Extremely Average #72: Hand Plane DVD Review

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Blog entry by Ecocandle posted 03-15-2010 05:35 AM 1767 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 71: Router Mounted Successfully Part 72 of Extremely Average series Part 73: Todays blog is actually titled... »

I overheard a guy in the bar say that the temperature had hit 61 degrees. It was truly beautiful out today in Iowa and after I watched the Big Ten championship game, I took a walk. Mt. Vernon Iowa is a beautiful town and I strolled down to the Ace Hardware and bought some lag bolts. After that I just strolled around a bit, waiting for my laundry to finish drying. The first really nice day of the year is always a joy in Iowa. You might think that it would be a joy everywhere, but I don’t think it is the same in states where the snow fall is minimal. Having lived in the greater DC area for the last 8 winters, I hadn’t really experienced the spring euphoria, like I had today.

It is the drastic change that makes it so pleasant. To proceed on my woodworking journey, I decided to change my understanding of hand planes. I have read enough and seen so many people using them in videos that I was quite sure I wanted in on the fun. What I didn’t know, was when one uses them, how one ‘tunes’ them, or which ones are the correct choice to start off with.

‘Hand Planes in the Workshop’ with Mario Rodriguez, published by Taunton Press, would be my teacher. Some of the videos from Taunton have been filmed 20 plus years ago, and they seem a bit dated, though the information is still valuable. This DVD was shot in 1996, and is of higher quality than the others which I have viewed. The content and delivery is spectacular.

Mario does a wonderful job of engaging the viewer. After the introduction, he introduces us to the smooth plane, more specifically the Stanley No. 4. He gives a detailed description of the parts and how they go together. I can’t really put into words how well he does at teaching, it is quite remarkable. The presentation is not at all dry, and actually got me fired up for getting my first hand plane.

It reminded me of a time, a few years back, when I sat in on my father’s class. Dad teaches TOC, in the Industrial Engineering Department, at Iowa State University. He was teaching a two week class, that ran all day Monday through Friday. Growing up, I had been taught a lot of math from dad, as he has a Masters degree in mathematics, from The Ohio State University, who won the Big Ten basketball title today. He also has a PhD in Industrial Engineering, but I can’t recall needing any insight into IE during my days at Ames High. So there I was, watching dad teach a class of around 20 people. He was really good. Now I suspected that he was pretty good at teaching, because he had given me the math prowess that I know possess, but to see him in action, was exciting. He got it. He understood how to teach in a way that made one want to listen. Mario does too.

After talking a bit about the No. 4 Stanley and how it goes together, he showed the viewer how to use it. He discusses common problems and what causes them and even describes the sound it should make and what one will hear when they are planning against the grain. His explanation of how to read the grain made complete sense to me. I have read that it can be hard to read grain sometimes, and maybe it can, but now I feel I have a basic understanding that will help me in most cases.

In chapter 3, he says, “making silky shavings is easy to me, because I have been doing it for so long. But planning is not intuitive, there are techniques to tuning, using and setting up a plane, that have to be learned.” His friend Tom comes over to learn about hand planes. This is a brilliant portion of the video, as he watches Tom, comments on his stance and technique, and then explains to Tom how to do it right. This makes watching and learning feel much more inviting than were Tom not there.

The following chapter is on tuning up a plane, a subject which has prevented me from making my first purchase. I have been afraid of this step even though they say that the Lie Nielson planes, need very little tuning and can be used right out of the box. My worry has been that if I do need to do ‘slight’ tuning, I will mess up my new plane. I don’t feel that way now. This video, and particularly chapter 4, is a resource that I will be able to go back to whenever I need a refresher, and I am confident will get me good results.

Some of the other chapters cover jointer planes, block planes and shoulder planes. These four make up the essential planes that Mario believes one should use, in combination with power tools, to get the best results in our pursuit of quality woodworking. He not only shows us how to use them, he gives many examples of times where the hand plane is the perfect tool for the job. If I had monetized my blog, I would recommend that everyone click on the link and buy it now, but since I haven’t, I would recommend that everyone think about buying this video for a while, until I have monetized my blog. In all seriousness though, if considering hand planes as an addition to your shop, this video will be well worth the money.

-- Brian Meeks,

4 comments so far

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 4317 days

#1 posted 03-15-2010 09:12 AM

Have you considered putting this in the “Reviews” section of LJ? You do such a wonderful job of describing the content and you would be reaching an audience on LJs that doesn’t read all the blogs.


-- Jim

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3393 days

#2 posted 03-15-2010 09:14 AM


Thanks for the kind words. If people don’t read the blogs, well they are just going to miss out on all the fun. Plus, right now, I am posting this to here, my blog, my new domain. It is taking a ton of time.


-- Brian Meeks,

View JohnnyW's profile


83 posts in 3358 days

#3 posted 03-15-2010 12:15 PM

For even further inspiration you could pick up a copy of “The Handplane Book” by Garrett Hack. I’ve just finished reading it and it was enlightening to see the quality and variation of work that can be achieved. It’s also a great reference to come back to time and again.

-- John

View Fireball's profile


71 posts in 4394 days

#4 posted 03-15-2010 05:07 PM

Nice post Brian – I did a week long woodworking class a year or so back at Dogwood Institute here in Atlanta and was initially hesitant because the schedule said that the first 2 days would be spent on sharpening. 2 whole days? Just in sharpening? Sounded boring! Not the case at all. We sharpened all of our chisels and hand plane irons and let me tell you how nice it is to have those things sharp!

Will look forward to seeing pictures of your first Lie Nelson plane.

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