The Catch 22s of Hand Planes

by Robert Feeser

This statement first appeared in a thread on theWoodNet woodworking forum. It was compiled and reproduced here for easier public consumption. All Text are the property of Robert Feeser.

"One of the interesting things about hand planes is that there are a number of big catch-22s involved.

One is sharpening. You will never get really good results with planes until you can get them really sharp. "Sharp" is a moving target. What you think of as sharp in the next few months will seem dull in a couple of years. And that will happen over and over. Any time you happen to pull out a plane that you haven't used in a year or so will be dull even though you got it razor sharp before you put it away. The catch-22 is that you will continue to think your blades are sharp until you discover something, maybe a single figured board, that you can't plane well, but a friend can.

Then there's planing technique. The more you learn the more you can use your planes for, and the better tuned they have to be.

The other catch-22 is that your expectations of a plane are a moving target, too. At first, most people find that their decent planes do pretty much everything they think they should without too much trouble. But with time you keep coming across pieces of wood that defeat you. If you keep working at tuning and sharpening them, that will happen less and less often. That's one reason some people will say that one of the cheaper brands of plane works well and others say they don't. Differences in expectations.

Another catch-22 is that you can't learn to tune a plane well until you can tell when its well tuned, and you can't tell when one is well tuned until you have gotten one tuned well. Planes are so much fun.

You just gotta love 'em."


For more hand plane knowledge, please visit Robert Feeser's Hand Plane Information

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