How to Use a Block Plane

Woodworker using hand plane on lumber
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There are few more versatile hand woodworking tools than the block plane. This one tool can be used to shape, flatten, curve, clean up, square, or even add chamfers to a piece of stock. For instance, if after assembling some through dovetails you find that the pins are a bit proud, you can easily shave off the extra material with a block plane, saving a lot of sanding time.

Another simple use for a block plane is adding small chamfers to ease an edge. By simply riding the base of the block plane consistently down the edge of a board at a 45-degree angle, you can add a quick and easy chamfer.

Before You Begin

The key to properly using a block plane is having a sharp, evenly honed iron (the blade of the block plane). As with any cutting tool, if the blade isn't sharp, the tool won't operate nearly as well, and won't be as safe to operate.

The easiest way to sharpen a block plane iron is on a sharpening stone. Lubricate the stone with a drop or two of oil and, holding the bevel of the iron flat against the stone and then raising the heel slightly, hone the edge evenly until a burr is formed. Then turn the iron over and rub it flat against the stone to remove the burr.

Adjusting the Depth

The cutting depth of your block plane can be adjusted by loosening the cap screw (that holds the plane assembly in place) and then turning the depth adjustment screw on the frog. After you reach the appropriate depth (by looking to see how far the edge of the iron extends beneath the base of the plane), adjust the angle of the iron against the base so that it is square and tighten the cap screw.

You should set the depth of cut anywhere between about 1/16" for quick, general-purpose cutting all the way down to about 1/64" for fine touch-up work.

How to Hold It

For most woodworkers, a block plane can be held in one hand, with the palm over the rear end of the cap iron and the forefinger on the front section of the plane. However, at times you may wish to keep your dominant hand on the rear and off hand on the front of the plane.

To use the plane, push the plane forward across the edge of the wood, keeping the base of the plane consistent along the path. To avoid arching, begin the cut by placing a little more pressure on the heel of the plane, and end the cut with a little more pressure on the nose. This will help keep the cut flat along the entire path.

Cutting End Grain

Block planes are great for cutting end grain. However, it is very easy to tear out the back edge of the grain at the end of the cut, as the blade would tend to catch and tear as you approach the end of your motion.

There are two ways to combat this problem. The first would be to plane from the edge of the board toward the center, then turn the board around and use the same motion in the opposite direction. In this manner, you never approach the far edge of the end grain and avoid this potential problem.

The other approach is to clamp a sacrificial board onto the opposite edge, which will hold the end grain of your workpiece in place and any tearing will occur on the sacrificial piece of stock.