Japanese tools #1: Japanese hand plane KANNA setup

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Blog entry by mafe posted 07-29-2011 01:30 AM 93721 reads 30 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Japanese hand plane setup
Fitting, tuning and sharpening.

If you are looking for ‘ready out of the box’ just leave this blog now!
This blog is for those who want to understand their tools, to trim, adjust and become the master of your tool.
It is not a show off, not a tool gloat, but two basic Japanese hand planes going from useless to being used.

Reading Toshio Odate’s inspire ring words in his book ‘Japanese woodworking tools their tradition spirit and use’ where he tells a story of how his learning master took a expensive Kanna (hand plane) away from Toshio that he had just bought but never used and never gave it back to him again, this because Toshio was not yet skilled enough to own a plane of that quality his master said. This made me all fired up to learn, to earn my right to use a Japanese hand plane.
So I decided to start modest and ordered two planes from a guy in Japan, he wrote the Kanna’s were almost new but not working… This seemed for me like the perfect place to start, to understand why, and hopefully to find out why, and then make them work (or to give up and use my Stanley’s – laugh).

And so this is how this blog begins.

Here they are the two Kanna’s that would not work for the owner in their homeland Japan.
In Japan a hand plane is called Kanna, Hira-Kanna means normal plane.
Some types:
Ara-shiko – roughing plane (with or without chip breaker).
Chu-shiko – intermediate smoothing plane (medium to high quality blades, normally with chip breaker).
Jo-shiko – smoothing plane (high quality blades with or without chip breaker).

My new planes will go under the category of Chu-shiko and I will set them up as such.
The small is the size of a block plane, 55×150mm body with a 43mm wide 3mm thick blade that give a cutting width of 33mm.
The large is like a 4-4,5 Stanley, 65×245mm body with a 52mm wide 8mm thick laminated blade that give a cutting width of 42mm.
The one I already have and that are setup is:
60×210mm body with a 50mm wide 6mm thick laminated blade that give a cutting width of 44mm.

First step is to remove the sales marks and with an acetone remove the rust protection lacquer from the blade and chip breaker.
This is done in no time with a cloth and will allow you to flatten and sharpen later.

Flattening the Uragane (chip breaker) on a grinding stone.
The chip breaker on a Japanese plane is less wide than the blade since it is fitted into the opening and the blade is then narrowed in the cutting end to fit the chip breaker, basically a piece of metal that have a full contact just before the blade tip, it can be either a completely flat piece of metal against a flat iron, or with the corners bed in each side to hold distance in the other end, simple but effective.
The chip breaker is held in place by the metal cross pin you see on the plane, so the flat chip breaker is wedge shaped.
(The chip breaker is relatively new on Japanese planes).

First flatten the top by holding it down while moving it away in a motion that follows the curve until the point where it touch down on the blade, this will help to prevent wood shavings in getting stocked under the blade and make the shaves bend of in a controlled move.

Now color the side that will touch the blade.

Turn it, and flatten it to secure a tight fit with no slip.
Of course if it is a flat wedge shaped chip breaker you will need to flatten the whole side.

Finish by removing the burr gently.

You can place a thin ruler on the stone to prevent the back end from being flattened.

Making the chip breaker fit.
The first thing I noticed when I got my planes was that the one chip breaker fell out, and the other was really loose.
This can be adjusted by bending the back ends.
I did this by securing them in my wise and then gently beat with a medium size hammer.
(Never use a too small hammer since you will have no force behind your action).

Like so.
Do this and try to set it in the plane, when you are happy for the fit stop (I guess this is logic…).

Now time to give some oil or wax to prevent rust.
The Japanese like to use Camellia oil I use a good bees wax.

The Kanna-ba (plane iron).
A Japanese blade are as you can see on this photo laminated by a hard steel on the cutting side and a soft on the top, this is giving a stabile blade that are extremely sharp and yet can absorb moves they say.
(Personally I believe it is more tradition and a remedy from a time where the steel were more expensive than the manpower).

