Planes for the Beginner

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?

Category: Tools


  1. Matthew Hills January 11, 2010

    #5 is a good choice as a complement for power tools. I use my large bench plane to do a rough flattening on wide boards that don’t fit on my jointer. (and sometimes help if I’m having trouble getting the twist out on a board that does fit on the jointer)

    Specialty tools: it would be nice to have a breakdown of tasks with tools, and some suggestions on efficiently building a suite of tools over time to minimize redundancy.

    Anyone looking to start buying hand tools should be aware that they will need to factor in sharpening. This can be expensive for some systems, and even more expensive to bounce between systems :-)


  2. Michael January 11, 2010

    There are two areas that need to be addressed here. The first one is of course what planes to start with. I agree with Matt. Get a good low angle block plane followed by a #4 and #5.

    The other area is sharpening and honing. Not all woodworkers know how to sharpen edge tools especially if they come from an all power tool background. All edge tools need regular maintenance to keep that edge sharp enough to work.

    There are several methods to take a dull blade to razor sharp. I’ll list them here in order of start up price. Most people start out with the Scary Sharp method. This involves gluing progressive grits of wet/dry sandpaper to glass or other flat surface. While the start up cost is supper cheep the sandpaper wears out and needs replacement regularly.

    The next method is water or oil stones. These also come in a series of grits but must be maintained regularly to stay flat. This usually involves a piece of sandpaper on glass or other flat reference surface. Another stone or even a diamond ‘stone’ can be used for flattening as well. These setups can be more expensive especially at the higher grits. However they last much longer than the sandpaper above.

    You don’t need every grit though. You can get by with 3 or 4 good stones. Start with a 1000 grit or coarse stone. Then move up to something around 4000 grit then 8000 grit. Finally follow up with a higher grit stone or a strop.

    The last method are ceramic stones. These are generally more expensive than the other stones I talked about previously. They will stay flat much, much longer as well. They also come in a wide range of grits depending on the manufacturer. Choose a grit progression that works for you like I mentioned above.

    I could go into much more detail. This involves the use of a honing guide, or going free hand. How far up in the grits is good enough. These topics are more prone to opinions so I’ll leave that you to discover what works best for your shop.

  3. Great post and I also found the response that Michael gave to be helpful. I am very new to this and I have never even heard of ceramic stones. Thanks all of you.

  4. Larry Dufault January 11, 2010

    All of the info I’ve read here so far is good. One thing I would like to see addressed if someone could would be the proper set up and use of the planes mentioned above. Marc have you done anything like that here? I’ve kind of glanced around but didn’t notice.

    • Dan Drabek January 13, 2010

      In setting up the above planes, the first set-up is properly sharpening the blade. With a dull blade, no plane will work well. How sharp do you need it? I like to get my plane blades sharp enough to shave the hair off my arm. Some folks get fixated on polishing their blades to ‘scary’ sharpness. (shaving hairs lengthwise, etc.) In my opinion anything more than shaving sharp is an exercise in wasting your time, as it will be dulled back to shaving sharpness after a few passes through the wood you are planing.

      The second most important setup is setting the chip breaker (on the smoothing and jack planes). The harder the wood you are planing, the closer you want the chip breaker to the edge of the blade. For hardwoods, I usually set mine around 1/16″ or a bit less. But II might vary it if I don’t like the way the plane is cutting.

      The third important adjustment is setting the throat gap. The harder the wood and the finer the shavings, the smaller the gap you want. On a block plane you can do this if your plane has an adjustable throat. (not all block planes have one –I wouldn’t own a block plane that didn’t). On a smoother or jack plane, you can loosen and move the frog to adjust the distance from the blade edge to the front of the throat. (The Stanley Bedrock models allow you to do this without removing the cutter assembly) If you’re taking deeper cuts, and your shavings are getting jammed in the throat, you need to open it up a bit.

      All of this is assuming that the plane is properly ‘tuned’. Tuning is a whole different topic.


  5. Dean January 11, 2010

    I essentially had the same question. I know we would all like a consumer guide / report on all the new hand planes and recommendations on some used planes, but I haven

    • Vic January 11, 2010

      Thanks for the advise Matt! I just got in my Veritas 5 1/4 Jack Plane. I can’t wait to rev it up. Also, Marc, could I get a larger format jpeg of Laughing Jesus Matt? I wanna make a poster for my shop.

      • Jason January 12, 2010

        That photo is great! I am wondering what sort of picture Matt is going to post of Marc.

