Tighten Up Your Trimwork
Though it doesn’t have a cord or battery, a block plane is a powerful finish-carpentry tool
Synopsis: Finish carpenter Kit Camp describes the many pros of having a block plane in your tool belt. He details six different uses for block planes, including closing gaps, backing out (removing material from the back of a piece), easing edges (including creating chamfers and roundovers), removing saw marks, making scribes, and flushing up two pieces. He then explains how to tune up a block plane by flattening, sanding, filing, and sharpening the plane. The article includes a detailed illustration of a block plane and recommendations for three types of block planes currently on the market.
After many years working as a finish carpenter, I can tell a lot about someone by the tools in their tool belt. If I see them using a sharp chisel or block plane, I know we’re probably going to get along fine, because it shows me that me that they’re interested in producing the best work they can.
No other tools I own have attracted as much attention over the years as my block planes. I prefer the low-angle variation, which I keep in the front hammer loop of my tool belt. I use it for fitting casing, crown, and baseboard, and it’s an ideal tool for making tapered extension jambs. It’s also great for scribing stock to old plaster walls and it gives me great control when I’m flushing one surface to another (think edge banding, wood plugs, etc.). Keep in mind that planing is like petting a cat—planing in one direction generally produces a smooth surface, cutting and pushing the wood fibers down, while planing in the other direction (against the grain) does not. If your blade is sharp and you’re taking a light cut and getting tearout, try reversing the planing direction.
My recommendations for block planes (See “Block plane best bets” in the PDF) come from my experience using these tools for many years. My favorites for job-site work are the Lie-Nielsen No. 102 and the Veritas Apron Plane from Lee Valley. Both are durable and have high-quality blades that are impeccably machined for easy honing, and their bodies are compact enough to carry easily. If I want a wider blade and an adjustable mouth—nice if you often work with figured or difficult woods, or if you are taking heavy cuts in softwood like cedar—my top choice is Lie-Nielsen’s No. 60-1⁄2. Should a block plane be one of the first tools you buy when starting out as a carpenter? Maybe not. But if you’re interested in working more precisely, breathing less dust, and getting out fewer tools at the beginning of the day, a block plane should be in your tool belt.
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