Thickness Planing With a Hand Plane

On woodworkingmasterclasses we’ve often developed thinner pieces, strips, for things like chess board veneers blocking, coasters and such. Sometimes thicker pieces like table legs have been planed parallel too, or indeed intentionally tapered within extremely tight margins. Our members can be forgiven for taking the methods we use to guarantee exactness for granted, thinking it’s a common method perhaps, but it really isn’t necessarily so. Fact is I never saw it in my life till I did it myself and developed it to use in my work. I’ve extended into other areas of my teaching to help others create what I was making in the video training we do. Most if not all of our presentations using hand methods depend on helping those who don’t have and will never have machines. That’s a huge percentage of our audience and for them I think it’s the best thing. They like wood, the working of it, and they especially like hand tools and skilled working. You can’t get that kind of skill growth any other way. I won’t call it upskilling, that’s the silliest term I ever saw. Just my perception, that’s all. Whether my system existed  elsewhere before is of no consequence. I don’t, won’t, copy others unless it’s been passed on through the annals of time. That’s just me, again.

So it is, as ever, unlikely that what I have has not existed before me, I’m sure it did, but just as the router plane was all but dead, now it’s not. We’ve restored it to its rightful place and I’m glad. What we do without it? Crank up a power router? Don head gear? For just a little joint? Not a good idea really.

Anyway, my current project developing 1/2″ sections demands accurate thicknessing of multiple pieces. To do that I made a planing guide. I made it from a few scraps in a few minutes. Plywood works great for the base (3/4″), and then some ripped strips of softwood for the side guides and two strips for the parallel registration strips to slide the plane along and onto. Oh, and then the end stop to butt the wood up to too. Two screws and glued to secure.

The two strips that the plane rides on are the most critical and demanding. I plane mine as close to parallel as possible. I like to think in thousandths of an inch even if I can;’t get that. I wanted to finish at 1/2″ so 12.7mm. Having ripped my wood parallel to two fully planed and trued adjacent faces, I use a vernier and work the wood to within around 12.65–12.75 at any given test point in parallel. Once that’s done the rest can be a little more slapdash. The 3/4″ plywood base is 1/8″ wider than the plane, not too much slop. The side guides need only be 1/4″ above the registration strips. I nailed and glued the side strips to the edges of the plywood and then screwed the registration strips into the inner corners. I used two screws and glue to ensure the end stop was secure and just below the surface of the registration strips so the plane didn’t catch.

Run Two Planes in Tandem

It’s surprising how quickly any plane will dull and how long it will cut for after it loses its prime edge. After say fifty strokes, take the plane iron out and feel the edge, it will feel much duller. But it will continue cutting for a few hundred strokes and still leave a silky-smooth surface. This isn’t a figment it’s reality. My ‘trade secret’ here is to run two planes side by side, keeping one for only the final finessing strokes and the other for the donkey work of quick reduction. This mens that repeat sharpenings go to the dulled plane iron and the second plane retains the same setting and the same level of sharpness pretty well throughout. Try it, it works. In my case I used the #4 and the #5 but two planes the same size will work well too.

12 thoughts on “Thickness Planing With a Hand Plane”

  1. I can’t help noticing your comment about router planes. I have been trying to get one for years, but they have always been just out of reach. When they were £35, I could raise £20, now with the price they achieve I’m not sure I can justify the expense, for a simple hobby woodworker, timber cost enough as it is. Never mind the poor mans router will have to suffice. At least they are not gong to scrap anymore.

    1. I am sure if you wait long enough you’ll come across one somewhere. They are so valuable to us in our work they are well worth the price tag.

  2. Is there a preferred method for exact thicknessing of pieces wider thank a single plane iron width? What does one do with a shelf that’s 5 inches wide?

    1. You will have to go back to the traditional method of truing one face using winding strips and eye followed by marking gauge to thickness and final planing down to the line.

  3. Hello Paul!

    Thanks for describing this method but what you do when the board is wider than hand plane.
    Do you use in this case the same techniques and plane the board perpendicular or not?

    1. You will have to go back to the traditional method of truing one face using winding strips and eye followed by marking gauge to thickness and final planing down to the line.

    2. Alexei,

      Like Paul wrote, I flatten 1 face of the board. I know the board is “true” when I get a continuous shaving with every pass of the handplane. The #5 Stanley Jackplane works well for this followed by a smoothing plane. I don’t use winding stiicks at all (have in the past) and have found that if a board is twisted, planning until continuous shavings occur from 1 edge of the face to the other, the twist or enough of the twist is taken out. Then I use a marking guage to mark the overall thickness I want the board to be and then as Paul said plane to the line.

  4. I absolutely love finding ways like this to get extemely accurate and repeatable methods with hand (non electric any way, most of mine are bread powered) tools. I think of all the work we see before the invention of the electric tools and know our forefathers were not silly ninnies who knew nothing after all! These are such good posts and I always look forward to more like them.


    Thanks for finally talking about >Thickness Planing With a Hand Plane – Paul
    Sellers’ Blog <Loved it!

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