Home » Paul Sellers’ Blog » Quick Plane Tips (Pun Intended)

Quick Plane Tips (Pun Intended)

I was a boy when I first saw it. George planed the board flat and it looked flat to me. What did I know? Life was different then I think. 15 years olds, in a workshop filled with adult men, I knew then I didn’t know anything; at least not much worth knowing. The oak board I thought to be flat was crowned. Tipping the plane on its corner across the board’s width showed the highs and lows, if there were any. It was simple and commonly done.

Now I do it all the time and have done for 53 years. It’s accurate enough and it’s very quick–gets you back to the task in a heartbeat.

The next step or tip for me is not one I’ve seen elsewhere before. With keeping a few planes close to hand on my workbench, notably two #4’s and a #5. In the process of prepping wood you can lay two planes over on their sides altogether across a board to look for any twist. Though this board is too cambered at this stage for testing, I am sure you get my drift, see how the back jack plane is higher on the right when eye-balled with the #4. Just as an initial example. 

Other surface planing to remove most of any unevenness, and using the sole of the plane to transmit, as it were, the next step is to lay the two planes on their sides at opposite ends of the section of wood, as you would winding sticks. It works best to use planes, of the same width; #4’s and 5’s are the sam,e  or 2 #4’s.

The exaggeration gained by extra long at the back also helps magnify twist too. Then you plane high point to high point as normal to lessen any of the twist and retry.


This shows I am closer by far but not quite there. You will need to balance the planes on narrower stock as sometimes the plane weight may not be even, but this trick does work well for me if I am too lazy to reach for winding sticks or, indeed, away from my bench or shop.

18 comments

  1. Chris Goodrich says:

    Paul, I would think that having planes of the same width would not matter, as long as you adjusted your vertical perspective to bring the “top” edges in line. Don’t you think?

      • Anthony says:

        Hi Paul. I make things mostly in pine. Usually I but 8′ boards in various widths but always 3/4″ thick. Sometimes I also buy 1 1/8″ thick. When I saw them to length for projects, do you recommend checking for twist?

        • It is easier to plane the shorter lengths cut to length and width because this more directly tackles the twists and remember that the twist is almost always on both sides of the board.

        • Tom Moores says:

          Look over your material before you start to identify problem areas ahead of time and plan on what parts will come from which board and where on the board

  2. Alan Rhoades says:

    Paul, thank you.
    I’m not sure why it has never clicked in my crazy brain to try that with my #4 and #5.
    You’re an common sense innovative genius. 🙂

  3. Anthony says:

    I never use winding sticks but need to start. If I’m reading the planes correctly in the 2nd pic, the plane on the far end of the board is higher on the right side. So, you would plane from the left end of the board closer to us in the pic…to the right end of the board further from us in the pic.

    • That’s correct. And then you work the surface from the lowering highs towards the lowest point gradually because the danger is to not realise the work is a little more expansive than planing just the highs.

  4. Garrest Swalwell says:

    As a young (recently 22) upcoming (yet extremely amateur) woodworker, I look forward to these blog posts and can find myself lost for hours in wondrous pleasure reading the tips and tricks from you, Paul. Using machines has never pleased me as I felt the craftsmanship and frankly, the authenticity of a project is diminished, especially for small items– spoons, spatulas and such.

    Cheers from Garrett in Texas

  5. sla says:

    I don’t know if it should be used everyday, better is to have winding sticks. It’s dangerous you could drop planes accidentally. It could be safer with wooden planes, if they are parallel and balanced in the middle, they are lighter too. Another option, 2 straight edges 30-50cm, if we have them.

    However, very good idea!

    Should winding sticks have different lengths? What length(s) we should have for winding sticks? Maybe we should have different sizes? I suppose it’s related to board width.

    • Michael Ballinger says:

      I don’t know but when I get around to making winding sticks I’ll make the ones Paul has in masterclasses to the size he has them at.

  6. Patchedupdemon says:

    I saw in your door making video that you only planed the highs,bottom right and top left of the the stile,I thought you should plane diagonally through the whole length of the piece,not just the extreme ends.
    Could you clarify pls

  7. Ferd says:

    This little article is full of plane truth. Thanks for putting your own twist on this. You deserve a crown for this handy tip. It will shave me a lot of time.

    • Michael Ballinger says:

      You’re winding us up by sticking a lot of puns into your sentences Ferd. Obviously punnery is a string in your bow, to which you could win the international cup. You can shave time by working flat out and never getting board of the work.

        • Michael Ballinger says:

          Well for Stanley the chips were up but poor old Leonard Bailey the chips were down after they shafted him and then hit him with lawsuits for patent infringements when he was the genius who gifted us such marvellous tools.

  8. Mike Towndrow says:

    Hi Paul,
    Can’t imagine that there was ever a time that what you knew about woodworking wasn’t worth knowing! But I guess no-one starts their working life fully programmed with all the skills and answers they’ll need. Just out of interest, were there any specific woodworking skills you found difficult to master back then? Silly question, but if so, are there any you’re still wary of?

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