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Planes (Woodworking)

In woodworking, planes are used for the essential task of taking shavings from the surface of a work piece. Taking shavings can be useful for flattening a surface, bringing a board to a specific thickness, or creating a final finish surface. Depending on the structure and tuning of a plane, one can be used to remove large amounts of material in each pass, or create ribbons in the range of microns thick.

Fundamentally, all planes consist of at least a body and a blade. The plane body holds the blade at some angle to the work surface and the craftsperson moves the body along the surface, cutting the wood. From this basic description, a nearly infinite set of permutations have evolved over time to solve both general purpose needs—like smoothing and thicknessing—and specific tasks—like squaring the corners of a tenon shoulder.

Western Planes

To dress and finish the faces of a wooden surface, the western woodworking tradition developed a set of hand planes. These generaly take the form of a cast metal plane body that holds a removable blade, and which is pushed forward by the craftsperson to cut and shave layers of the wood. There are two primary types of planes: "Block Planes", which have the bevel edge of the blade facing upward and are pushed with one hand; and "Bench Planes", which have the bevel facing downward and are pushed with two hands.

Bench Planes

Bench planes are generally the workhorses of the shop, used to roughly size, flatten, and smooth boards. The primary differences between bench planes are the length of the plane's sole, and the profile of the blade. The longer the sole of a plane is, the flatter its cut: longer soles can sit atop more peaks in the surface, while shorter soles will ride up and down the peaks and valleys. The profile of the blade is generally differentiated by the amount of "camber", which is how much the blade is rounded from the center to the edge.

There are three types of planes (with near infinite variations) in the main stable of western bench planes: the jack plane, the jointer plane, and the smoothing plane.

Jack Plane

The jack plane is generally the first plane used to dress lumber, and has roughly a 12"-14" sole and a blade with heavy camber. Its purpose is to take relatively deep cuts and remove a lot of material as you take rough stock down closer to flatness and close to desired thickness.

Jointer Plane

The jointer plane is used to flatten the faces and edges of a board, and is generally around 22" to 26" long with a light camber on a mostly flat blade. It is usually set up to take shallow cuts, as its primary purpose isn't to remove material but to flatten an existing surface. The jointer plane will follow the jack plane to take a board to its final thickness and flatness.

Smoothing Plane

While any plane can technically be configured as a smoothing plane, it is common to see smaller planes around 9" long be used for the job. The smoothing plane is mostly determined by the blade profile which is very flat and used to take extremely fine cuts. It is expected to be used on a surface that has already been thicknessed and flattened, and so its only job is to create the final smooth surface.

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