Block Planes for Carpenters
A veteran carpenter surveys the current offerings and tells how he gets the best performance from his planes.
Synopsis: The author looks at block planes, one of the most versatile hand tools a carpenter or cabinetmaker is likely to use. He examines many of the offerings on the market, with price information as well as pros and cons. A sidebar shows how to sharpen a blade.
When asked if he owned a block plane, a carpenter I know smirked, “Yeah, I’ve got one at the bottom of my toolbox. I use it to open pop bottles.” It’s a common attitude rooted, I think, in carpenters’ frustrations with dull, out-of-whack planes. Most of the carpenters I know haven’t learned how to sharpen and tune a plane, and think it’s a time-consuming, esoteric art.
I have no more time to waste than anybody else. But I use block planes almost every day. I do this because, sharpened and tuned, they’re efficient tools that save me time and produce good work.
Low-angle planes shear end grain
The two main categories of block planes are differentiated by the angle at which the iron (or blade) beds to the plane body. Within each category, planes are further distinguished by whether the throat, the opening in the sole through which shavings pass, is fixed or adjustable.
All the standard-angle planes that I reviewed for this article are bedded at 20° or 21°. A standard-angle block plane does its best work on edge-grain wood (as opposed to end grain), truing extension jambs, removing saw marks or chamfering sharp edges.
Low-angle block planes have a bed angled at about 12°. Their shearing cut was intended to surface end grain, making them great for trimming miters. Low-angle planes also excel at trimming plastic laminates and composite materials such as particleboard and plywood.
Adjustable-throat planes take the finest shavings
Adjustable-throat planes have a movable plate set…