Not a Beginner, Not an Expert
Whether you’re a woodworker with a bit of experience who’s gone “unplugged,” or someone who began woodworking only with hand tools you probably have at least one or two hand planes. And if that’s not the case, I don’t believe you and I’m very curious indeed as to how you’ve been getting on without one! If you’re a beginner hand tool user or just a beginner woodworker in general who’s curious about what hand planes you should start with, check out my other article titled, A Guide To Hand Planes Part One: The Basic Three. Moving on.
So, You Own a Few Hand Planes…
So, let’s say you have the basics, and you’re looking to expand your collection. You’re unplugged for the long run, and it’s time to invest in some specialized hand planes. It’s a natural step in advancing any craft. Planes that have a specific job they’re built for. A jack plane can do many things, but using a tool for the job it was specifically built for is very satisfying and can save you a lot of time and grief. So, I’m going to talk about a few of those, and then (just for fun) I’m going to get into a few collector’s pieces and museum pieces.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the community of hand tool users is pretty passionate when it comes to their hand planes. Hand planes may be the most collected hand tools. I don’t have any statistics on that, but I’d say it’s a fair guess considering how many videos and articles there are online showcasing personal collections. Stanley planes and Japanese (kanna) hand planes are popular among collectors.
A rabbet plane (sometimes called a shoulder plane or a rebate plane), is a narrow plane that is designed to plane in small, tight areas, and can really get into 90-degree corners. The blade is the same width as the body, so it can do some really detailed planing.
It’s not a necessary hand plane. I’m sure you can use a vise and some careful handwork to use a larger plane or even just a saw and chisel to do similar work. But, if you work with mortise and tenon joints a lot, or if you simply want to save yourself some time and ensure your work will be as neat as possible—invest in a rabbet plane.
Mortise and Tenon Joinery: The Ancients Got It Right
You’re probably familiar with the very common mortise and tenon joint, but a refresh and a little history in the context of this specialized tool couldn’t hurt. Mortise and tenon joinery is one of the oldest types of wooden joinery on earth.
7,000-year-old examples of mortise and tenon joints were found at the bottom of a well in Leipzig, the site of the oldest intact wooden architecture ever discovered. It was also found in the Khufu Ship, an intact life-size vessel built from Lebanese cedar wood in 2500 BCE and discovered in the Giza pyramid complex. So, I think it’s safe to say it’s sort of a “tried and true” woodworker favorite.
By the way—if this woodworking history has peaked your interest in the subject, check out my other article: Woodworking and The Ancient World! A Look at The Exciting History of Woodworking in The Middle East.
This joint is used when the two pieces being joined come together at a 90-degree angle. It is a basic, but strong joint. The tenon, sometimes referred to as a “tongue” is a protruding form on piece of stock called a “rail.” The tenon fits into a corresponding square or rectangular hole on the piece of stock it is being joined to. The tenon should be cut to fit the mortise hole exactly, and “shoulders” (flat surfaces on either side of the tongue) are left to secure against the corresponding shoulders on the mortise.
Some woodworkers use glue to secure this, but if you’re a purist you know that if you’ve made a decent mortise and tenon you really don’t have to. The sides of the tongue are called cheeks.
Back To Rabbet Planes
Rabbet planes are perfect for paring away from the shoulders and cheeks of your tenons. It’s made for that, and you’ll probably be happy you have one. A good mortise and tenon joint is made by leaving the tenon just a touch too big, and trim down. Better too big than too small. Use a rabbet plane to trim your tenons perfectly to fit into the mortises. If you’re new to using a rabbit plane make yourself a few practice joints to play with and see what grip and pressure-level work best for you and the type of wood you’re using.
Buying a Rabbet Plane
Price Point 1 – $15
I found a very cheap adjustable rabbet plane online for about $15 from Woodworker’s supply that doesn’t look terrible. Not sure I’d recommend it since you want a decently sturdy plane with some weight to work with, and this one looks well, like it costs 15 dollars. If you’re on a budget, maybe it’s not so bad. I usually suggest saving up for a nicer tool, as I think it can save you time and money—cheap tools can cause a lot of grief. But, I’ve been surprised by cheap tools before, so if you want to give it a try give us a review in the comments section.
