Why don't hand planes put the blade near the back?

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Forum topic by Thuzmund posted 09-23-2018 06:07 AM 1272 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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174 posts in 2396 days

09-23-2018 06:07 AM

I have a few (well, maybe a dozen) handplanes and really enjoy using them for fun. I just got a couple Asian planes, and I am enjoying using them so far.

Asian planes, both Chinese and Japanese that I have seen, all put the blade somewhere in the back half of the tool. Every Western plane I own does the opposite, placing the blade in the front half of the tool. I have seen some old vintage Western wood planes with blades in the rear half, as well. But no modern steel planes like that.

While Japanese planes are pulled, Chinese planes often have handles and can be pushed. But both put the blade in the rear half of the tool.

I wonder, why don’t western planes do the same? I would think that something like a no. 6 or 7, which is meant to produce a flat surface, would benefit from a long front section. I suppose a smoothing plane doesn’t matter much.

I look at a no. 7 and see how much steel they put after the blade, and I wonder if it would make more sense to have a longer flat before the blade instead. What do you think? I would love to know more about this.

-- Here to learn

8 replies so far

View therealSteveN's profile


5735 posts in 1341 days

#1 posted 09-23-2018 10:38 PM

If you Google “Kana” that is the Japanese term for their hand planes. You will see many competitions (fun to watch) where they go for the thinnest ribbon, and sometimes length before shredding. Most of these competitors pull their planes, rather than push. That would be my best thought for why they are made as they are.

Obviously Western planes are pushed forward, so thy place the cutter in front. I’m not an engineer, but that would be my thought to why they are designed differently. Also as with most things the Asians had them first in history, so the Europeans could have duplicated them, but chose to make the works with adjustable blades, and all. I believe Bailey went further than most and added even more parts, the frog, and a chipbreaker. If he copied someone I am not aware of that.

I imagine a few of the cave dwellers will come along with exact dates, and countries to clarify my thoughts. They are good people, if you offer them beer they will work for hours, and be nice to you. Take their beer and you may be an endangered species….....


-- Think safe, be safe

View Thuzmund's profile


174 posts in 2396 days

#2 posted 09-24-2018 02:39 AM

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! What has my head scratching is my recent exposure to Chinese planes with rear handles for pushing, but the blade still in the rear. It made me think again, because I could no longer tell myself it was something to do with the push/pull division. And since then I have noticed old Western wooden jointer planes with the blade in the rear.

There must be some design element to this. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine a blade in the rear being helpful as you enter the wood, and the blade in the front being helpful as you ride along and exit. That is, if the extra length of the sole is there to minimize cupping and rounding over as you plane. And heck, why not split the difference and put the blade in the middle?

:) I’ll open another beer and ponder some more.

-- Here to learn

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2978 days

#3 posted 09-24-2018 02:52 AM

Easiest explanation to me is that you want the longer section of the sole in a place that will help keep the plane flat when using. For western planes, when using, there is more force wanting to lift the front of the plane because of the rear tote shape, so the longer heel section helps keep it flat. Reverse for Japanese, because the forces are reversed when pulling. I have never used a Chinese style plane, but could easily see pushing on those rear handles wanting to cause the heel to lift, so longer section in front again.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

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Don W

19615 posts in 3335 days

#4 posted 09-25-2018 12:05 AM

I have never thought through the whole physics of the different kinds of planes, but that would be a cool study. If you undertook it, i’m sure you’d find it has to do with several factors, of which basic evolution would not be completely eliminated.

Asian wood workers were shorter, and often worked while sitting, and even iof they were not, theyu had short benches or worked on the floor. Westerner used table height benches. A bech for wood planes is shorter than metallic because of the thickness of the plane.

Also the push pull factor, and the type of wood. Chinese planes have thicker irons and no chip breaker. Interesting topic!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View lumbering_on's profile


578 posts in 1257 days

#5 posted 09-25-2018 01:10 AM

I m continuously fascinated by the way different cultures face the same problems with the same basic tool chests, yet come up with such different ways to do things. Although each culture comes up with perfectly suitable solutions, it s incredible to see the basic differences that you never even knew could be altered. Just like the pull vs push saws, or the differences in steel used in tools such as chisel – not to mention the different chisels you find in Japan that we never see here. It’s a real testament to human ingenuity.

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578 posts in 1257 days

#6 posted 09-25-2018 01:11 AM

Deleted double post

View Aj2's profile


3066 posts in 2565 days

#7 posted 09-25-2018 02:39 AM

I have one Kanna plane that I sometimes fool around with. It’s set up much more like my jointer with the infeed lower then the outfeed. My Lie Nielsen planes are flat with a blade sticking out the bottom it’s amazing that can get anything flat.

-- Aj

View Lazyman's profile


5374 posts in 2155 days

#8 posted 09-25-2018 03:03 AM

I assume it has to do with where you wind up putting more of the downward force…at the back on a western plane while pushing. And at the front on Japanese plane while pulling.

BTW, looking online images of western style wooden hand planes, it seems like the iron is further back but not nearly as far back as the Japanese style planes.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

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