Planing oak joinery stock

planing a long rail

I got a new log last week, and have started in on planing it. Daniel & I are finishing up a video about splitting and planing, but there’s lots of that to be done – so here’s a short post about the planes I’m using this week. When I have a lot of pieces to plane, I usually keep several planes going at once. In this case, 5 of them.

5 planes

From the top left to bottom right – an American jointer 28 7/8″ long, a German jointer, 223 1/2″ long. Then another American plane, just a bit shorter, 22″, and an Ulmia (German) smooth plane 9 1/2″ long and a Dutch-style plane ground as a scrub plane. Its body is only 6″ long. Why so many? I tend to set a couple to different depths-of-cut, so that I switch planes rather than adjust irons when I want either a heavier or lighter cut. Depending.

German plane, marked J Holst Hamburg

I dragged this German plane out of the tool chest recently, and have been using it as the primary plane the last few days. I got it years ago from Josh Clark, I bought it because it’s oak. It feels pretty heavy, I weighed it today – it’s 7 lbs 9 oz. The American jointer behind it is more than 5″ longer and weighs just about the same.

Working 4-foot long rails, I was finding this plane easier to get full-length shavings. At first I thought it was about the weight, but I then looked at the placement of the iron in the body.

compare iron placement

The American one on top is 22″ long, its cutting edge is 7″ from the end. The German one at 23 1/2″ long has its edge 9 7/8″ from the end. Finally, the large jointer is 28 7/8″ and its iron is 9 1/8″ from the front end. So the German one has more mass ahead of its iron than the other two. Maybe that accounts for the different feel. The angles the irons bed at are pretty similar. I didn’t measure those…

Here’s the maker’s mark from Holst.

J Holst Hamburg

The internet search I just did wanted to take me to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” instead of Holst planes. I found one hit, what’s listed as a hornbeam plane – One of those views seems to show pronounced medullary rays – similar to the plane I have. I looked up European hornbeam in the wood database – that entry doesn’t mention ray fleck figure – it does discuss the end grain – but I can’t see anything on the end grain of this plane. So I keep thinking it’s oak, the medullary rays look like white oak to me – but maybe it is hornbeam – which is what someone told me 9 years ago – I’m a slow learner.

this picture is from when I bought the plane in 2012

Here’s Josh’s site, if you’ve not seen it before

plane use, evidence from the artifact

bench plane


I have another few photos of a plane in my collection. This is a very ordinary example, but it’s an excellent ordinary plane, if that makes any sense. I often show it to visitors in my shop when they are new to wooden planes. It shows that it had a lot of use, but no abuse at all…in fact it was handled very well.

The plane has no marks anywhere as to its maker or its age. I chopped the letter “P” in it some years ago. It’s made of beech, has a double iron, and the body is about 16″ long, more or less.

Notice that the body of the plane is taller at the rear end (“heel”)  than at the “toe” of the plane. Over the years, it was trued up (flattened with another plane)  from time to time, and where most of the wear & tear is up near the mouth of the plane, the person who maintained this one planed it down from heel to toe.

sole, showing patched mouth


The mouth got worn at some point, as they often do. This plane was then patched very nicely.



I especially like the patina on this plane, it’s really worn in lots of places, and polished by handling in others. Notice the area right around the front of the mouth, where the forward hand sits…

depression in plane body


This view shows a depression in the beech, from the users’ thumbs…as seen in this grip:

one method for gripping a plane


I remember when Alexander showed me this method of holding a wooden plane. It felt quite awkward at first, but over time you get used to it, and it helps apply the pressure where it needs to be at different points in the stroke of the plane. My left thumb is pressing right on the spot on this plane that is highlighted in the previous picture. I often think about how many years need to go by for the thumb to leave a dent in the beech wood.

Here in the mid-point in the plane’s travel the pressure is about even between my right & left hand, but it’s just about to change.  At the end of the stroke, the left hand comes up off the tool, and the right hand maintains pressure to finish the stroke.

finishing the plane stroke


When Alexander showed me this technique, the printed sources illustrating the methods were late-19th-and-early-20th-century books on woodworking trades. Maybe Jennie will chime in with titles, I forget them right now…

This stuff is quite rudimentary, but for people just starting out using old wooden planes, it shows how one plane illustrates some accepted techniques. This is a case where the artifact agrees with the published record of technique.