The future of the hand plane, in safe hands.

The future of the hand plane, in safe hands.

Hand planes have been around for thousands of years.

In fact, the very early planes were made from wood and had a rectangular slot cut right across the middle.

Very similar to how it still is today, the cutting blade is secured with a wooden wedge that was tapped into the mortise and adjusted with a hammer, some scrap wood or even the heel of a woodworker’s hand.

“In my workshop – I still use my trusted drawing board, pencil and paper” – Karl Holtey – Holtey Classic Hand Planes

Dating back, the very earliest examples of this piece of equipment were discovered in Pompeii from circa 79 A.D. Other ancient pieces have been found in the UK and Germany.

Did the ancient Egyptians have woodworking planes?

Although the history of the hand plane isn’t entirely clear from before Pompeii, there is a good chance that ancient Egyptians were making use of such a tool. Items of furniture and other woodwork found in Egyptian tombs, show signs of smooth edges suggesting that some kind of cutting edge tool had been used.

What exactly is a Hand plane?

If you’re new to the woodworking industry, you may be wondering what a hand plane actually is. This handy piece of equipment is essentially a sharp chisel, that allows you to flatten, smooth, or add shape to a wood surface – most commonly for furniture making. Hand planes come in many different sizes, shapes and materials, which we will explore later in this article.

Metal v Wood hand planes

There are some really specialised planes that are used for cutting and tidying up shapes which help joining pieces of wood – and adding a decorative effect to pieces of furniture and other woodwork ornaments.

Modern hand planes are made of metal, traditionalist prefer a tactile wooden type. It certainly does come down to personal preference, as some tradesmen prefer the look and feel of the lighter wooden planes. Whereas others are adopting the more modern metal planes which are popular due to their easiness (and accuracy) to adjust.

Bench Planes

Bench planes are the everyday standard workhorse when it comes to the hand plane family.

Some are used to gradually reduce and straighten the pieces of a woodworking project to the correct dimensions, and others to smooth the surfaces of the wood, giving it a nice finishing touch.

Their name is because this type of plane is usually used at a woodworking bench rather than on site.

There are four basic types of bench plane, which are:

Jack plane

Jack planes are mostly used to straighten a piece of wood, usually after it has been through a jointer. It usually follows up after a scrub plane leaves off, with the aim of shaving off smaller amounts of wood to reduce the pieces size and enhance smoothing.

Fore plane

The fore plane is designed to further straighten (or square) the surface of the wood after the scrub and jack plane have sized it up. Down to its longer length, the fore plane is able to reduce the size of high spots whilst bridging the lower spots, eventually leading to a level surface perfectly ready for a smoothing plane to take over.

Jointer plane

This is the longest of them all and has a dual role. Also known as a try plane or trying plane. The Jointer plane is used to reduce the size of the wood (often called stock removal) whilst also truing up the edges and leveling any wide boards.

Smoother plane

The smoother plane is usually used last on a woods surface. The main purpose of this tool is very obvious (hence the name): to make the woodwork much smoother and ready to be used. If it’s set up properly, it can offer a finish much superior to that made from sandpaper or other equivalents.

Are power tools taking over?

Surprisingly, no.

Hand planes are seen as an irreplaceable tool used to smooth, size and straighten more or less any piece of woodwork.

They are invaluable for trades for their use of shaving off tiny amounts, for example the edges on a door to make the perfect fit. Carpenters do not need to be artisans to crave the finite detail and touch of a quality plane.

Nowadays, because of technology advancements and industry growth, power tools such as routers, jointers and power planers have come to market. They are able to perform the same task but quicker, which is causing many old-style traditional hand planes to end up on collectors’ shelves across the world.

However, the hand plane is not going to disappear any time soon.

Because of its’ ability to pare off very tiny amounts of wood, it is relied on for tasks such as shaving the edge of a sticking door or straightening a piece of wood that has been twisted.

It’s also important to recognise the finish that some hand planes are able to provide, without the need for sandpaper or other abrasives, which can’t be beaten by power tools… yet anyway. The quality and finish of a hand plane speaks dividends.

Who is making hand planes in the UK?

There are still many UK plane makers about, crafting these traditional tools to keep up with industry demand. Here we look at two such manufacturers and the magic they make.

Philly Planes is a very famous UK company specialising in the diminishing art of wooden plane making. Phil Edwards, the craftsman behind the brand, was a keen woodworker and had a passion for tools, which led him to making each individual plane by hand in his workshop based in Dorset.

Holtey Planes are a Scottish based specialising in the making of the good old traditional hand planes. But we think this is an understatement. If you spend any amount of time on Karl’s website and you can see that his work transcends anything you would have come to expect of a tool manufacturer. These are precision based quality tools, that simply ooze design flair and a clear passion for practical form.

In fact, Karl Holtey quotes “In my workshop – I still use my trusted drawing board, pencil and paper”. It comes as no surprise that the founder of this company is a passionate artist who uses his skills to create the most exquisite precision tools.

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No.984 Panel plane Credits: This and Cover image featuring with kind permission of Karl Holtey

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