  6. rab January 11, 2010

    One solution that meets Matt’s suggestion for a low angle block plane is to look at the Lee Valley low angle block plane. The advantage to this solution is that you start out with a good quality block plane but can easily switch blades to turn it into a small smoothing plane. And adding the optional grips makes it even more adaptable to various needs. It isn’t cheap but you get a quality tool that can be adapted to meet a variety of needs that might otherwise require several planes. Give it a look:,41189.

  7. Dennis January 11, 2010

    I have been wanting to ask this same question. I bought a Footprint no. 5 at a yard sale and have been trying to get it to work. I have been researching about planes and how to tune them.

  8. mark williams January 11, 2010

    Hey everyone,

    Can I have an example of a “good” low angle block plane?

    • Veritas has two models of block plane; the original and the new black model. The new model is highly rated. Benefit of the original model is that you can get the chamfering guide for it, but that’s not a big deal.

      I got a deal on a Lie-Nielsen rabbeting block plane. Now that I have it, I think I’d prefer to get a rabbeting block plane over a regular one. So much easier to work up to an edge after something is assembled. That said, though, Veritas has a shoulder-like plane that can be a bullnose or chisel plane; that would be super sweet for working an assembly. It too works up to the edge (so a flush side).

      • Tim Kremer January 11, 2010


        For the times you don’t have to get up to the edge, do you find the rabbeting block plane harder to handle? Or takes too light of a cut?

        • I don’t find it harder to handle except that if you are running it over the edge of a board (so plane is wider than board), you’ll want to watch how you grab the plane. I tend to grab around it so my finger tips touch the board (or try to). That’s complicated with a blade exposed on the edge. Only did it once :)

          It takes a light cut like most any block plane. As a low-angle plane, it’s designed to work best on end-grain, but light trimming of face grain in well-behaved woods seem just fine.

    • Matt J January 11, 2010

      Lie Nielsen’s #102 is another example of a “good” low angle block plane, as well as their #60-1/2. They’re a bit pricey, but they will last you a lifetime. And if you decide that you don’t get much use out of the tool, you could easily resell it and recoup most of your investment. Compare this to an “entry level” tool that may prove frustrating to set up and use, and which you may eventually upgrade anyway.

      I suffered through 4 or 5 different low quality block planes (from yard sale pickups to hardware store purchases) before finally getting a LN for Christmas a few years ago. After seeing the difference in quality I will never go back, and I’d definitely recommend saving yourself the trouble and getting a quality tool to begin with.

    • DTharp January 15, 2010

      My wife just bought me a Lie-Nielsen iron low angle block plane for out anniversary, it is a thing of beauty (signed by Tom) and took beautiful shavings out of the box. Until I had one I couldn’t understand the cost difference of the Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen brands, but having one in your hand you can see and feel the difference in quality.

  9. Michael January 11, 2010

    Here is a photo blog on how to rehab old planes. Lots of step by step photos and instructions.
    Page 1:
    Page 2:
    Page 3:

  10. I’ve been reading, and watching the sales etc… on various hand planes for a while now. I have a Groz low angle block plane, a Groz #4, and a Groz #7. I want a Groz #5 as well…

    Yes they do require some sole flattening, and some work on the frog and the iron. Then again, an antique Stanley will require plenty of work too. Unless you are willing and able to spend the money on a high end plane, you will need to be able to lap and hone a cheap plane. Buying the Groz new means I can take it back if the sole is too far out…

    I did have a new Buck Bros #4 type plane. Not worth a fishing weight…

    For the most part, I turn to power tools to do the job, but sometimes the capacity to plane wider stock than is possible with my bench top planer is priceless, and without a doubt, hand planing certainly offers FAR more finesse than is possible with a power tool!

  11. Bob S in CA (http://) January 11, 2010

    In reading Matt’s initial answer, as well as all the comments, the one thing that comes to mind is WHY? WHY do you like a low angle plane over a standard angle? WHY a #4 vs. a #5? What’s the difference? Block, bench, smoother…these are nebulous terms. Why would I need different types? I understand rabbeting planes and other special purpose planes like that and how they are different because it is obvious in looking at them, but the other ones just confuse and befuddle.

  12. Dan Drabek January 11, 2010

    The low angle block plane was designed for cutting end grain. A standard angle will tend to chatter, while the low angle will shear the fibers. The low angle plane will also do a decent job when planing with the grain, but is more prone to tear-out when planing across or against the grain–which is unavoidable with some boards. As such, I would not recommend it for most planing tasks. When you are planing curly, burled or other wild grain, the low angle can tear up grain badly. The higher the angle of the blade, the less chance of tearout on wild grain. The highest angle (90 degrees) would be found in a scraper plane–which can be used in almost any direction and won’t tear out the grain. The standard plane angle has evolved as such because it is more useful in the greater variety of situations. The low-angle is actually more of a specialty tool.

