DIY Tips: How to Use the Plane Tool

Tips on Using the Hand Plane

plane partsCredit: Wikipedia

Almost everyone will tell you that using the plane is perhaps the most amusing in woodworking. A plane is just a chisel held in a metal base so that you could use both hands and work much more quickly, taking off at each stroke a really thin shaving. Using a plane, you start to feel the actual joy of carpentry; the smell of wood rising in your nostrils; beautiful curling shavings come up from the blade; the surface behind the plane (as long as you are planing with the grain, as you ought to be) is smooth and slick.

Prior to adjusting the plane, check the blade. You'll observe that by removing the lever cap, the blade can be easily removed. Screwed on the blade is a cap iron that must rest slightly in back from the cutting edge on the un-beveled side. The cap iron functions as a shaving deflector. The sharp edge of the cap iron and the small flat surface that holds next to the cutter should lie tightly along the entire width of the blade as they are screwed together. This keeps shavings from working between them.  In putting the blade back in the plane, make sure to have the cap iron uppermost and on the unbeveled side of the blade. Put back the lever cap, locking it using the small cam at the top.

When you don't have a good milled surface for planing an edge square to the working face, you'll want to correct your plane for planing a working face square.  Using the left hand, hold the plane by the knob at the front end, bottom side up, having the bottom or sole level with the eye. Using the right hand, move the setting lever to the right or left till both corners of the blade jut out from the throat the same distance. Next, turn the adjusting nut until the blade somewhat projects through the throat and beyond the bottom of the plane. This may be checked by touching the sole lightly across the throat using the fingers. A common error is to set the blade too far out. All plane blades can be adjusted for length of the blade, which regulates the depth of the cut. If you take off really thin shavings not thicker on one edge than on the other, you will get best results without gouging the work or choking the throat of the plane with shavings.

wood plane

Other adjustments that must be made on most planes is for the throat opening. The throat opening is the distance between the blade and the front edge of the opening; this sets how long a shaving will run without being broken, therefore, how smooth the cut will be. The finer the planing, the narrower the throat must be. The adjustment is made by moving forward or backward the frog supporting the blade.  The more nearly horizontal a blade, the less is the resistance of the wood to it. Hence end-grain planes are set at a low angle. Bigger planes normally have blades set at a fixed angle. When starting out to plane, choose a firm position in front of the bench or table, having one foot forward. Be sure that the work to be smoothed is held firmly—either clamped a vise with the board butting on a stop of wood tacked onto the bench, or with the board clamped to a horse. Place the board so that it can be planed along the grain.

Now determine the depth and straightness of the plane blade, hold the plane using both hands, the left hand on the knob for controlling direction and the right hand on the handle powering the plane. Push on the knob when you start the stroke; then wield equal pressure on both knob and handle. When you finish the stroke, lighten the pressure. A common error is dubbing, or rounding, the ends of the work by forgetting to decrease the pressure. Stay on top of the work as you plane.

Planing must be done diagonally from corner to corner, or huge surfaces use the biggest plane available to guarantee a flat surface and quicker work. At different stages, test the flatness of the surface in various positions using a try square or a steel square. The edge must lie flat at all points. High Spots should be tagged with chalk or pencil and planed away. 

For finishing, plane softly with the grain, using a really thin hip adjustment of the blade. Carry on carefully to get a smooth, square edge, testing many times for straightness by sighting its length and for squareness using the try square. Planing the working face smooth and flat is easy, and doing the edge square is no more difficult. It calls for nothing more than a little practice. When your hands are skillful enough to hold the plane square to the working face, you will go through the operation quickly.

As well as having your cutter sharp and set to take a fairly fine shaving, and holding the tool as square as you could while working, there is actually little to think about when planing bigger surface except that at the start of any stroke, you place a little more downward pressure on the knob of the plane than on the handle. In the middle of the stroke the pressure is equal. At the end of the stroke you apply pressure using your right hand on the handle and practically no pressure on the knob. (for right-handed user.) Hence you make a cut of roughly the same thickness from the start to the end and assure the straightness of the edge to the very ends.


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