What is Planing?

What is Planing?

In the world of woodworking, planing is the process of removing thin shavings from wood. 

The tool we use to plane wood in by no surprise is a ‘Plane’. The woodworkers plane comes in a variety of formats some require power but others just require your own elbow grease.

The Hand Plane

Whenever I see it practical my elbow grease comes into play. There is a kind of magic in the soul when you peel away those shavings. The humble hand plane has been around for centuries. Today we use our modern equivalents but also some of the old vintage hand planes are hard to beat such as my Stanley Bailey No7

I own a collection of modern and vintage hand planes which I have accumulated over the years.

Bench planes have been with us for hundreds of years and are still seen as the craftsmen tool. I have over the years collected an array of hand planes which I use on a regular basis. 

Today we have alternative options such as the Electric plane which is also known as the ‘Tar Planer’. I am not going to be some tool neanderthal and dismiss the electric plane as some kind of bastard offering. 

Best Hand Planes - Not Expensive

The manually operated hand plane such as the No4 is an ideal first tool.

The Shop Planer

The plane does not only come in a hand-operated format but is also available as a machine shop tool.

The machine planer comes in three main formats

  • Jointer
  • Surfacer
  • Thicknesser
  • Combination of surfacer and thicknesser

What is a Jointer Plane?

The Jointer planer is used to straighten timber. The longer the jointer planer tables are the longer the timber you can true with it. Jointers have long tables which allow you to true the edges of planks for tabletop glue-ups. The best jointer size for spacesaving is the 8″ (200mm) you can get smaller but the 8″ is the the best compromise.

jointer plane

The Jointer plane makes the truing of wood boards easy

What is the surface planer?

The surfacer is a woodworking planer for planning the surface of the wood. A surface planer is more often offered in a planer combination format. Thicknesser and surfacer.

You can use a surface planer as a jointer for truing shorter pieces of wood.

What is Thicknesser?

When you want to plane a piece of wood thicknessed to a predetermined thickness a thicknesser is the machine you need. The thicknesser woodworking machine is sold as a solitary machine or the thicknesser is often found in tool stores as a combination machine of a surfacer and thicknesser.

To use a thicknesser planer you pass a length of timber through one end of the planer and it exits the rear of the plane planed smooth to the thickness that has been set by the operator of the machine.

It is important that one face of the wooden board to be thicknessed is flat. The flat face passes over the thicknesser table which in turn ensures the thickness of the wood is parallel on both faces.

Generally, most small workshop thicknesser combination machines utilise a single-sided cutter block. The larger machines that you will find in big workshops cant be Single, Double or even four-sided cutter blocks.

The four-sided machines are common in big manufacturing workshops where all four sides are planed at the same time.

what is a thicknessor ?

Overhead cutter block thicknessor.

dewalt planer

The Dewalt DW site planer is a capable machine. This one has a helical cutter block.

What is a Thicknesser Surfacer Combination

Sometimes referred to as an ‘over and under planer’.

The Thicknesser Surfacer combination planer is a common universal machine. Probably the most common format of this popular planing function. Most machine manufacturer producer planer thicknesser combination machines.

what is a surfacer thicknessor

The combination planer machine is a great compromise as it is two machines in one.

The Electric Plane

When you want to remove material quickly, then the electric plane is a must-own. I do own an electric hand plane but to be honest I do not use it much. I have a healthy addition to my vintage non-electric hand planes and whenever possible my Stanley Bailey No 7 is my plane of choice.

If you are considering buying an electric hand plane there are a few things you should consider

  1. Is the sole long enough for your planing task
  2. Is the sole wide enough
  3. Do you need 2 or more knives on the cutter block
  4. Is the motor powerful enough for your planing projects
  5. Are the knives sharpenable or throw away TCT knives

I do hear some rubbish online such as this quote from the website ‘family handyman’

“electric planer: It shaves and shapes wood like a hand plane, a belt sander and a jointer all rolled into one”.

If you consider these blog sites advising on woodworking as legit then they are dangerous sources of non-E.A.T (Googles own new classification for authoritative sources)

  • Expertise
  • Authoritative
  • Trustworthiness

I read all too often the bad advice offered by fake experts on site which do not offer genuine expertise by professional woodworkers.

The Electric plane is not

  • A belt sander
  • Jointer
  • Or can be compared with a hand plane other than you hold it in your hand!

Rest assured I am a professional woodworker who spends a great deal of time working with wood.

Be careful with websites offering information, when they clearly are only self-promoting to sell products via affiliate schemes.

The reason I am bringing this up is that when people talk about machines as a ‘do it all tool’ frankly has no respect for the tool or your safety.

An electric hand plane is a dangerous tool when the user is fed poor information. The electric hand plane deserves a full health and safety article and video which we will cover soon.

It is all too easy to lose a finger when an electric planer is used without due care.

Please don’t take this statement as a warning against the electric planer but only that you need to take care and follow legitimate advice. You can rest assured we are experienced woodworkers and we care about the advice we give. Sites like this one or Paul Sellers have evolved through our own experience.

tar planer

The powertool electric planer is a handy tool but I find that the hand plane does a better job.

By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989

head wood malcolm kett memorial

Malcolm the Boat ‘RIP’

Woodworking for me is in my blood as a son of a traditional boatbuilder. My Father Malcolm Kett was highly skilled and inventive individual often referred to as ‘Malcolm The Boat’.

selfie with mortar board

Marcus Kett and my Mortar!

Although I have spent a considerable portion of my life seeking further education and gaining qualifications in woodworking, electrical installations, bricklaying and to top it a degree in photography.

Yes, it is a medley of possible career choices but the one that I felt truly at home with was Woodworking. Woodworking has been my staple career choice that has given my family stability.

Why do I write these guides?

selfie workshop bio

Well that’s Me

We started to write these guides to help our customers. The idea was to provide the information needed to install our made to measure wooden products that we sell on this website and directly to our local customers.

We soon received feedback from people abroad and interested readers not local to us. I like to help people and I am excited that fellow woodworkers or keen DIYers found guidance in my articles. I intend to carry on writing and producing youtube videos for the purpose of providing useful content. Please share our blog with your friends and anyone that could find interest in the magic of working with wood.


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The content in this article is provided for free but we retain all copyright. We do encourage you to borrow this content but only if you cite us as the original content with a link to our site.

About Wallybois

wallybois mascot christmas

Wally is the middle one

We have lived and worked here in the Limousin Nouvelle Aquitaine since 2010, building window shutters and external doors. Our Volet manufacturing business is based at our home property as a ‘Cottage Industry’. We are a small business operating partly (60%) off the grid and try our best to practice our woodworking ethically.

How did we come up with the trading name ‘Wallybois’? Well, it is simple really, my best buddy ‘Wally’ and the fact that ‘Bois’ is French for wood and we live in France.

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By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989

Based in the Nouvelle Aquitaine of France