I believe a Japanese hand plane iron must be sharpened by hand, and the fact that they are so thick makes this really easy to control.
Start by flattening the back until this is dead flat. The back of a Japanese plane iron are hollowed out like on the chisels so it is an easy and fast process to flatten the back.
Then turn it and press down the blade until it lays flat on you stone (here I use glass plates with grades of sandpaper) and sharpen as you would normally do. I pull the blade away from the cutting direction and finish on grade 1200 sand paper, this can make a razor edge.

I like to finish of with a strapping on leather with a honing paste, again I only pull the blade, and this makes the mirror shine and a scary sharp edge.

A test run shows the blades are really wonderfully sharp, even the smaller blade are not a laminated blade, but it is also ‘only’ 3mm thick.

Next challenge is the blade since both the blades are loose in the fitting and the big one so loose that it can only be used if I hold the blade while using the plane.
As you can see the Japanese planes have no wedge, the blade are wedge shaped and so it is self wedging in the plane body. This can be a problem if the wood gets moisture since it will not be able to be pushed in, or if it dry out and the fit become too loose. If the blade fit is too tight you need to file the hole slightly bigger.

Here you see how bad my situation is on the big plane, when the blade are firmly wedged in, it is way out the sole of the plane, and this makes it useless.

The small one has the same problem but only an mm or so.

The solution is wonderfully simple.
Just strips of paper that you glue on the bed, you can try a dry fit first to find out how thick paper you need.

I found some wonderful papers I use for origami that comes from an old song book, so my planes will be full of music after I hope.

White carpenter glue thinned slightly in water is applied on the bed.

And the paper set on top.
The big plane needed two layers of this thin paper before it was a perfect fit.

The sole.
Now it is time to check the sole of the plane.
The one on my small plane was fine and flat, but the one on the big was a disaster!

The one side was too high, so I could only make shaves one side, and the mouth was more open in one side, no wonder the Japanese guy said the plane did not work it probably never did from the start.
So I started by taking some shaves with another hand plane from the side that was higher until the sides were even and the mouth straight (sorry I forgot to picture this).

With a pencil I draw waves on the sole so I can see where I take of material.
And then flatten it on a glass plate with a grid 120 sand paper.

Almost there.

Now I am happy.
Actually I was happy before, now I am just even happier…

Anatomy of the Japanese plane sole.
First of all you pull a Japanese Kanna so the part in front of the blade we will call the front of the plane is the back and the part behind the blade we call the back is the front on a Japanese plane.
The Japanese plane body is longer in front end so you have maximum support there when you pull, where our western planes have a longer part behind the blade for the support of the push.
When you pull it, you hold right hand on the part in front of the blade facing towards you with your right hand and the left hand are placed behind the blade so you can use this as a handle. Look here.)
For a Japanese truing and smoothing plane the sole will have two ‘waves’, the first in front will have two contact points that touch the wood one in the front and one just before the mouth. At the back the wave will start just behind the blade a hair higher than the two front points and then the end will be at 0,5-1 mm over the wood (1/32 inch).

The western magazine wood geeks tells us flat, flat and flat, but on wooden planes flat is not the answer, actually I doubt if it is on metal planes also, but the perfection of a metal sole would be quite a job…

For truing – Roku-dai you will have touchdown at the end also to secure a perfect flat surface.

So you will need to remove material in the two ‘hollow’ zones after flattening the sole, here the back (in front of the blade).
To do this you can use a Dai-Naoshi-kanna (scraping plane), and this was why I made me one that you can see on the pictures, and there are a link for this at the end of this blog.

And here the front end (behind the blade).

Or you can use a wide chisel, a plane iron or a piece of glass.
Do not say I pretend there is only one truth please.

The little Kanna with fresh shaves after my setup.

And the big Kanna.

Here thin and thick shaves from the big Kanna.

Sweet yes?

But really sweet is it to not just look at these Japanese planes, but to now understand them, to feel them, to know why they now work perfectly and to know what to do if they stop to do so one day.
Yes it was a really interesting experience, an experience for the hands and the mind, and hopefully I now deserve to use these beautiful Japanese planes, and who knows one day perhaps a better one, I have no master, but sure hope no one will take them away from me.
And who knows perhaps one day I will save money to buy me a Jo-shiko.

