I know nothing. Where do I start with Hand Planes?

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Forum topic by SquintyPolock posted 06-13-2013 02:17 AM 2286 views 2 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View SquintyPolock's profile


99 posts in 1949 days

06-13-2013 02:17 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question plane

Check out my forum topic on finding cheaper wood…

I don’t have space of money for a jointer or a planer, so I want to learn how to hand plane rough wood.

Any advice on where to start? If I were to buy one hand plane to learn with, what is recommended? I don’t want to spend a lot of money. How do I sharpen it? For that matter, how do you sharpen a chisel?

I have a long journey ahead of me, but I am wearing a good pair of boots.

Any advice is greatly appreciated. J-

-- It's all in a day's work...

17 replies so far

View RonInOhio's profile


721 posts in 2916 days

#1 posted 06-13-2013 02:20 AM

You will need a sturdy bench/vise.
Also you should learn how to sharpen with a stone and guide.

View Sandra's profile


7207 posts in 2127 days

#2 posted 06-13-2013 02:49 AM

Oy Vey! I may be throwing myself to the lions trying to answer, but here goes:

I’ve just started working with hand planes myself.
You do need a sturdy bench before you can use hand planes. Once you have a sturdy surface, you can actually buy a plane from a variety of LJs here for a decent price. It will already be in good shape and sharpened as well. Once you get it, take it apart to see exactly how everything works and put it back together again. Then repeat.

I highly recommend Popular Woodworking’s book “Hand Tool Essentials” Great explanation in there about hand planes, as well as decent instructions on a variety of sharpening methods.
There are a LOT of sharpening options and opinions out there. I’m using ‘Scary Sharp’ which you should read about.

The book also classifies planes and most tools as ‘coarse’ ‘medium’ or ‘fine’ according to how much stock they remove, or how coarse the cut. My understanding is that you would start with a ‘fore’plane to remove stock quickly. This would be like a Stanley #5 or something in that range.

Then you would go to a jointer plane which would be one of the longer ones, some with the ridged bottoms.

Last but not least you would use a smoothing plane, or a block plane. These are the shortest of the three types and and are even more dependant on accurate adjustments and sharpening.

So to make a long story longer – I would suggest you start with a used plane such as a Stanley #5 that’s already tuned up and go from there. I have two planes from LJs and have been very pleased with both.

Good luck.

-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

View DocBailey's profile


584 posts in 2411 days

#3 posted 06-13-2013 03:15 AM

Buy a No 4 (smoother) or No 5 (jack) plane from a reputable dealer [Walt Q at BrassCityRecords, or Josh Clark at Hyperkitten for two examples). Ignore eBay for now until you know what you’re doing and hence what you’re looking at.
Use it, play with it, take it apart and sharpen it. Stay with Stanley/Bailey planes for now, as there is a wealth of information, parts, etc., available.
After you’ve done that, you’ll have questions—ask away. Soon you’ll be hurtling down the proverbial slippery slope and be hoarding planes. Not long afterwards you’ll be throwing around phrases like: “type study”, “Bedrock” and “aftermarket iron.” I know—I’ve seen it happen—I’ve lived it.
Good luck.

View PaulLL's profile


160 posts in 2028 days

#4 posted 06-13-2013 03:47 AM

For sharpening, Lee valley sells a little tool that you can just set to whichever angle you want your chisel or blade sharpened too, slide blade in, screw down and you can just run it along your sharpening stones. It’s a Veritas MK II Honing guide. I just learned how to sharpen a couple months ago, the difference is HUGE! You must sharpen!

I also just ordered a Lie Neilsen, No.62 Low Angle Jack Plane, will be my first plane. I tried one a little bit ago at a woodworking class, decided if I’m going to buy one, might as well get one that I should never have to replace. The instructor had said it was the plane he’d get if he could only have one. Works on a shooting board and can used for smoothing. Should be here friday, I’m pretty excited!!

View rfusca's profile


155 posts in 1895 days

#5 posted 06-13-2013 04:00 AM

I recently got into hand planes – and if you want to put a little elbow grease in, there are some great deals on ebay for some sturdy older planes. A Miller Falls 14 can be had for under 30 dollars on ebay and (I think) is a good jack plane to start off.

Number 4 smoothers are abundant on ebay, you’ve got your pick.
A reasonable price on a jointer, like a Stanley 7 or 8, or a Miller Falls 22, is much, much harder to find, but still much cheaper than a new Lie Neilsen or such.

Basically, its a three step process.
1. ‘Knock it down’ to size and roughly flatten with the jack plane (the MF 14 referenced above or a Stanley 5). This plane has a curved iron that ‘scoops’ out larger pieces. Go across the grain, across the board. Then do 45 degrees to the grain across the board. Do the other 45 degrees across the board.
2. ‘Make it flat’ with the jointer. Its a long plane, so it rides over the hills and flattens them instead of riding the contour. Plane with the grain.
3. ‘Smooth it out’ with the smoother like a stanley #4. This is putting a super smooth surface and you’ll be taking off tiny, tiny shavings. Plane with the grain.

