Monthly Archives: May 2013

Tool Focus – Bench Planes Part 2 – Jack Plane

A quick status update on the Arts and Crafts End Tables before I get into the tool focus for this week. A week ago I finished cutting the joinery and gluing up the last of the legs for the end tables. If I had to do it again, I’m not sure if I would choose to make the quadralinear legs. It was a LOT of work. This week I hope to get the components cut to rough size and ready to start laying out and cutting the joinery. Now…on to the tool focus.

Stanley # 5 - Jack Plane

Stanley # 5 – Jack Plane

This week’s tool focus is about perhaps the most versatile of all the bench planes. Rumor has it that this bench plane is called the Jack because it is the “Jack of all trades.” I have also heard that the name comes from the plane being so common, just like the name Jack.

With an extra iron or two and a little effort to change the plane’s settings, this work horse can perform most – if not all – the lumber dimensioning and surfacing tasks needed to make fine furniture.

My Jack is a Stanley # 5 and measures 14″ long. What makes the Jack so versatile is this medium length. It is the perfect size for removing material quickly and leaving a roughly flat surface – this is easiest with a curved (also known as a camber) iron.

Cambered Plane Iron

Cambered Plane Iron

It is also long enough that if you change the iron to one with a less extreme camber and set the plane for a finer cut, you can flatten and true faces as well as edges to get ready for joinery. At the same time, the plane is short enough that with a very sharp, straight iron (preferably with the corners rounded slightly) and a tightly closed mouth, you can set up the plane for a very fine cut and use the plane to smooth the wood to a nearly finish ready surface.

Going into the parts of the Jack Plane and how to adjust its settings would make this post WAY too long; and all the traditional metal bodied bench planes work the same way. In the next post, I will use the Jack Plane to show these details and how to use the plane to do basic dimensioning and surfacing tasks.

Tool Focus – Bench Planes Part 1

Metal body bench planes

Metal body bench planes

This is the first post in a series on bench planes.  These planes are referred to as bench planes because they are the planes that are almost always found on or under a hand tool woodworkers workbench.  The primary purpose for this set of tools is to take rough or over-sized lumber, bring it close to the final dimension, straighten and square the faces, and smoothing the surface to a finish ready surface.  A hand tool woodworker needs to be able to accomplish all of these tasks if he or she is going to build furniture from rough or over-sized lumber (which is almost always the case).

Bench planes are typically identified as numbers 1 – 8 using the Stanley numbering system.   For more information about these planes (and anything else you would ever know about Stanley’s planes), you have to check out Patrick Leach’s great website at  The planes numbered 1 – 4½ are categorized as smoothing planes; 5 and 6 are categorized as jack or fore planes (because the are used before the others); and 7 and 8 are categorized as jointer planes or try planes (they are used for 1.) making the edges of boards straight and ready to be glued together in an edge joint; and 2.) making the faces of a board straight and flat (making it ‘tried and true’).

It is VERY important to note that these planes are not used in numerical order.  To bring a board to rough dimensions, you would use a jack or fore plane to remove large amounts of material and remove most of the twist, cupping, bowing, etc.  To flatten and straighten the board, you need to use a try plane.  To smooth a board and get it ready for finish you use a smoothing plane.  For more information I recommend checking out Chris Schwarz’s DVD Coarse, Medium, & Fine.  On that note, if you are interested in woodworking and aren’t already reading Chris’ blogs at Lost Art Press and Popular Woodworking, you really have to check them out.

Next time, I’m going to post about the jack/fore planes.

I’m still here…

Just a quick update for those of you are still checking on the blog:  I started a new job three weeks ago and have been extremely busy.  In addition my wife, Amy and I have been working on getting our house back into shape.  Naturally — those of you who are woodworkers will understand completely — my workbench became a perfect catch-all for all the stuff I didn’t have the time or mental energy to put away.  I changed that tonight!  I will have the post on bench planes that I promised in my last post up by the end of the weekend.  After that, I will continue updating you all on my progress building the end tables I’m working on.

I’ll be back soon (I promise)…