INTRODUCTION TO BUYING HANDPLANES
By Joshua Farnsworth
Traditional woodworking handplanes are the rock stars of hand tool woodworking. Tool lust oozes all over these historic tools. And rightly so! Handplanes make the most exciting changes to your wooden work piece. And that high-pitched Swoosh sound is music to an artisan’s ears.
In this buying guide article I’ll be discussing the handplanes that you need when starting out in traditional woodworking. Handplane bodies can be all wood, all metal, or a hybrid of both. In my mind I divide handplanes into three general categories:
Planes that are used so often that they usually “sit on the bench” and are used for flattening, dimensioning, & smoothing wood. Examples include Jointer Planes, Jack Planes, Smoothing Planes, and Block Planes.
Specialty planes used for creating or finishing joints. Examples include rabbet planes, plow planes, shoulder planes, tongue & groove planes, router planes, etc.
Wooden planes used for cutting decorative profiles. Examples include dedicated moulding planes, hollows & rounds, snipe bills, beading planes, etc.
HANDPLANE BUYER’S GUIDE
A. Urgent Hand Planes (Buy these First)
This is my list of hand planes that I feel would be the first hand planes that you should buy to get started in traditional woodworking. Other woodworkers may have slightly different priorities and terminology (plane names can vary), but this is from my perspective. The majority of the planes that I’ll discuss are vintage and new metal “Bench Planes”, which include all the planes that are typically “on the workbench” or close by. I will be focusing mostly on metal handplanes, because they were manufactured by the millions (especially Stanley handplanes), are easier to find, are easier to adjust, and are usually in better shape than wooden planes.
Buy a Jack Plane
If you can only afford to start out with one “bench plane”, then I’d recommend buying a jack plane, specifically a bevel down Stanley No. 5 metal Jack Plane (“Bailey” style or “Bedrock” style, if you can afford it) or a Lie-Nielsen No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane (bevel up…additionally works on difficult grain, end grain, and in concert with shooting boards). Read this article by Christopher Schwarz to choose between Bevel up vs. Bevel down hand planes.
A No. 5 (bevel down) and No. 62 (bevel up) can serve multiple purposes. To remove a lot of material quickly with the No. 5 you simply use a highly-cambered blade (8-10 degree radius) and open the mouth wider.
With the Low Angle No. 62 you use a “toothed iron” and also open the mouth wider. This empowers these planes to be used instead of a scrub plane to remove a lot of material really quickly (across the grain then diagonally).
If combined with a straight blade (or even slightly arched/cambered), with the mouth closed down tight, it can also be used like a smoothing plane. You can also use it for flattening and truing the edges of shorter boards.
I prefer Stanley Bailey or Stanley Bedrock planes made prior to World War 2, when the quality standards were higher.
Here are some Stanley Handplane searches to check out:
- View vintage Stanley No. 5 Jack Planes on ebay
- View extra irons & chip breaker for No. 5 Jack Planes (to use as scrub plane blade)…same blade as No. 4 plane.
- View new Lie-Nielsen No. 62 Low Angle Jack plane (can also be used on difficult grain, end grain, and with shooting boards)
- View new Lie-Nielsen No. 5 Jack Plane
- View wooden jack planes on ebay
- View transition jack planes
As your skill level improves you can also branch out and buy (or make) an all-wooden jack plane or a still-affordable “transitional” jack plane like this Stanley No. 26 Transitional hand plane (a hybrid – like a metal jack plane but with a wooden sole):
Some traditional woodworkers love the feeling and light weight of an all-wooden jack plane or a transitional plane. Some smaller manufacturers still make beautiful reproduction planes, but vintage wooden jack planes are much less expensive. The only problem is that many of the older wooden planes are in very poor condition, with splits, cracks, and missing parts. If you’re looking to purchase a vintage wooden hand plane, check out my blog post first: https://woodandshop.com/how-to-buy-a-vintage-wooden-hand-plane
Now you can search below for some vintage and new wooden jack planes:
- View wooden jack planes on ebay
- View transition jack planes on ebay
- View new wooden planes from Arkansas plane maker Old Street Tool
If you want a step-by-step video guide for making a traditional 18th century wooden plane, then buy this DVD where Bill Anderson shows how to build an 18th Century Jointer Plane. Here’s a video preview:
Buy a Smoothing Plane
Smoothing planes are the traditional “bench plane” of choice for leaving a finished surface that is vastly superior to sandpaper. And there are several options, including the all-metal body, all wooden body, or “transition” smoothing planes. I recommend starting out with a vintage Stanley No. 4 or No. 4 1/2 smoother or (if your budget permits) a new Lie-Nielsen No. 4 smoother:
Buy a Jointer Plane (i.e. “Try Plane”)
A jointer plane, or “Try” plane, is an essential “bench plane” for truing the edges of boards, especially for gluing them together or using as a reference face for marking & measuring. You can also use it as a “Fore Plane”, to flatten board surfaces if you don’t want to purchase a dedicated No. 6 Fore Plane. Wood bodied jointer planes are excellent if you want to spend the time making or refurbishing one sufficiently.
But I recommend that beginners start out with a vintage No. 7 metal jointer plane, and as I mentioned above I prefer Stanley jointer planes that were manufactured before World War II. For those who can afford it I also recommend the Lie-Nielsen No. 7 Metal jointer plane (here).
Millers Falls and Veritas also make good bench planes, but I just haven’t used their bench planes very oftten. I actually recommend that you don’t buy a metal jointer plane with a “corrugated sole”, even though they are more rare and popular. Some people think it was a marketing gimmick.
Either way, I find that the edge of the board occasionally catches on the corrugations (or ridges)…it just doesn’t feel as stable as a flat sole. It’s easier to flatten a corrugated sole, but that’s been the only benefit that I have discovered in my experience. One reader sent me a message notifying me that he discovered that resinous pitch pine is much simpler to plane with a corrugated sole, since there is not as much gum to drag the plane. If you plane resinous wood, then get a handplane with a corrugated sole!
A flat soled 1910 Stanley Bailey jointer plane would be an ideal jointer plane for the novice or expert. You can always buy a No. 6 fore plane later on if you wish. A No. 8 jointer plane is a bit heavy, but also a great option.