INTRODUCTION TO BUYING HAND PLANES
By Joshua Farnsworth
Traditional woodworking hand planes (often called a “hand planer” by new woodworkers) are the rock stars of hand tool woodworking. Tool lust oozes all over these historic tools. And rightly so! Hand planes 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 woodworking hand tools buying guide article I’ll be discussing the hand planes that you need when starting out in traditional woodworking. Hand plane bodies can be all wood (wood plane), all metal (like Stanley planes), or a hybrid of both (Transition Planes). In my mind I divide hand planes into three general categories:
A bench plane is a hand plane that is 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.
Joinery hand planes are specialty planes used for creating or finishing joints. Examples include rabbet planes, plow planes, shoulder planes, tongue & groove planes, router planes, etc.
A moulding plane (or “molding” plane) is a wood plane that is used for cutting decorative profiles on a board. Examples of moulding planes include dedicated moulding planes, hollows & rounds, snipe bills, beading planes, etc.
HAND PLANER BUYER’S GUIDE
A. Urgent Hand Planers (Buy these First)
This is my list of hand planes (or “hand planers”) 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 Stanley planes (because Stanley planes were manufactured by the millions). Metal hane planes are easier to find, easier to adjust, and are usually in better shape than a typical wooden plane.
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). The Lie-Nielsen is based off of the Stanley No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane. Read this article by Christopher Schwarz to choose between Bevel up vs. Bevel down hand planes.
A No. 5 bench plane (bevel down) and No. 62 (bevel up) can serve multiple purposes. To remove a lot of material quickly with the No. 5 you can simply use a highly-cambered blade (8-10 degree radius) and open the mouth wider for large chips to move through.
With the Low Angle No. 62 hand planer 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 II, when the quality standards were higher. But if you go with the low angle jack plane, I prefer the new Lie-Nielsen version over the antique Stanley version because of a larger tote (handle) and lower price than the original antique hand plane.
How do you know the age of a Stanley handplane? Check out my new Stanley Bailey Handplane Type / Age Study (click here)
Here are some Stanley Handplanes searches to check out:
- View vintage Stanley No. 5 Jack Hand 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-wood jack plane or an affordable “transitional” jack plane like this Stanley No. 26 Transitional hand plane. A transitional hand plane is a hybrid between a metal stanley plane and a wood plane:
Some traditional woodworkers love the feeling and light weight of an all-wooden jack plane or a transitional plane. Some smaller modern hand tool manufacturers still make beautiful reproduction hand planers, but vintage wooden jack planes are much less expensive. The only problem is that many of the older wooden planes are in 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 hand 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 lovely traditional 18th century wood plane, then buy this DVD that I made, where Bill Anderson shows how to build an 18th Century Jointer Plane. Here’s a video preview:
Buy a Smoothing Bench 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 smoothing plane, all wooden body smoothing plane, 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 Bench Plane (i.e. “Try Plane”)
A jointer bench 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 purchasing Stanley planes that were manufactured before World War II. Check out my Stanley hand plane age identification tool (here). For those who can afford it I also recommend the Lie-Nielsen No. 7 Metal jointer plane (here). It will come perfectly flat, sharp, and well-tuned.
Millers Falls and Veritas also make good bench planes, but I just haven’t used their bench planes very often. I actually recommend that you don’t buy a metal jointer plane with a “corrugated sole” (see below photo), even though they are more rare and popular. Some people think the corrugations reduce drag while others think the corrugated soles were a marketing gimmick.
Either way, I personally find that the edge of a 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 (due to less surface area), 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 I guess you should get a hand plane 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.