- Canadian Woodworking Magazine - Book Review

A good introductory book for novice and intermediate level woodworkers.


How to Choose and Use Bench Planes & Scrapers

I suppose that every craft has its defining tool. For woodworkers it's undoubtedly the hand plane. Hand planes have been an indispensible woodworking tool for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years. The advent of portable power sanders, planers and jointers has largely supplanted the role of the hand plane as the main vehicle for milling lumber in the shop. However, hand planes are still widely used for final preparation of wood, particularly among professional furniture makers and cabinetmakers, and woodworking enthusiasts of all stripes. They do everything from removing milling marks, straightening and squaring edges, to surfacing large panels.
Novice woodworkers and those with intermediate level skills and experience typically want to know what kind of hand planes to use for which purposes, and how to use the tools effectively. There are essentially two ways to obtain this information. The best way, in my view, is to take a course. Fortunately, there are several excellent woodworking schools across Canada. Joining a local woodworking club is another option; they often host skill building seminars and workshops, and you get access to the combined experience and knowledge of the club. However, not everyone has access to these resources, which brings us to 'self-learning'. And for this, you can benefit immensely from a good reference book.
"How to Choose and Use Bench Planes & Scrapers" by John English, is one such reference guide. It's meant to provide novice and intermediate skill woodworkers with the information they need to choose the right kind of hand planes, how to maintain them, along with some basic instruction in using the planes.
The book is divided into two sections. The first 43 pages discuss the most common types of hand planes and scrapers - what they are used for and when to use them. There are short sidebars that provide an historical context for important makers and makes of planes, and a section that provides an overview of the construction process. English covers the basic planes that most woodworkers use on a regular basis - block planes, smoothers, jointers, joinery planes (rabbet, shoulder, bullnose and router planes), along with card and cabinet scrapers.
The next 57 pages offer practical instruction on using and maintaining hand planes. The blade sharpening section is rather short, and limited to one approach, though English does a good job of it. This is followed by a fairly compressive guide to the parts of a typical plane, and how to tune your plane to get the most from it. The next four sections provide practical instruction on some of the more common woodworking tasks - flattening a board, jointing an edge, taming difficult grain, and milling rabbets. The most important part of any plane is the blade, and English does a credible job of explaining what to look for in a good quality replacement blade. Finally, there is a short section on making a shooting board - an essential plane accessory.
In general I liked this book, and feel that both novice and intermediate skill woodworkers will find it informative and easy to read. However, I do feel that the author has focused too much attention on older planes - modern versions of a great number of these planes are available today, a fact not well conveyed in the book. I believe that anyone new to woodworking should purchase new tools and get to know how to use and maintain them before delving into older tools. In general, I would have to say that the photography in the book is below standard - many of the photos lack clarity, and appear not to be colour corrected. And, I'm surprised not to see a list of current plane makers.
Still, this is a good introductory book for novice and intermediate skill woodworkers wanting to get a better idea of which planes to buy and how to use them.

Linden logo


  • Forward
  • Introduction
  • Section I
  • Bench Planes
  • Molding Planes
  • Joinery Planes
  • Scrapers
  • Plane Construction
  • Section II
  • How to Sharpen a Bench Plane Iron
  • How to Tune a Bench Plane
  • How to Flatten a Board
  • How to Joint the Edge of a Board
  • How to Work with Difficult Grain
  • How to Mill Rabbets
  • Blade Choices for Planes
  • Shooting Boards
  • Index
PUBLISHER:Linden Publishing
AVAILABLE FROM:Your local bookseller or online
FORMAT:Softcover, 110 pages
AUTHOR:John English

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