Preparing Wood With Hand Planes





Introduction: Preparing Wood With Hand Planes

About: I have had the good fortune of being able to work with wood for a living as a Carpenter & Joiner. My family have been professional Carpenters & Joiners since 1926 when my Great Grandfather started the busine...

This instructable will give you a demonstration on taking rough sawn wood and turning it into smooth planed stock using only hand tools. 
By selecting tools used by craftspeople of the past this task can be completed briskly and easily. This is an ideal skill to have if you have power tools that only allow you to work on narrow widths or your working late and you don't want to wake the neighbours!
The tools needed to do this need not be expensive, spending money on the right tool is more important than spending lots of money on all your tools.
As always make sure you take all necessary safety precautions and follow all the safety instructions provided with your tools.

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Step 1: Getting to Know Your Tools

This section has a short video giving an overview of the main tools used during the process, namely the bench planes.

Step 2: The Jack Plane

This is the first tool we bring to bear upon the wood. The purpose of the Jack Plane is too remove any irregularities, twisting, bowing and saw marks quickly. This plane is all about fast removal of wood, we are not concerned at this stage with creating a perfect surface. A reasonably flat surface created quickly is what we are looking for.

As you can see in the photo the mouth of the Jack Plane is very wide. This is so the coarse, thick shavings can pass through easily. The blade is also cambered along it's width, further adding to the ease in which large amounts of timber can be removed. In addition the cap iron should be set back from the cutting edge, this can be seen in the photo, this measure also enbables thick heavy shavings to clear quickly and finally don't worry about having a highly refined plane with a perfectly flat sole (unless you want to of course) a basic robust tool will do the job just fine.

A wooden Jack Plane is normally around 17" long. It's metal bench plane cousin would be the No 6 which is the same length or the No 5 or 5 1/2. The No 6 is quite heavy, some users may find this an advantage, others may find it tiring. The No 5 is smaller and lighter, which one works well for your will be down to experimentation. My recommendation would be buy a wooden Jack Plane, they are cheap and ideally suited to the task of rapid stock removal.

Step 3: Trying Plane

After the Jack Plane has worked it's magic the Trying Plane is then introduced to create a flat and largely smooth finish. It is less usual to call this longer plane a Trying Plane these days, nearly all long planes are called Jointer Planes by most contemporary woodworkers (which is just fine by the way) however a Jointer Plane is longer than a Trying Plane. A wooden Trying Plane is noramlly around 22 inches long with it's metal brother being the No 7.

The Trying Plane has a tighter mouth than the Jack Plane to aid the creation of a more refined surface, the cap iron is also set closer to the cutting edge as can be seen in the photo. One aspect that is important with the Trying Plane is that it has a flat straight sole. If the sloe is bent it will create a bent surface. To this end I add a word of caution. If buying the longer vintage metal planes I would advise checking the sole with a straight edge before making a purchase. If you buy a long metal plane with a bent sole you will find yourself wasting a few hours straightening it with abrasives. If you enjoy that kind of thing then disregard my next bit of advice. If you want great value for money a wooden Trying Plane is a great choice. If you find the sole to be twisted or bowed it can be soon sorted with a decent smoothing plane. If you want a metal version look to purchase a quality item from a reputable seller and brand so you can return if if there are any issues

As you can see in the photos of both the mouth and the cap iron the blade is largely straight with the edges slightly removed.

Step 4: Smoothing Plane

The Smoothing Plane does what is says it will, smooth. Once the Trying plane has created flat a true surfaces the Smoothing Plane adds the last bit of refinement to the surface. Out of all the planes the Smoothing Plane should be the plane that is the most accurate, sharp and refined as it's the last plane used on the timber. 

My personal favorite Smoothing Plane is the Bailey pattern No 4. From the vintage market planes made before the 1970's are a safer bet than later offerings. Older No 4 planes usually have better quality components used within them. These old tools may need some refinement but this is easily done due to their small size. However if you are going to spend money on a quality plane this is the one.

The mouth of this plane is tight, the cap iron is set very close to the cutting edge. It should be very sharp too. These measures help created a highly refined surface.

Further refinements can be made by using card or cabinet scrapers although that is beyond the scope of this instructable!

Step 5: Down to Business

Within the next video I show you how to prepare the timber using a scrap piece of Oak. I hope you find this useful, if you have any questions please do ask and I will do my best to help.




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    Thank you for this explanations. Now I'll be able to use correctly my grand father tools efficiently.

    1 reply

    No problem nspirit. The Trying plane belonged to my Great Grandfather which is pretty cool. I hope to do a little more on how to sharpen and prepare the blades for the planes soon.

    cool. We have a renter in our mum in law apartment who sleeps odd hours and works at home... Noisy power tools, of which I own in abundance, are out most of the day. This opens up a great deal of useful opportunity to get more work done!

    1 reply

    Thanks legamin. This will be much quiter indeed. I will be doing an improved video in time.

    planes are the bomb. they can give some nasty blood blisters though from a pinch off that sharpened edge. awesome video mang

    1 reply

    Thanks Stone_UFO, glad you liked the vids.

    It is worth pointing out that old planes often have "better" blades. They are not so brittle as modern blades and can hold a keener edge. Sharpening plane blades is a whole subject in itself - anyone care to do an instructable on that?

    3 replies

    Hello redpete57. You are indeed right about older blades, especially the ones found in many wooden planes. The blades are very thick and create a very sharp edge. I will be doing a video on sharpening soon,

    I've got sharpening down pretty well free hand with waterstones; except for cambered irons. Some tips there would be awesome

    Joelav I did give waterstones and diamonds a try but I much prefer oil stones (that does not mean oil stones are the best, I just like them). On the basis that cambered irons are normally used at the initial stage they don't need to be a crazy sharp as a smoother. A natural rocking motion is all I do and I hope to do a video on sharpening soon to illustrate this.

    since I don't have a wide jointer, I like to flatten one face of wider boards this way before planing. My weapon of choice is my Stanley No.7 type 13. Great instructions! Hand tools can serve us power tool guys well also.

    1 reply

    joelav you have hit on a very very useful point here. The system you describe is really useful if you have a planer and gets the job done quick.

    Machine tools are tedious to set up and make a horrible racket. Fine if you want to make several of the same thing.

    The soft song of a sharp blade bringing a piece of a tree closer to perfection one stroke at a time is one of the most rewarding experiences one could ever have. It is sculpture, music and dance in every pass.

    1 reply

    oakspoor, firstly thanks for commenting. I as you enjoy using hand tools but I also relish the support a power tool or machine can provide.
    I'm a sucker for the "soft song" too :-)