Planes for the Beginner

Added on January 11, 2010

Jim, a new woodworker, asked Wood Talk Online the following question:

I know you talk about planes a lot and I was wondering what planes you would recommend for beginners with a small budget? Which brands are good and can less expensive ones get the job done?

Matt’s Opinion:

And here’s a response from my co-host, Matt Vanderlist, of Matt’s Basement Workshop.

When it comes to hand planes, the first thing I always recommend to listeners is they should invest in a good, quality block plane. This tool is invaluable whether you’re a power tool junkie or a hand tool user. I prefer a low angle model vs the standard angle, but either will give you pretty much the same results once the blade is sharpened (you’ll have to sharpen it when you first get it, the manufacturers like to pretend the blades are sharp, but they need some honing!)

When it comes to larger bench planes, I recommend either starting with a No.5 (Jack) Plane (pictured right) or a No.4 (smoother). These are the two most common models of planes you’ll be using anyways so it’s a good start. In fact I’d recommend starting with the No.5 since it can be tuned to act as a smoother until you can afford the No.4.

Cost is a huge issue with hand planes, as a modern high quality model can cost as much as some of the power tools we want to add to our shops. But the expense is justified in quality of product and the fact you get real results the moment it comes out of the box. With that said, you’ll find manufacturers such as Footprint and Groz are decent tools at a lower price, but you’ll spend MORE time getting them setup and ready to go.

Another option is vintage tools from antique stores and flea markets. Pre WWII Stanley are great and very plentiful. A little rust removal and maybe a new blade if necessary and you’ll have a great working tool. I hope this helps a little and of course if you have more questions about the topic don’t hesitate!

Marc’s Opinion:

While I do own a set of general-use bench planes, I think there is one other path we need to consider. Personally, the planes that get the most use in my shop are actually specialty planes. When it comes to tasks like smoothing and surfacing, I generally favor my power tools. So for me, tools like Spokeshaves, Router Planes, and Shoulder Planes, will see much more use. Obviously, its critical that you know yourself as a woodworker before plunking down the cash on any of these tools. Now this is just mine and Matt’s perspective on the topic. What do you folks recommend?


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