Basic hand plane and hand tool questions

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Forum topic by Jon_in_BK posted 01-21-2011 09:22 PM 6019 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Jon_in_BK's profile


8 posts in 2714 days

01-21-2011 09:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: plane rustic question

Hi all,

Thanks for taking the time to read this..
I’m new to the craft but enjoying myself so far…I’m trying to get my hands on some good old hand tools to get stared and I’m hoping I can get a few basic questions answered..I’ve tried to find the answers myself but I always get bogged down in the trivia of hand planes..

Other than the length, what is the main difference between the number 4 and the number 5?

I just got my hands on an old #4 Stanley knock-off (Merit Tools). I tuned it up and just got a Hock blade in it today. Wow – what a difference.

But what does the #5 do that the #4 does not?
If it’s the same iron, then why is the 5 referred to as the Jack and the 4 referred to as more of a smoothing plane?
Is there a difference in the angle of the iron?
Wouldn’t a longer sole help get a smoother cut?

Do I need to get a #5 in addition to the #4?

If I’m going to use as few power tools as possible, what are some other hand planes or hand tools that people find essential?

Thanks again –

10 replies so far

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3310 days

#1 posted 01-21-2011 09:33 PM

the #4 is for smoothing and the #5 is for hogging off material grtting the surface ready for the #4, the longer soles just help the plane ride over the valleys and flatten the surface. #4-#6 or #7 planes dovetailsaw,crosscutsaw,ripsaw chisels, (essential tools) cutting and marking gauges. That’s a good start.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

540 posts in 3503 days

#2 posted 01-21-2011 09:43 PM

Aside from length I’m not to sure what the difference would be between a #4 and a #5. In my experience, the planes I use the most are a smaller plane, either a #4 or #5 for quick removal of material, a good block plane and a rabbeting plane.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3670 days

#3 posted 01-21-2011 10:18 PM

a Jack plane is as the name suggest – jack of all trades. it can actually be used just like a smoothing plane. it can also act like a scrub plane for quick removal of material, and somewhat like a jointer plane to flatten surfaces. that said it does not excell at any of those but with good technique it can be used as such.

the major differences between planes as you’ll probably see later on are the sole length and width. the blades and frogs are all the same between planes (excluding low angle plane which other than having a different cut angle do not differ from high pitch planes).

the longer the sole the more suitable the plane is to generate a flat surface as it has a better reference to register against. a #6, #7, #8

the shorter the plane the more suitable it is for smoothing surfaces as it can be used in different directions to handle grains in different directions that would otherwise cause tearout, smaller also makes it lighter and easier to maneuver around without putting too much strain on your muscles. a #4, #3

the wider the plane the faster you can smooth out a surface and the more even that surface will look, but the shallower cuts you can make (hence more for smoothing) #4 1/2, smoothers, etc

the narrower the plane the deeper the cuts you can make – good for quick material removal prior to flattening a surface – easily seen in a scrub plane.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View chrisstef's profile (online now)


17421 posts in 3028 days

#4 posted 01-21-2011 10:33 PM

yea what Purp said. A longer sole helps the plane stay flat. The shorter sole can be manuevered easier through different grain patterns. A wider mouth takes deeper cuts, a more narrow mouth makes lighter cuts and a suitable finish.

Id suggest acquiring a bunch of hand planes .. somethin like 2 #4’s, 2 #5’s, a jointer (#6, #7, or #8) a couple of block planes, and maybe a low angle block plane. You can set them all up just a little bit differently for a variety of tasks without fidgeting them in and out of adjustments. Im sure that you can find most of them fairly cheap at tag sales, flea markets, etc. i know that i have.

Card / Cabinet scrapers would be good for you as well, they can take the place of a sander in most cases.

“the hanplane book” by garrett hack is a great reference to using, tuning, buying, hell just about anything to do with handplanes.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3020 days

#5 posted 01-22-2011 12:54 AM

It is all a matter of what feels good and matches the way you work. Some people like the smaller #3 rather than the #4 for a smoothing plane. Some like a big manly #4-1/2. I personally prefer a #5-1/2 over a #5 for a jack. Some people prefer the smaller #5-1/4.

As far as the length, you want to have the plane take off what you need. If you are trying to bring a large area or long board to the same level, you use a long plane and call it a jointer. If you have it mostly level and want to clean up a small place and let it follow the contour a bit, you use a shorter plane and call it a smoother. If you only have one plane, you call it a jack. :) Actually it is a nice universal plane size that can do some smoothing, some jointing. Open it up and hog out lots of material or tighten it down and do fine work.

For fun, once upon a time, I went through and collected all the plane sizes from #2 up to #8. When I had the full size range of metallic bench planes at my disposal, I rarely went beyond the core set of block plane, # 5-1/2, and the #7 or #8 (whichever was sharper at the time.)

Unless you find it fun to acquire and play with them, there is nothing that you can do with a smoothing plane that you can’t do with a block plane. If you were careful, you could even joint with a block plane. They are all just a chisel edge clamped in a frame.

Anymore, I normally use my low and high angle block planes and one wooden plane (Specifically, the one on my projects list—but it is shaped differently now.) On rare occasions, I will pull out a smaller one or my big jointer.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4150 days

#6 posted 01-22-2011 01:08 AM

Acquire skills not tools.

Think about taking a class or seeking a mentor(s).
Perhaps join a group of woodworkers.

I use a mix of Japanese and Western hand planes in my wood-crafting practice.
There is more than one way to plane wood – explore.

-- 温故知新

View Jon_in_BK's profile


8 posts in 2714 days

#7 posted 01-22-2011 01:21 AM

Thanks for all the input.

I am feeling pretty content with my little #4 now.


View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2993 days

#8 posted 01-22-2011 02:29 AM

Can’t add much to the plane issue. Well, not much has been said about the block plane. I would consider the low angle block plane an essential hand tool. I use mine to refine my joints and ease edges all the time.

Some other handy hand tools are a set of bench chisels, hand saws (full size cabinet and dovetail and/or tennon as well as Japanese pull saws), coping saw, squares, folding rule, dividers, trammel points, marking knife, hand drills (egg beater and brace types and bits for both), hammers, screw drivers and files and rasps.

A minimum hand tool kit would have 3/8” and 3/4” chisels, a Japanese pull saw (the two sided style), a coping saw, a 12” combination square, a folding rule, and a 16 oz claw hammer. This would assume you have an electric drill and some screw drivers; most folks do. If you don’t have them, a set of brad point and forstner bits to go with your electric drill would be must useful.

View swirt's profile


2767 posts in 2994 days

#9 posted 01-22-2011 03:16 AM

I think a general rule of thumb of the old time joiners is that a hand plane can accurately flatten something roughly double its length.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3670 days

#10 posted 01-22-2011 04:46 AM

I use a #5 most of all. For me, it is the most useful size for fitting
parts, shooting edges, and so forth.

I would take a #5 over a #4 because the number 4 isn’t too useful
for straightening edges. Anyway, I use both all the time and wouldn’t
want to be without either in the workshop. In my carpentry bag
I carry a #5 and a block plane.

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