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Newsletter Article - The Two Most Overlooked Hand Planes

The Two Most Overlooked Hand Planes
By Luther Shealy


I think the two most overlooked hand planes are the router plane and the scrub plane.  I would hate to be without either of these hand tools, yet they do not appear on most folks list of required bench planes! 

The router plane gives you real accuracy in joinery tasks and the scrub plane is awesome at quickly removing wood for dimensioning. 

The Router Plane

The value of a router plane is its ability to accurately cut a flat surface at a consistent depth relative to the surrounding surface.  It is a simple but very effective tool.  Think of it as frame that holds an L-shaped chisel that can be precisely adjusted to a desired depth of cut.



 Pictured above is a Lie-Nielsen full-size router plane. Note the threaded mechanism that allows for adjustment of the depth of cut.  Turning the knob allows you to move the the L-shaped chisel up or down to your final depth.  It has a stop collar that allows you to set the final depth then slowly creep up on it until you hit the stop collar.

This plane comes with a 3/8" cutting edge, but narrower blades are available. This plane also come with a small fence you can use to set the cut from the edge of your work piece, but I don't think I have ever used my fence.   

As with any hand cutting tool the secret is in sharpening the blade.  The router plane's "L" shaped iron is very easy and quick to sharpen by hand on a waterstone (See Rob Cosman's sharpening method for details).

So how do I use my router plane?  Let me count the ways:

 1. Dados and grooves.

A dado is a channel cut across the grain of the wood.  A channel cut along the grain of the wood is a groove.  Whether you cut these with a dado set on the table saw or by hand, first sawing the sides and then chiseling away the bulk of the waste, the difficulty is getting a flat bottom in the dado or groove.  The router plane is unsurpassed in accomplishing this. A few quick passes and you have a consistent, flat, and smooth bottom.   A router plane is also helpful for working into the ends of stopped dados and grooves.



  1. Refining Rabbets, Lap Joints, and Tenon Cheeks

The router plane excels at sizing rabbets, lap joints, and tenon cheeks. Typically, I saw close to my final check size or plane close to my final rabbet size then use the router plane to trim the cheek or rabbet to its final dimension.   What is great is that by resting the sole of the router plane on the outside reference face of the work you can trim the cheek or rabbet perfectly parallel to the reference surface. 


Using this method, you can perfectly size a tenon to fit into a mortise.  Just be sure to slowly take a small amount of material off evenly on both sides of the tenon.  Using a sharp blade and you can easily remove a thousandth of an inch per pass!  Again, the beauty of the router plane is its ability create a smooth, flat surface parallel to the surrounding or adjacent surface, and at a consistent depth.



If the cheek I am trimming is big, I will attach a base to my router plane to give me more surface area to rest against the reference face while I swing the router plane to trim away material.



  1. Hinge Mortises

A router plan is also nice for cutting shallow mortises required for hinges.  I use a small sized router for hinge mortises as the large router is too big for the job.




 The Scrub Plane

The scrub plane is used to remove large amounts of wood from the surface of lumber, such as when flattening rough cut stock, or when reducing the thickness of a board significantly. Scrub planes have a short sole, a relatively narrow but thick blade, a very wide mouth, and a curved blade to make a deep, gouging cuts.

Sharpening the blade by hand is very simple.  Since this plane is for rough work, I only sharpen it my 1000 grit stone by rubbing the blade on its cutting edge, making tiny circular patterns, while following the blade's curved shape.  Once a feel a burr on the back  blade I am done.  I turn the blade over, holding it flat on the stone I pull back two or three times to remove the burr and I am ready to go.




While most of the scrub planes function has been largely replaced by power tools such as the thickness planer., I still find a scrub plane very useful.  There are plenty of times I actually prefer flattening and squaring a piece of wood by hand rather than by machine.  At least its really nice to know I can dimension wood by hand if I need to.




If I need to remove ½ to 2 inches of material from the edge of a board, instead of stopping work, going to the table saw, putting it into operation, and ripping the board, I find I can remove the material faster with a scrub plane while the board is held on edge in the vise.  Plus, there is no dust, no noise and it just feels good to pull off big curls of thick wood with a scrub plane.

Finally, I have purchased three, high quality, almost new scrub planes online at used tool sites such as Craigslist.  Every time I talked to the seller they tell me they could not figure out how to use the plane, or they didn't know how to sharpen the blade (which is very easy), or they just didn't want to bother dimensioning wood by hand.   the plane was virtually worthless to them, I got all three at bargain basement prices!

Good luck in your woodworking