Common Hand Tools and Plane Cutting Angles

When cutting and shaping wood, using the right tools can make a great difference. However, it depends on how easy the job is and what the quality of the outcome is. Some common hand tools used for wood works include Handsaws, Tenon saws, Coping saws, Dovetail handsaws, hand planes, and Wood Chisels. Each of these hand tools has a special purpose. For example, most toolboxes contain handsaws. It can handle cutting across and along the grain, which is also known as cross-cutting and rip cutting. In contrast, a Tenon saw and a Dovetail handsaw is best at fine cutting and making joins in the wood planes. A Coping saw is used to cut tight curves through the wood plane and a hand plane gives the wood a finer finish.

However, hand wood planes are the most preferred by carpenters and people associated with woodworks. In fact, it is a tool for shaping wood. It requires muscle power to influence the cutting blade over the wood plane surface.  Hand planes have been used for thousands of years. The oldest planes were made from the wood itself with a rectangular slot across its center.

They have many different applications. The three most common and useful planes are block plane, jointer plane, and smoother plane.

Block Plane

For common uses, butchers use block planes to remove the cleaver marks from the butcher blocks. It is a small woodworking hand plane that has a blade which is bedded at a lower angle with the bevel up. It is usually small and compact and can be used with one hand. A block plane is typically designed to cut end grain, and it can be also used by woodworkers for chamfering and removing glue lines.

Jointer Plane

A jointer plane is also known as a try plane. It is mostly used to straighten and flatten the edges of boards. It is long in length and is designed to prepare wood for jointing by riding over the ripples of an uneven wood surface, gliding off the peaks and gradually creating a flat surface.

Smoother Plane

As the name suggests, smoothing planes are used to smooth the wood plane and is typically the last plane used on a wood surface. It is a type of a bench plane that is used by woodworkers. It is useful to create a finish that is equal to a finish created by sandpaper.

The above three planes can make any task related to wood cutting possible. However, these days hand planes are not used as much as they were used in the older times. The electric planes have taken over the hand planes but still the good handmade items are still made by using hand tools like hand planes. Moreover, there are wood planes for making curves as well, known as compass planes.

Compass Planes

A compass plane is also known as a circular plane or a radius plane. Many call it a Ship’s plane as well due to its history of being used by ship builders. They are secluded from other planes as they create smooth and weeping curves which the other planes do not produce.

It requires the correct radius to prevent over cuts and loss of contour as it stops cutting with the right radius. One can adjust it to any curve with a flexible metal sole which can be either convex or concave.

Common angles for wood cutting

Talking about wood planes types and its differentiated application lets discuss some common angles for plane cutting. Basically, the angles for plane cutting depend on the quality of the steel. Most commonly, planes may be high or low angled. A lower blade angle is used for end grain work whereas a higher angle is used for scraping. One common blade angle cannot be used for all types of woodwork.

Hand planes come in a variety of pitch and bed angles. Some may have a pitch as low as 10°, while others may have a pitch as high as 90° or more. These pitches are termed as common pitch, York itch, middle pitch and half pitch. Now the question is what these pitches determine. The amount of pitch affects the comfort of cutting. A lower pitch will help cut more easily than a higher pitch. However, the disadvantage of a low angle plane is that is tears out the wood while cutting which results in a rough surface. The reason for this is that the splinter ends have broken beneath the surface. This is because of the wedging effect of the plane blade.

This effect of splitting can be avoided to a certain extent by having a fine mouth and preventing the wood fibers from lifting abruptly eventually creating shorter splinters rather than longer ones. When these are used on end grain, the wedging effect is not a problem as the ends of the fibers are being shaved and not being cut along their length. This action can be enhanced by skewing the blade and slicing through the fibers at an angle. Skewed blades can also be used to achieve this result. However, a properly ground and set chi-breaker can help create shorter splinters and allow the shaving to break immediately.

