What is a Hand Planer?

C. Ausbrooks

A hand planer is a tool used for shaping wood. It is most commonly used to flatten, thin, or apply a smooth finish to a rough piece of lumber. Hand planers typically consist of a blade attached to a body, which is passed over the surface of a piece of wood to render it smooth.

Hand planers are used to shape wood.
Hand planers are used to shape wood.

Hand planers originated centuries ago. They were first made from wood with a rectangular slot cut into the body. The blade was fastened in place with a wooden wedge that attached to the slot. These early planers have been found in excavation sites across Europe and Asia, as well as in drawings from the medieval era.

Hand planers allow wood workers to manually shave down and smooth the surface of wood.
Hand planers allow wood workers to manually shave down and smooth the surface of wood.

In the late 1800s, hand planers with cast iron bodies were created by Leonard Bailey, an inventor from Massachusetts, USA. The patents for these early planes were later purchased by Stanley, Rule & Lever, a manufacturer of tools located in Connecticut, USA. The original design was further improved upon by the company, eventually becoming the basis for the metal hand planes manufactured today.

Modern hand planers are typically made of wood, cast iron, or occasionally bronze. They have many more parts and features than their predecessors. Most consist of a mouth, iron, lever cap, depth adjustment knob, knob, tote, cap iron, lateral adjustment lever, and the frog.

The mouth of a hand planer is an opening located on the bottom of the device, where the wood shavings pass through as they are shaved off. The iron is the steel plate with a sharp edge that actually cuts the wood. It is often referred to as simply, the blade. The lever cap exists to keep the blade firmly attached to the body of the plane.

The depth adjustment knob is a small knob usually located on the side of the hand planer. It controls how much of the blade extends out from the mouth. The knob, also called the handle, is a larger knob on the top of the plane that the workman holds while using the hand planer. The tote is a handle located on the back of the plane. It can also be used to carry the device.

The lateral adjustment lever is located near the lever cap. It is used to adjust the planer's blade to ensure a uniform depth and smoothness across the entire surface of the wood. The frog is the part of the hand planer that holds it at the correct angle. It is a sliding wedge of iron that can be adjusted as needed to increase or decrease the gap between the blade and front of the mouth.

There are many different types of hand planers available, although they all include the basic parts. Bench or block planes are most common. A bench planer is distinguished by its cutting blade that is attached to a chipbreaker with the bevel facing down. Block planes are also attached to a chipbreaker, but with the bevel facing up. Hand planers are also sometimes categorized by the material from which they are made. Wooden and metal planes are examples.

There are also several types of specialized hand planers available. A Japanese plane is pulled toward the body while in use, as opposed to being pushed away from the body like traditional planes. Other special planers include the finger plane, which is used on very small pieces of wood, and a smoothing plane, which is used to prepare wood for finishing.

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