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Mis-placing Your Plane

Here is a video we put together on misplacing your bench plane.

It’s been a struggle but we’re gaining ground. I have learned from the maxim that, whereas practice makes perfect, it also makes permanent, paralleling the maxim that old habits die hard. There is a reality to the fact that we often develop patterns and habits that had meaning in former generations.  Nothing wrong with that in general. The problem might arise when it’s passed on to and through subsequent generations without query or even thinking that it can become an issue. This reality is never more present than in workshops where woodworkers, amateurs and professionals, have developed the habit of laying the bench plane on its side, fully believing that the reasoning has a current validation for all. If it were true, that plane irons somehow get damaged by standing them upright on the bench, what about other tools like chisels and draw knives, spokeshave and such? Reality is that the plane irons don’t really get damaged at all if they are stood up on the sole, as is the case with all other edge tools too. Plane irons are more likely to get damaged laying them down on their side and exposing them as in established patterns. The  pattern was established for school workshops when kids dumped the planes on all kinds of other metal pieces and tools. My question is why continue an old habit if it no longer makes sense in our own shops? Surely we know what’s on the bench and where we are placing our planes.  I’ll leave the choice up to you. My planes are always upright and placed ready for action. I never saw any of the men who trained me lay their planes on their sides, only insistent school teachers.

17 comments

  1. My planes are also always upright. In addition to the risk of damaging the iron on the plane by hitting it with another tool or what not you also stand the risk of hitting the plane iron with a hand or arm. That would be very unpleasant and might also destroy the workpiece when it gets stained with blood.

  2. Dennis Mills says:

    It seems common sense to me to leave planes upright on the bench. We use the planes to level/straighten/smooth wood, so how does leaving them upright on wood harm/dull them?

  3. Rich says:

    My bench planes are always placed sole down as well.

    My sons violin teacher had a saying which has stuck with me when practicing wood work;
    ‘Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you don’t get it wrong’

  4. Tom says:

    I was one of those taught to put my plane on its side. Ironically they were dull and untuned to begin with and I could never get my planes to take a shaving! Today I do both, it depends on where I put the plane down or what I’m doing next. I most certainly store them on the sole when I put them away in my cabinet where they are sharp and ready to go. Most of the instruction was about everything except actually making anything. I never made a mortise and tenon joint until I was in my 50s. I learned on my own by trial and error ( mostly error) and made a lot of expensive firewood at first. I used only power tools as that was the only way I knew how to make anything. Looking back on the whole experience it’s a wonder I stuck with it.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Sole down for me also. My main reason is insurance. I figure planes being knocked off the bench is the ultimate cause of plane deaths. If it’s sole down I’ve found it tips over from drag. It then just falls to it’s side. Where as when it’s placed on the bench on it’s side, it slides much more easily right off the bench when struck with a piece of work. Go ahead and ask me how I know.

  6. Len Hadley says:

    My father who was a pattern maker before and during the war always lay his planes on their sides and I think I picked up the habit from him. Now I find it more convenient to place them sole down but am still not comfortable with the practice so I rest it on a small offcut or more often just on a handful of shavings that have been produced.

  7. Mark Burns says:

    You are spot on about old habits dying hard!!
    I’m still a plane-on-its-side junkie (and I always retract the iron before putting away), and can’t pinpoint the source: woodwork teacher? father? grandfather?
    I always place chisels head-to-toe with each other too.
    It may have come from my previous life as a part-time travelling farrier where I learned through experience and expense that sharp tools don’t stay that way for long if they’re all rattling around together in a tool box. I kept my rasps (Simonds USA: they were brilliant. I wonder if they’re still making them or if they’ve descended to fabrique-en-chine junk?) in leather sleeves, and similarly stored hoof trimmers that were so sharp and accurate (again, made in USA, GE or GC brand?) that I could cut my own fingernails with them. That way they held their edges for a long, long time.
    But bench and toolbox are two quite different scenes, and logic for one is not necessarily rational for the other.
    But golly, habits are hard to break!!

  8. William Davis says:

    Ha! Yes! I mentally collect these “old wife’s tales” that I find exist in everything I do. I am a pilot and there are some beauties in that pursuit. I was taught to lay the plane (hand plane) on its side in a pattern-making class in 1967. It haunts me to this day! I, too believe in setting the plane on its sole (looking first, of course), but I still have to think twice. The “old ways” are often better, but not always. Problem is, do you have enough knowledge/experience to know the difference? I think you have to go with what you believe, but keep an open mind all the time. If you do, your beliefs will be refined over time. How can we get better otherwise?

  9. Dave Ring says:

    Whenever my junior high school woodshop teacher saw a plane sitting upright on a bench the offending student would get a hard whack across the ass with the board that he had been working on. Half a century later, whenever I set a plane down on the bench (ALWAYS on the side) I think of Mr. Neff!

    • Paul Sellers says:

      We are hoping to empower people to defy legalism in wood shops around the world. It was and is the most noteworthy thing that so many still feel the same way you describe. Such is the overburdening we sometimes come under without really thinking or asking the question, “Why?”

      • Dave Ring says:

        I think that Mr. Neff’s main concern was keeping the bench tops from getting chewed up by overextended plane irons. Another point in favor of laying a plane on its side is that it offers a smaller target for stray elbows which could knock it onto the floor. I doubt that it really matters but I’ll continue laying my planes down on their sides in honor of my first woodworking teacher.

  10. Mark Aydon says:

    I don’t know if I am adding anything new with a southern hemisphere view on this topic at all but coming from the New Zealand school system of the 60’s (where by the way we were taught more from English history than our own and my second high school woodwork teacher was a Scott) we were told to place the plane on it’s side, thankfully I forgot about this until reminded recently by online discussion.
    In between times I had the good fortune of marrying someone whose father was a classically trained carpenter/joiner from Edinburgh, he put his plane sole down while using it or blade wound back in his bag, I copied him. I was always taught by my own father that a dull edge is a time waster and dangerous so have always taken care of the honed edge in any case. Two final statements, I am ever so grateful for the school system and Record for coming up with the T5 plane to cater for rough and uncouth youth, I have one and I love it and I am grateful to “practical” and true tradesmen like my father in law and Paul for their willingness to pass on their knowledge to anyone with a question and an attentive ear.

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