Common Pitches and its uses

  1. 20° and under

Angles such as 20° or under is used for low angle planes which include mitre planes, shoulder planes and block planes. The blades for such planes are used with the bevel up, which has an increased effect on the overall pitch by the amount of the bevel angle. These planes are used for end grain work with a lower angle that has a blade which is supported right to the tip and has a fine mouth opening.

  • 45°

This is the most common pitch that is used by most bench planes varying from wooden bodied ones to the Stanley/Bailey planes. An angle such as 45° is best for most softwoods and straight grained hardwoods. The blade in such planes is used with the bevel down along with a chip breaker in certain cases.

  • 50°

This is known as the York pitch. It is used for hardwoods and for highly figured and interlocking.

  • 55°

55° angle is known as the middle pitch and is mainly used for moulding softwood planes.

  • 60°

This type of pitch is used for moulding planes for hardwood and is known as half pitch.

  • 70° – 90°

70° to 90° angles are used for toothing planes, side snipers and side rebate planes.

  • 90° and above

90° and above angles are used for scrapers and scraping planes.

How does the bevel affect the cutting angle?

Bevels of a plane’s iron or blade is the angle on the cutting end of the iron which is formed when it is sharpened at an initial stage. Most bench planes are bevel down. This means that their blade is secured in the plane and when it is done so the beveled edge is o the other side of the blade, usually facing down towards the workpiece. Whereas the irons on the block plane are bevel up. This means that the bevel that results from the sharpening of the iron is on the upper side and faces away from the workpiece.

The cutting angle is effectively increased when the bevel is on the top side of the iron rather than underneath. Moreover, the irons of some bevel-up planes are beveled at more acute angles than usual so that the planes get a more slicing action for end grain work.

How can you change the angle of the plane?

One can alter the angle of a bevel-up plane by honing a new bevel on the iron. By changing the honing angle of a bevel-up plane, we will change the cutting angle as well. For instance, by changing the honing angle with a 30° on 20° block plane, the cutting angle becomes 50°. Which means a 5° difference is created from the cutting g angle of a standard 45° bench plane.

On the other hand, a change in the honing angle of a bevel-down bench plane does not change the cutting angle but it will change the clearance angle.

However, a higher angle would be better for working with tear out-prone wood planes.

Formation of Chips and how angles affect them

When a sharp blade interacts with wood, it forms a chip or shaving. Chips can be classified into 4 types. Namely;

  1. Type 0

A Type 0 chip is formed when a very sharp blade at a low angle is cutting the grain. IT is produced in a form of shavings of wood in which fibers have not been bent significantly. Type 0 chip has fibers which are not broken as in other types of the chips. Type 0 chips are more likely to produce a surface on the wood that has maximum clarity and appearance.

  • Type I

Type I chip is formed when a thick shaving is taken by a blade with a higher angle. It is produced as the wood splits ahead of the blade. This type of chip’s formation is a cyclical process where the splitting increases until the shaving breaks and begins again.

  • Type II

Type II chips are formed when a thin shaving is taken when the angle of the blade is increased. This is a different mechanism of chip formation which occurs when the wood is cut accurately with the sharp edge of the blade and then is forced to bend. This type of chip is curly and not segmented.

  • Type III

Such type of chip is formed when the angle of the blade is increased further. It is a result of a scraping action. This type of cutting is effective on hard woods as softwoods can be damaged and may result in deformation.

The Type I chip cutting is typical but for a more smoother result Type II is more preferred. The reason behind this is the thinner chip result. The thinner the chip, the less chances of breakage are present.


The different planes provide different variations of applications. The most commonly used planes are scrub, jack, jointer, smoother, block, finger, rabbet, molding, combination and compass. Each type of plane has a special purpose associated with it and produces a result that is different by all the others. The in-depth details of the cutting planes and the common angles used by them provide a broad view of how the hand plane works and affect the formation of chips.

Leave a Comment