Price Point 2 – $30
However, I found one from Japan Woodworker for not too much more, about $30, that looks pretty good to me. The “Mujingfang Ebony Micro Instrument Japanese Rebate Plane” is very small, and cheaper than a lot of other planes I saw online. It looks high quality and pretty well made.
It looks heavy and has a very elegant design. It’s pretty small as it is a “micro” plane, so it can be used with one hand and would be perfect for delicate joinery and tight corners. I’m not sure that I’d recommend a micro rabbet plane as your only rabbet plane, but I’m quite tempted by this precise little tool.
Price Point 3 – $60.00
Following my trend and going for one at double the last price point. The “1-1/2 in. x 10. In. Bullnose Rabbet Plane” from Home Depot seems to have some pretty good reviews. It’s constructed from one piece of cast iron, it’s adjustable, and there’s both a rear and forward position. A lot of the reviews say that it needs to be cleaned up a bit out of the box, but that isn’t unusual for hand planes. Seems like a good, sturdy plane that will be reliable and be able to tackle tight corners and joinery.
Price Point 4 – $100
Now, there are more expensive planes than this, but this one is a fan favorite and anything above this price point veers into the collectors range. The “Stanley Sweetheart No. 92 Rabbet Plane” (found at this price on Highland Woodworking), is mentioned throughout the comments sections of cheaper hand planes as a comparison: “well, it’s pretty good, but it’s no Stanley Sweetheart Plane. It has some qualities collectors or tool lovers will be into, like the resurrected 1930’s “SW” logo in a heart-shaped boarder. “SW” stands of course for then Stanley President William Hart.
Aside from that, it’s very high quality. It’s made from ductile cast-iron and has brass knobs. It also doubles as a chisel plane if you remove the top section. This particular model boasts that it has a more ergonomic design than previous incarnations.
Its dimensions are: overall length – 6” sole – 5-1/8” long by ¾” wide. The thick A2 blade is secured by a large cap iron that reduces chatter. Stanley’s a reliable, very old brand, and it seems like this sweetheart two-in-one plane is really worth the hype. So, it’s probably worth saving up for and treating yourself.
Also known as the “try” plane, a jointer plane is used to flatten the face of stock. Due to it’s long sole, it is particularly adept at skimming the peaks of uneven wood and gradually planing to a perfectly smooth surface. It has the same blade and width as a fore plane, but a longer sole. In a typical (but required) 3-step planing process, the jointer plane is the step after the jack plane and before the smoothing plane.
Jointer planes are of course mostly used for “jointing.” Jointing is the process of preparing two or more pieces of wood to be joined to one another. The process is to ensure that the edge of a board is straight along its length. Woodworkers using only hand planes (that’s you I assume), generally hold two pieces of wood together in a vice and joint them simultaneously. This ensures that even if the edges of the individual boards are not perfectly perpendicular to their faces, they will still form a flat panel when joined.
Some jointer planes are made of wood, many are made of metal. There are some jointer planes that are very long indeed. To use these, always have your weight shifted forward so that no matter how long your stock is you will get an even surface. Go slowly and intentionally, and things should turn out just fine.
A jointer plane will make things a lot easier for you. It isn’t strictly necessary, but many woodworkers will attest to its immensely useful long sole. If you’re already past your basic three hand planes (see my other article), then you’re on the right track. The truth is: you can make pretty much everything with only a jack plane. But, it’s not going to be easy. And if you’re invested in putting together a nice shop for yourself that runs smoothly and has what you need to make what you want—why drive yourself crazy?
Buying a Jointer Plane
Compared to other types of hand planes, there is a lack of jointer planes available to buy online. Ebay has some good used and vintage options, but I didn’t add any here since those are usually only available temporarily. Make sure to have a look there if none of these are quite what you’re looking for.