    That said, I tend to use my block planes rather infrequently. Almost anything I can do with a standard block plane, I can do better and faster with a Stanley #3 smoothing plane. The #3 is narrower and lighter than the #4, but can still be commonly found used at flea markets, etc. It can’t get into tight spots as well as a block plane, but those situations tend to be rare. The plus side is that it has a better, more secure and more comfortable grip, so you can put more body weight behind it, and it tires the hand less after long use.

    Hand planes are superseded in many cases by the jointer and planer–but can still be invaluable for many uses. For instance, when building my boat, I often had to plane down surfaces after they were glued and screwed into place. You can’t very well haul a jointer with you when climbing around on a boat. With a hand plane, you can fit a new plank on the spot, and plane it flush to the surface after it’s been screwed in place.


  13. BedrockBob January 11, 2010

    I think the low angle Rabbet Block Plane should be your first plane. It can do all the tasks that a low angle block plane can do (witch everyone should have) plus work as a rabbit plane. Then get a Low Angle Jack or 5 ½ Bench Plane and tune it up as a supper smoother. If you need to do rough work you can buy an extra blade and put a heavy camber on it for the rough stuff. The third plane should be a No 7 or 8 Jointer Plane so you can work boards wider that your power jointer.

    Buying an old plane from the flea market or ebay and tuning it up sounds great but buy the time you buy a new iron and maybe chip breaker you have put a lot of time and money into a plane that may not work as good as a new Lie-Nielsen or Veritas out of the box. If you do go the route of fixing up an old plane you should go to one of these hand tool events or wood working shows to see what a good plane can do so you know what you are shooting for. I know some guys have had great success going this route but for me I prefer to save my pennies and buy new quality planes.

    Just my opinion

  14. Tim January 11, 2010

    Not too long ago I picked up a new block plane from the local home center. It’s a newer stanley, so it’s not the highest quality. However, it did work quite well after some sharpening and filing of some rough spots. After this I picked up several more planes on ebay, all of them older stanley’s (most of them pre-war era). After some restoration work and some sharpening, they work like a dream. They always come in handy when you reach that point in your work when you think “I’m sure I can do this faster. But how?” Planes are how!

  15. ChrisF January 11, 2010

    I have to agree with Marc here. Bench planes can be very useful things, and you can build entire pieces of furniture with them, but many of their functions can be duplicated with power tools (ie: jointer, planer, etc.). Specialty planes, like shoulder planes, router planes, edge planes, rabbeting planes, etc. are wickedly useful tools that all woodworkers should own, and many have no power tool equivalent. There’s simply no substitute for a shoulder plane when getting those tenons to fit just right. Router planes can do all sorts of cool tricks that a powered router can’t do. Edge planes are a quick way to get a perfect smooth right angle on the edge of a board.

    I won’t go on for hours talking about how much enjoyment I get out of my hand planes, but I certainly encourage people to at least buy one good hand plane, learn how to use it, and see what you think. You might just get hooked on ‘em. :)

  16. Jason Buchta January 11, 2010

    I think something that has been overlooked in this discussion is whether or not the new woodworker plans to dimension lumber by hand or with power tools. I think this is the biggest intial fork that would determine where someone should invest there intial chunk of change.

  17. nateswoodworks January 11, 2010

    I love restoring old handplanes, I think it just the fact that another generation or two of woodworkers had used the tool for their passion and now I use them and teach my children to use them as well. I have had great luck on E-bay with getting old planes. I vote for the order of planes to get are first a 60 1/2, great for countless jobs in the shop and in my opinion the easiest handplane to learn to use and build the confidence. After that a #4 is a great option for flattening and smoothing as well as fine tuning things like doors and drawers. After that would be the shoulder plane (another option is a filister plane) and router plane. The Handplane Book by Garrett Hack is a great reference and Amazon has it for about $17 with free shipping. Like it was said before the key to handplaning and chisels is sharpness. I would highly recommend the MK11 (it’s expensive-$60-but worth every penny) and you can start with sandpaper and slowly add sharpening stones. The sharpening is going to come into play no matter if you go new or old for handplanes, and a chisel or handplane that is not razor sharp can frustrate and turn away a woodworker leaving them feeling defeated-been there. I know there is a sticker shock when getting started but if you go a little at a time it helps. You can get a starter set of quality older planes (I prefer the pre-war Stanley’s), the MK11, and a couple stones for what you pay for 1 high end plane. I am not at all saying that the high end plane isn’t worth it, it’s just in my opinion that it is something that is better getting after you are well on your way. I hope this helps in some way and be sure to let us know what you decide to do.

