About Us Contact Us Products Blog Video Blog  RSS Feeder
Newsletters Tips & Techniques Featured Woodworker Just for Kids Tool Reviews Resources
Visit our online Gift store on CafePress!

Newsletter Signup

First Name:
Primary Email:

Support This Site


If you find our website and videos helpful, please click the button above to make a donation to help offset our costs.


February 26, 2010

Handplane Basics: A Better Way to Use Bench Planes

A Review of:

Handplane Basics
A Better Way to Use Bench Planes

                with Christopher Schwarz

This is a video put out by the folks at Popular Woodworking Magazine and Woodworking Magazine (which are actually merging into one magazine with the April 2010 issue.  I, for one, am not happy about this, but I digress).  

If you're new to handplanes or if you, like many, are frustrated with how they perform, or just plane confused (pun intended) with which plane you should use and when, then this video has the information to take your skills to the next level.  


The first part of the DVD starts out by talking about the historical background of bench planes and then quickly breaks bench planes into three categories based on their length and job.

The first group ranges in size from 14" to 20" long.  They go by many names, such as fore planes, jack planes, or roughing planes.  Their primary job was to remove material quickly.

Long planes or jointing planes are next.  They range in size from 22" up to 30" long.  

Small planes, usually called smoothing planes, range in size from 10" and shorter and prepare the wood for finishing.

The rest of the DVD concentrates on one plane from each of these three categories.

Bench Planes:  Types and Anatomy

Next Chris goes through and discusses the anatomy of bench planes so you'll have a better understanding of how to set up each one up to perform the way you want.  He does this for metal bodied planes, wooden planes, and infill planes which is nice, because most of the time the Bailey style plane gets all the attention from magazines and videos.    

Sharpen & Set Up a Plane To Remove Material

I learned a great deal from this section.  One thing I liked was that Chris shows an easier way of shaping the plane iron (using the grinder) than I've ever seen.  This is a good thing, because Chris makes an aggressive curve on the plane irons that are set up to remove material fast; an 8 inch radius.  Chris shows a simply made jig that he uses to draw the 8 inch radius curve onto the plane iron. Something I wish he would have done here was to explain quickly how to draw that curve out on a block of wood like he used in the video.  I'm sure the reason he didn't was to save time, and this is simple enough to find the answer on your own, but it would have been nice to have it all there.

One struggle I've had sharpening plane irons with a curve was getting consistent results.  Chris again, shows a simple way to do this using water stones and an inexpensive jig.  

At this point, I already feel like I got my money's worth from the DVD, which is nice; I mean, the reason we buy "information products" like this DVD is learn new ways to work right?

Set Up a Plane to Straighten the Work.

There are some similarities between setting up a plane to straighten work and setting one up to remove material.  One of the big differences, obviously, is that set up must be more precise for straightening work as opposed to roughly removing material.  Chris shows a way of doing this for a long plane using a wooden shim; simple, but highly effective.  I first saw this taught by Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, and Chris credits David Charlesworth for teaching him this technique.  I love how learning happens from so many different sources in the woodworking community and how blessed we are to have such access to all this information at our fingertips.  Imagine living in the 17th or 18th century?

Sharpening Cambered Irons & Preparing the Wood For Finishing

I use smoothing planes more often than any other plane I own (except for my block planes), so this section had my undivided attention.  I'm always eager to learn new ways of using my smoothing planes to get the best result possible (mostly just to keep me from having to use sandpaper).  

This section convinced me to finally change the pitch angle of my 4 1/2 smoothing plane, and I love the results.  Chris does a good job explaining the differences in pitch and the effects it has on the wood.

How to shape and sharpen plane irons for smoothing planes is next.  Using three styles, he shows how to achieve each one using water stones.  Again, I learned a new process here as well.  Getting a consistent curve was something I was never quite happy with on my smoothing plane irons, but Chris shows a way that is very repeatable.  I plan to use this approach on a new set of Hock blades I recently purchased.

True a Face of a Board

This is where everything comes together.  Chris takes a rough piece of wood and using only handplanes shows how each:  a jack plane, jointer plane, and smoothing plane are used to prepare the piece for use.

True the Edges & Ends

After one surface of the board is complete next comes the work on the edges and ends of the board.  Hand placement and pressure points become much more critical during this step in the process and Chris does a nice job showing how to do this.

Chris goes on to show how to achieve the final width and thickness of the board using the same three handplanes.

Now to be honest, I hope I don't often have to take a piece of lumber from rough to ready using only handplanes.  It's labor intensive and time consuming compared to using both hand and power tools.  But if you work wood long enough, you'll eventually run into a board that is too gnarly, too wide, too short, - too "something" that using power tools is not an option, or at least, not the best option.  Having the skills to surface the piece by hand is indispensable.

Final Thoughts

Last, Chris talks about bevel-up planes.  Rather than make the DVD longer they include a PDF document on the DVD that discusses these newest entrants into the handplane market.  This is a very nice added feature.

My Final Thoughts on the DVD

I have been using bench planes for several years now but never really started to enjoy using them until I learned to sharpen them properly.  It opened up a whole new world to me and because of that, I continually find new opportunities and circumstances to use handplanes.  This isn't just because I enjoy using them, but also because I find I can get the job done with better results and often times faster than with power tools.  

Even though I've been using bench planes for years and have a good sharpening system that works for me, I took away several pearls from this video (the best being how to get a consistent radius on my irons).  This is one of the reasons I love woodworking, I'm constantly learning new ways to work and improve my skills.  

Bottom line, this video kept my attention, was well organized start to finish, and accomplished the stated goal:  To teach a simple system of what plane to use and when.  Any time I fork out hard earned money on an educational DVD such as this I have one goal in mind:  I want to learn something new that will improve my woodworking skills so I can continually get better.  Mission accomplished.

There's another DVD put out by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks called Coarse, Medium and Fine: Fundamental Woodworking Techniques.  This video was put out several years ago and covers basically the same techniques with a few exceptions.  The only reason I bring this up is to say if you already own this video, I don't think I'd buy Handplane Basics because of the overlap in information.  But if you don't own either, and are interested in taking your skills using  handplanes to the next level, then I highly recommend Handplane Basics:  A Better Way to Use Bench Planes.

Here's a quick trailer of Handplane Basics:

To order your copy or just to learn more information about the video, you can click on the link below:

Handplane Basics:  A Better Way to Use Bench Planes


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)