What is Plane Tool?- Parts, Types, and Uses

What is Plane Tool?

A hand plane is a tool for shaping wood using muscle power to force the cutting blade over the wood surface. Some rotary power planers are motorized power tools used for the same types of larger tasks but are unsuitable for fine-scale planning, where a miniature hand plane is used.

Generally, all planes are used to flatten, reduce the thickness of, and impart a smooth surface to a rough piece of lumber or timber. Planning is also used to produce horizontal, vertical, or inclined flat surfaces on workpieces usually too large for shaping, where the integrity of the whole requires the same smooth surface. Special types of planes are designed to cut joints or decorative moldings.

Hand planes are generally the combination of a cutting edge, such as a sharpened metal plate, attached to a firm body, that when moved over a wood surface, take up relatively uniform shavings, by nature of the body riding on the ‘high spots in the wood, and also by providing a relatively constant angle to the cutting edge, render the planed surface very smooth.

Overview of Plane Tools

The plane, in carpentry, is a tool made in a wide variety of sizes, used for removing rough surfaces on wood and for reducing it to size. An iron-soled carpenter’s plane, found on the site of a Roman town, near Silchester, Hampshire, Eng., dates from before AD 400.

Many European guild craftsmen of the Middle Ages worked with beautifully decorated metal planes. Planes today are mostly machine-made, of wood and steel. Plow, or grooving, planes are used for forming channels or grooves; a wide variety of special models are employed for running moldings.

What is Plane Tool?- Parts, Types, and Uses

Parts of a Plane

Two styles of planes are shown with some parts labeled. The top of the image is a bench plane; the bottom is a block plane.

  • The Mouth is an opening in the bottom of the plane down through which the blade extends, and up through which wood shavings pass.
  • The Iron is a plate of steel with a sharpened edge which cuts the wood.
  • The Lever cap holds the blade down firmly to the body of the plane.
  • The Depth adjustment knob controls how far the blade extends through the mouth.
  • The Knob is a handle on the front of the plane.
  • The Chipbreaker or Cap iron serves to make the blade more rigid and to curl and break apart wood shavings as they pass through the mouth.
  • The Lateral adjustment lever is used to adjust the iron so that the depth of cut is uniform across the mouth.
  • The Tote is a handle on the rear of the plane.
  • The Finger rest knob Block planes are held in the palm of the hand the tip of the user’s index finger rests in the indentation on top of the knob.
  • The Frog is a sliding iron wedge that holds the plane Iron at the proper angle. It slides to adjust the gap between the cutting edge and the front of the mouth. The frog is screwed down to the inside of the sole through two parallel slots and on many planes is only adjustable with a screwdriver when the plane iron is removed.

Types of Planes

Different types of bench planes are designed to perform different tasks, with the name and size of the plane being defined by the use. They are designed to be used in order:

  • A scrub plane, which removes large amounts of wood quickly, is typically around 9 inches (230 mm) in length, but narrower than a smoothing plane.
  • A jack plane is around 14 inches (350 mm) long, continues the job of roughing out, but with more accuracy than the scrub.
  • A jointer plane (including the smaller fore plane) is between 18 and 24 inches (450–600 mm) long, and is used for jointing and final flattening out of boards.
  • A smoothing plane, up to 10 inches (250 mm) long, is used to begin preparing the surface for finishing.

Planes may also be classified by the material of which they are constructed:

  • A wooden plane is entirely wood except for the blade. The iron is held into the plane with a wooden wedge, and is adjusted by striking the plane with a hammer.
  • A transitional plane has a wooden body with a metal casting set in it to hold and adjust the blade.
  • A metal plane is largely constructed of metal, except, perhaps, for the handles. The planes in the image are metal planes.
  • An infill plane has a body of metal filled with wood on which the blade rests. They are mainly used for cutting cross grained woods.

Some special types of planes include:

  • The shoulder plane, which trims tenons and other joints.
  • The molding plane, which is used to cut moldings along the edge of a board
  • The rabbet plane, also known as a rebate or openside plane, which cuts rabbets (shoulders, or steps) and dadoes.
  • The router plane, which cuts grooves and shallow mortises.
  • The chisel plane, which removes wood up to a perpendicular surface such as from the bottom inside of a box.
  • The finger plane, which is used for smoothing very small pieces such as toy parts, very thin strips of wood, etc.
  • The bullnose plane, which has no ‘front’ on its body, and so can be used in tight spaces like the backs of drawers or on large joint-knobs.
  • The combination plane, which combines the function of a molding and rabbet planes, having different cutters and adjustments
  • The circular or compass plane, which utilizes an adjustment system to control the flex on a steel sheet sole and create a uniform curve. A concave setting permits great control for planning large curves, like table sides or chair arms, and the convex works well for chair arms, legs and backs, and other applications.

Uses of a Plane

Planning wood along its side grain should result in thin shavings rising above the surface of the wood as the edge of the plane iron is pushed forward, leaving a smooth surface, but sometimes splintering occurs. This is largely a matter of cutting with the grain or against the grain respectively, referring to the side grain of the piece of wood being worked.

The grain direction can be determined by looking at the edge or side of the workpiece. Wood fibers can be seen running out to the surface that is being planned. When the fibers meet the work surface it looks like the point of an arrow that indicates the direction.

With some very figured and difficult woods, the grain runs in many directions, and therefore working against the grain is inevitable. In this case, a very sharp and finely-set blade is required.

When planning against the grain, the wood fibers are lifted by the plane iron, resulting in a jagged finish, called tear out. Planning across the grain is sometimes called “traverse” or “transverse” planning.

Planning the end grain of the board involves different techniques and frequently different planes designed for working end grain. Block planes and other bevel-up planes are often effective in planning the difficult nature of end grain. These planes are usually designed to use an iron bedded at a “low angle,” typically about 12 degrees.