How to use a block plane

 
     
     
 Shop for Woodworking Hand Planes 
     
     
 Metal and wooden block planes 

Wooden planes may be lighter, blade pitches may vary, iron adjusters may differ and there may or may not be mouth adjustment, but using a block plane is essentially the same no matter which one you use.

 
     
 Wonkee Donkee guide to using a block plane; woodworking planes 

Here's Wonkee's guide to two of the jobs you can do with a block plane: planing end grain and chamfering.

 
     
   

Planing end grain

 
 Checking the set-up of a block plane 

Make sure your block plane is properly set up - see How to set up a metal block planeor How to set up a wooden block plane. You need a very shallow iron depth and a tight mouth for end grain planing.

 
     
 Things you'll need when planing end grain 

You'll need a combination square, a pencil, a piece of scrap wood, a bar clamp, the workpiece, a woodworking vice and, of course, a block plane.

 
     
 Marking the workpiece prior to planing end grain 

Step 1 - Mark workpiece

Using the square and the pencil, mark a line on the workpiece indicating the level you wish to plane down to. Continue the line around the edges and the other side.

 
     
 Place board in vice prior to planing end grain 

Step 2 - Place workpiece in vice

Place the board in the workbench vice, end grain up with the pencil mark at the top.

 
     
 

Clamp piece of scrap wood to workpiece to prevent tear-out

 

Step 3 - Clamp scrap wood to workpiece

Using the bar clamp, fix the piece of spare wood to the end of the workpiece where your push stroke with the plane will finish. This will prevent tear-out of the far edge.

 
     
 Position the block plane ready to plane end grain 

Step 4 - Position plane

Position the toe of the sole flat on the end of the workpiece where the forward or push stroke is to begin. Ensure the cutting edge of the iron is before the starting edge of the workpiece, not part-way along the edge to be planed.

 
     
 One-handed grip on bock plane 

Step 5 - First forward stroke

Make the first forward stroke. You can use the plane one-handed (as shown here). Press the palm of your hand down on the rounded area of the lever cap and place your forefinger in the hollow of the front knob, your thumb in one dimple and your other fingers in the other dimple.

 
     
 Two-handed grip on block plane 

Or you can hold the plane two-handed, with the palm of your dominant hand on the lever cap hood and thumb and fingers in the dimples, with the thumb of your other hand in the hollow of the knob.

 

Whether you use one or two hands will depend on how comfortable the grip feels and how hard the workpiece is. Harder wood requires more pressure, and you can press harder with two hands.

 
     
 Planing end grain with a metal block plane 

Step 6 - Readjust if necessary

Plane right over to and beyond the far end of the edge you are trimming and check that the shaving you are getting is consistent. If it isn't, or if the plane's progress was juddery or difficult, you may need to reduce the depth of the iron and correct the lateral adjustment.

 
     
 Checkiing progress when planing end grain with block plane 

Step 7 - Continue planing

Continue with more strokes, checking regularly your progress towards the pencil line. If the waste to be planed away is deeper at one end, make some shorter strokes at that end to equal up with the other end. 

 
     
 Finished board after block planing 

Step 8 - Finish off

When you have planed down to the line and the edge is square with its adjoining sides, and is smooth, the job is done.

 
     
 Make a bevel to avoid tear-out when planing end grain 

There are other ways of avoiding tear-out at the far end when planing end grain.

 

One is to plane a bevel on the far corner - as long as you don't plane the bevel away completely, it should protect against break-out as you plane down to the line.

 
     
 Plane half-way in each direction to avoid tear-out of end grain 

Another way is to plane halfway in each direction. However, it can be more difficult to get a perfectly straight edge this way.

 
     
 Using a shooting board plane 

You can also plane end grain with a shooting board plane in combination with a bench hook or shooting board.

 

Although it's based on a different, dedicated plane, see What is a shooting-board plane?for details of how this works.

 
     
   

Chamfering (planing a bevel)

 
 Block planes, pencil and rule 

For this simple chamfer you will need a pencil, a long rule and, of course, a block plane and a piece of wood to make the bevel on.

 

This will be a simple "through" bevel - one that goes the full length of the workpiece. A "stopped" chamfer goes only part of the length and requires more specialised tools.

 
     
 Checking the set-up of a metal block plane 

Before you start, check the set-up of your block plane. To start, you can set the iron's depth to about 1.5mm (1/16th") with a medium mouth opening (if your plane has mouth adjustment), as you will be planing an extremely narrow width along the grain, with little resistance at the start of the operation.

 
     
 Mark the workpiece ready for planing a chamfer 

Step 1 - Mark workpiece

Unless you're confident you can cut the chamfer perfectly without a guideline, mark the workpiece showing the depth you wish to plane down to on each side of the corner.

 

Measure and mark carefully to ensure accuracy.

 
     
 Wood secured in vice ready for planing 

Step 2 - Secure workpiece

Fasten the workpiece in the workbench vice. If it's very long, it might need support at both ends.

 
     
 Position block plane ready for cutting a chamfer 

Step 3 - Position plane

Position the plane at an angle of 45 degrees at the nearest end of the edge to be chamfered, with the cutting edge of the iron before the edge of the wood. 

 
     
 Using a block plane one-handed 

Step 4 - First forward stroke

You can use the plane one- or two-handed. If using only one hand, place the palm of you hand over the rounded area of the lever cap, with your forefinger in the hollow of the front knob, your thumb in a dimple and other fingers in the other dimple.

 
     
 Cutting a chamfer with a block plane 

If using the plane two-handed, place the palm of your dominant hand on the lever cap and your thumb and fingers in the dimples, with the thumb of your other hand in the hollow of the knob.

 
     
 Lift and return block plane after forward stroke 

Step 5 - Lift and return

At the end of the stroke, lift the plane slightly and return to the starting point.

 
     
 Adjusting a metal block lane 

Step 6 - Readjust

Check that you are getting a consistent shaving. If not, or if the first stroke was not smooth and effective throughout, check the plane's iron and mouth settings and adjust if necessary.

 
     
 Planing a chamfer with a metal block plane 

Step 7 - Continue planing

Continue planing, progressing towards the pencil lines on each side.

 

Check the angle of the plane - keep it at 45 degrees for a normal chamfer - and reduce the depth of the iron to about 1mm (1/32") or less, and close the mouth a little, as the chamfer widens out.

 
     
 A perfect chamfer cut with a block plane 

Step 8 - Finish

When you've planed down the to lines and the chamfer is smooth and at 45 degrees along its entire length, the job is done. 

 
     
 Chamfer cut on end grain with block plane 

If you are chamfering all around (that is, all four edges), remember two of the chamfers will be on the end grain, so beware of tear-out. You can avoid it by planing half-way in each direction rather than the full length of the edge.

 
     
 Perfect mitres formed by chamfers after cutting with block plane 

Where the chamfers join at the corners, aim for perfect mitred edges. If they don't appear to meet at 45 degrees, make corrections.

 
     
 Chamfer cutting guide fitted to block lane 

If you find planing a perfect chamfer difficult (and some woodworkers do!) there are some planes that can be fitted with a chamfer guide.

 

The adjustable mouth plate of the plane is removed and replaced by the guide, which makes achieving a precise 45-degree angle easy.

 
     
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