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What Is The Purpose Of A Block Plane In Woodworking?

So you’ve decided to take on the world of woodworking, and you keep hearing about this mysterious tool called a block plane. What exactly is it, and why does every woodworker seem to have one? Well, let me fill you in. A block plane is a small hand tool that is commonly used in woodworking for a variety of purposes. Its main function is to smooth wooden surfaces by removing thin shavings, allowing for a more polished and refined finish. In addition, it can also be used for chamfering edges, trimming end grain, and even correcting small imperfections in the wood. In short, a block plane is a versatile and essential tool that will undoubtedly become your new best friend in the workshop. A block plane is a small hand tool that is specifically designed for woodworking tasks. It is a versatile tool that is commonly used for smoothing and shaping small surfaces, trimming and chamfering edges, removing excess material, and creating specialty profiles. The block plane is a must-have for any woodworker as it allows for precise and efficient work. In this article, we will explore the different types of block planes, their key features, common uses, how to choose the right one, how to use it properly, maintenance and care, safety tips, alternative tools and techniques, as well as famous block plane designs and brands. By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of block planes and how they are an essential tool in woodworking.

Understanding Block Planes

Definition of a Block Plane

A block plane is a small woodworking hand plane that is specifically designed for fine, precise work. It typically has a low-angle blade and a compact size, making it ideal for working on small surfaces and tight spaces. Block planes are commonly used for tasks such as smoothing surfaces, trimming edges, and creating intricate profiles. They are handheld tools that provide control and precision to achieve desired results in woodworking.

Different Types of Block Planes

There are several different types of block planes available, each with its own unique features and purposes. The two main types are the low-angle block plane and the standard-angle block plane. The low-angle block plane has a blade bedded at a low angle, typically around 12 degrees, which makes it ideal for end grain work and cutting difficult hardwoods. The standard-angle block plane has a blade bedded at a higher angle, usually around 20 degrees, which is more suited for general-purpose smoothing and shaping tasks. Additionally, there are adjustable mouth block planes, which allow you to adjust the size of the mouth opening to accommodate different types of wood and tasks.

Key Features of a Block Plane

Blade Angle

The blade angle is an important feature of a block plane as it determines the type of work it is best suited for. A low-angle block plane with a lower blade angle is ideal for end grain work and cutting difficult hardwoods, while a standard-angle block plane with a higher blade angle is more suited for general-purpose smoothing and shaping tasks. It is important to consider the type of work you will be doing and choose a block plane with the appropriate blade angle.

Adjustable Mouth

Some block planes have an adjustable mouth, which allows you to open or close the mouth opening to accommodate different types of wood and tasks. A wider mouth opening is ideal for removing thicker shavings and rougher work, while a narrower mouth opening provides finer control for smoother, more precise work. An adjustable mouth gives you the flexibility to adapt to different woodworking tasks and achieve the desired results.

Depth Adjustment

Block planes with depth adjustment features allow you to control the depth of the cut. This is particularly useful when working on surfaces that require precise measurements or when you want to remove material gradually. By adjusting the depth of the cut, you can achieve the desired thickness and smoothness on the workpiece.


The sole of a block plane refers to the bottom surface that comes into contact with the workpiece. It is important for the sole to be flat and smooth to ensure even and consistent planing. Block planes with a flat sole provide better stability and control, resulting in more accurate and efficient work. Look for block planes with a sole that is machined to a high level of precision.

Construction Materials

Block planes are typically made from a combination of metal and wood. The body of the block plane is usually made of metal to provide durability and strength. The handle or knob of the block plane is often made of wood, which offers comfort and a solid grip. Some block planes may also have additional features, such as adjustable handles or ergonomic designs, to enhance user comfort and control. Choosing a block plane made with high-quality materials is important for long-lasting performance.

Common Uses of a Block Plane

Smoothing and Shaping Small Surfaces

One of the primary uses of a block plane is for smoothing and shaping small surfaces. The small size and maneuverability of a block plane make it ideal for refining and finishing small areas that may be difficult to reach with larger planes. Whether you are working on a small drawer, a curved edge, or a tight corner, a block plane can quickly and effectively smooth and shape the surface to perfection.

