Jun 28, 2017

How to get started using a hand plane for beginners

I love power tools because I don't have a lot of time to spend in the shop on my projects.  But I've never been satisfied with how my hand-held power planer left hard-to-remove lines in my surfaces.  So I decided to try hand planing because the woodworking masters swear by it.

Day 1:  bad, mostly due to inexperience.  I had blisters, had barely flattened any surfaces and couldn't imagine finishing all the other oak faces of my table with a hand plane.  I considered trying to plane with my table saw but it didn't sound like a good idea.

Day 2:  immensely better after several changes to my tools and technique and actually enjoyable as the hand plane quickly planed down pieces that seemed impossible the day before.


Here's how to get started for absolute newbies like myself.

Step 1: Buy a Stanley Nº 4 Bench plane or similar (about 2 inches wide and 10 inches long) with a single blade that can be sharpened.  And a sharpening stone and contraption to hold the blade close to 30º.

Step 2:  Prepare your outfit.  Put on shoes with good grip because all torso-powered movements need a stable leg base.  Maybe gloves to avoid blisters and getting (less) sweat on your workpiece.

Step 3: Prepare your workspace.  Your workpiece cannot move while you're planing.  If you don't have a heavy, stable workbench, butt the workpiece against a wall with a protective cloth and put cement blocks or sacks against the legs of your lightweight worktable.

Step 4:  Sharpen your plane blade to katana level.  Even if your plane is brand new, the blade is probably not sharp enough for working due to several reasons (transport, insurance, legal).  Disassemble your plane completely to get the blade out and test its sharpness against a piece of paper or thin plastic sheet.  If it doesn't slice with a very light touch, it's not sharp enough.  Basically, if it can't go through paper, there's no way it's going through solid wood.

Spend five minutes sharpening your blade, trying various techniques.  When your blade can slice through your test sheet like butter, you're ready.  Resharpen after every hour or two hours of planing.

Step 5: Wax the bottom of the plane.  Using ski wax or another gliding wax (not sticky surf wax), lightly wax the bottom of the plane.

Step 6:  Start planing.  Adjust the plane blade until it just grazes the wood and then turn it a bit more until it pulls out nice carvings.  Notice how smooth your plane is after a fresh sharpening and waxing.  It should always be like this.

Step 7:  Try planing in different directions (with grain, against grain, cross grain, diagonally) to understand how the plane and wood react.

Enjoy your new tool and skill!