How to Plane Wood by Hand

A plane is a hand tool used to smooth, shape and straighten wood.

Preparation

Woodworking planes are portable and quiet.Woodworking planes are portable and quiet.
Its blade, or "iron," can shave off the thinnest sliver of wood from a plank, frame, board or door. Needing no power source other than muscle, a wood plane is portable and quiet to use. Planes come in a range of sizes, from the 24-inch jointer, which is good for doors, floorboards and long straight edges, to the 5-1/2-inch smooth plane, used to trim the smallest areas of wood.

Take the iron, or blade, out of the plane to hone it. The blade needs to be honed before each use.

Lay a sheet of medium-grit sandpaper on a level surface, such as a marble tile.

Rub the cutting edge of the blade over the sandpaper with a circular motion, holding the blade at a 25- to 30-degree angle and pressing down firmly. Gently test the back of the cutting edge with your finger: it should feel rough to the touch. Flip the blade over and rub the back of the blade over the the sandpaper until the roughened metal feels smooth again. Repeat the procedure using fine-grade sandpaper.

Return the blade to the plane and turn the depth-adjusting wheel so that that the narrowest margin of blade possible sticks out of the sole, or base plate. A block plane may, instead, have two screws on the body of the tool, to control the mouth, or opening, through which the blade emerges. If so, adjust these screws to produce the narrowest opening possible.

Adjust the lever on the plane until the edge of the blade is parallel with the hole through which it emerges.

Using the Plane

Fix the piece of wood you wish to plane tightly into a vise. Look carefully at the lines of grain in the wood. The lines will rise, running uphill a little toward one end of the wood. When you use the plane it must run over the wood surface in the same direction as the "rising" grain.

Grip the forward knob of the plane firmly with one hand and the rear handle with the other. Push the plane smoothly over the surface of the wood, guiding the tool's progress with the forward knob. Push the knob of the plane hard to hold the front of the tool flat against the wood surface. As the stroke continues, press equally hard on the front and back of the plane and transfer the pressure from the knob at the front to the handle at the back when you reach the end of the stroke.

Continue the smooth, forward motion of the stroke right to the end of the piece of wood you are working on before beginning the next stroke.

Tilt the front of the plane up and away from the wood when drawing it back to make the next stroke, so that its blade does not catch against the surface.

Adjust the cutting depth of the blade -- by turning the depth-adjusting wheel or by opening the mouth of the plane wider -- if you need to remove more wood in a single stroke. Ensure you are familiar with the way in which the plane behaves before taking this step and make any adjustments in gradual stages. If you set the blade to shave off too much at once it may jam or cut jaggedly.

Things You Will Need

  • Medium-grit and fine-grit sandpaper
  • Marble tile
  • Scrap wood
  • Workbench with vise
  • Wax candle

Tips

  • If the plane jams and tears lumps or chunks out of the wood, rather than shaving smoothly, or if the shavings removed break up, then you are using the tool "against the grain." Remove the wood from the vise, turn it in the opposite direction and fix it in the vise again.
  • Rub a candle over the sole, or base-plate, of the plane before you use it, for a better glide.
  • A plane is a tool specifically for smoothing wood. Using a plane on other materials, such as plastic, could dull its blade and lead to lasting damage.
  • When planing wide boards, push the plane diagonally over the wood, in the direction of the rising grain.

Warning

  • Do not use the plane in series of short strokes, as this may leave uneven ridges in the wood surface.

About the Author

British writer Martin Malcolm specializes in children's nonfiction. His books include "A Giant in Ancient Egypt" and "Poetry By Numbers." His schoolkids' campaign for the Red Cross won the 2008 Charity Award. A qualified teacher, he has written for the BBC and MTV. He holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of London.