Ouch! Blistering plane workout.

This letter came a from a woodworker out there determined to master the hand plane I recommend over any other as a starter plane and a plane you should never stray very far from or substitute with any of the more refined versions touted as being better. Now then. There are other planes you will want. Bevel ups, fancy names, beautiful works of art, but that’s not what we are talking about here. Even these cannot do what the plane-Jane Stanley #4 will do.


DSC_0182 I recently started using hand planes on projects. I have a restored 1900s No. 4 Stanly as my only plane. I used my power tools to machine down the wood for my glue up and after removing the squeeze out I went to work cleaning up my project (cutting board). The wood is walnut / ash and I got one side mostly smooth but I had to stop because I had a giant blister on my left hand from holding the front ball of the plane. I even sharpened my plane iron prior to starting.

Is this from doing something wrong? or do I just need to build up a callus? I haven’t been able to return to the shop for days! I don’t want to give up on hand plane work but working at this pace is not going work out.

Hello Brian, and thanks for this one.
DSC_0346 I have no calluses on my hands and never get blisters, but I did when I first started so there will be something to what you say. Unfortunately, plane users on the sides of carpentry vans, most magazine articles and most if not all schools, public and private show a fistlike grip on the bench planes with knobs as you describe. ‘Bulldogging’ the plane to task is also a popular and misleading projection and people think that this is normalcy for woodworkers. That being so, we deal with this issue very early on in our formative classes and I cannot recall anyone getting blisters. DSC_0481 Though the less dominant hand is used firmly, rarely is it so assertively and aggressively presented to task. The woods you are using are not difficult woods to plane in general though sometimes a wild board or two will prove a challenge. DSC_0188 I would first ask for you occupation. if you are not a manual worker, blisters are likely. Keyboards don’t hit the hand hardly at all and so they definately will not toughen up from that. I suggest that you look at some of the images here. DSC_0179 I know I am using pine but it’s what I have here with me right now. This week I have made a small table from red oak with breadboard ends, shaped legs and aprons and did all of the surfacing with a #4 Stanley. DSC_0366 DSC_0185 It took me about an hour to do this and I went straight from the plane to p240. The total square footage was 24 square feet.
It could be that you are gripping the tote to firmly thinking that is the right thing to do. In general, wrong! It could be that you are taking too much off with each stroke. DSC_0367 DSC_0186 Try a shallower setting.
Notice my hand positions on the plane. I have included some shots for this to help you. A well-sharpened, well-set plane pulls itself to task. The baloney that great downward pressure is needed for planing is generally fallacious and highly misleading and we are countering much of this on my blog. DSC_0385 The greatest pressure is from the rear in the forward thrust. It stands to reason that with the iron presented at 44-degrees, the iron bits the wood and pulls the sole to the work. If the plane dulls, and they dull quite quickly with some woods, maybe only five minutes or so of serious work, they begin to ride the surface. Many woodworking exponents of this need for top-power planing don’t know this because they perhaps write about things they think to be real and don’t really work at things long enough to fully understand what physics are truly taking place.
DSC_0384 I guess what I am saying and what I strongly suggest is that you let your hand hea. wear a pair of those rubber grip cycling glove with no fingers, sharpen up consistently and then lighten up (pressure on the plane I mean) and enjoy. One thing we should never, never, never do is give up!


  1. Interesting!

    After you blogged about Aldren Watson, I acquired a copy of Hand Tools and been reading it. In the chapter on planes, he writes that firm downward pressure is required for proper planing. I was surprised to learn of all the ways to grip the plane from that book.

    I have mixed experience with planing. When my plane is well-adjusted, it planes East Indian rosewood as effortlessly as it does white pine. I had always thought that I din’t need to exert so much to plane and reading the book was making me doubt it. What you are saying here seems a little different from Aldren. I think my experience agrees with your observation.

    1. I think that I have been the strongest advocate of any for Aldren’s book and ninety nine point nine of what he says, but there are one or two things that he says that missed the mark I may try to correct one of these days but his work is so good I don’t want anything I say to detract from the legacy he left to us.

  2. I’m a software enginner in my profession, I’ve built my workbench only by Hand plane and I never use power tools, event with plastic handles I never got callus.
    I think that a well sharpen plane is the key to that (you don’t need to make an effort to plane).

  3. No one can explain where the wrist thing came from. I wondered because every time I worked on some other persons bench it was always too low FOR EVERYTHING including and especially the very thing people tell us it’s best for and that’s planing. It’s too high for most overhand sawing too and so most workbenches promoted by those we now revere as experts are so low they aren’t much good for woodworking. But I think as we make more research available people will see people make a more educated decision. Very freeing!

  4. Some things are best done because they are indeed difficult to explain. It’s not that you can’t do the things with other planes, it’s more that they don’t do the same things with the same ease. I think I can make any plane do what I want it to provided i can works some on the plane. I should guard from making such overt statements and I apologise. Fact is, though, that it is an amazing plane.. Bring the planes to me and I will show you what cannot be done with them.

    1. Thanks for the answer. I agree with you that the Stanley #4 is a very nice plane, it’s one of my favorites, simple and cheap yet a very thoughout design. I also like my wooden coffin plane a lot too, especially when working away from the bench its light weight is a plus. For example fitting some timbers, overhead, under the roof of your house.
      Bringing the plane over is a bit of a problem, not living anywhere near you.

  5. Paul, Thank you for this detailed analysis of my situation. You hit the nail right on the head. I am a computer worker so my hands are not really used to such labors. Secondly I was gripping the front ball and pushing with both my front and back hands. Due to my bench height my front hand wrist was rubbing on the body of the plane. I don’t yet have a woodworking bench, I’m using one I build years back for general garage work so its probably mid forearm high on me. I ordered a new plane which arrives tomorrow, I’ll hone the iron and give it a go over the weekend and report back.


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