Handplanes, which, where, how, and why do they give the best surface

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Review by PurpLev posted 02-04-2009 12:53 AM 5575 views 5 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Handplanes, which, where, how, and why do they give the best surface No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I have recently started using the local library service and gotten a lot of reading material, from the taunton press, popular woodworking publishing, and others (japanese woodworking and such), and while some were a nice ‘introductory’ level material, others excelled at the level of knowledge, the ease to grasp it, and the relevance it had when trying to apply it to the everyday woodworking experience. This one was one of them!

While some books bore you (me) with endless stories about the history or tools, this one actually made the stories interesting by keeping them relevant to the currently discussed chapter/subject, keeping them short (relatively), and making them interesting. the book talks about everything there is about hand planes, from their origins, and the different types of hand planes, the differences between hand planes and why one would be better than another…

The book stars by stating that it is a user-manual to handplanes, and it IS. it tells you what you need to know about all the parts in the handplane, what they are for, their importance, and how to tune / not-tune each part for best performance of the plane.

The book also covers how to use hand planes, from body position and stance, to the motion you need to perform to get consistent and good cutting action with planes.

Lastly, and this part I really appreciated- although its a fact that is always there, and was never really hidden – reading it kinda “clicked” something inside. Garrett states in the book that the surface a handplane leaves is superior to any other surfacer out there – sanding will scratch the surface, and a jointer/planer WILL leave (finely) wavy surface as the cutters are moting in a circular movement, but a handplane will shave the surface to a perfect smooth single plane. kinda made me wanna get up at midnight and start planing some boards…

definitely worth reading. one of the best woodworking books I’ve read ever!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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12 comments so far

View SST's profile


790 posts in 5044 days

#1 posted 02-04-2009 04:23 AM

I found my copy on at a really good price. It was supposed to be used, but I don’t think it was. It is definitely a “must have” if you are a woodworker. If you’re not already hooked on hand planes, you will be after reading this book.

Thanks for reminding me to get it out for another run through. -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View Alan's profile


443 posts in 4253 days

#2 posted 02-04-2009 04:43 AM

Thanks for the recommendation. I think I’ll try my local library this week.

-- Alan, Prince George

View cmaeda's profile


205 posts in 4403 days

#3 posted 02-04-2009 07:09 AM

I had that moment too when I realized that nothing beats a hand planed surface. It was at a Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event. I was simply amazed at how smooth the surface was after I got to hand plane some wood with their Smoother.
I use hand planes a lot but I was never able to achieve that level of smoothness. I realized it was because I wasn’t sharpening the blade enough and because my stanley plane iron was too thin. Once I upgraded the plane iron and bought an expensive set of sharpening stones, I was able to achieve really nicely planed surfaces. My previous sharpening stone was a diamond stone I picked up at Harbor Freight for around $5. I bought Lie Nielsen’s waterstones for $100.
But you can get reasonably sharp chisels with the $5 harbor freight stone.

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Lee A. Jesberger

6872 posts in 4828 days

#4 posted 02-04-2009 05:53 PM

Hi PurpLev;

Great review!

I wrote an article a while back, “Tuning a Block or Hand Plane” where I bring up the fact that many woodworkers would be shocked at the performance increase in hand planes. Even the planes found at the big box stores are capable of some great results.

The same holds true for other tools as well, like wood chisels.

In spending some time on them, you can’t help but become more proficient in their use during the process, as you develop a better understanding of how they “do what they do”

Until you experience the difference, you just can’t appreciate it.

Here’s a link to that article:

I may be a bit unique, in that I enjoy tuning tools and machines, anticipating the improvement in performance.

I also like to clean my shop!!!

I’m going to get professional help soon. LOL

Great post;


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View PurpLev's profile


8585 posts in 4497 days

#5 posted 02-04-2009 06:10 PM

Thanx Lee, that was a good article! I have all my planes flat, and sharpened (scary sharp is my way, it scares the sharp out of the irons …every time) but what I found very useful in this book is everything on top of keeping your planes sharp and flat which are the most common and known things to check for. the book goes in details about the importance and purpose of the frog, it explains how (and why) much should the cap iron back the blade, and what to look for when tuning it. it explains how much to open the throat for each purpose ,and the reason/physics behind it…. just so much more that it all just “clicks” together for a better understanding of this simple, yet mostly-unknown-to-most tool. it was mostly a delight book to read as the author really keeps it to the point and interesting, and not fly off with stories that put you to sleep (although those have a time and place as well)

anyways, back to the point – when are you done cleaning your shop? I’ll leave the door to mine open… just do a quick sweep, nothing too extreme. thanks ;)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View mart's profile


190 posts in 4473 days

#6 posted 02-04-2009 06:31 PM

I too, bought this book on Amazon. I keep it close and pick it up regularly. Hack’s writing is easy to read and informative. Great book.


View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6872 posts in 4828 days

#7 posted 02-04-2009 08:39 PM

Hey PurpLev;

Please leave the light on as well!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View WoodWrangler's profile


50 posts in 4639 days

#8 posted 02-06-2009 05:41 PM

I’m actually reading this book right now … only on chapter 4, but enjoying it. So far a good history of planes and some basics. It’s a beautiful book to look at, and well written.

View martin007's profile


142 posts in 4624 days

#9 posted 02-10-2009 04:33 PM

thanks for the review PurpLev

does he cover the bevel up planes?

-- Martin, Gatineau, Québec

View PurpLev's profile


8585 posts in 4497 days

#10 posted 02-10-2009 04:53 PM

martin007 – yes, bevel up, bevel down, back bevel, low angle, high angle… and every type of specialty plane out there (as far as I know). For each type of bevel and blade position he explains what is the purpose of this, the physics behind it, and also how changing those would affect your cuts, and for what purpose you’d change it.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Alan's profile


443 posts in 4253 days

#11 posted 02-12-2009 06:41 PM

This a great book. I picked it up at the library this week but am only the first couple chapters in.

-- Alan, Prince George

View travisowenfurniture's profile


91 posts in 3540 days

#12 posted 01-20-2011 06:14 AM

Amazing book if you plan on knowing how to use your own hand planes or just know their history and their once vast variety. To me it was an eye opener on how reliant we have become on machines. It went from the smooth glide and wonderful sound of a well tunes plane with its pleasant shavings falling to your feet to expensive noisy dangerous machines that spew out dust that is hazardous to breathe. This book has helped me fall in love with the hand plane and to fully appreciate what it is and what it can do.

Thank you Garret Hack.


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