15 Types of Hand Planers and When to Use Them 

Hand planers are “handy” tools that encompass a wide range of functions. Novice woodworkers might lump them all into the same category and get the general bench plane for their shop. But to have a larger roster of options, you need to know more about different types of planes.

The different types of Hand Planers are:

  • Shoulder Plane
  • Jointer Plane
  • Wooden Molding Plane
  • Bench Plane
  • Rabbet Plane / Bench Rabbet Plane
  • Rabbet Fillister Plane
  • Plow Plane
  • Bullnose Plane
  • Chisel Plane
  • Dovetail Plane
  • Router Plane
  • Block Plane
  • Smoothing Plane
  • Compass Plane
  • Combination / Multi Plane

In this article, you will learn more about each hand planer, including possible uses for each one. You will also discover which ones are essential and which ones aren’t. By the end of this post, you’ll know the specific planer you should use for your upcoming project.

Types of Hand Planers

A hand plane or hand planer is a device with an angular blade and plane surface that maintains a level. Most planers serve a shaving function but in different contexts. In this section, we will go over the different planes you can have in your workshop.

Shoulder Plane

A shoulder plane is a plane that features a blade tilted at 20 degrees. The plane itself is made of cast iron or heavy metal material. It is effective at removing material excesses in joinery but can also be used for other purposes.

When To Use a Shoulder Plane?

Shoulder Planes are used for trimming shoulders but can also be used in almost any instance where there is open-ended or corner joinery. The 20-degree blade placement is excellent for cross-grain planing, and to that end, it can be used on regular horizontal and vertical surfaces as well.

How To Use A Shoulder Plane?

Watch this video to learn how to use a shoulder plane

Jointer Plane

A jointer plane looks very different from most hand planers. It should more appropriately be called a stand planer. The tool is a standing planer device with a “long plane,” which is also one of its names, being driven across to produce straight and square edges.

When To Use A Jointer Plane?

A jointer plane can be used strictly in jointing and planning the edges of boards. While most hand planers have alternative uses, a jointer plane has no such use because of its precise capabilities of shoehorning it into a corner.

How To Use A Jointer Plane?

Watch this video to learn Jointer Plane use

Wooden Molding Plane

Molding can be easy to confuse with wood transitions used in furniture and fixtures. However, molding here refers to etching three-dimensional detail onto the wood. A molding Plane is unlike other devices in that it is more of an etching device than it is a planing one.

When To Use A Wooden Molding Plane?

Molding planer can be used to create fine details on any type of wood. This includes door knobs, table sides, and drawers. Again, it is more of an etching device, so anything you would use an etching knife for, you can technically use a molding plane for. However, it requires a different type of handling compared to an etching knife.

How To Use a Wooden Molding Plane

Molding plane use is explained in this video:

Bench Plane

Bench Planes are the most common type of hand planers because of their functional potential. They are a category of hand planers that can flatten and smoothen planks. They don’t get their name because they are used to make benches but because they are used on workbenches. Since a majority of the hand planers are used on a workbench, it can be said that most hand planes are bench planes.

When To Use A Bench Plane?

You can use a bench plane for sizing, smoothing, flattening, and trimming wood. Since these planes are general purpose and allow you to even out wood with an angular blade, they can be used in almost any application that requires a diagonally-held blade.

How To Use a Bench Plane?

Bench Plane uses are explained in this video. Remember, a bench plane is just a hand planer that is used on a bench.

Rabbet Plane / Bench Rabbet Plane

A Rabbet Plane is a bench plane that is narrow. It is used for similar applications as a regular hand plane but produces slimmer results and can therefore be used to produce slim and deep pockets and paths in wood.

When To Use A Rabbet Plane / Bench Rabbet Plane?

As the name suggests, a Rabbet Plane’s primary application is in making rabbets. These are narrow ins at the face or side edges of a wood board. However, Rabbet planes are not confined to this application. They can be used to make dovetails and dados as well.

How To Use a Rabbet Plane / Bench Rabbet Plane

This video gives you a brief overview of the rabbet plane, including a demonstration of its use:

Rabbet Fillister Plane

A Rabbet Fillister plane doesn’t look as much like a Rabbet plane as it actually is. This is because of the adjustable fence on the plane. It often comes with better guidance as well. A Rabbet Fillister plane is easier to maneuver and can be used for deeper and broader applications.

When To Use a Rabbet Fillister Plane?

While Fillister planes have similar uses as Rabbet Planes, they have a better range. So they can be used to cut rabbets, dovetails, and Dados of almost any size, thanks to the adjustable fence.

How To Use a Rabbet Filister Plane?

Filter Plane use is detailed in this video:

Plow Plane

A plow plane is a combination plane that isn’t functionally too different from a rabbet plane. Its blades can be adjusted, and the overall planing action requires a pull motion, unlike most planes that are powered by a push.

When To Use A Plow Plane?

You can use a plow plane if you don’t have a rabbet plane or don’t want to buy one. A plow plane can be used to cut grooves and rabbets. According to some self-reports, these planes can be used to do what rabbet planes do but faster.