Here’s a couple of masters going over it (Roy Underhill and Chris Schwarz):

-- Chris S., North Atlanta, GA - woodworker,DBA, cook, photographer

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2013 days

#6 posted 06-13-2013 05:41 PM

Others pretty much covered the plane recommendation, but here’s a link for some more good ideas. One single plane is hard to get by with but if you get one already tuned and ready to go like Sandra mentioned, you’ll like it so much you won’t mind getting the others you need.

Lots of people like the veritas honing guide and you can use that with most any sharpening system. Or you can go with the freehand method that Paul Sellers teaches. And here's his chisels video. You don’t need diamond stones to use his method. I use it with the scary sharp method.

Do realize however, that very few people really plane all their rough lumber by hand. Milled lumber has been available for sale for a long time and as far as I understand, most woodworking shops didn’t have time to do it all by hand. If you really want more exercise though and are ok with much less output then it is possible. Do whatever you enjoy the most if this is a hobby for you. Me, I like the exercise and find it calming. I’ll still probably get a planer and/or jointer some day so I can process really rough lumber.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7767 posts in 2966 days

#7 posted 06-13-2013 05:47 PM

Don’t forget that you will probably need a low angle block plane and a shoulder(3/4 or 1in) plane. They tend to get used a lot in mortise and tenon joinery.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Don W's profile

Don W

18788 posts in 2619 days

#8 posted 06-13-2013 05:51 PM

Start with a good block, then move to a smoother.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View rfusca's profile


155 posts in 1895 days

#9 posted 06-13-2013 05:57 PM

@Don – If he’s starting with rough wood (his stated goal) – a smoother seems like the least useful to me. Seems like a block and a jack if you had to pick two.

-- Chris S., North Atlanta, GA - woodworker,DBA, cook, photographer

View jordanp's profile


1086 posts in 1992 days

#10 posted 06-13-2013 06:18 PM

I’m pretty new to this myself, but here is what I did
A lot my choices were recommendations from other LJ’ers as well

I started with a Stanley #220 block plane, but i was just doing small jobs like joining smaller thinner boards and chamfering edges
I then found a good deal on a Stanley #4 which I really like for a variety of things, but its really shines when it comes to getting your stock nice and smooth

My Latest Plane is a #5 Jack plane, it seems to be really good for the initial flattening then i jump back to the #4 and smooth it all out.

Also i have to throw in the Scary Sharp Method
Which is still what I use at the moment.

-- J. Palmer Woodworks - Rockwall TX -I woke up this morning thinking “man, I really hope someone posted some soul scarring sh*t on LJs today.” -- - Billy

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3411 days

#11 posted 06-13-2013 06:19 PM

What types of projects do you work on? You can start with a Stanley/Bailey #5 with some camber on the blade to get you close. Then, depending on the size of the board, I’d suggest a 7 or 8 for flattening and jointing. If you’re working with small pieces for jewelry boxes and such, I’d suggest swapping the blade in the #5 for flattening and jointing. Also, you NEED a good block plane. I would agree that you should stay away from ebay until you know what to look for. There are several of us around here that will sell you a plane that’s ready to work when you get it with no surprises. One other suggestion, it would probably be a good idea to find a hand tool worker near you and spend some time playing with their planes. If you’re near Albany, NY you’re welcome to stop and test drive some planes any time.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15375 posts in 2670 days

#12 posted 06-13-2013 06:31 PM

What rfusca described (EDIT: And Sandra already said, I see! :-) above is ‘course, medium, fine,’ or the approach to working wood with tools of any kind. And that’s what you’ll need if you’re starting with rough wood and want hand planes to get said stuff over the finish line towards completed projects. For each step it’s jack , jointer and smoother, respectively. Or for Stanley numbers (the defacto standard because they sold more than anyone) it’s No. 5, No. 7 and No. 4 (with a few variants you’ll learn about over time).

There’s alot you can do with a well tuned (and sharpened) jack plane, and one from DonW above (for example, and he’s incredibly capable with his refurbs and infill builds BTW) you’ll be on you’re way for not much money. Agressive cuts in a cross-grain fashion (described above) and stock will de-cup / de-bow (are those words?), but it takes some practice. Once flat, a reduced cut along the grain will have the stuff looking good. Then adjust depth one final time for the wispiest of shavings for smooth and you’re done.

The first plane you’ll want after running the jack through these paces is a better (read: shorter) smoother.

All the comments about block planes, shoulder planes, etc. are valid, but as you see the order of getting them is very subjective. So take my advise with a dash of salt and go from there. Sharpening is even more subjective, BTW, but it’s the gateway to planes and chisels… Good luck!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View HorizontalMike's profile


7767 posts in 2966 days

#13 posted 06-13-2013 06:33 PM

OP: ”...For that matter, how do you sharpen a chisel?...”

Scary Sharp method. I use a granite tile I picked up from HD for ~$4.50 as my flat base.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 3986 days

#14 posted 06-15-2013 02:44 AM

Thanks for the video, Mike.

-- Robb

View SquintyPolock's profile


99 posts in 1949 days

#15 posted 06-18-2013 08:26 PM

Thanks for all your advice! My mind is blown! After a deep breath and reviewing all your posts about 10 times, I need:

Sturdy bench
How-to book
Sharpening method
Practice, practice, practice.

-- It's all in a day's work...

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