Traditional Japanese woodworking planes, also known as ‘kanna’, are simply constructed. They have rectangular-section hardwood bodies and a cap iron that goes behind a steel cross-pin to keep the iron in place.
What particularly distinguishes these planes from other wooden planes is that they cut on the pull stroke – as the plane is pulled back towards the woodworker. The iron is usually positioned a little nearer the heel than in a conventional plane, so that the woodworker can grasp the front of the body, or stock, with the dominant hand, placing the other hand on the the iron and heel, or rear, of the stock.
In a traditional Japanese workshop, the workpiece is placed on a wooden beam which is supported on a triangular trestle at one end, with the other end butted against a wall. In the western world, woodworkers who use Japanese planes often rest the workpiece on a normal workbench.,
Hira kanna – bench planes
Hira kanna means “normal plane” – the equivalent to the western world’s bench plane, for reducing, truing and smoothing wood. There are several different hira kanna planes – three of the main ones are:
Ara-shiko – roughly equivalent to the jack plane, used for reducing and the initial truing – levelling and squaring – of wood
Chu-shiko – rather like the jointer plane, this one is for levelling wood to perfection, sufficient for edges to be joined together with no gaps.
Jo-shiko – this is the Japanese equivalent of the smoothing plane, which puts a silky-smooth finish on wood, far better than can be achieved with sandpaper, which tends to scratch and blur the grain.
Specialised Japanese planes
There are also several specialised Japanese planes, including rebate planes . . .
. . . and dedicated chamfering planes for cutting 45 degree chamfers, or decorative bevels, on the edges of wood.
What they’re made from
The stock, or body, of a Japanese plane is usually made of Japanese red oak or Japanese white oak.
The irons are usually made from hand-forged hardened steel.
Setting up Japanese planes
Setting up Japanese hand planes is very similar to setting up the traditional wooden planes made in the western world.
Adjustment of the irons – setting the right depth and keeping the cutting edge perfectly horizontal across the sole – is done with a small hammer or mallet.