The 10 Best Hand Planers
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in October of 2015. If you know that a rabbet is not a cute, fluffy creature, and that frogs don't just croak and live in ponds, then you might be interested in our selection of manual and electric hand planers. In fact, you'll likely need more than one to obtain the perfect finish on most woodworking jobs. They come in a range of prices to suit the budgets of both home DIYers and professional carpenters. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
January 16, 2020:
With most of our previous selections still in good standing with us, this was a fairly uneventful round of updates. However, we did wean out the Wen 6530 – feeling that the Bosch PL2632K was much more deserving of the spot, and we replaced the Stanley 12-404 Adjustable Bench with the budget-friendly Kakuri Mini – a Japanese offering made of oak that, well having some design differences when compared to traditional American alternatives, is adored by many.
A few factors to smooth out before making a purchase:
Applications: You could publish a fair-sized e-book dedicated to getting deep into every type of hand planer and discussing their practical merits and disadvantages. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for that today, but it should suffice to say that each planer has its own strengths, weaknesses, abilities and limitations. So, don’t go jumping in blindly and ordering up the cheapest (or most expensive) option that you see, assuming that you’re comparing apples to apples. Do a bit of research, and find out which style’s best for you.
Electric vs. Manual: This is a bit of a tough decision. While you’ll almost certainly find that you cut much faster with electric options, manual options can be a real joy to handle, and allow for a different level of finesse. On the bottom end, manual options can also save you quite a bit of money compared to their corded alternatives, but top-priced options like the WoodRiver #5 V3, which are intended for fine woodworking professionals, can end up costing you just as much as a comparable power tool. Still, there’s something about hand tools that’s lost in the user experience provided by power tools, a kind of satisfaction that many carpenters crave. Both options have pros and cons, and everybody ultimately has their own personal preference.
Adjustments: Precision and accuracy is everything when it comes to finish carpentry, so you want a tool that offers you as much control as possible. While the corded Makita KP0810 feature a control knob with click stops at 0.1-millimeter increments, the manually-operated Stanley 12-139 Bailey is equipped with ribbed, brass knobs for blade adjustment. Several users have noted that The Kakuri Mini, which is based on a traditional Japanese design, can be quite difficult to adjust, especially when you’re new to the tool.
October 22, 2018:
Removed a couple items that were nearly identical to others, yet higher priced. Added an incredibly popular model from Amazon, as well as a top-rated rabbet plane for more intricate surfaces.
The Rich History Of A Small Tool
But no matter how fast your blades spin, you can't discount skill; the best tools are useless without the proper technique.
Raphael Salaman called the hand plane "the most important advance in the history of woodworking tools," which is a pretty lofty claim. But as one of the pre-eminent tool experts of 20th-century Britain, he's worth hearing out; he was ultimately responsible for a pair of definitive works outlining the entirety of woodworking tools, as well as closely examining the last 250 years of their history. Other renowned workshop historians including W.L. Goodman and the famed Joseph Moxon weighed in similarly, and devoted remarkable research and toolbox space to these classic hand tools. And while they've been smoothing lumber for roughly 2,000 years, we don't know exactly where they came from.
Historians speculate that Lu Ban, the renowned progenitor of China's high-precision, fastener-less construction, is also the source of simple and important implements like the chalk line and the hand plane. A 1500-year discrepancy between Lu's death and the publication of his seminal book, however, casts some doubt on this scenario — apparently, sometimes the most important advancements are really the stuff of legends.
Regardless of its true origin, the hand plane is prominently featured in the annals of Roman carpenters, another of the most highly regarded woodworking cultures of antiquity. Early versions usually consisted of a rectangular wooden body with a slot called a mortise in the middle, with a blade secured inside. Rome also created additional types of planes; archaeologists have uncovered designs made entirely of bronze from as long ago as the 6th century, foreshadowing the metal future of the tool. For the most part, though, the hand plane remained unchanged until the mid-1800s, when Leonard Bailey produced a line of cast-iron models, thoroughly reinvigorating the historic device. His design would persist for decades and eventually become known as the Stanley plane, the most popular and longest-running model ever produced in the USA. Across the pond, Record Planes became the go-to wood shaver, and to this day they're touted as the best money can buy — in fact, they're often less expensive than vintage Stanley models, and many Brits claim they're noticeably superior.
Patriotism aside, different styles excel at different tasks, and with different types of wood. In 1918, a pneumatic planer changed the game by allowing one worker to do the work of thousands, and over recent decades, handheld, AC-powered models entered the market. But no matter how fast your blades spin, you can't discount skill; the best tools are useless without the proper technique.
Planes, Wood Grain, And Rotating Steel
The plane has one simple, fundamental purpose: it removes a thin slice of wood from a larger piece. As long as your equipment is in good condition and the blade plenty sharp, the main concern while planing is tearout. The trick is to plane with the grain to avoid pulling up entire networks of wood fibers and continuing to rough up the surface. To discern the grain's direction, first look at the pattern on the end of the board. The concave side of the grain's curve is the inner, or heart side, while the convex side is towards the bark. On the sanding surface, you'll notice that the grain makes sharply curved designs called cathedrals. When sanding the heart face of a board, start the motion at the wide base of the cathedral, and move toward the peak. The bark side of a board should receive the opposite treatment.
On the sanding surface, you'll notice that the grain makes sharply curved designs called cathedrals.
But if I can simply plug a handheld tool into the wall, pull the trigger, and smooth out rough faces with the support of 120 volts, why would I even bother putting in the elbow grease with a hand tool? For that matter, if I throw an orbital or drum sander at it, it'll be done in no time!
Sure, it'll be quick, and perfectly smooth; it'll also lack the character that makes handcrafted hardwood so spectacular.
The aesthetic benefit of using a hand plane instead of one of many powered options comes from the exacting, relatively slow nature of the process. The subtle difference in hardness from layer to layer of wood grain results in a surface that's flat, but not as flat as glass. Rather than a bland, matte, machined look, a hand-worked surface brings out the natural texture of the wood, especially when it's finished with quality treatments.
Various Planes Of Existence
The smallest varieties, called block planes, are just about an inch or more wide, and fit easily in the palm of the hand, which makes them lightweight and easy to manipulate around small crafts or hard-to-reach molding. Bench planes, a very common type, get up to nearly two feet long, and generally require two-handed use. Because they're longer than many others, they often end up with a smoother face than the rest. A bit smaller than the bench variety, the smooth plane is just large enough to straighten a board, and it's compact enough to have a range of versatile uses. If you're carving away sharper cuts of wood, consider a jack plane, ideal for artistic endeavors as well as heavily tapered pieces like table legs. The slightly more obscure rabbet type is the slimmest, and its primary use is to finely hone high-precision components such as tenons and tongues. After all, precision isn't just attractive, it's also quite functional.
Whether or not it's the most important woodworking advancement ever, or even in your toolbox right now, is still up for debate. What's certain is that hand-planing remains an effective and respectable way to finish wooden faces and bring joints into close tolerance. Following a good planing, it's a good idea to engage in at least some nominal sanding, particularly if you plan to apply any stains, oils, or sealants. When you do finish your project, the subtle texture and beautiful natural appearance will make you glad you chose to put in a little extra effort, and plane that wood by hand.