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.

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