How to use a bench plane to plane
Jack, fore and jointer planes are mainly for reducing the size of a workpiece and truing - straightening and "squaring" - their faces and edges.
A smoothing plane is used to put what is usually the final finish on a piece of wood, giving it a silky smooth texture considered by most woodworkers to be better than sandpapering.
There can be some cross-over in the use of planes for particular jobs. For instance, a smaller jack plane can take on the role of a smoothing plane and a fore plane could be used in place of a jack plane.
All bench planes, wooden and metal, Stanley / Bailey pattern and low-angle, are used in a similar way - usually along the grain of the wood, although they may occasionally be used across the grain.
Planing the edge of a piece of wood (with the grain)
Step 1 - Mark workpiece
After carefully measuring, make a pencil line using a straight edge, indicating the point you wish to plane down to.
Step 2 - Secure workpiece to bench
Fasten the workpiece to the workbench. When planing an edge along the grain, it's probably most convenient to use the workbench vice to hold the wood or, depending on the size of the piece, some combination of vice and stops - wooden or metal pegs that prevent movement of the workpiece.
Position the wood so that your push strokes go with the grain.
If the grain slopes upwards, ensure it slopes away from the direction of planing, not towards it.
With "difficult" grain that reverses direction part-way along the piece, you might have to plane first from one direction, then the other, to avoid tear-out of the wood's surface, or use a plane with a blade pitch greater than the usual 45° for a bench plane.
Seeand for further information about iron angles and their effects during planing.
Step 3 - Check set-up of plane
It's important that your plane is set up properly for the job in hand: for instance, minimal iron depth and small mouth for smoothing, greater iron depth and bigger mouth for reducing.
However, most wooden planes don't have adjustable mouths, so you have to go with what's been provided!
Seeor for a step-by-step guide to setting up your plane.
Step 4 - Candle-wax the sole
Spreading some candle wax on the sole of the plane - whether metal or wooden - can greatly reduce friction during planing, making the job easier.
Step 5 - Holding the plane
If your plane has handles (some wooden ones don't), grasp the plane by the tote, or rear handle, with the dominant hand, and front knob with the other hand.
Use a three-fingered grip on the tote, with the index finger pointing forwards. Hold the knob the way that feels most comfortable - some woodworkers use a fingertip grip, others hold it in the palm of their hand with their fingers turned in around it.
A wooden plane may have no handles, or only a front or a rear handle.
Where there are no handles, grasp the top rear of the stock with the dominant hand and top front with the other.
Where there's a rear handle (as shown here), grip it as described above for a metal plane.
If there's a front knob, again grip as you would for a metal plane.
Step 6 - Position plane
Position the plane on the edge of the workpiece at the end where the push stroke is to begin. The plane should be pointing along the edge with the blade behind the start of the edge and the front of the sole flat on the edge.
Step 7 - Check your stance
Adopt a stance with one foot some distance in front of the other, as shown here, so that you don't lose balance as the cutting stroke progresses.
Step 8 - Make first forward stroke
Use your entire body to power the plane along. At the beginning of the cut, concentrate pressure on the knob to counter the natural tendency of your hands to rock the plane as the cutting edge meets the wood.
Then transfer pressure to both the knob and tote evenly.
As you complete the cut, just before the cutting edge passes the far end of the workpiece, increase the pressure on the tote and reduce the pressure on the knob.
This will help to equalise the depth of the cut along the length of the workpiece.
Step 9 - Lift plane and return
Lift the plane slightly and return it to the starting position. Sliding the plane backwards over the wood might result in quicker blunting of the iron.
Step 10 - Check shaving
Check that the shaving coming up through the throat of the plane is the right thickness.
If you are smoothing, the shaving should be thin and transparent. If you are reducing and/or straightening, the shaving will be thicker and perhaps not so consistent, especially if you are planing off high points and bridging low points.
Step 11 - Repeat
If you are happy with the shaving and the overall performance of the plane on the first stroke, repeat steps 6 to 9 until the wood has been reduced, trued or smoothed to your satisfaction.
Check your progress regularly so that you don't cut too far.