  18. Jim January 11, 2010

    Matt thanks for a great responce to my Question. I have a block plane and a #3 they or cheap groz I did alot of work on the number three flatning it was not fun but the results were great and with a sharp edge I can get some good curls or shaving whatever you call them( I showed them to my wife and kids and they said wow dad if they only new what it took to get them)and now that it is flat and sharp,What do I do with it. I with bob sorta I no ther are many diferant planes but smother does that mean I dont have to sand? jack plan what do you do with that? I would love to get a #8 or 7 but with the amount of work I did to my #3 I would have to get a good one witch I cant offord so it is ridged jointer for that task. But really there isnt alot of good video on how to use these plans like jack smoother jointer, it would be cool to see someone do some just dedacated to bench planes, although marc is a great woodworker Matt you are know as the expert in this field so I vote for you.
    As far as sharpening goes I started a discution on lumberjocks and had some good responces the link is, and also I read a great artical at so check it out
    once agan thank you Matt and all

  19. Dean January 12, 2010

    Based on Jim’s request “…I was wondering what planes you would recommend for beginners with a small budget?” with the key words “tight budget” I was hoping to see more recommendations on low cost planes that would require the least amount of “tuning” to get them ready for work.

    I know Veritas and LN are beautiful planes and any beginning woodworker on a “tight budget” would love to have one but they don’t really answer the question. Jim wound up with a Groz. Hardly Veritas or LN.

    I know I could take out a loan, but that’s the last thing I want to do. I agree with the “arguments” (rationalizations?) about ultimate value of a Veritas or LN, but when answering such a question with an emphasis on “hey guys, I’m really busting the budget at $50″ then where do you go from there?

    I did get a lot of nice advice on my post (mentioned above) but one post came in after I posted here, recommending the following:

    If you want to read what Paul-Marcel St-Onge wrote on how much he likes this little plane, you can go here:, and read his two entries.

      thewoodwhisperer January 12, 2010

      Well, I believe Matt made three lower cost recommendations: Groz, Footprint, and flea-market finds. The problem as I see it, is that there is a major gap in the market. There just aren’t many brands in the lower cost bracket that only require “a little” tuning. Are there any?!?! Many of you would know the answer to that question better than I. But from my perspective and reading of others’ opinions, the answer is no. Apparently, milling a plane to the level we require for woodworking simply costs too much money. And its a shame that what we have to consider “premium” planes, are really just the planes that are made properly. When you buy a new car, do you have to balance the tires and adjust the steering before you drive it off the lot?? Of course not. So why are companies making planes that don’t work properly without significant tuning? I wish I knew. But it does annoy me that what we are referring to as “premium” are simply the companies that are making a product that works as advertised.

      • Dean January 12, 2010

        I agree Marc. I certainly wouldn

      • Jim January 12, 2010

        Marc you are so right with that ther is a major gap. although I bought a cheap plane and did tune it up nice it still dont have the fetures as a premium plan has. I guess it dependes also on your level of wood working and what you expect from the tool if you are new to hand planes the way I set this plan up wil probably work fine but as I progress in the art of hand planes it most likely will not be great choose and I will want somthing better, and that is why I think when you ask these questions and get so many answers it is because there are so many levels of the skill.So I think if you cant aford the premium planes and dont mind doing some work to them go ahead and buy them, and in the future if hand planes are for you then invest a little more later. but if you think hand planes is in your future and are sure of it buy the premium ones and go for it. Groz was ok like I said I really had to flatten the bottom which took a long time but really wasnt that bad. I have never tryed footprint may my next one will be that. as far as flea market I would be woried because I just dont know that much about them. I think I would rather buy a new one atlest I would know all the parts are there and in working order. I am looking at the new stanleys that are a little less the LN, I am kinda whating for some reveiws from people who have bought them.

    • Dan Drabek January 12, 2010

      Reconditioning a vintage Stanley plane is not all that time consuming. A couple of hours work usually does it for me, and I recondition a lot of them. And you end up with a plane with very high grade materials (aged iron, Brazilian rosewood grips, finely machined) that would cost a small fortune to duplicate today. Whether you really need to buy a new and heavier iron is a matter of opinion. After 30 years of using original blades, I can’t say as how I have noticed any problems. If you set up the plane correctly, old blades work just fine.
      Quality costs money today. Reconditioning a fine old plane, or buying new boils down to whether you have more time than money or more money than time.

