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01 Feb. 2009

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The bench plane has three jobs in the woodshop: to straighten the wood, to smooth it and to remove it. Add into the mix all the new bevel-up bench planes that are available in the catalogs now, and it’s bewildering enough to make you want to cuddle up close to your belt sander. Believe it or not, there is a way to make sense of all the different sizes and configurations of bench planes out there and to select the few that you need in your shop. In this article, I’m going to walk through the entire line of forms of the metallic-bodied bench planes and describe what each tool is good for.
Chris is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking Magazine and the publisher at Lost Art Press.
Because people can work wood in so many weird ways, I’ll admit that what follows is equal doses of traditional workshop practice, personal preferences (formed by years of planing) and stubborn opinion that comes from growing up on a mountain. The traditional (but by no means only) job of the fore plane is to remove material quickly. The primary job of jointer planes is to straighten the wood, a task it excels at by virtue of its long sole (the longer the sole, the straighter the resulting work).


1 in place of a block plane – woodworkers with arthritis report that it’s easier to cradle in their hands than a block plane. In fact, it’s quite possible to do all the typical bench plane chores with just one tool (more on that later). It is an excellent balance of sole length and cutter width to be useful for typical furniture parts. Always keep in mind though, No matter what plane you have, learning to set up the blades and sharpen them is the most crucial part of it all. I got a 38 degree blade extra for hard woods and the finished wood from shavings of this plane are smooth as glass.
The fore plane is typically the first bench plane to touch the wood to get it to rough size. 4 or larger plane will actually prevent the tool from removing more than a shaving (maybe two) in a small area. 4 with a 50° frog, which helps reduce tearing (a 55° frog also is available for reducing tearing in curly woods).


Add to that fact that the cutter is so narrow and you can see why you’d be working way too hard to plane a typical carcase side.
And I’ve heard from maybe one woodworker in all my years that they had abnormally small hands that were suited for a No.
This is not the tool I’ll use for really tricky domestic woods or exotics – I use a bevel-up plane for that (see below). Don’t go out and buy the most expensive one and think its going to make you a woodworker.


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