Price Point 1 – $50
For the first price point we are starting at our old friend Amazon. The “Faithfull No. 7 Jointing Plane” made in the UK. Now, English tools can be a little different sometimes, I intend to write something about that soon, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from buying this tool. This isn’t very cheap really as “cheap” goes, but this was the cheapest one that I felt okay telling you about. Reviews on this tool are mixed, but that’s true of most tools online.
Most people (negative and positive reviewers) agree that you’ll have to do some work to it, like sanding the sole. That’s to be expected with a cheaper tool, and even with some expensive hand planes. Most people feel like it does its job once you work it a bit. One person was very upset with this tool and described feeling “despair” after using it. That was only one reviewer though, and you’ll have to make this call yourself.
Price Point 2 – $130
The Infinity Tools Wood Jointer Hand Plane. I like the look of wooden hand planes, and I quite like how they perform. This one has a long sole at 24 inches, which is nice. The sole is made of hornbeam and the body is beech and it has a handle, and a 2.3” steel alloy blade with a chipbreaker. It’s made in a traditional style, so the blade is secured with a wedge. Adjustments to this type of hand plane can be made using a mallet. The blade and sole may need a little work before use.
Price Point 3 – $80-$200
So this price point is more of a price “range” because it’s for a vintage tool and the prices for those aren’t really set. The vintage Stanley No. 7 jointer plane is a tried and true favorite amongst woodworkers. I found some online for as low as $80 all the way up to $200. I assume this range accounts for quality and condition.
So, really check out what you’re buying if you’re looking at one on the cheaper side. If you don’t like any of the other planes mentioned here and you don’t mind committing your time to hunting down a vintage tool—go for the Stanley No. 7. Happy hunting!
Price Point 4 – $300
The Woodriver No. 7 Jointer Plane. This plane says it was modeled after the Bedrocks, Stanley Tool’s “best line.” It claims to have a weight similar to a Stanley No. 8, allowing it to be “heftier” and take on stubborn grain. It features heavy, stress-relieved ductile iron castings, adjustable frogs, and a high carbon steel blade.
The reviews for this one are pretty much 5 stars all around. One rogue 4-star is for working the blade taking longer than desired. This seems like an attractive, reliable plane to spoil yourself with if you’ve been saving up.
A router plane is funny looking plane. It has two edges that come out of either side rather than a straight vertical shape. Sometimes these two protrusions have wooden knobs. Router planes are used for smoothing out sunken depressions in panels. It can work itself into corners that other planes cannot get in and you would otherwise need a chisel for. Like most hand planes, they are sometimes made of wood and sometimes made of metal.
It may not be the most used tool in your shop, but you’ll be happy you have one when you really need it. A common router plane job is adjusting the depths of dados (a slot or trench cut into the surface of a board) and hinge mortises. Router planes are simple in design and just as simple to use. You can adjust the depth of your blade to meet the needs of the job. You must work with the grain with a router plane, because it has no sole or chipbreaker in front of the blade. This allows it to get into narrow corners like a chisel.
Buying a Jointer Plane
Price Point 1 – $40
Klingspor’s Woodworking Shop’s Router Plane. This router plane is made of solid cast iron. It has a comfortable grip, but no knobs. The blade is ¼” wide and the base is 2-3/16” x 4-1/8”. There are no reviews, but as far as I can tell this is a very simple, sturdy router plane. I can’t imagine you’d have too much trouble with it. If you prefer knobs/handles this may not be the model for you.
Price Point 2 – $50
An Amazon option seems to be a theme here, so this is the Cowryman Router Plane. At first glance it looks a little flimsy if I’m totally honest. But, it has wooden knobs and a stainless steel body. It actually has pretty solid reviews and not one mention of “despair.” Seems like a solid option for $50.
Price Point 3 – $100 – $150
Another price point range for a vintage Stanley tool. The No. 71 Stanley is a router plane, they have metal bodies and sturdy-looking wooden knobs. In some cases I don’t think a Stanley plane is all that different from some other newer options.
But, of all the router planes I looked at online this one really did remain the best. I know, big surprise: a hand tool user like Stanley tools. But, I’m just calling it as I see it. If you’ve got time and a bigger budget, look for a Stanley No. 71 to add to your collection, it won’t let you down.