Hand Planing

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    This is an Interesting read. Paul uses a similar technique, where he starts in the middle of the board.

    From hand planing http://www.workshopheaven.com/tools/Hand_Planing.html

    There is no such thing as a perfectly flat surface, which is why engineers use tolerances when they make things. We can however, get very close indeed to a perfectly flat surface using a simple hand tool that dates back at least as far as the Romans – the handplane.

    A hand plane can be used in two distinct ways, to either make a surface more convex or more concave.

    If you lay the nose of the plane onto the end of the timber with the blade off the edge and then push it all the way across until the blade has passed over the far edge, it will make the surface more convex. If you want to convince yourself try taking twenty shavings along the edge of a board and then compare the planed surface with the sole of the plane.

    If you repeat the process on the opposite edge of the board, but this time start with the cutting edge just on the workpiece and lift the plane clear just before it reaches the far end, in other words taking a shaving within the length of the board, the edge will become concave.

    The difference is that with the concave surface, the sole of the plane prevents the concavity from becoming too deep. It is limited to the depth of cut over the length of the plane.

    If you take a piece of timber the same length as your plane and hollow an edge or a face using the technique described above, with the plane set up to take a 1 thou thick shaving, it will be 1 thou hollow. Now take one full length shaving to trim off the two unplaned bits at the end and you have a very straight piece of timber.

    You will still need to check the edge with a square to make sure you haven’t wobbled to the left or right; this can be corrected if you have a slightly cambered blade by marking the high spots and drifting the plane left or right to remove them.

    A handplane should always be used with the grain if possible. To check this, look at the side of the board you are planing (assuming the top is the surface being planed) the grain lines will usually intersect the edge diagonally. Think of the grain like an animal’s fur – you should always be stroking it down rather than fluffing it up.


    Interesting view ….

    That explains maybe my perfectly apt skill to plane bananas, wedge shaped bananas that is. Hand me any foursquare stock and I’ll happily return it to you as such.

    Oh well, practice practice practice :O



    I found that very thing today while trying to plan down the ruff cut edges of my tote. I planed it and looked and could not believe it looked like I had cut it with a course tooth saw…. Turned it around and smoothed it back out with the grain. We live and learn. Sometimes we listen to Paul… 🙂

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    Albert Einstein


    Interesting reading. I’ve been emulating Paul’s planing technique, and it’s much better than what I did before I discovered WWMC. The question keeps nagging me, though: “How flat is flat?” When I check for flatness, should I be looking for NO light under my straightedge? Is that even achievable using a hand plane? Or should I settle for “flat enough?” And how flat is that?

    John Moore

    Ken, Thanks for sharing. I will be doing some proving/practice for sure. This might have been the bit of information that I missed somewhere long the way.

    I would like to hear others response as well on flatness. I never not see “any” light under my straightedge (unless it is a very small piece). I simple try to eliminate noticeable high and low spots. I try to make the light I do see similar and to a lesser degree if I can. The two limits I like to think about when I call “flat enough” is time spent and not going past gauge lines. If I am having trouble, I the resharpen/reset the plane and see if that helps. It normally does for me.

    Lakeland, Florida USA

    John Purser

    Sign me up for the “a little light” club. I haven’t given up on achieving “purrrrfect” Paul Sellers style flatness but after I work on a board with focus and understanding and STILL can’t get rid of the light I ask myself how flat I need it to be. If I need it flatter then I find it’s faster to move on to another board than keep going on one that’s too tricky for me. And some boards are DEFINITELY trickier to plane flat.

    John Purser
    Hubert, NC


    I never go by the amount of light I can see under a straight edge. If I need a board flat, I can now plane it to within two thou flatness overall, british standard is three thou. Ok two thou sounds really flat, and I suppose it is, but you would be surprised how much light you can see under a straight edge at two thou, that why I never go off how much light I can see.

