Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review - Handplane Basics DVD

As a woodworker learning on my own, I have to rely on a number of resources to get information. The internet is my primary source of information. However, there are times when the number of techniques and differences of opinions is simply to varied from forum to forum and even within the forum itself (or other online sources) to be of any use. It's not because there are wrong techniques. It's more what people have found work for them.

One area that I've found this to be the case is on hand planes. Which ones to use, sharpening techniques, methods of use. I had been stuck in analysis paralysis for a while until a Popular Woodworking email came to my inbox. It wasn't the weekly email, it was an ad for their store. As a recent subscriber, I thought I would take a look instead of just deleting it. One of the items on display was Woodworking Magazine's "Handplane Basics - A better way to use bench planes".

I thought, "Why not?" After all, Chris Schwarz is not only a great woodworker, he's known for his ability to communicate ideas. Check out his entries in one of Popular Woodworking's blogs if you haven't already. If you have, you know what I mean.

Oh so shiny!
 So I broke out the plastic and placed my order. Within 2 weeks, I had it sitting on my desk. I popped it into my DVD drive and sat back with a bowl of popcorn.

That was a couple of months ago. Since then, I've probably watched it about a half dozen times. The content is really outstanding. Chris takes the time to acknowledge that there are many right ways, but this is an instructional video for someone who has really limited experience (like me) with hand planes.

The content is broken down into 3 basic sections. Hand planes and their anatomy, setting up planes for use (including sharpening) and basic use in preparing lumber from rough stock to ready for finish without the use of a card scraper or sandpaper.

One thing that put me off somewhat at first was the fact that Chris demonstrated on pine. In my experience so far, I thought he made it look deceptively easy. After all, it's a lot harder to push a plane through ash or mahogany. Isn't it?

Well, after putting my planes through the paces (with a properly learned sharpening technique that I won't get into - that's another topic for which the techniques and tools are endless!) I have to say that with a properly sharpened plane blade, the wood will cooperate far more easily than with one that doesn't have a finely honed edge. So I retract my disappointment.

Another thing that put me off in the beginning was the fact that he talked only about bevel down planes. Being a bevel up owner (for my smoother) I was disappointed until I found out that there is an article on the dvd that you can read on your computer that point out the differences between the bevel up and bevel down. How you use them is essentially the same otherwise. Again, I retract my disappointment.

Although I'm not getting paid for writing this by either Popular Woodworking Magazine or the Schwarz himself, I have to say that this was a worthwhile purchase and recommend it to anyone that is starting out on hand planes but doesn't have a hand tool mentor to lean on.


  1. This was a good review. I too am trying to learn how to better use my hand planes. It looks like this might be a good thing to have.

  2. Thanks Brian, I did feel it to be a better post than some others I've done. In my opinion, the application of the instruction has made me feeling more confident with my planes.

  3. Nice review Mike. I think you will find that pine can sometimes be harder to plane because it is softer. That is usually why you find the Japanese plane set so obsessed with sharpening because a sharper blade is needed for cutting the softwoods available in Japan. That doesn't mean that I want to go plane Purpleheart, but Mahogany and Walnut are some of my favorite hand tool woods. Thanks for sharing the review.

  4. Thanks Shannon, I had taken my hand planes to pine before and didn't find it to be that troublesome - either with or across the grain.

    My favourite wood for hand planing to date has been cherry. I've found walnut to be unpredictable, but that may have been the batch that I've acquired dirt cheap. I guess there's a reason it was so cheap!


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