      • matt February 28, 2013

        I work as a Carpenter building houses..still pretty young, been doing it for about 7 years..looking to learn the finer carpentry stuff. I already have most of the power tools needed..No idea where to start for hand tools..The big box stores around here don’t have much, and i cant find a small tool shop. Any good websites to buy online? not looking for anything top of the line just yet, but i don’t want to buy something thats garbage.

  20. Will January 12, 2010

    I invested in a Lie-Nielsen low angle block plane and am so glad that I did. I use it every time I am in the shop and really enjoy hand planes now that I have a good one. I would reccomend Lie-Nielsen to anyone and I will definately be buying more as my hobby continues to grow. Good tools are worth every penny!

  21. Doug January 12, 2010

    This should maybe be a new question but is related to the discussion on using hand planes. How many people watched the Fine Woodworking online video showing hand planes vs. sanding? The challenge was to see which method was quicker in prepping parts of a small table. The guy using hand planes was done much faster than the guy sanding (he did use power sanders). I didn’t see the very end of the video, but I think I heard the hand planes also ended up providing a better looking finished piece.

    So, how many people use planes and scrapers for the bulk of their prep work vs. how many people sand? I use a scraper, but mostly sand. I love the thought of planing and scraping a surface, but I’m pretty much afraid of screwing up an entire project using a handplane for final prep. Sanding is tedious but very easy and the results are predictable.

    • Jason January 13, 2010

      That’s an interesting question Doug? I consider myself a newbie or novice at best and have noticed the scraper leaves a good looking surface, but always thought that you had to sand everything before finishing. I don’t have a good hand plane so I definitely wouldn’t apply any finishes without some sanding.

      EDIT: I jumped the gun and didn’t read Michael’s post below. Thanks Michael for setting me straight. Looks like I need to save up for a quality (not “premium”) plane.

  22. Michael January 12, 2010

    Doug, that brings forward a good point. What is the purpose of purchasing a hand plane. There are two basic purposes to hand planes. One is to make minute adjustments to joinery. The other is to prepare the wood for finishing. Once you know how to sharpen the iron and setup the plane to take fine shavings the rest is easy. Practice using the plane on some cheep hardwood. Make it smooth, then rough it up and smooth it out again, rinse & repeat. You get the idea. I did quite a lot of that myself. About 30 min every evening for two weeks make a whole lot of difference my my skill and confidence.

    Back to your original point. Sanding abrades the wood fibers leaving them fuzzy. A plane shaves the fibers leaving nice crisp ends. This allows the natural beauty of the wood to shine. A perfect example of this is the curly maple boards I find in my local Lows, Home Depot and other home centers. It is hard to see the figure sometimes because they are all sanded smooth. However take a hand plane to them and the figure in the wood shines through.

    Using a plane to smooth a surface takes a few minutes. Sandpaper takes much longer because you are going through several pieces of paper of increasingly finer grits. Plus there is all the dust generated with sanding. A hand plane makes shavings for the most part.

    • Dan Drabek January 13, 2010

      A plane levels the surface. While it smooths it somewhat, the blade has some camber to it, and leaves shallow ridges in the wood. Unless you prefer a ‘rustic’ look, the plane has to be followed by either a cabinet scraper, or by sandpaper.

      So which is better–a scraped surface or a sanded surface? Obviously most of the pros will power sand a surface, because it’s quick and does a good job. Because of the labor and time involved, the scraper tends to fall more in the realm of the artisan or home craftsman. There are many who claim that the scraper leaves a superior surface because it severs the fibers and leaves a cleaner, more open grain. Makes sense to me.

      However, how does one explain a video on wood finishing I have by the master craftsman Franz Klaus. In the video, he prepares a piece of figured walnut for a French polish finish. He first planes the wood, then scrapes it with a card scraper, and finally sands the surface with 220 grit paper. He explains that the scraper does the best job of leveling the surface, but tends to pack down the fibers, while sanding cuts them off. This is exactly opposite to what would seem logical, yet Klaus is a highly respected and skilled cabinet maker with decades of experience in wood finishing. Who do you believe?

      I’ve used both scraper and sandpaper over the years, and frankly am unable to tell the difference between the two methods when the final finish is applied. That is, if the prep work is properly done. A correctly sanded surface reveals surface figure as well as a scraper in my experience. But that’s simply anecdotal evidence on my part, and others will no doubt disagree.


        thewoodwhisperer January 13, 2010

        Who do I believe? Well, like you Dan, I trust my own eyes. I have never been able to tell the difference between a finely planed surface and a finely sanded surface, once the finish is applied. And I bet in a blind test, none of us would be able to tell the difference. That is, unless the planed/scraped surface left some track marks or hollows as you mentioned.

