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How to Use a Woodworking Smoothing Plane

Learn how to use a smoothing plane from Makeville Studio in this Howcast woodworking video.


The smoothing planes, the jointer, the jack plane, these have a few more parts and pieces in them, and it's useful to look at these, too, just to understand how they work. The one extra piece that these have is a chip breaker on top. That's an extra piece of metal that sits on top of the blade. The blade's on the bottom here. Chip breaker’s on top. The purpose of that piece is twofold. It's to hold the blade in a more rigid way in the plane, because it's a longer blade and it keeps the blade from chattering. The other purpose of this is to prevent tear-out. When this is running along the wood the blade's cutting the wood, and there's a tendency for the wood to tear out. This part of the assembly here prevents that from happening.

Once you get this set up properly and in the plane the way to use these is very similar to the block plane except these planes have a two handed operation. You can see there's a knob on the front and handle on the back. Because these planes are bigger and they're doing harder work we'll start on this edge, but they generally are doing more difficult work on the face of a board.

You have to really put your whole body into using these planes. I recommend you stand with your feet spread apart. Put most of your weight on the hand holding the knob. When you're ready to go you're just going to rock from your back foot to your front foot, and use your body weight to push this plane forward. Now the goal is, of course, try to keep this as level as possible as you're going across the wood with some pressure down on the front. The last part of this procedure is when you get to the end lighten up a bit on your hand holding this knob, because you don't want to round over the end of the board.

So, let's try it. Let's do a demonstration. You can see if you just have a nice follow through and you lift up at the end, rock from one foot to the other, you get a nice, smooth shaving. That's really your goal is to see ribbons of thin wood like this coming off. You can see the result on the wood. It's just a really clean, glassy surface, way better than a saw or sandpaper could do. That's one of the real benefits of learning how to use these planes is that you can pretty much throw out your sandpaper after you master these.

Now, on an edge that's pretty easy. Let's look at doing a face, because that's the other use of the smoothing and jack planes. If you don't have a vise and a workbench style thing like this you can just clamp your boards down onto the table. It's pretty easy.

One of the big functions of this plane, like I was saying before, is to flatten out the boards. Often you'll have twists in boards, and one corner might be higher than another. Let's say these are two high corners and the board's twisted. You can't really do any work with this on the machines until it's nice and flat. So, flattening it down is one really important function of these. The way to do it is just how we were doing that edge. I'm just going to rock into the motion of shaving that down, and you'll have a much flatter board.

Just to wrap up, these types of planes, you've got the smoothing plane, the jack plane, and the jointer, may not be something you'll purchase right away as a beginner. But, down the road, you'll definitely want to get familiar with these.

That's all for planes.

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