This is the end of the hand plane setup blog in the Japanese tools series, I will soon post a second about setting up the chisels.

Hope this blog can bring some inspiration to others that play with the thought of using Japanese hand planes or even better have a plane that just will not perform.

I want to send a special warm thought to Toshio Odate, thank you for inspire ring me with your book, but most of all my sister who offered me my Japanese chisels and a Kanna that was the reason why this interest started.

My Japanese style scraper plane:
Tools from Japan:
Popular science 1967:

A Russian woodworker George contacted me and asked for permission to translate this part one of the blog to Russian and post it on the site where he is a member to help other woodworkers become able to setup a Kanna. Since I believe in sharing knowledge I said ok and I am happy and proud to be able to inspire people now also in Russia.

Here are my blog in Russian:

I noticed my name in Russian is Мадса, that’s kind of cool I think! Smiles.

New Dec 2013

Best thoughts,


-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

28 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5070 days

#1 posted 07-29-2011 02:03 AM

Great Post. Thanks Mads. How is the vacation going?

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View ShopTinker's profile


884 posts in 3741 days

#2 posted 07-29-2011 02:19 AM

Fascinating blog, very educational. That’s a very nice little family of planes you have there now.

-- Dan - Valparaiso, Indiana, "A smart man changes his mind, a fool never does."

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5070 days

#3 posted 07-29-2011 02:20 AM

Lol. I think it is one family in a very large community. : ^ )

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4646 days

#4 posted 07-29-2011 03:34 AM

Looks good, Mads.

View Wayne's profile


196 posts in 3566 days

#5 posted 07-29-2011 03:51 AM

It is obvious you have enjoyed yourself. Beautiful tools.
I like the concept of earning the right to use a tool.
Sounds like an interesting read, thanks for sharing.

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3551 days

#6 posted 07-29-2011 08:40 AM

Great Post Mads.
Interesting read.
Japanese planes are the first planes I ever owned but my lack of technique in adjusting them properly has always slowed me down in adjusting them. Indeed, they are usually sold in a not-tuned state and you have to adjust them to work properly, which is not so easy when you don’t have the proper knowledge/experience in planes.
I have now for the time being switched to metal planes in order to build up a technique and get a better understanding of the planing mechanics.
Still my small Japanese plane is the one I always reach first for block-plane use : it is so versatile and just fits my hand.

I don’t know if you are aware of this but dai naoshi kanna litterally means “plane for tuning bodies (of other planes)”

Most of the knowledge on Japanese tools I have gathered comes from reading this book :

I have just ordered the book you mentioned by Odate Toshio as it seems to be getting a lot of good reviews (and will be quicker to read for me in English…)

Thanks again for a great post, keep them coming !

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 4259 days

#7 posted 07-29-2011 11:38 PM

I love your blogs. They are so informative.

Thanks once again


View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3627 days

#8 posted 07-30-2011 02:43 AM

Of course you would use sheet music. The sounds of a planes is sweet music, what song is it playing?

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View mafe's profile


12845 posts in 4062 days

#9 posted 07-30-2011 01:23 PM

Hollyday and enjoy so here.

Kent, I smile and trust me I try to be in the place of the reader when I blog, after all this is the most important part, to pass on this and hope others will be inspired and understand.

RG, it is a old romantic Danish child song you can read the text here : sweet as can be, and the image of Denmark as we want to remember it in the old days.
When I use the plane I hear more sweet wisper of shaves and the wood that stretch after it’s long sleep, now happy to show its glow again.

