Hand plane blade camber vs straight edge, Your preference?

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Blog entry by stefang posted 06-16-2016 01:59 PM 3764 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My personal opinion
I have put a slight camber on all my hand planes. I haven’t been overly happy with the result. Yes, it’s easier to push the plane, but I just can’t see how a cambered blade can deliver a truly flat surface.

Now I realize that many top woodworkers who have forgotten more about woodworking than I will ever know swears by cambered blades, but I’ve also read articles by other equally skilled and experienced woodworkers who prefer the straight edge. All seem to agree on slightly relieving the corners which I also do and it makes perfect sense to me.

Another gripe I have with cambered blades is that it is difficult to get a full width shaving on stock which is equal or less width than my plane blades. I recently refurbished and old #4 plane and after sharpening (with a straight edge) and honing it nicely I gave it a try and it took a beautiful full width shaving. Much better than with my other planes that all have slightly cambered blades. I get the impression that English woodworkers are not so much into cambering. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

What do you think?
This is probably a subject where there is no absolute truth and probably works fine for advocates of
either alternative, but I would like to know if there are any strong opinions on the subject out there.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

9 comments so far

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1375 days

#1 posted 06-16-2016 02:25 PM

I only have a cambered blade – across the entire blade – on my scrub plane. I am on board with rounded edges on smoothing planes, which could also be described as cambered.

I don’t see why you’d have a camber on the “meaty” part of the blade on anything other than a scrub or fore plane.

This is the absolute truth; there are no other acceptable opinions, they are wrong.


View Brit's profile


7888 posts in 3443 days

#2 posted 06-16-2016 02:41 PM

The reasoning behind it Mike is so you don’t get ridges when you plane since the camber puts the corners of the iron above the surface of the wood. To avoid getting an undulating surface instead though, you have to overlap your strokes.

IMO rounding the corners is pointless. If the iron is cambered correctly, and the depth of cut is set correctly, the corners are above the surface, so what do gain by rounding them? If you round the corners on an uncambered iron, you will still get ridges in the wood, they will just be rounded instead of right-angled. Just my opinion. I’m sure you will get hundreds more. LOL.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View stefang's profile


17034 posts in 3934 days

#3 posted 06-16-2016 03:17 PM

Sorry, I accidentally lost some comments while canceling a couple of somehow duplicated blogs. If your comments were left out I would appreciate you putting them in again, thanks.

gargery I tend to agree, perhaps except for the absoluteness, as absolute truth can be a tricky concept.

Andy I think relieving the corners leaves a rounded surface which ‘rides’ the surface rather than a sharp point which ‘digs’. If the blade is cambered all the way across, then it will always leave the surface slightly concave even with overlaps. Ha ha, I can see this is a slippery slope, but still a lot of fun to discuss.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View stefang's profile


17034 posts in 3934 days

#4 posted 06-16-2016 03:34 PM

Richard H Sorry I tried to cancel the duplicate blog you commented on so I have quoted your comments below:

“I recently took a class from a traditionally trained woodworker who learned in England and his views on cambered irons was interesting if not unexpected if you read some of the older textbooks on the subject. Cambering a iron does several things for you and is critical to the “proper” operation of the plane. Not only does it prevent the edges from digging in creating plane tracks but it makes it possible to fine tune the shavings to the center of the iron with the lateral adjuster. There is just to much wiggle room in that adjustment be it by mechanical means or manually adjusting to get and keep it perfect with a straight iron so you will always be digging one corner in more than the other. The last reason to camber a iron was it allows you to control how much material you take off a board edge when squaring it up. If the left side of the edge is high just center the plane on the left side and it takes slightly more off bringing the edge square. Without a camber making a edge square is a lot harder as you have no way to control how much material is removed across the surface.

The camber on a smoothing plane is so small and you are taking such light shavings that flatness isn’t really a issue in my experience and it’s a benefit to you having the shaving taper off at the two edges as it creates a much cleaner surface.

Because of this he generally regraded low angle bevel up planes pretty poorly calling them special purpose tools with little use beyond smoothing cutting boards. The amount of camber you need on a low angle jack plane for instance to get the same effective camber at the cutting edge compared to a bevel down plane is pretty extreme.

I’m not saying I agree 100% with everything he said but his view was interesting never the less.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View TheFridge's profile (online now)


10859 posts in 2086 days

#5 posted 06-16-2016 04:42 PM

My 4-1/2 has no camber with relieved edges. Have a 5 with a little that could almost be used as a smoother and another that is cambered heavily but not quite like a scrub.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View stefang's profile


17034 posts in 3934 days

#6 posted 06-16-2016 05:19 PM

Yes, I have my old Stanley #5 that I use as my scrub plane. It is fairly narrow and works very well for that purpose.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16312 posts in 3218 days

#7 posted 06-16-2016 05:36 PM

Each of my bench plane irons have camber to some extent (more on jack, little on smoother, ditto on jointer). I’ve not tried (nor do I see a need) to keep any of them absolutely straight. Block planes, the complete opposite. All are straight. And my answer is the truth, absolutely.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View kiefer's profile


5713 posts in 3267 days

#8 posted 06-17-2016 04:18 AM

Do what works for you Mike and then you are going the right direction .
I agree with just taking the corner off and rounding it a bit.
One trick I saw recently is putting on a very small micro bevel on the flat side of the iron and may try it .
There is a video on YOU TUBE on this by a German guy .


-- Kiefer

View stefang's profile


17034 posts in 3934 days

#9 posted 06-17-2016 08:50 AM

Yes Klaus, I will have to try that. I think the blade is honed on the stone with a steel ruler along it’s rear edge to raise the the blade slightly which gives a very small bevel to the edge of the blade’s back, opposite the bevel.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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