beaver” had yet to hit the rerun circuit.
I was handed a tri square (try square?) and plane and shown how to square up a board. It looked so easy when he did it. Then I tried to square (try square?) it up. It took a long time and the board got a lot smaller along the way.

As I practice this now, I think I’m a little more proficient at it than I was then, or maybe I’m just starting with a bigger board.

One thing I do know, though, is that every stroke I take in some small way takes me on a journey back to that class…to that time. A time when my dad was around and we’d go down in the basement and I’d watch him work on his/my Shopsmith (see my recent tool review), and he’d show me how to do stuff. (God, he was proud of that machine)

As I make more shavings, and I’ve made a bunch, I try to imagine what it must have been like to be a woodworker back when my great grandfather (1880’s) used those skills to make a living. I have a few of those planes and, holding them, I am sometimes overwhelmed at the idea of doing what he did.
What I do know, and what I do feel is a kind of kinship with those craftsman…not because I’m even remotely able do what they could (I have a long ways to go in that regard) but because when I hold one of those planes, take that stroke and watch the shaving curl up, I feel the kind of satisfaction in the result that I believe you can only feel when you truly work the wood by hand…the feeling they had.

It may take me a long time to develop the skill to be as precise as today’s power tools…maybe I never will… but I’m going to keep on trying…. because that feels so good -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

11 comments so far

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3901 days

#1 posted 03-04-2008 11:42 PM

“Hi, Tom!” ...Great story. You will get a lot of enjoyment out of the hand tool use. I’m only a moderate user of hand tools, and am still at the bottom of the learning curve. I wish I had more time to dedicate just to hand tool use and learning.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3810 days

#2 posted 03-04-2008 11:46 PM

I’m with ya. From time to time, I’ve had to get a new piece of wood as I realize that all of my planing has rendered my original piece too small. Oh well, at least it still wasn’t square.

Patience, grasshoppa.

-- Eric at

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3848 days

#3 posted 03-05-2008 12:06 AM

Hi Tom.

I did notice the bead detail you put on the baseball shelf and thought to myself that it looked just like the profile I get with my router and beading bit. Using hand tools is a neglected aspect of this hobby, in my opinion. I will be honest, I am a power tool guy. My hand skills have been sorely neglected over the years but after being on board at this site I have developed an interest in improving these skills and am working on it.

Blake is right about getting enjoyment out of woodworking with hand tools (although in my case it is a cause of much frustration at the present time). But this is a technique that a woodworker should have at their disposal.

Keep practicing. Your skills will only improve.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4015 days

#4 posted 03-05-2008 12:20 AM

I tend to only use them when I have to.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3771 days

#5 posted 03-05-2008 12:46 AM

You’re right, Tom. It’s about getting back to the “roots”. I use my planes, hand saws, chisels, scrapers, etc. every chance I get. Many times it is quicker than setting up a power tool. I cut the tenons on the curved backs of my chairs with a tenon saw, because it’s easier than making a jig to do it. I have a Stanley 44 plough plane that I bought just for making the doors for my kitchen cabinets. It’s slower, but it’s quieter. It’s easier to honestly tell someone that the piece they’re looking at is “handmade”. Hand tool uses is slowly but surely dieing out. There are still a few Neanderthals left and hopefully, if they pass the procedures along it won’t die out in the too near future.

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3989 days

#6 posted 03-05-2008 01:10 AM

Hi Tom. Well said.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4200 days

#7 posted 03-05-2008 06:25 AM

Welcome, Tom.

Thanks for sharing!

-- Ethan,

View Chris 's profile


1879 posts in 4017 days

#8 posted 03-09-2008 04:20 AM

Hi Tom… I love using my hand planes when I can. However, having recently dimensioned some lumber completely by hand I will admit that power tools are nice for the rough dimensioning work then I will use my hand tools for the fine / detail work.

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3901 days

#9 posted 03-09-2008 10:29 AM

I have always felt hand tools were a good way to destroy wood. Then I bought a high quality hand plane. Oh, the feel of a transparent ribbon of wood coming off the board was wonderful. Conclusion: hand tools must be of high quality and properly set up to be much use. But when they are, they are really fun to use.

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3787 days

#10 posted 03-11-2008 03:28 AM

I recall a discussion in another forum, where several participants were desirous of obtaining a jointer that was just as wide as their planer for the purpose of initially flattening a board. They were into their discussion of 10”, 12” and wider planers, costs, large size, ect. when a poster came in with a “whatsamatter with you guys” kind of response, telling them that with his hand plane he could have a board flattened enough to go through the planer in just a few minutes.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Ryan Shervill's profile

Ryan Shervill

278 posts in 3839 days

#11 posted 03-11-2008 03:48 AM

8iowa, that is the bang-on truth. In my shop, anyting up to 8” wide gets the jointer, but for anything over 8”, out come the winding sticks and grandads #7 1/2.

SST~Very well written. It’s almost like you can see the faces of those who used these tools before you in the the curls coming off the frog isn’t it? The sound, the feel of the plane, the gossomer thin curls litereing the bench….it really can take you back to another time. Thanks for reminding me of that!....I think I know how I’m going to start my day tomorrow.

-- Want to see me completely transform a house? Look here:

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