        Now a freshly planed piece of wood, milled by a skilled craftsman, is smooth as glass and is honestly much more pleasant to look at and touch. But that’s only the raw wood. Once a film finish is applied, you are no longer touching the wood surface. Its all about the finish at that point. This is the same reason why I rarely, if ever, sand beyond 180 grit. When the visible scratches are gone, its time to apply the finish.

        I don’t mean to take away from anyone who prefers to do their final smoothing with hand tools. I just don’t buy the argument that it actually makes a visual difference after a film finish is applied. Regardless of the path taken, if the person puts in the time and effort for surface prep, I feel we’ll all end up at the same place.

        • I agree to some extent, but I actually like the imperfections that the hand tooled service reveals. The slight facets and lines especially prevalent in curved work reflect light differently. Now flat surfaces…I completely agree, no difference between sandpaper and planing.

  23. Boberan January 12, 2010

    I would recommend watching C. Schwarz Course, Medium Fine DVD. $25 will give you a nice insight on what you may need, how to use them and how to sharpen.

    Check out Lie-Nielsen’s youtube on sharpening planes:

    Last this C. Schwarz also mentions this site, the person is a machinist that reworks them. It is between doing it yourself and new. Or if you live in ND like a do, #5s for planes and oil cans everywhere, and not much else. :P

  24. I use mostly hand tools in my work these days, but I find myself agreeing more with Marc. Joinery planes can add the most value to your work early on. The standard #1-8 bench planes are great for surfacing and flattening stock, but this is hard work that can be done by a jointer & thicknesser. If you don’t have those tools you can ask your mill to do it for you, or buy S4S lumber (more expensive yes, but an option) I think that hand planes are contagious personally but the addiction relies on getting good results from the plane. If you are starting out you might not be happy with your ability to flatten a board by hand and this will drive you away from them. However, it is very easy to tweak the fit of a tenon with a shoulder plane and it will keep you coming back for more. As always, you have to look at your own work, or barring that, what is on your list of “to do” projects. What kind of styles do you like? If Arts & Crafts is your bag then get a shoulder plane to tweak all those tenons, but if you like Queen Anne then a spokeshave to handle the curves would be better. Finally to echo something said above. Planes do let you flatten a surface already glued to another which is great for those wood movement situations or the frequent “oops” moments.

    Oh and a big ditto to everything said above. Smart bunch we got here.

  25. Shawn G January 13, 2010

    Buy a nice block plane, then go mosey over to to buy a few of thier blade/chipbreaker sets. Use the block plane to help you make a smoother, jointer, scrub and jack. Just the making of these tools will ramp you up the woodworking learning curve, save you money and teach you what the tools are for.

  26. Dan January 13, 2010

    I bought a #5 and a block plane, sharpened them, learned how to set them up then practiced using them. While wanting higher quality planes I bought cheap ones until I could teach myself how to use them and become proficient. This went against the thought of buying the highest quality one can afford. My thinking was I didn’t know how much I would use the planes so I wouldn’t spend as much. I found out I use the block plane quite a bit, the #5 not so much. I will be upgrading my block plane soon.

    • Dan Drabek January 13, 2010

      Your most used plane will be determined by the kind of work you find yourself doing. In contrast, I use my #5 quite frequently. My block planes, much less so. It just goes to demonstrate the wisdom of purchasing tools as you develop a need for them–rather than spending your hard earned money on tools you may never use. (that goes for power tools as much as it does for hand tools)


  27. Phil Marquez January 15, 2010

    One Overlooked point in these replies is “how to Properly Use the Hand Plane. No Matter what make, size or angle of the blade, without the proper technique you’re NOT going to get Good Results from your Hand Plane. Several wood working Mag’s have excellant articles on getting started with Hand Planes, do some research and get a good feel for how to use a Hand Plane Properly, FIRST!!
    You can get by with an inexpensive Hand Plane and after working with it and getting a feel for it, then you may want to invest in a Higher Quality Plane.
    Also, How much do you “Actually” plan use the Hand Plane? I can’t see investing in a high dollar plane, as a beginner, when the plane will see little use.

    I’ve been woodworking for over 25yrs and still have the same “Old” Hand Planes, they get a Lot of use and work Just as Well as the High Priced Planes.
    Knowing How to Properly use a Hand Plane will take you further than the Price of the Plane. Good Luck!

  28. jHop January 15, 2010

    My Kids’ ADHD has rubbed off on me tonight: I only had patience to read about half the responses.