Trimming and Chamfering Edges

Another common use for a block plane is to trim and chamfer edges. When working with wood, it is often necessary to remove small amounts of material to achieve the desired fit or finish. A block plane allows you to easily and accurately remove thin shavings from edges, creating clean and smooth transitions. It is particularly useful for chamfering edges, which involves beveling or rounding off the sharp corners of a workpiece.

Removing Excess Material

In woodworking, it is common to encounter situations where excess material needs to be removed. Whether it’s leveling a surface, reducing the thickness of a piece of wood, or adjusting the fit of a joint, a block plane can effectively remove material with precision and control. By adjusting the depth of the cut and making multiple passes, a block plane allows you to gradually remove material until the desired result is achieved.

Creating Specialty Profiles

Block planes are also used for creating specialty profiles on wood. By using different techniques and manipulating the block plane at different angles, woodworkers can achieve unique and decorative profiles. Whether it’s creating a beaded edge, a decorative molding, or a custom detail, a block plane provides the versatility and control needed to achieve intricate profiles that add visual interest to woodworking projects.

Choosing the Right Block Plane

Considerations for Woodworking Tasks

When choosing a block plane, it is important to consider the specific woodworking tasks you will be performing. If you primarily work with end grain or difficult hardwoods, a low-angle block plane may be the best choice. If you require a versatile block plane for general-purpose smoothing and shaping tasks, a standard-angle block plane may be more suitable. Consider the type of wood you will be working with, the level of precision required, and the specific tasks the block plane will be used for.

Hand Size and Comfort

Comfort is an important factor to consider when choosing a block plane, as you will be using it for extended periods of time. The size and shape of the handle or knob should fit comfortably in your hand, allowing for a secure grip and minimizing fatigue. Try holding different block planes to see which one feels the most comfortable and ergonomic for your hand size and shape.

Quality and Brand

When it comes to tools, investing in quality is always worthwhile. Look for block planes made by reputable brands that have a history of producing high-quality tools. Quality block planes are made with durable materials, have precise machining, and are designed for long-lasting performance. Do some research, read reviews, and choose a block plane from a trusted brand to ensure you are getting a reliable tool that will serve you well for years to come.

Budget and Value

Consider your budget when choosing a block plane, but also keep in mind the value that the tool will provide. Investing in a high-quality block plane may cost more upfront, but it will likely save you money in the long run as you won’t have to replace it as frequently. Balancing your budget with the value and performance of the block plane is important to make a wise purchasing decision.

Using a Block Plane

Preparing the Workpiece

Before using a block plane, it is important to properly prepare the workpiece. Ensure that the wood is smooth, free from any defects or nails, and securely clamped to a workbench or a stable surface. This will ensure that the block plane can glide smoothly over the surface without any interruptions or damage.

Adjusting and Setting up the Plane

Once the workpiece is prepared, adjust and set up the block plane according to the specific task at hand. This may involve adjusting the mouth opening, setting the blade depth, and ensuring the blade is properly sharpened and aligned. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific block plane model to ensure accurate and efficient setup.

Positioning the Plane on the Wood

Hold the block plane with a firm grip, placing your fingers and thumb around the handle or knob for stability and control. Position the front of the plane slightly above the workpiece, with the blade edge resting on the wood. Tilt the plane slightly forward, keeping the sole of the plane in contact with the wood. This will ensure that the blade engages the wood at the correct angle for effective planing.

Executing the Planing Technique

Using smooth and controlled strokes, push the block plane forward along the length of the workpiece. Apply even pressure on the plane, allowing the sharp blade to cut through the wood. As you reach the end of the stroke, lift the plane slightly and return to the starting position. Repeat this motion, overlapping each stroke slightly, until the desired surface or shape is achieved. Take your time and work systematically, paying attention to achieving even and consistent results.

Maintenance and Care

Cleaning and Lubricating

Regular cleaning and lubrication are important for maintaining the performance and longevity of your block plane. After each use, remove any wood shavings and debris from the plane, making sure to clear out the mouth and adjusters. Use a brush or compressed air to clean hard-to-reach areas. Lubricate any moving parts, such as the adjusters, with a few drops of oil to ensure smooth operation.

Sharpening the Blade

Keeping the blade of your block plane sharp is crucial for achieving clean and precise cuts. Regularly sharpen the blade using sharpening stones or other sharpening tools, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure to remove any burrs and maintain a consistent bevel angle. A sharp blade will ensure efficient cutting and reduce the risk of tear-out or damage to the wood.

