How to Use a Hand Plane

Hand Plane and Wood

Vasily Pindyurin/Getty Images

If a hand plane isn't part of your tool chest, it should be. This versatile, inexpensive, and easy-to-handle manual tool is a classic that has been used by woodworkers for ages for fine carpentry. But it also holds a solid position in the world of home improvement as a tool that can shave down micro-thin amounts of wood and help items such as doors and drawers fit together better. Here are a few typical uses of a hand plane:

What Is a Hand Plane?

A hand plane is a manual tool ranging from about 6 inches to 14 inches long and about 2 inches wide. With handles on top and flat on the bottom, this device contains a razor-sharp blade held at a precise angle at the bottom, or shoe, of the plane. When the plane is pushed forward, the blade cuts off a very thin shaving of the work material.

Safety Considerations

The blade on a hand plane is literally razor-sharp. While the blade is secured within the tool and is generally out of harm's way, be careful whenever changing the blade. Never place a hand or any part of your body in front of the plane during use.

How to Use a Hand Plane

Effective hand plane usage depends on a number of factors such as a solidly secured work material, a sharp plane blade, pushing the plane in the right direction, and firm, decisive movements. Because planes have the tendency to slip, stay safe by always pushing the plane away from you and never placing fingers in front of the plane. 

While it may be tempting to purchase a small trimming or pocket plane (between 3-1/2 inches and 6 inches long), these planes are difficult to control. Most significantly, though, short planes follow the waves and dips in the wood, essentially transmitting the same waves and dips back to the wood. Longer jack planes provide a smoother surface by bridging the gaps and shaving off the humps.

  1. Sharpen the Plane Blade

    Unless the plane is new, its blade must be sharpened. Remove the blade from the plane by unscrewing it. Squirt a small amount of sharpening oil on the whetstone. Prop the blade on the whetstone with the angled side down. Slide the blade around in slow circles. Turn the blade over and lightly slide on the whetstone, flat side down. This removes burrs from the blade. Wipe the oil off of the blade.

  2. Position the Plane Blade

    Lock the blade into place in the plane by screwing down the hand screw. The sharp end of the blade should extend from the bottom of the plane between 1/64-inch and 1/32-inch.

  3. Secure the Work Material

    Clamp down the work material on a sturdy table so that there is no danger of it moving under heavy pressure. If you will be planing the side of a door, position the door on its side and clamp it firmly to a secure surface, such as a table leg or a wall. Place blankets or towels under the door to avoid marring it.

  4. Consider the Grain

    Plane in the direction of the wood's grain rise. A rise is where the grain continues off the edge of the work material. Planing in this direction ensures that the wood will not splinter. If you were to plane in the opposite direction, you risk splintering or tearing out the edge of the board.

    When you must plane a work material that has grain running in opposite directions (such as with the rail and stile on a door or shutter), clamp a sacrificial block of wood on the side of the cross-grain area. This way, when the plane reaches the cross-grain section, it will tear out the sacrificial block, not the work material.

  5. Push the Plane Forward

    Set the hand plane on the work material. Push the plane forward, exerting enough pressure on the plane so that wood shavings begin to appear from the back of the plane. You must push the plane with firm, decisive movements in order to cut through the wood. If not, the plane's blade may catch in the wood and prevent the plane from moving.