Advice on types of hand and electric planes and how to use them correctly for diy. Details of techniques for smoothing and planing wood to make timber square and the use of a surform.
Many novice woodworkers find using a hand plane correctly the hardest technique to master. Power planes can take a lot of the hard work out of planing rough boards and are ideal for trimming doors and frames for a perfect fit.
Take care, as with all sharp tools, keeping the body (particularly hands) behind the blade to avoid accidents.
Hand plane techniques
Always try to plane in the direction of the grain. If the plane jars and the shavings break up, you are probably planing against the grain.
Set the plane up correctly to make the job easier. On the body of the plane, there are two screws, underneath the blade, which can be loosened to adjust the width of the mouth. The wider the opening, the thicker the cut. The depth of cut can be adjusted by turning the brass knob behind the blade and the lateral adjustment lever should be used if the blade protrudes at an angle. Make sure the cap iron is set close to the blade edge (1.5mm) to give a fine cut.
When planing a piece of wood wider than the sole of the plane, the corners of the blade will tend to produce fine grooves in the wood. You can round the sharp edges a little by putting more pressure on the sides when you are honing the blade.
Plane diagonally across wide boards – the shearing action of a diagonal stroke will stop the plane jamming against wild grain.
To complete the planing, always make a couple of light passes along the full length of the board.
End grain is the most difficult part of a piece of timber to plane as the fibres are often at 90 degrees to the surface and are easily torn by the blade. Work towards the centre of the board or add a scrap piece of wood to the back of the work to support the rear edges. The low angle of the block plane blade (13-21 degrees) makes it perfect for cutting through end grain.
A plane will glide over the surface of a piece of wood far better if the friction is reduced. So, keep the sole clean of dirt and resin and grind any machining marks away with wet ‘n’ dry paper. Lightly wax the sole every time you start with a piece of candle.
Surforms consists of hundreds of tiny plane blades cut from one metal blade. The result is an efficient smoothing tool that comes in a variety of profiles and can be used for finishing any shape that can’t be planed flat with a bench plane. Use with short strokes, like a rasp or file. Work from the edge inwards for end grain.
Planing timber square
Although most DIY joinery projects could be made with wood that has been planed square by the timber merchant (PSE), the quality of finish which can be achieved using a bench plane is still better than machines.
Plane one face of your board completely flat with a jack plane. The length of the tool’s sole (380mm) means it can skim high points of wood rather than simply riding over them as a try plane may do.
Hold the wood up to the light and look along its length. Mark the high spots that will need to be removed. Plane off any raised areas, diagonally across the grain. You can check if the board is flat by dragging a straight edge along with it – any gaps under the edge are low points.
Use a try plane to square up the first edge and use a try square to check your progress. The edge should be flat and at 90 degrees to the planed face. Make face and edge marks on the board.
Finish by trimming the other edge to the width required and finally turn the board over and flatten the remaining face.
Planes – power
When buying a portable power planer look for:
As powerful a motor as you can afford, at least 400W is ideal.
Definite click-stopped cutting depth adjustment.
Comfortable front handle.
Fittings for a side fence.
Bevel cutting groove along the centre of the soleplate.
Generous rebate capacity – at least 18mm if possible.
Plastic drop-down toe at the rear to stop the blades damaging the workbench surface
Using a planer
As with all power tools, follow the manufacturers’ safety instructions carefully.
Place the front of the plane on the end of the wood, but make sure the cutter block isn’t touching the timber. Gently press down on the front handle and turn on the planer. Move the tool at an even rate along with the wood. When you reach the end, transfer pressure to the rear handle and glide off the wood to avoid taking a deep gouge out of the last few millimetres of the work. Choose a portable planer that can be inverted in its own accessory stand if you want to plane a lot of small pieces.
Planing wide boards
To even out a wide surface, set the planer to its finest cut and plane diagonally to the grain, in overlapping strokes. You will still need to use a hand plane to get rid of slight machining marks. You can buy cutters with rounded off corners that do not leave heavy ‘tramlines’ on the surface.
Make several light passes rather than trying to take off a lot of timber in one go.