If you’re planning to buy a range of tools for your woodshop, you certainly will need a hand plane. Many consider get a block plane absolutely vital, but you may also need to use a smoothing plane as well. In fact, it’s common for a woodshop to have both a block plane and a smoothing plane.
Block Plane and Smoothing Plane Design
Normally, a block plane is a hand plane that measures about 6 to 7 inches long. At that length, you can use it with just one hand. The bevel on the block plane typically faces up. There are 2 basic types, with the standard block plane featuring a 20-degree bed angle. The other one is a low angle block plane with a 12-degree bed angle.
A smoothing plane is a type of bench plane. Bench planes are different than block planes in that the bevel in the bench plane usually faces down. Bench planes come in different sizes, and the smoothing plane is among the smallest. They’re normally about 8 to 10 inches long, but some have a sole that’s only 5 inches long.
There’s a numbering system for different sizes of bench planes, and the smoothing plane is generally the term used for the number 4 or the number 4½ bench plane. The no. 4 bench plane is historically the most common size, with a sole length of 9 inches and a 2-inch cutting width. The no. 4½ has a 10-inch sole length with a cutter width of 2⅜ inches.
Uses for the Block Plane
The block plane is very versatile, and it can be used in a wide variety of ways. Usually, the standard angle block plane is used for the more general tasks. The lower angle block plane is generally better suited for hard end grain fibers with its efficient slicing action.
You can use this to remove the mill marks from your wood, and this can be done very cleanly and quickly. A block plane can also be used for smaller pieces that a bigger jointer can’t work on. With a small block plane, you can work on the small pieces with no trouble. In fact, you can even plane the smallest parts by clamping your block plane upside down in your vise.
Block planes are also great for beveling or rounding the edges. This is done very quickly, especially when you consider how long it takes to set the router in comparison. The block plane works very quietly as well.
Sometimes you can just whip out your block plane if you notice a drawer or a door that doesn’t slid shut smoothly because it’s a tad too wide. If that’s the case, you can use the block plane to trim the drawer or cabinet.
You can also use the block plane with the handsaw to plane to the line. You can saw just a bit outside the marked lines, and then plane to the line to get your smooth surface and sharp edge.
Block planes are also useful when you wish to fine tune the miters. You won’t have to use a miter saw.
Uses of the Smoothing Plane
As the name says, it’s used to turn the surface of the wood into a glassy surface ready for the finish. It’s often the last plane you use for your wood, and it’s much better than using sandpaper. When you use sandpaper, you can end up scratching and dulling the wood fiber.
It’s not very heavy, and you won’t wear it out as quickly as you would the bigger smoothing planes. You can use the no. 4 smoothing plane for typical furniture parts, which range from 2″ wide to 24″ wide and 12″ long to 48″ long. If you’re working on a jewelry box, this is what you need.
The no. 4½ smoothing plane has a wider cutter width, so you may finish some tasks more quickly with fewer strokes. It’s a heavier tool as well compared to the no.4 smoothing plane, so you don’t need to exert as much downward pressure. This is a better choice for larger types of furniture, like an armoire.