A saw isn’t always the best tool for removing material. Planes are designed to take off thin slices of wood, picking up where saws leave off. You might take a few passes with a plane to make that newly milled molding mate perfectly with the 18th-century original. Or you might use it to plane the edge of a door to ensure a perfect fit. You might even use a plane to smooth the rough-cut surface of a piece of replacement flooring or paneling.
There are hundreds of types of planes, designed for literally any task. As a homeowner, your best bet is probably the jack plane—a mid-sized tool designed to take on all of those projects a saw simply cannot do effectively.
With the exception of the disposable-blade Rali plane, all of the tools tested here function in basically the same way, based on a mid-20th-century design but with various modern improvements. Heavier, finely finished castings; thick irons; easy adjustments; and ergonomic designs will add to the cost, but if you are a serious woodworker, these upgrades will pay dividends over many years of use, as price is a good indicator of performance. If you’re an occasional user, look to save some money on lower-priced models.
Head to Head Test
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of a sharp blade (iron) in any plane. Even if you never adjust the frog or mouth opening, simply keeping the blade sharp will account for 85 percent of the utility of the tool. You’ll know when the iron needs sharpening because it will require much more effort to slice through soft wood. In addition, the blade will slide over surfaces that it used to plane. If maintaining a sharp edge sounds like too much work, consider a disposable-blade plane like the Rali—there’s no need to sharpen the blade (unless you want to), and they are simple to replace, adjust, and store.
How To Use It
Online Bonus: Bench Plane Glossary
Cap Iron: Also known as the chipbreaker, this component sits on top of the iron, holding it rigid to help prevent chatter. It also helps to keep shavings from clogging up in the plane’s throat.
Frog: Fastened to the inside of the sole, the frog is what the iron sits on. It (with the attached iron) can be moved to change the effective size of the mouth opening.
Heel: The back end of the plane (near the tote).
Iron: The cutting component of the plane, also known as the blade.
Knob: The round front handle of the plane.
Lateral Adjustment Lever: Attached to the top of the frog, this lever allows the iron to be adjusted from side to side to align the cutting edge with the plane’s sole.
Lever Cap: This component sits on top of the cap iron to secure it and the iron to the frog; it’s held in place with a screw and a cam-action locking tab.
Mouth: The opening in the sole through which the blade passes; adjusting the mouth opening will change the depth of the cut.
Sole: The bottom of the plane—the part that passes over the surface of the wood.
Throat: The area just above the mouth through which the shavings pass.
Toe: The front end of the plane (near the knob).
Tote: The rear handle of the plane, usually curved to fit the user’s hand.