You have an interest in woodworking and carpentry. You know you’re way around a hammer, and a variety of power tools. You’re an enthusiast, but by no means an expert. That’s a great place to start when it comes to woodworking tools. Never underestimate the power of enthusiasm. A great place to direct that enthusiasm is towards knowing the tools themselves, and the best place to start is with a hand planer.

Everything a Beginner Needs to Know about a Hand Planer

Hand planers are great foundational woodworking tools, and they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, based on their specific purpose. There are plenty of books, videos, and blogs that delve into the intricacies of the hand planer, but for now you’re just ready to hit the high points. Here is everything a beginner needs to know about hand planers.

When to Use Them

A wood planer is used to shave off excess wood, to true up an edge, or to smooth pits and valleys out of a board to make it flat. Perhaps you have a door that is sticking, and you need to shave a little off the edge to make it open and close easier. A hand planer is perfect for that. Or maybe you are installing floorboards using lumber that has some valleys and imperfections in it. You can use a hand planer to shave off those peaks, and make the board smooth and uniform.

If it helps, you can consider that a hand planer is similar to a sander. You are essentially achieving the same thing, but the two options are not necessarily interchangeable. A large factor in whether you use a hand planer, or something more like a belt sander, is the size of the project, and the hardness of the wood you are using.

Fixing the sticky door, for example, is a relatively small project, and using a hand planer can be quick and easy. For smoothing all the baseboards in a home renovation you might consider something with some power. This way you set attainable goals for your projects, and you don’t burn out on them. The hardness of the wood should also be a consideration. Is it worth all that muscle strain to shave it down?

Lastly, your decision about when to use a hand planer may depend on the level of authenticity you want to achieve. Let’s say you were restoring an old Victorian-era home. You might want to use the same tools that the original builders would have used.

How to Use Them

To properly use a wooden planer you need to first determine the direction of the grain. This is because you need to plane with the grain, and not against. By doing so, you avoid chipping and tear-out.

It’s just like shaving against the direction of your hair. Instead of getting cut clean off, it gets caught up in the blade and tugged. Not fun for your hair, and not fun for your woodworking.

Determining the direction of the grain can be tricky for even the most experienced woodworkers, and it can even change direction within a single piece of wood. Some craftspeople do a test plane on the underside of the board since they have a fifty-fifty shot of getting it right. Others spend meticulous time looking at the direction of fibers, and at markings called vessels, cathedrals, and figures. Those are great methods, but on the one side you’ve got simple guessing, and on the other hand, you’ve got a lot of technical jargon.

That makes the best solution one that might even seem obvious. You use touch. By running your hand over the fibers of the board you can tell which direction the grain is running. If the fibers feel smooth, you are going with the grain. If they feel rough, you are going against the grain.

Once you’ve determined the grain, you simply run your planer across the board with the grain and shave off whatever is necessary. Check your progress as you go.

Which One is Right for You

When choosing the right wood plane for the job, you often have to consider the size of the plane and the size of the job. Planers are generally broken down into the categories of bench, block, specialty, and power planers. You can further break down plane categories by size and the level of finish they provide a board.

In general, for big jobs you should be using bench planes or power planes, and for smaller jobs you should be using a block planer. A block planer typically fits in the palm of your hand. Remember that stuck door? A block planer would provide a perfect solution, and you probably wouldn’t even have to take it off its hinges.

Now You Can Work a Hand Planer into Your Routine 

Now that you’ve got some good background information on hand planers, you just might be ready to add them to your woodworking repertoire, and start your next project today.

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