What Hand Plane Should I Buy First?
Issue: Issue 285
Posted Date: 10/4/2011
[Here's a question submitted in response to a recent blog entry] I am new at woodworking but eager to learn. I'm considering buying my first hand plane. Which one should I buy and what brand do you recommend? - Jim
Chris Marshall: Before you can determine which plane to buy first, the bigger question really needs to be what tasks you want to do with it. And that opens up the larger matter of what method of work you want to pursue in your woodworking: hand tools, power tools or a mix of both. You can carry out all of your surfacing and truing tasks with sharp planes, or you can do much of this work with power tools instead. For instance, a bench plane will flatten stock faces and reduce thickness, a jointer plane will flatten the edges and a block plane will square up the ends. So will a power jointer, surface planer and an accurately tuned table saw or miter saw. A smoothing plane can produce a finish-ready surface, but so can a sander and abrasives. I'm grossly oversimplifying things here, but you get the point. I think a well-rounded woodworker should eventually become adept at both methods of work, but honestly, I'm not there yet myself. I favor power tools but reach for my low-angle block plane and rabbeting plane for chamfering, cleaning up tenons and so forth. Someday, I hope to be equally skilled with a larger variety of planes ... but for now I guess I'm a hybrid woodworker. There's always something new to learn. In terms of brands, I'll choose not to name-drop. There are a number of good hand plane manufacturers these days — not just one or two. Read some magazine reviews, check out hand tool forums and most importantly, try out some planes at a woodworking show or store. The ones that suit you best may not be the same brand and model as another woodworker suggests.
Tim Inman: If I could only have one plane, and I wanted to do "all-around" woodworking, I'd buy a good block plane. They're just handy for everything, and you should keep it in a really handy-to-reach place near your bench. Don't hide it away. I'd buy the lowest angle plane I could (there are a couple of approaches to blade angles in block planes out there), and I'd pay as much as I could possibly afford. Lie-Nielsen is a very fine maker. We gave my father one of these to celebrate the loss of his "favorite old one" some years ago. He is thrilled with it - which is about as good a testimonial as you'll ever find. He never endorses products. Then, the really important part: You must learn how to sharpen the blade, and KEEP IT RAZOR-SHARP whenever you use that plane. A good plane, well sharpened, will have a sound when you use it that is the key to knowing when you're sharp enough. If your plane is sharp, it will "sing" as it cuts a curl. It will make you smile, and your work will be better for it. You'll want to use it again!
Then, you'll start buying more planes whenever you see them. They're fun to have. You'll actually use the block plane, though.