    My personal belief, and take it with a grain of salt the size of the rock of Gibraltar, is that hand planes are worth their money. The best options, IMHO, are a #4 or #5 bench plane first, a low angle block / apron second, and a shoulder or rabbet plane third. This is not a trifecta, however, as I also recommend a good scraper and some decent chisels be acquired somewhere in this process. (In fact, I might even substitute the scraper for the bench plane.)

    The next thing I would consider, as a beginner, is some form of sharpening method. Panes of glass and automotive sandpaper, Veritas’ Mk2 jig, and grinders are all valid options. Diamond, wet, oil, Norton, Sharpton, and ceramic stones are for those who have moved upwards (in skill and confidence, something I have not quite done yet). There are jigs and tools for the “serious” sharpening steps, which tend to be purchased by many novices under good advice as they are time- and labor-savers.

    For many beginners, I’d recommend asking lots of questions, checking out a Woodcraft class or demo, (or other local wood store), and start small. Before you know it, you’ll have a separate shrine, er, storage area for your planes just like the rest of us.

  29. Mark Markham January 15, 2010

    Question for your first shoulder plane small, medium or large? No supersize me yet.I would assume medium.

  30. Danny Hellyar January 16, 2010

    I’ve been a woodworker for over 20 years and use mostly power tools to true up and finish my lumber. I hadn’t used a plane until about ten years ago when I bought a Swiss made Rali plane(Model L 260). It cost about $80.00 then and it can be used right out of the box with no tune-up. Clean even shavings with disposable blades that stay sharp a long time. In fact I haven’t yet replaced the original one I had in there, although it’s getting close now. Granted I haven’t used it a lot but, usually only in situations where only a hand plane would do, or do the best job,such as trimming wood cabinet doors to fit an existing door opening, etc. Reasonable cost , no fettle or fussing with tuning or sharpening blades and if it goes dull in the field just through in a new blade. Not any fun for the plane fettlers or the purist, but it gets the job done precisely with no fuss.

  31. Frank January 18, 2010

    I had the chance to attend one of Lie-Nielsen

  32. Dean Jackson January 24, 2010

    An ancient Stanley #5 jack plane on eBay might be $10-20; start there.

    That said, I’d love to see a video on tuning a plane.

  33. Neal Aronson July 16, 2010

    When I first started woodworking, as a remodel carpenter, I bought a Stanley low angle block plane. I’ve been using it for 35 years for end grain and faced grain with great results. My other favorite planes are my Veritas router planes, large and small, and my Veritas scraper plane. Very functional and things of beauty, as well. My new favorite hand plane was given to me for my birthday this year. It is the Hock plane kit. I still haven’t given it the final shaping, but so far it fits my hands and the blade is thick and stable. Plus, it was fun to make. I had been looking for a good plane where the sole is exactly 90 degrees to the sides so I could use it with my shooting board. None of my purchased planes were square, but the Hock is and being able to accurately use a shooting board has really improved my joinery.

  34. Travis January 11, 2011

    i think sooner or later u just gotta have all the tools lol

  35. Ross May 17, 2011

    I currently own only a five dollar finger plane. It did actually work quite well when planing some short cedar planks. Now, though, I think it has dulled a bit and is always getting clogged. I didn’t expect much for only five bucks.

    My first plane, once I get around to it, will probably be a block plane. After that, I will probably get a spoke shave (they seem so useful).

  36. Barr Tinney November 28, 2011

    Hi Marc:
    Do you own the Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane? If so, what qualities do you like about that plane. After looking at some of the other shoulder planes offered by other manufacturers the Veritas Shoulder Plane looks like it may be easier to use and more versatile. The unfortunate thing for me is that I don’t have anywhere to go to see or use this handplane. Please let me know what your opinion is. Thank you.


      hey Barr. To be honest, I don’t really have that much to say about it. It does everything i ask it to and works well. I really didn’t comparison shop since I also don’t have access to test units. But after digging around the forums I decided on the Veritas and I don’t regret the decision at all.

  37. Phi December 29, 2011

    Just to add to Marc’s comment regarding the Veritas Shoulder plane, I don’t think you will be disappointed of you bought one. Of all the planes I’ve recently purchased, I find myself reaching for the shoulder plane time and time again to fine tune tenons or even slicing end grain. Very stable, heavy and cuts like “butta”.

    And as far as new versus flea market finds etc. I picked up a good user No. 4 Bailey at a farm auction. Was careful to check/straightedge the sole before bidding, did a little fine tuning to the plane as per the “world according to Hack”, added a thick Hock blade and now have a sweet smoother for less than $50.

