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Plane and Simple Woodworking: Jack Planes
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Editor's note: This is the second in a series on Hand Planes by contributor Ralph Bagnall. If you missed the first, on Block Planes, you can catch up here.

After the Block Plane, the Jack Plane should be your next pick. Hand planes are designated by number, the higher the number, the longer the sole of the plane. Jack planes are typically #4 or #5, and are excellent general use planes. The Jack plane can perform most planing chores. It is commonly used for shaving doors that stick, leveling high spots on glued-up panels and a host of other tasks.

One of the best uses for these mid-sized hand planes is jointing edges for gluing. Set a light cut, and let the long base of the plane ride over the edge, taking down the high spots. Now, the astute reader will wonder how to ensure that the edge being planed is perfectly square to the face. The answer is... you don't!

Since it is virtually impossible to ensure a dead-square edge with a hand plane, don't try. The secret to a good glue joint is to joint the mating edges at the same time. Lay out your boards, then "fold" them as if they are hinged with the glue edge up and clamp them together in your vice. Use the plane to pare down both edges until you get a full shaving all along both board edges. By doing both in this manner, any angle you happen to plane in will be matched by the second board, canceling any variation. To demonstrate, I purposefully planed these edges with a noticeable angle. As you can see, the angles cancel, resulting in a flat panel.

Rockler offers a variety of Jack Planes, including the affordable Groz (below left), the mid-range Stanley Bailey (below center), and the higher-end Stanley Sweetheart (below right). A good quality jack plane will be an invaluable addition to your tool kit, both around the shop and home. A few swipes across the top of that sticking door, and it will swing free again.


posted on June 2, 2010 by Ralph Bagnall
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2 thoughts on “Plane and Simple Woodworking: Jack Planes”

  • Tom

    I am pretty new to this, but I want to disagree about matching sides planing the boards this way. As I am writing this I am getting to agree with you more...but I will plunge on.

    If you mistakenly plane a dip in the middle, matting them will accentuate the dip. Does using a long plane remove this possible error. A 2" plane can dip easily, but a 12" cannot?

  • Ralph Bagnall

    I may not have been clear: planing the boards together minimizes errors of squareness. If your edge is not totally 90 degrees to the face, the boards will still glue up flat.

    A dip or rise along the length of the edge will still be a problem. That is why a larger Jack plane, or better yet, a jointer plane is used rather than a short smooth plane or a block plane. As you mentioned, length is important in this effort.

    Thank you for letting me clear that up!

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