How To Use A Plow Plane?

The following video explains how you can use a plow plane

Bullnose Plane

A bull nose plane is a narrow plane with a front end that resembles a bull’s nose. This plan can be held between the thumb and the middle finger while the forefinger rests on top of the bullnose. It is one of the few planes that can be used vertically as well as horizontally.

When To Use A Bullnose Plane?

A Bullnose plane is best used to trim and skim along slim planks, table legs, and similar wood surfaces. It is a largely unadjustable plane with a cutting edge that lies at an acute angle close to being flat. This makes it ideal for shaving wood.

How To Use A Bullnose Plane?

This video teaches Bullnose plane setup and use:

Chisel Plane

The chisel plane’s name might give the impression that it is useful in chiseling and carving. But for the most part, this plan is a very flat clean-up tool. A lack of sole on the front of its blade makes it very risky for elaborate projects where its blade can dive.

When To Use A Chisel Plane?

As mentioned earlier, this plane is not very useful in elaborate applications. It is a clean-up tool best used to scrape dried glue and materials like paper stuck on wood. A chisel plane can do what a wood scraper does, albeit more effectively.

How To Use A Chisel Plane?

You can learn the setup and use of the chisel plane from the following video:

Dovetail Plane

A dovetail plane is a narrow plane with 4 cutters that can cut at various depths simultaneously, producing a sliding effect in the crevasse they form. This is a very niche product and is hard to find because of its limitations. But if you cannot buy a dovetail plane when you intend to, you can buy a rabbet plane or a plow plane instead.

When To Use A Dovetail Plane?

You can use a dovetail plane to produce sliding dovetails. As the blade can plane at varying depths across a single stride, the result is a sliding dovetail. But the drawback of this niche tool is that you cannot use it in other applications.

How To Use A Dovetail Plane?

This unboxing video can give you insights into using the dovetail plane

Router Plane

A router plane is held by both hands and features a square blade. This plane allows more control and can be used in depression-fixing applications. Despite what its name might imply, it cannot be used to replace a handheld router. Its deep blade placement is very useful in niche applications.

When To Use A Router Plane?

You can use a router plane to clean wood at depth, cut dadoes, fix sunken panels, and trim wood that is out of the reach of other handheld tools. It is generally best for paths that can be repeated. If you want to clean up or imprint a straightforward path underneath the surface of a project or plank, a router plane will come in handy.

How To Use A Router Plane?

Watch this video to learn how to use a router plane

Block Plane

A block plane is relatively easy to handle, making it a beginner favorite. It is a handheld plane that is slightly bigger than a sanding block. Its blade angle is low, so you aren’t likely to use it for deep carvings, but its ability to do smoother projects is unparalleled.

When To Use A Block Plane?

As mentioned earlier, a block plane is not too different in size from a sanding block. It often replaces sanding blocks in most woodworkers’ arsenal. The block plane can be used for a variety of applications, including fine-tuning wood to fit joints, shaving irregularities off surfaces, and removing dried adhesives.

How To Use A Block Plane?

This video will cover how you can use a block plane:

Smoothing Plane

Smoothing planes have one of the lowest angles for a planer blade because its job is to cut out irregularities with minimal shaving. This makes the smoothing plane difficult to mess up. Its functionality is engineered into its construction. If you know your way around a block plane, you don’t need a smoothing plane. And if you have a bench plane and a smoothing plane, you don’t need a block plane.

When To Use A Smoothing Plane

As the name suggests, you can use a smoothing plane to make wood smooth. More practically, it is used to get rid of uneven grain, leftover wood paint, and squeezed-out glue. It is often used for sanding as well, though it does not offer the same sanding variety as a sanding block. It does perform better than every other hand planer, though.

How To Use A Smoothing Plane

Here is a video that covers smoothing plane setup and uses

Compass Plane

A compass plane does to curved wood, what bench planes usually do to flat wood. A compass plane’s curvature can be adjusted, which makes it ideal for finishing convex and concave curves. It is slightly heavier than flat planes but requires more skill to handle.

When To Use A Compass Plane?

A compass plane can be used wherever there is curvature. Some examples of projects where a compass planer might come in handy include arched door tops, round window frames, and curved cabinets. The alternative to a compass plane is a regular plane with a short blade. As long as you plane along the curved path, you can smoothen curved wood.

How To Use A Compass Plane?

Compass plane use is covered in this video

Combination / Multi Plane

A combination plane is one of the most complex planers because it serves a broad range of purposes. You might need to see a few youtube videos on how to use a combination plane to even understand how the contraption works. But learning how to use or even assemble it is worth the effort.

When To Use A Combination / Multi-Plane?

A combination plane can be used for smoothening, cutting rabbets, and molding. You can use multiple blades at different angles and lengths to pull off pretty much anything that any plane can do.

How To Use A Combination / Multi-Plane?

Here is a video on how to use a multi-plane

Final Thoughts

Hand planers are very useful tools that can range from niche to versatile in their uses. Selecting the right plane is half the job. Knowing how to set it up and when to use it is the important part. Reference the article above whenever you want to buy or set up a hand planer.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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