dovetail & pin flattening: block plane or smoothing plane?

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Forum topic by Holbs posted 06-01-2015 11:03 PM 2426 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1981 posts in 2202 days

06-01-2015 11:03 PM

I am in the midst of practicing dovetails. I have a functional block plane nicely cleaned up with a sharpened blade. When I watch videos of Cosman, Sellers, etc… they use a smoothing plane (#3? #4?) to knock down and level pins/tails, not a block plane. I thought block planes were designed for end grain & dovetails, not smoothing planes. I have 2 Stanley #3’s, and 4 Stanley #4’s (yet to refurbish them). Should I somehow convert a #3 or #4 to dovetail use? I do like the idea of using 2 hands to move a plane instead of just 1 since I have big hands at 6’2”

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

13 replies so far

View DKV's profile


3940 posts in 2677 days

#1 posted 06-01-2015 11:11 PM

Whatever works best for you. Why ask us…figure it out.

-- This is a Troll Free zone.

View johnstoneb's profile


3033 posts in 2345 days

#2 posted 06-01-2015 11:20 PM

I’ve used both. Depends on the wood. I really like a #2. I just bought a Wood River #1 that is easier to hold than a block plane will probably try that on the next project. You need to find what works best for you. I ‘ve use hand chisels before.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View pintodeluxe's profile


5783 posts in 2986 days

#3 posted 06-01-2015 11:27 PM

A low angle block plane is supposed to be good for end grain. However, if I want a really nice end result with no chipout I will just sand them flush. If you make your tails only slightly proud, sanding them is an easy task.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View iminmyshop's profile


287 posts in 2167 days

#4 posted 06-01-2015 11:32 PM

I like to take it down to about 1/32” with a router then finish it off with a block plane. Be careful with the router as you work close to the edge of a piece. An add-on wide base for support makes that much less of a problem.


View bandit571's profile


21508 posts in 2856 days

#5 posted 06-01-2015 11:48 PM

Beltsander until close, then a #3 smooth plane. No burn marks,

Have used both standard, and low angle block planes as well. Usually what ever is handy, and SHARP will do.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View rwe2156's profile


3134 posts in 1653 days

#6 posted 06-02-2015 12:12 AM

No need for a router or sanding. And never, ever use a belt sander of any kind!

IMO, Bandit is on track with his statement about sharpness. Because its endgrain, I usually touch up the blade no matter what just before using.

As for plane types, I have used a #4 plane with good results as long as the blade is sharp, sharp, sharp. Can’t stress that enough. Also, you need a plane with an adjustable frog to close the mouth down.

Lately I prefer using a LA jack. I think it does a much better job and the length keeps everything flat.

A LA block plane can work, but personally I don’t use one because I can’t be as steady with it as I can with a #4. Theres nothing more disappointing than a nice dovetail joint buggered by uneven planing.

I have never seen the purpose of a #1 or #2 plane other than for a youngster.
I wouldn’t recommend paring flush with chisels unless you are extremely talented with one.

I don’t like sanding DT joints because 1) end grain and long grain don’t sand the same and 2) using a plane leaves a crisper, much nicer looking joint.

If you elect to use a plane, keep in mind there is a definite technique and some no-no’s.
Keep the toe down and make sure, even strokes until the joint comes flush with the side.
Make sure your work is well supported so there is no vibration.
Make sure you always plane in the direction of the down the length of the side from the corner.
Never plane vertically down the width of the drawer you will tear out the end pins (no matter how tempting it is).
Slightly skewing the plane also helps just keep in mind those end pins will tear out!

Good luck with your DTs.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View JohnChung's profile


416 posts in 2247 days

#7 posted 06-02-2015 03:45 AM

I would say it depends on the workpiece.

For bandit571 post I would use a block plane. I find a #4 a bit tippy due to my setup. There is no wrong plane….. But a jointer on this case would not be suitable. Too long and heavy.

So if you find that a #4 has more control for you just use it then. 1 hand vs 2 hands is not quite a deciding factor as we want to knock down the end grain not remove a lot of wood.

View CharlieStanford's profile


6 posts in 2360 days

#8 posted 06-02-2015 12:45 PM

I use a No. 6 with a closely set cap iron. I like the mass and the extra length.

Alan Peters, the great British woodworker, would have used a No. 7 for this.

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

347 posts in 2635 days

#9 posted 06-02-2015 02:04 PM

I use my 62 Lie Nielsen, hone that blade right before. I like the extra weight and extra control.

Now, on leg bottoms, leg tops or other exposed end grain I use my block plane- without a lot of surface to register on, the block is perfect.

You can sand them flush, but you have to be careful to not roll over or damage surrounding surfaces around those tails. You won’t ntoice when you sand them flush, but when you apply finish and the light hits it. No power sanders as mentioned above, block sand it down just be careful.

View HornedWoodwork's profile


222 posts in 1387 days

#10 posted 06-02-2015 02:13 PM

The #4 has a wider body than the block plane so using this one will give you a flatter, more even surface. That said you need to remove the bulk of the waste first with a chisel, or I could see a block plane working here. Then finish with a #4 and you’ll have perfect, flat and crisp cornered dovetails. You do not need to setup the plane differently to deal with end grain, you do need to back the end grain up with a sacrificial board so that you don’t get blow out though.

-- Talent, brilliance, and humility are my virtues.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5101 posts in 4133 days

#11 posted 06-02-2015 02:20 PM

“Slightly skewing the plane also helps just keep in mind those end pins will tear out!”
If you don’t pay any attention to the other posts, this comment is VERY important. Mr. Engel speaks golden words.
I was not paid for this endorsement. :)


View bandit571's profile


21508 posts in 2856 days

#12 posted 06-02-2015 04:01 PM

IF, and a big if here, the parts needing to be pared down to match the sides are rather a bit thick, I will beltsander until close, haven’t time to mess around skinning thin layers off. Get it down to about a red hair proud, then either a block plane ( small drawers) or a #3 bench plane to finish it down flush.

Work up towards the middle from both the top of the side, and from the bottom of the side.
Where the sides and front meet at the top and/or bottom, come in at a diagonal, and hit both pieces. Use the lower one to rest the plane on, and work until flush. Gets rid of that annoying bump up when you close the drawer.

Sometimes, I do use a jack plane, simply because it registers on a long surface better. Get the entire drwawer side level. And the bottom edges of the fronts.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2134 days

#13 posted 06-02-2015 05:17 PM

When I watch videos of Cosman, Sellers, etc… they use a smoothing plane (#3? #4?) to knock down and level pins/tails, not a block plane. I thought block planes were designed for end grain & dovetails, not smoothing planes.
- Holbs

I don’t know about Cosman, but if you watch Paul Sellers carefully when he does that you can see he has a specific technique to doing end grain with his #4, kind of a circular motion.

Another way to avoid chipout is to chamfer the edges where your plane will be exiting so there is nothing to chipout. Since there are lots of tails and pins that’s time consuming and the easier way is to not leave so much extra sticking out, but that takes practice too. More careful marking and less extra sticking out is part of what makes Paul’s technique work.

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