What is a bench plane?

What is a bench plane?

Shop for Woodworking Hand Planes

Metal and wooden bench planes Bench planes are the everyday workhorses of the hand plane family. Some are used to gradually reduce and straighten the pieces of a woodworking project to the correct dimensions, and others to smooth the surfaces of the wood, giving it a final finish.

They are called bench planes because they are most often used at a woodworking bench rather than on site.

A selection of Stanley-Bailey style bench planes Bench planes are often used in the order in which they are listed below, after the scrub plane has reduced the workpiece to something approaching its required dimensions.
Planing along the grain with a bench plane They are normally used along the grain of the wood . . .
Planing end grain with a bench plane . . . but are sometimes also employed in cutting end grain.
Metal and wooden bench plane equivalents For every metal bench plane, there is a wooden equivalent, although the way the blade is secured and adjusted is usually different.
Wooden jack, fore, jointer and smoothing planes
There are four basic types of bench plane, with metal and wooden equivalents of each.
Metal jack, fore, jointer and smoothing planes Used in the order in which they are listed below, they progressively take a piece of wood from a basic state through to a smooth piece sized perfectly to fit into the particular project.

Jack planes

Metal and wooden jack planes Jack planes are used to further reduce and straighten a piece of wood, usually after it has been through a jointer and/or a thicknesser – two electrically-powered machines used in the initial preparation of wood – or has been roughly sized by a scrub plane.
Standard Stanley / Bailey jack plane They are general-purpose bench planes and so can also be used for truing (levelling faces and edges and ensuring they are “square” with each other) and the initial smoothing of the wood’s surface.

Fore planes

Metal and wooden fore planes The fore plane is sized mid-way between the jack and the jointer and is designed to further true (straighten and square) the wood’s surface after the scrub plane and jack plane have sized and initially trued it.

Jointer planes

Metal and wooden jointer planes The jointer is the longest bench plane. It has a dual role: stock removal (reducing the size of the wood) and accurately truing up long edges or levelling wide boards.

Smoothing planes

Metal and wooden smoothing plane The smoother is often the last plane used on the wood’s surface. When set up and used properly, the finish it gives is far superior to that made by sandpaper.

Iron clamping and adjustment

Stanley Bailey bench plane and box The irons of most metal bench planes are clamped and adjusted by a system initially developed by Leonard Bailey in the United States in the mid-1800s, and later refined by the U.S. tool manufacturer, Stanley Works.
A selection of wooden bench planes The wooden versions generally have a much simpler method of iron clamping and adjustment. A wooden wedge secures the iron and its depth and alignment across the sole of the plane is achieved by the rudimentary means of hitting the iron on the top or side with a hammer.

Low-angle, bevel-up bench planes

Stanley Bailey jack plane Most metal bench planes are based on the original Stanley / Bailey bench plane design or “pattern” (see A brief history of woodworking hand planesfor more about this).
Low-angle bench planes have some advantages over standard Stanley / Bailey bench planes However, low-angle bench planes have increased in popularity and do have advantages – mouth adjustment is much easier than with a standard bench plane, and because they are bevel-up, a set of irons honed at different cutting angles makes the plane capable of a wide range of jobs.
Low-angle jointer plane; woodworking hand planes There are low-angle versions of each type of bench plane.

See What are the parts of a low-angle bench planefor a full description of this type of plane.