Replacing Parts

Over time, certain parts of your block plane may wear out or become damaged. It is important to regularly inspect your block plane for any signs of wear or damage, such as a worn blade or a cracked handle. If necessary, replace any worn or damaged parts with genuine replacement parts from the manufacturer. This will ensure that your block plane continues to perform at its best and maintains its overall integrity.

Safety Tips

Wearing Safety Gear

When using a block plane or any other woodworking tool, it is important to wear appropriate safety gear. This includes safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris, as well as hearing protection to reduce the risk of hearing damage. If using a block plane for extended periods, consider wearing a dust mask to avoid inhaling sawdust and other airborne particles.

Using Proper Techniques and Grips

Using proper techniques and grips when using a block plane is essential for safety and optimal performance. Make sure to keep your fingers away from the path of the blade to avoid injury. Hold the plane securely, using a firm grip, to maintain control and stability while planing. When making strokes, use smooth and controlled movements to reduce the risk of slipping or losing control of the plane.

Keeping Work Area Clean and Organized

Maintaining a clean and organized work area is not only important for efficiency but also for safety. Keep your work area clean and free from clutter to minimize the risk of tripping or accidents. Store your block plane and other tools properly when not in use to prevent them from falling or causing injury. By keeping your work area clean and organized, you create a safer and more productive environment for woodworking.

Alternative Tools and Techniques

Alternative Tools for Specific Tasks

While block planes are versatile and effective tools, there may be instances when alternative tools are better suited for specific tasks. For example, when working on larger surfaces or longer edges, a bench plane may be more efficient. When removing larger amounts of material, a power planer or a router may be the tool of choice. It is important to assess the specific task and choose the appropriate tool for the job to achieve the best results.

Power Tools vs. Hand Tools

The choice between power tools and hand tools in woodworking is often a matter of personal preference and the specific task at hand. Power tools offer speed and efficiency, making them ideal for large-scale or repetitive tasks. Hand tools, on the other hand, offer control, precision, and a more intimate connection to the woodworking process. Block planes fall under the category of hand tools and are valued for their versatility and ability to produce fine, detailed work.

Combining Hand and Power Tools

In many woodworking projects, a combination of hand and power tools is often the most effective approach. By using the strengths and advantages of both types of tools, woodworkers can achieve greater efficiency and produce high-quality results. For example, a block plane can be used to refine and finish small surfaces after initial material removal with a power tool. The combination of hand and power tools allows for a balanced and comprehensive approach to woodworking.

Famous Block Plane Designs and Brands

Stanley Block Planes

Stanley is a renowned brand that has been producing high-quality woodworking tools for over a century. Their block planes, such as the Stanley 9 1/2 Block Plane and the Stanley 60 1/2 Low Angle Block Plane, are widely recognized and highly regarded by woodworkers around the world. Stanley block planes are known for their durability, precision, and versatility, making them a popular choice among professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Lie-Nielsen Block Planes

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks is a respected manufacturer of hand tools, known for their exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail. Lie-Nielsen block planes, such as the No. 60½R Rebating Block Plane and the No. 102 Block Plane, are meticulously made using traditional woodworking methods. Renowned for their performance and beauty, Lie-Nielsen block planes are favored by discerning woodworkers who appreciate the finest tools available.

Veritas Block Planes

Veritas Tools, a brand owned by Lee Valley, is known for producing innovative and high-quality woodworking tools. Veritas block planes, such as the Low-Angle Block Plane and the Apron Plane, are designed with modern features and materials to enhance performance and user comfort. With a strong emphasis on quality and functionality, Veritas block planes have gained a reputation for delivering excellent results in woodworking projects.


In conclusion, a block plane is an essential tool in woodworking that offers versatility, precision, and control. Whether you are smoothing and shaping small surfaces, trimming and chamfering edges, removing excess material, or creating specialty profiles, a block plane can help you achieve the desired results efficiently and effectively. By understanding the different types of block planes, their key features, common uses, how to choose the right one, how to use it properly, maintenance and care, safety tips, alternative tools and techniques, as well as famous block plane designs and brands, you are equipped with the knowledge to use this indispensable tool in your woodworking endeavors. So go ahead, embrace the power of the block plane, and watch your woodworking projects reach new levels of craftsmanship. Happy woodworking!

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