Fabrice, I would love to order that book, but is it possible to order from a Japanese amazon? I had for many years only a pair of thse terible Stanleys with changable blades, those planes really suck but I never needed to learn to sharpen and since I had no one to learn me it was a easy choice. The never really worked well but they could take of some wood when needed. Then only a little more than 500 days I bought a bunsh of old tools and this was the way of no return, I have been hooked since then I try and try to sharpen to set up and to test all types of planes, not because I really need this, simply because I find it interesting and that it was a old dream to be a carpenter of furniture as young. I fast found out that the stanley type planes are the esay ones to get started with. A piece of glass, some grades of sandpaper and a blade guide is all you need for a sharp edge and the rest is adjustment if your plane is well tuned when you buy it. But the more I use planes the more I tend towards the wood body planes, they take a few weeks of use to understand but once you do, it is just as easy to set it up as a Stanley type, and sharpening is the same. I think it is the feeling of wood agains wood, not metal and wood, I feel more light with the wooden planes more alive, the metal planes are ‘dead’ and only the woodhandles make them talk back a little to you. For some this is BS but to me it is a evidence. So will I use only wood planes? NO. I love to have a lot of planes each are good for different purpose and different moods. But I have a feeling that in time the metal planes will be less and less used, they will be there as my naive belive that the metal is more stabile and will back me up I think. But since I am all green like a fresh piece of wood only time can tell. Thank you for the info.

Wayne, yes I do enjoy it, that is a promise I can make. And the idea of earning your right to the tool also talks to me, even I cant say I have lived by that rule lately, but I try to not become a collector, I sell the tools I never use or that I have in doubble unless there are a reason to have two like clamps….

CJIII, so are you – laugh.

Wayne C, Yes you are more right, it is a little world now, all types and nations are represented in my little tool shop. I enjoy the summer, now here in Denmark, yesterday at a middleage museeum where we made fire with a piece of carbon metal, and a flint stone

ShopThinker, I my self learned a lot here, not only for the Japanese planes, but for planes in general and wood planes in particular, and then to be able to pass as you learn is to me a wonderful cocktail.

August McCormick Lehman III, perhaps I’m just a big boy who have not understood the word limits… Thank you.

All of you, thank you for the intrest and comments, it is always a joy to post when response arrives, to me it is a big part of the pleasure.
Wishes for a wonderful summer,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3551 days

#10 posted 07-30-2011 09:58 PM

You can create an account on and when you select the shipping address, there is a link for international shipment. There is also a link to display the text in English instead of Japanese.
I usually order my books to my in-laws house in Japan and pick them up when I go there, or have they brought to me when someone I know travels to France.

Hope this helps,

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5070 days

#11 posted 07-30-2011 10:01 PM

I bet shipping would be killer. It has been my experience that if you ship something from say, Canada to Denmark, the cost of shipping is greater than the cost of the book.

Those books make me wish I could speak Japanese.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3551 days

#12 posted 07-30-2011 11:29 PM

I did a quick test,
The book costs 2000 Yens (18 Euros)
Shipping to Europe from costs 3500 Yens (31 Euros) + 300 Yens (2.7 Euros) per extra book.

So you are right Wayne, it is indeed double the cost of the book.
If you buy 2 or 3 books at the same time though, it is not too bad…

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5070 days

#13 posted 07-30-2011 11:31 PM

A really good argument for publishing more books as eBooks. They become more available to people around the world.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View mafe's profile


12845 posts in 4062 days

#14 posted 07-31-2011 12:20 PM

Hi Fabrice, thank you for the info. Yes shipping are sometimes a killer. Is the book worth 49 Euro? What other books can you recomend from there if I should make a combo?
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3551 days

#15 posted 07-31-2011 04:52 PM


I learned a lot of things in that book. There are very detailed chapters on how to tune and sharpen the tools, chapters about their usages and then a few projects to make some tools oneself.
It may be thought of the Japanese version of “The New Traditional Woodworker”.
I have received Odate Toshio’s “Japanese Woodworking Tools” so if you compare it to this book, you will find much smaller number of different tools but each tool’s usage and sharpening will be better described in my opinion.
As to whether it is worth 49 Euros… it depends what 49 Euros are worth to you… I personally have issues paying a book more than 35 Euros but that is mostly psychological.

Some other nice books that I do not own but look interesting :
(The great book of Japanese Planes)
(The great book of Japanese Chisels)
(The great book of Japanese Joinery)
(The great book of Japanese saws and Sumitsubo – ink lines)

All these books are from the same collection and claim that you will know everything you can possibly know on the subject once you are done reading them.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

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