What are Japanese hand planes?
The more I learn about hand tools, the more questions I have. For instance, what are Japanese hand planes? Are they better than my regular bench planes?
—Jared Watts, Richmond, Va.
Japanese planes differ from Western planes in several key ways, Jared. The first thing you'll notice: their elegant simplicity, with blocky bodies of tight-grained Japanese oak. And no fancy adjusters here: The irons are wedged in place by the chip-breaker pin. Rather than mechanical devices, a mallet-tap on either the body or the blade adjusts the iron.
Western woodworkers consider the Japanese planes "backwards" because you pull rather than push them. Experienced users say they achieve much better control with this technique, but it takes some practice to retrain your muscles.
To learn more about Japanese tools, read Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use, by Toshio Odate.