    Honestly I think we get to hung up on flatness, if everything fits tightly and everything is square, I’m happy with that. I don’t think a pice of hand made furniture, made with hand tools should look as flat as something made in a factory using MDF

    Just my take on it guys. Enjoy 😉

    John Moore

    Ok, I never did this before but I planed a 24 inch piece of mahogany to the flatness I normally get. Then grabbed a feeler gauge, with in the length of my Stanley No. 4, I could not get the 2 thousand gauge under the plane on it’s edge anywhere up and down the length of the mahogany.(I don’t have an 1 thousands gauge)

    Then I looked and still could see light under the edge of the plane. So I concur with Ken, going by light alone is not the way.

    Even when I held my Stanley No. 6 on it’s edge on the same piece of lumber, I could not get 6 thousands gauge (my feeler gauge goes up by 2 thousands) under the plane any where up and down the length of the mahogany. The light under the span of my No.6 appear to be huge.

    I heard that a page in a magazine is approximately 6 thousands.

    I personally can live with that being flat enough for me.

    I am still very much interested to hear from others on this subject.

    Lakeland, Florida USA



    Ken is correct, .002 is pretty darn flat. As long as that very minute band of light peeping out from under a straight edge is even across a surface all should be well. If however you are seeing a noticeable variation at .002 in the amount of light along a given length then I would more suspect the plane bottom’s tolerance being used as a straight edge. I’m sure Paul mentioned this in one of his hand plane blogs.

    Keep in mind that wood is organic and is in constant flux. What is .002 flat today could be .004 tomorrow depending on air moisture content. We don’t need space shuttle tolerances in wood working and the Greeks taught us that there are no straight lines in nature. I just rely on my squares to obtain a sufficient level of true and accurate and that is really all that is necessary to produce fine woodworking. The light argument is highly suspect in my view. Keep planing and enjoying the craft.

    Joe B.

    John Meaney

    John, I used to use a ‘Poor mans’ thickness gauge when working with moulding and stamping dies.

    Cigarette rolling paper is .001″, folded over is .002″ and adding a sheet for every .001″ makes an easy and soft thickness gauge. Lay paper gauge on the edge being checked and place the straight line across and try to pull the paper through without damaging edge. Check the brands of cigarette papers thickness before using

    They also make a good edge sharpness paper checker for chisels, plane irons, etc. Licking and sticking them to hard surfaces also provides a defined separation gap if placing a softer piece on top before clamping avoiding surface damage/marks for dry work.

    However they should never be used to make cigarettes!

    Anything I make will be better next time.


    Hi, i haven’t yet managed to plane a 5×5 cm beam flat an square. Although the full length shavings look consistent in thickness in seem to plane more the far end of the beam and less on the end towards me. after a couple of shavings the beam starts to look like a wedge.

    What am i doing wrong?



    I am no expert, but when reading up on using a plough plane, I read an interesting quote on http://www.cornishworkshop.co.uk/combihow3.html

    “Other than that the same technique applies as ordinary planing – pressure towards the toe at the start of the cut, towards the heel at the end. Basically try and plane it hollow and you’ll avoid the evils of dipping ends (sounds nasty). “

    So, based on that, it sounds like you need to ease up the pressure on the front of the plane as you push it away from yourself.

    Certainly this technique worked when I planed tongue and grooves the other weekend, so why not give it a go and see if that helps.

    Chris B

    I always like too jump in with both feet so sign me up for the “Big light club” mind you I classify myself as a beginner, however my skin isn’t smooth anymore so I’m not (yet) expecting my wood to be either?
    I like to marvel at the design, the effort and the shear beauty of hand crafted. Being able to roll a coin in a straight line without it wandering doesn’t do it for me. What does is the finished product that stands a chance of being still around and in use 100 years time, when I’m long since gone. If you look at the old woodworker chests that we all love. They certainly weren’t designed as a thing of beauty then, merely practical. So for me the subject is creating something that will last, has good function, has embellishments in that order. Flatness not a high priority beyond a certain level, a couple of years shoved in a loft or shed will wipe that out. Only my opinion. I love the silky smooth feel of a nicely hand planned object, save the feeler gauges for the automobile

    Joel Finkel

    People might find this useful. I know I did.


    North side of Chicago. -- "Such a long, long time to be gone; such a short time to be there."

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