    After failing at my attempt to successfully “accept” a No. 40-1/2 scrubber, I think I’ll keep my planer and jointer. While it’s good to have a workout from time to time, I also don’t want to spend all day getting a face of a board flat.

    Here’s my take on the whole controversy of plane versus machine argument. Use what works for you. It’s a simple as that.

  38. Thanks to all of the visitors to my blog from this site. I have a brief comment to offer with respect to sharpening the irons from whatever plane(s) people end up with.

    I have sharpened tools for a very long time. Like many other woodworkers, I fell prey to the well-developed and possibly well-intentioned sales pitches for “the best sharpening machine ever” at The Woodworker’s Show and in the trade magazines. The truth of the matter is that, while all of these machines work at some level, none of them do as well as what you can do by hand, at a fraction of the price. They aren’t designed to take the place of skill and patience, but the sales people won’t tell you that.

    A Tormek costs close to $800.00 if you add a few tool-holding appliances. Other knock-offs cost less, but they are still pricey. And all these machines do, sales pitches to the contrary, are to produce a slow and safe hollow grind. They do not hone: you still need to do that. So you need to spend money on stones, irrespective of how you get the hollow. The flat-grinding machines might get you closer, but their edges still are not as fine as a hand-honed edge. And one of the big benefits of using a hand plane it the amount of sanding work you eliminate – so the quality of the edge on your hand planes matters a lot.

    In hindsight, (yes, I own a Tormek) that money would have been better spent on a reasonably slow grinder and a lesson or two on how to hollow-grind tools without burning them. It can be done. It is not hard to learn, and takes only modest practice. Same with honing.

    I now use a hand-cranked grinder for a lot of my work. That cost me less than $50, including a new wheel and the parts and material necessary to build a tool rest. Here is a link: to a description of that tool rest.) The hand-cranked grinder is nice and quiet, it’s still slow, but not as slow as the Tormek. Yes, it is possible to burn a tool, but you have to try hard to do it.

    There is no substitute for knowing how to grind, and for knowing how to hone. If you don’t know how, you really can learn. Take a class from someone who knows how to sharpen. Join your local woodworking guild, and ask a member. Sharp tools open doors for your woodworking, and once you pass through the doors you won’t ever look back.

  39. rory July 5, 2012

    Greetings to all you fine woodworkers here!
    I have a question or 30, if anyone can assist me… I’m a relative newby to woodworking, but come by it honest, as my paternal grandfather was stupendous with wood (amongst other things.) However, he’s no longer around to teach me (I am, after all, 54 years old now), so I’m learning on my own, pretty much. I’m doing OK enough with power tools, but love nice hand tools, too. Well, nice as I can afford, anyway–which isn’t anywhere even *close* to top-of-the-line!

    All that being said, I picked up a hand plane on sale last week, and now I don’t know what to do with it! I ~did~ know enough to have the blade sharpened–and will probably hone it some more before I get really going with this tool (I can’t think of anything a dull bladed tool is good for, so I learned sharpening first off!)–but I haven’t a clue as to how to get it in operational condition, from the box.

    This plane is a Groz Smoothing Plane #3, 9.5″, with the traditional wooden handle and knob, and the cutter width being 1 3/4″ wide. This seemed to be one that I could handle (I’m a small woman, and disabled), and for what I paid for it ($15.00!), it seemed like a pretty good deal. But now I need some assistance, as well as some advice, because–while I can get the tool apart and the packing grease cleaned off–getting it back together, and in proper, working order, seems a bit daunting right now!

    Any words of wisdom–or just a link to a page of knowledge, LOL!–would have my eternal gratitude. My “Thanks!” in advance!

  40. Doug December 24, 2013

    What planes for a new woodworker? #7 for jointing and large surface flattening, #3 or #4-1/2 for smoothing (my preference is 4-1/2 uses the same 2-3/8″ blade). Then a low angle block plane with adjustable mouth. The 1st skill to learn is to sharpen – be able to reproduce razor sharp edges consistently. Next how to properly tune a plane. I could go on for a long time on how to do these. Next would be a shoulder plane for joinery and rabbets and dados. Then into many specialty planes.

    As to sanding vs planing/scraping – you will never get a panel flat by sanding. Hand planes are the only way. That’s how or why I ended up with hand planes. Now all the flat surfaces of my furniture are flat, not wavy, and the edges are not rounded off by trying to sand flat. I use 320 sand paper prior to finish. I still use a planer and router, but I find a jointer plane is actually more accurate.

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