Which Hand Plane Should You Buy?
In a recent segment of my Hand Plane Foundations course, I made some recommendations for someone purchasing their first hand plane. Far too often I see blanket recommendations made for the best first hand plane. The problem with the majority of these recommendations is that they don’t take into consideration the individual’s staring point. This is a critical mistake in my opinion as not everyone will get the same benefit from the same planes.
Take for example a woodworker that’s been involved in the craft using machines for a few years. This person has a power jointer and planer in their shop, but wants to start incorporating more hand tools into their work. In this case, I’d recommend starting with a smoothing plane.
Let’s face it, this woodworker is flattening, jointing and thicknessing lumber with machines. They aren’t going to get much use out of a jack plane or jointer plane. Rather, they’re going to see the most benefit using a plane to do the majority of their surface prep before applying finish. That means a smoothing plane will be the best first plane for them. Using a smoothing plane before, or in place of sanding will make surface preparation much faster, and much less dusty.
What about someone that doesn’t have a power jointer, but does have a thickness planer? This person needs a hand plane for more than just smoothing surfaces prior to applying finish. So for them, I’d recommend starting with a jointer plane.
Edge jointing and flattening board faces are critical tasks during just about every project. A thickness planer alone doesn’t make boards flat, and it cannot edge joint. For these tasks, the jointer plane reigns supreme. The long sole makes flattening and edge jointing its specialty, so it’s the ideal tool in this case.
Finally, what about the woodworker that has neither a power jointer nor thickness planer? If they don’t want to purchase pre-milled lumber, they’re going to have to do all of their milling with hand planes. So for them, I’d start with a jack plane, but add a jointer plane soon after.
Jack planes and jointer plane are not just different sizes, they have different blade profiles suited to different tasks. The jack plane is typically set up for quick, rough work, and the jointer plane is usually set finer. While the jack plane can be set up like a jointer, it’s shorter length is a disadvantage for those tasks. And while the jointer plane can be set up for rough work, its weight will exhaust the user when used in that way. So in this case, the ideal solution is to start with the jack plane and buy a jointer plane soon after.
So if you’re new to hand planes and looking to purchase your first one, don’t just blindly purchase any old bench plane. Consider your current situation and the tools that you already have and choose a plane that will either give you capabilities that you don’t currently have, or one that will improve your current processes. There’s no one size fits all first hand plane. Assess your own situation, and choose the type of plane to buy according to your own personal needs.
Very good hand plane advice for multiple woodworking situations such as machine use variables and the choice of hand plane type. Great article for hand tool enthusiasts like me. It is a great way to get into the moment and experience making something even if it is just a flat and square board.