How to Build a Japanese Hand Plane





Introduction: How to Build a Japanese Hand Plane

A Japanese hand plane is also known as a Kanna. The major difference from western planes is the Japanese plane is pulled, not pushed. The plane is made of either Japanese red or white oak, while the blade is a lamination of hard iron to softer iron. I will be making a smoothing plane which is similar to a Stanley no. 4 in its function. The Japanese planes are readily available to buy, although I just want to see if I can make one out of scraps of wood and metal laying around with minimal tools and effort. In fact, the only material I bought was the epoxy. In pic #1, I got the one on the right(similar to jack plane) off eBay. The one on the left(a jointer) I bought only the blade and made a sub-blade and a body from quarter sawn red oak. While the one in the middle is the plane I make in this instructable. I recommend reading material over the kanna to fully understand the tool before building one.

Step 1: Laminating the Blade

The body of the plane is made only after the blade is in hand. Therefore, the first step is to make the planes blade. The blade is comprised of a very thin layer of hard, high carbon steel forge welded to a large section of soft iron or soft, low carbon steel. As visible in the above picture with my materials, I have an old Wards Master blade laying around which will be the hard cutting edge, any good steel will work. The flat bar is a cheap, soft metal which will make the wedge of the blade while the saw blade will add thickness between the soft and hard metal. The measurements are available in pic #2. The blade is around 4 inches long and 2 inches wide. The thick end is 5/16" and the thin end is 3/16". I shaped the wedge before laminating with an angle grinder. Remember to not burn the hard metal. After shaping, I used J.B. Weld to hold the three layers of metal together. After a day to let the epoxy dry, I ground the blade to a 25 degree angle and honed it to a razors edge.

Step 2: The Planes Body

For the body, any hard, durable wood will work. I had some plain sawn white oak left over from some stairs I will be using. The wood is only 3/4 inch thick so two pieces will be glued together for a thickness of 1.5 inches. The final dimensions of the body will be 9.5 inches long and 1 3/8 inches thick. The width of the body is the blades width plus a 1/4 inch on each side(Pic #4 above). Before glue up I rough sketched the outline onto the white oak. For the glue I used Titebond and clamped it to dry for 24 hours.

Step 3: Shaping the Beds

The are many ways the cut out the blade's bed. The standard method is to mortise out the bed with chisel. Instead I sawed the body blank in half with a hand saw and sketched a final dimensions(pic #2). I am making a high angle plane at 65 degrees, although the normal blade angle is around 45 degrees. The blade is a wedge that tightens the further the blade is set. Therefore, the blade groove is the shape of the blade(pic #5). So draw the angle for the blade's bed and then trace the blades wedge shape over it with the blade about 1/8 inch away from the mouth(pic #4). The cut should be the width of the blade. Next is draw the cut for the bed where the shavings exit. I want a tight mouth opening so I measure close to the blade. The angle of this cut is around 55 degrees and is not as deep as the blade groove. This cut is 1/4 inch shorter of blade width on each side. After the cuts are made, chisel out the waste and glue the two halves together(pic #6).

Step 4: Fitting the Blade

If the halves do not align or the blade doesn't fit, chisel out the waste. As visible in pic #3, my blade sits to low, but no problem. Just glue a piece of thick paper to the blades bed. This should add thickness to the bed and the blade will tighten against the cheeks. The right position for the blade to sit(pic #4) is about 1/8 inch from the mouth opening.

Step 5: Shaping the Body

Now is time the square the body by planing the sides, top and bottom. Add a bevel the tops edges for comfort, but do not touch the bottom edges, they are to remain square. The bottom should be perfectly flat at this stage like picture #4. The Japanese plane is unique because the bottom is not flat. For a smoothing plane the bottom only touches the wood at the front of the plane and right before the blade(pic #5 and #6). There are special planes used for shaping the bottom of the plane, although I just use the planes blade at a 90 degree angle in a scraping motion.

Step 6: Chipbreaker

The chip breaker or sub-blade is not necessary for the plane, but I will add one for demonstration. The chip breaker is the width between the cheeks of the body(pic #1). My chip breaker is half the length of the blade and is made of soft metal. The breaker is sharpened like the blade and is held in place by a rod, I used a nail.(pic #2). The corners of the breaker hammered over to create a tight fit between the blade and rod. I used a vise to hold the blade and bent corners with a hammer. I used soft metal because of its ease to bend without breaking.

Step 7: Finish

Finally, the plane is finished. I added a couple of coats of linseed oil to seal the wood. I then tested the high angle plane on purpleheart, a very hard, tricky wood, and sweetgum, an interlocking grain wood that tears out, and the plane took off fine shavings leaving a nice glossy finish. Overall, I spent about 4 hours making the plane, although had to wait several days for drying glue. If you have any suggestions or questions just comment.



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    Japanese planes are usually flat sawn, sometimes rift sawn. They're using very straight grained wood and they dont mill, but split the piece, than hang them to dry for several years. They minimise warping this way. The sole of the finished plane also have to be the side which is closer to the bark. How is the blade holding up?

    very nice but body of wooden plain should be quarter sawn, not flat sawn, with grain running vertically. No biggie but could be important in the long run.....

    4 replies

    What makes you say that? These ones are also flat-sawn:

    geppetto425 is right. I just heard this too yesterday actually, but I can't remember where unfortunately.

    It will absolutely work the way it's pointed out in the ible, but for some reason that I don't know, the Japanese plains are quarter sawn.

    I guess it might be because any shrinkage would be less likely to cause warping in the base plane? e.g you're not gonna get any bows.

    I can see why the need for really stable timber is a good position to work from on the plane. we could use the inherant properties of the wood to both hole the plane square in the long term and stabilise the wood and to boot use much cheaper timber. as with many wide boards that are available these days they are laminated to minimise the warping caused by through cut timber and again make use of much cheaper cuts.

    Hello. Beautiful work.thanks for sharing. I am making my barchelor work in university, its about plane with adjustable cutting angle. Its difficult to explane in english but I want to know what is japanese planes cutting angle? How many degrees? My english is not the best possible but I hope you understood....

    2 replies

    They are usually set between 25 - 40 degrees

    Awesome project. I really appreciate the ingenuity and execution.

    I have a couple Japanese planes from ebay. They are wonderful to use once set up, but I do not like the expense of the blades or dealing with sharpening the hard steel and tapping out the back. Once I cracked a blade tapping it out and had to regrind the bevel, I started thinking about other options for future planes.

    I have not heard of anyone else making a blade by epoxy laminating available pieces of steel and am intrigued. A few questions about that. Is the lamination holding up? Did you grind any concavity in the back to match the shape of the the Japanese blades? If not, any issues with the blade shifting side to side or popping out of the wedge?

    I didnt' know that 'pull' planes existed. Kinda blowing my mind here.

    what the....?

    Beautiful project!! Thank you for sharing!

    Nicely executed. I would be interested in how well the epoxy laminated blade works and if it is holding up. I find that laminating idea quite fascinating and was wondering if you have any other examples of it being used.

    2 replies

    I tried different expoxys and found the best one was one call weldbond but you must make sure to clamp after you epoxy and you let cure for 24 hours

    This is the first time. It is sort of an experimentation. However, the plane functions fine and is holding up.

    Beautiful! I want one!

    Some very stable and beautiful wood might be obtained from flooring installers or dealers for the plane body, as well as for other projects. The wood is dried and milled specifically to be flat and stable in flooring.
    Use only solid wood flooring, not laminates. Bamboo flooring might be worth a try.