Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Power Planing, Anyone do it this way?

So I'm not looking to own a stationary power jointer or a power thickness planer. I have been looking at some of the hand held power planes that carpenters and installers use and have been musing about acquiring one and using it as kind of a power jack plane for taking twist out of boards and such when I need a little extra oomph or have a lot to do or am on more of a deadline for a project. I kind of figure if I can flatten a board by hand I could do so with one of these tools employing many of the same skills and techniques. I would still plan on using the jointer and smoother on the board for the final but sometimes a little extra power would be nice in the rough stages of truing up lumber.

Anyone out there doing this?


  1. CHeck the Dorset Custom Furniture blog, I believe I've read postings where they describe using hand-held planers to surface work.


  2. Interesting. I figured there had to be people out there doing this kind of thing. No one is going to take that kind of giant walnut and rip it down to stick in any planer. I'm not working with anything that large but it definitely demonstrates the feasibility of the idea.


  3. Regis,

    I presume that you are already using the traditional diagonal scrub plane followed by a jack and jointer. Frankly, doing this for small boards is fine but for many lengths of hardwood demands more effort that most of us are capable of – that’s why I do personally use a small powered thicknesser for getting boards to their approximate dimensions. Thereafter it’s all by hand.
    I don’t believe that a hand-held power planer will give you the accuracy you can get with hand tools – but a powered thicknesser will and if you can overcome your power-tools scruples, is a better bet – but not on its own. They will often choke without a chip extractor to take away the debris, so you need to factor one of these in the cost…..
    It is commonplace for those using hand planes to steady the tool with a finger beneath the toe….. with a power planer, therein lies MUCH WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH!
    Seriously, they are hard to control when taking a small fine cut – this commonplace task with hand tools, is hard using a hand power planer. Not to mention the noise and dust. Again, many machines will choke without external power extraction, not to mention choking you and your loved ones. The small cloth bags that come with them are useless. Indoors you need filtration down to at least 1 micron, 0.5 micron is better and that comes in a twin motor industrial vacuum.
    Am I talking you out of it? I hope so. I’m convinced that you will be disappointed.

    All best from Wales

  4. Howard,
    The major things dissuading me from a portable thickness planer are the noise, the fine dust and the need for an associated large collector, the space needs for infeed/outfeed, and the snipe. I had a 12in portable thicknesser and ditched it for these very reasons.

    The only real contender in the handheld power plane competition for me was the Festool HL 850. I have a couple of their other tools and they are portable, refined, and quieter than their rivals. They also live up to their dust collection claims. I have been extremely satisfied and expected to be so with this but it is a pricy tool which I'm not certain will earn its keep.

    You have captured my attention with the mention of the #40 scrub plane, which I haven't thought about in a while and is not a tool I own. I generally just start with my #5 as it's a longer and more accurate rough plane, but sometimes rougher might be better and the scrub could reduce those areas that are high much more quickly and be followed up with the #5 in short order. Given used prices it's probably worth a try for a few projects before jumping into pricier power equipment.

    Anyone else love their #40 or #40 1/2? Anyone have anything to say on the Festool HL 850 E?

  5. .Regis,
    The No 40 scrub plane is a rare and expensive beats these days – more at home in the collector’s cabinet than on a working bench.
    I hope that I’m not teaching egg-sucking, but the technique on sawn or riven boards was to plane diagonally in both directions first with a scrub plane to get the board into a reasonably flat plane then to work along the grain gradually reducing the set using a jack or fore plane to get a flat board. The finish after the scrub plane resembles a very neat bit of adze work in a criss-cross crenelated pattern. I have seen some big table tops deliberately left with this feature. One of Tage Frid’s books details how to do it…. But I’d have to look it up.

    You can convert a jack plane to work like a scrub plane by sharpening the iron on the curve (or keep a spare iron for this purpose).

    On this side of the water, German wooden planes with a curved sole and iron were known as “Bismarck Planes” in the 19/early 20th C. They were made with a curved tote on the front shaped like a Rhino horn.

    Another alternative is to buy a cheap wooden Jack plane and curve the sole and iron yourself. You don’t need much – about 1/8 inch over a 2 inch wide sole will usually do.

    All best from Wales

  6. Thanks again for the input on this topic. I think I'm going to forgo the power for now and look into a coarser hand plane. Don't know if I'll go with an actual scrub plane of some type or convert something.

    I currently keep a camber on my #5 iron for rough work but it's not extreme. Also the mouth on my particular #5 is a little tight for very thick shavings but I don't want to change it as I keep a straight iron for the plane that I use when shooting ends and edges.

    I think the coarse scrub plane would be very complimentary and would help me increase my planing efficiency.