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Which hand planes should a power-tool woodworker buy first?

The low-angle block (left) and shoulder (right) planes make great first planes for the power-tool woodworker, cleaning up marks that motorized tools leave behind.

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If you want to replace some powered machining operations with hand-plane work, test the waters with a No. 5 jack plane (left) or a No. 4 smoother (right).

Q:

I’m strictly a power-tool woodworker, but I’ve noticed a resurgence in the popularity of hand planes. I don’t want to miss out, but where do I start? If you had to recommend three, which hand planes should I start with?
—Robert Risher, Abilene, Texas

A:

An informal poll of the (admittedly power-tool-centric) guys on the WOOD staff showed much agreement on the top two contenders, Robert. Your first purchases should be a low-angle block plane and a shoulder plane, above. Both help you put a refining touch on the less-than-perfect cuts produced by your power tools.

For example, with a few strokes, a finely tuned low-angle block plane shaves burn marks or fuzz off end grain that saw blades leave behind. The plane quickly evens out jointer scallops on edge grain and even makes short work of shallow chamfers.

With its open sides and body-width blade, a shoulder plane assists you in cleaning up tenons and rabbets and pares corners perfectly square.

In choosing a third must-have hand plane, we agreed to disagree. We can make a good case for the No. 5 jack plane—a good all-around plane. Shorter than a jointer plane and longer than a smoother, the jack plane tackles edge and face flattening well, making it a good introduction to the world of hand-powered stock prep. On the other hand, you may find the shorter-bodied No. 4 smoothing plane especially useful if you work with figured wood and don’t want to risk the tear-out commonly caused by powered jointers and planers.

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