Plane tuning and sharpening advice for beginners

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Blog entry by stefang posted 06-30-2014 10:41 AM 2484 reads 3 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

At the risk of getting skinned alive these are my thoughts on hand plane tuning and sharpening for newcomers to woodworking who would like to try using hand planes.This blog is intended to steer you in the right direction, not to teach you the how to do it.

This is a shot of almost all the hand planes I own. I mostly use the #4 smoother now, but I started with the Stanley #5 Jack plane (at the far left on top) and and my little Stanley block plane. These two planes were the only hand planes I owned for many years and they could do just about everything I needed with them.

Successful (and enjoyable) hand planing totally depends on using a well tuned plane and a properly sharpened blade, so those are the two most important things to learn before actually doing any planing. That said, there are different degrees of tuning and sharpening, some more thorough than others.

Tailor your investment and methods to your current needs
Not everyone has all the equipment and/or expensive honing stones to follow the advice of the gurus. Also, the advice on offer varies a lot between experts, even though the advice is all good. They just arrive at the same result using slightly different methods.

Educate yourself with tutorial videos and blogs
I suggest you google some sharpening and tuning videos to get an idea of what works. I think Paul Sellers for example has a great approach overall because it is simple but effective and doesn’t require a big outlay in sharpening stones. He has a lot of Youtube videos showing his methods. Below are links to videos by Garret Hack, a real expert showing a hand plane tune-up and hand sharpening. I chose his videos because he also shows the grinding work. For a newcomer this work seems incredibly time consuming, but if you consider how much time Hack actually used in the videos, especially for sharpening, this was just a few minutes well spent, considering the results. A good analogy is all the time an athlete uses to train for an event that is over in a few seconds or maybe and hour.

In the sharpening video Hack uses a lot of stones. I used a diamond stone with 600 grit on one side and 1200 grit on the other for many years. I didn’t get nearly as good an edge as Hack gets, but satisfactory for most of the work I do. You don’t have to start with the ultimate edge, but you may want go for it after you get a little experience. If you don’t want to buy a diamond stone you can get just as good results using sandpaper. Just google ‘the scary sharp’ sharpening method. Lots of videos on that method out there.

Machine sharpening
Some prefer using sharpening machines. I confess that I now use a Tormek water cooled sharpening machine. This is mainly because I have arthritis and hand sharpening is not as easy for me as it once was. Sharpening machines also take time to use, in fact more time in my opinion than hand sharpening methods, and they are not as good either. We often think a machine will do a better job and quicker, but when it comes to sharpening hand tools this is not true. I am happy with my Tormek, but I am not expecting the ultimate edge from it.

I hope you find this advice helpful.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

17 comments so far

View Roger's profile


21054 posts in 3860 days

#1 posted 06-30-2014 11:23 AM

Some good info Mike. I’m a hand plane rookie myself. I’ve owned a Stanley block plane because that was one of the earliest tools I bought. I’ve never perfected its use, but, when I do use it, it works. I do keep it sharp as well. Thnx for the links, and your output

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Dutchy's profile


4069 posts in 3225 days

#2 posted 06-30-2014 11:32 AM

Hello Mike,

thank you for this “lesson”


View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4390 days

#3 posted 06-30-2014 11:33 AM

Thanks Roger and Dutchy. The link is now fixed.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

26083 posts in 4162 days

#4 posted 06-30-2014 12:24 PM

Thanks. Mike. I am a novice at hand planes. I have 2 but rarely use them but when I do, it is a good feeling to flatten wood that way. I agree with the sharpening by hand. I believe it put s finer edge on them. Mads did a blog on that with a microscope to show the edge after grinding then stoning then strapping. It was amazing the difference.

Thanks for the blog!!.............Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View comboprof's profile


277 posts in 2790 days

#5 posted 06-30-2014 01:59 PM

JIm can you post a link to Mads blog?

-- -- Cheers, Don K. (Michgan's Kewenaw peninsula)

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20637 posts in 4732 days

#6 posted 06-30-2014 05:10 PM

Good lesson for us wannbes ;-) Thanks,

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Texcaster's profile


1293 posts in 2730 days

#7 posted 06-30-2014 09:09 PM

Good info Mike.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View cdaniels's profile


1320 posts in 2557 days

#8 posted 06-30-2014 10:56 PM

I have bought 5 different hand planes so far since being parked on my keester. I like to use a honing guide to keep my irons at the right angle because i’m not so good at keeping them straight the whole time.

-- Jesus was a carpenter... I'm just saying

View changeoffocus's profile


467 posts in 2673 days

#9 posted 06-30-2014 11:11 PM

A well stated post, I have became very fond of hand planes since joining this site but for years owned only 3 planes. I was amazed how much better they performed after some simple tuning.
I always appreciate your posts as they speak softly and I have a feeling match your personality.
Bob Current

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4390 days

#10 posted 07-01-2014 08:17 AM

Thanks for your comments guys.

I guess most of us have had our frustrations with hand planes. As my skills increase a little at a time I find myself using and enjoying my hand planes and hand work in general more all the time. Less dust and noise and much easier shop cleanup afterward. My arthritis sometimes takes away the fun, but I have good days too when it isn’t a big problem.

I made a little cabinet/shelf unit for my sandpaper sheets over the last couple of days. I did it all with hand tools just to try out my new bench. I did some hand cut dovetails and just for fun I used a knife and chisel to do the shelf dadoes with. That went a lot better and faster than expected, but it would have been easier to level the bottom of the dadoes with a router plane instead of a chisel. I plan to make a router plane based on Mad’s (Mafe) design that he blogged some time ago. I might even buy a metal one later if I feel the need.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Druid's profile


2205 posts in 3851 days

#11 posted 07-01-2014 06:39 PM

Like the plane storage solution that you show in the photo. Is the back panel lined with a softer material, such as cork?

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

View LJRay's profile


106 posts in 2561 days

#12 posted 07-02-2014 02:54 AM

Thank you for the information Mike. I have a few planes that I inherited from my Grandfather that were tossed into a box. I’m sure they’re going to need some work.

-- Ray

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4390 days

#13 posted 07-02-2014 09:39 AM

Ray Great to inherit instead of having to buy them. I can’t find used planes here in Norway, so I usually have to buy new. I could probably buy some off ebay, but the freight is a killer.

John My plane till is not lined with anything. The blades don’t touch the backing since they hang out a bit on the toe with the shoestrings. It really doesn’t ruin a plane edge to set it down on wood anyway, I do it all the time. I read somewhere that the practice of resting the planes on their sides came from school wood shops where they were trying to preserve the benches from abuse. It said that professionals usually left their planes upright on the bench so they were easy to grab again. This might sound like heresy to some, and I sure don’t see any harm in showing more respect for tools than might be absolutely necessary.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Druid's profile


2205 posts in 3851 days

#14 posted 07-03-2014 07:04 AM

Hi Mike,
Thanks for the explanation. I was brought up being taught that “no good wood worker would ever put his plane down in an upright position”, so that’s what I’ve always followed. On the other hand, your storage solution sure takes less space than any other one I’ve seen. Nicely done.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4390 days

#15 posted 07-03-2014 09:18 AM

Actually it’s not my solution John. I got it from a Fine woodworking article by Chris Gochnour here You have to be a net member to access it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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