What Is A Smoothing Plane?

smoothing planes
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A smoothing plane is a woodworking tool used for the final stage (usually), of making a piece of wood smooth, often used after a jack plane has been used.

The smoothng plane takes thin shavings off of a piece of wood as the plane is repeatadly pushed along the surface of the piece of wood until a lovely smooth finish is achieved, a finish so smooth it can feel like glass.

The smoothing plane can also be used for other general purpose tasks such as the trimming and fitting of parts.

The smoothing plane is one of the most commonly used planes, nearly always featuring in a woodworkers tool kit.

A smoothing plane can take many forms with all having a body with a sharp blade usually set at an angle of about 45 degrees with the sharp edge pertruding from a slot through the bottom of the plane in a central position.

The smoothing plane has a long history and has taken many technological advances over the centuries. We will chart the progress of smoothing plane development in the west from 1700 to the current day (stating their prime manufacturing periods):

wooden smoothing plane

Wooden Smoothing Planes

From 1700 1950s...
The most common form of smoothing plane used was a wooden plane in the shape of a coffin. This coffin shape did have adaptions / regional differences with the most common types of adaptions / differences being a wooden plane with a handle placed at the rear of the plane and another adaption with a tote/handle placed at the front of the plane.

These planes were often made as part of young woodworkers apprenticeships. Wooden planes were made beyond the 1950s, they are still made today in fact by a few specialist makers however their popularity had hugely fallen by the 1950s.

infill smoothing plane

Infill Smoothing Planes

From 1800 1950s...
The infill plane was an elite plane designed to last a lifetime. Infill planes consisted of a steel or gun metal outer shell with high quality wooden inserts.

There were many innovations to the infill plane designs during this time. Many of the planes from this period are considered some of the best planes ever made particularly those made by makers such as Norris, Buck, Mathieson and Spiers of Ayr to name a few famous makers.

The infill planes of their time were very expensive for most woodworkers, many woodworkers would aspire to buy such a plane and would save for a long time to buy these treasured planes.

These same infill planes can still command quite high prices. There are still a few specialist makers of infill planes today who create some quite spectacular planes.

transitional smoothing plane

Transitional Smoothing Planes

From 1870 1970s...
The transitional plane is a design which bridges the wooden smoothing plane design with the more modern traditional iron smoothing planes.

The transitional planes have a wooden body fitted with a blade mechanism similar to the common iron planes such as the Stanley number 4 smoothing plane.

The most common makes of transitional plane were by Stanley, Sargent and Union. The transitional plane continued to made right up to the 1970s in the form of the quite popular William Marples transitional plane.

iron smoothing plane

Traditional Iron Smoothing Planes

From 1860 Today...
Traditional iron smoothing planes have remained very similar in design since the second half of the 19th century.

The most common and dominant smoothing plane is the Stanley 4 plane which has run during this whole period. There have been many, many manufacturers who have produced iron smoothing planes nearly all of which have based their design very heavily on the Stanley (Bailey) smoothing planes.

The iron smoothing plane is still a hugely popular plane today with many different makes available including some high end planes such as the Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas smoothing planes.

Traditional iron smoothing planes are typically 8 - 10 inches in length fitted with 2 - 2 3/8 inch wide plane blades and usually made from cast iron with a wooden rear handle and front knob.

The planes with '2 inch' wide blades are generally known as 'number 4' planes and the planes with '2 3/8 inch' wide blades are known as 'number 4 1/2' planes.

Smoothing Plane Parts

A typical metal / iron smoothing plane consists of the following parts:

smoothing plane parts

  • A - Plane Body
  • B - Rear Handle
  • C - Front Knob
  • D - Frog
  • E - Lateral Blade Adjuster Lever
  • F - Frog Screws
  • G - Mouth
  • H - Locking Screw
  • I - Back Iron / Cap Iron / Chip Break
  • J - Blade Holding Screw
  • K - Blade / Cutter / Iron
  • L - Lever Cap
  • M - Lever
  • N - Lever Cap Locking Screw Hole
  • O - Blade Depth Adjuster Wheel

Different Types Of Smoothing Plane

The smoothing plane has evolved slowly over the last few centuries, during the evolution a variety of different planes have appeared on the marketplace. Whilst the core design and function has remained the same, the materials and construction of these planes has evolved. Each evolutionary phase coincided with new technological advances which enabled makers to make enhancements or make changes to suit mass production techniques. The below charts the evolutionary stages of the smoothing plane from its early form through to its recent form.

The Evolutionary Stages Of The Smoothing Plane

Click on each era of smoothing plane to see the full list of smoothing plane reviews..

wooden smoothing plane WOODEN

The commonly used smoothing planes of the 17th, 18th, 19th and the first part of the 20th century were made of wood.

infill smoothing plane INFILL

The second part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th also saw the 'Rolls Royce' of smoothing planes, the infill planes.

transitional smoothing plane TRANSITIONAL

The second part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th saw the transitional plane; a plane which was half way between a wooden plane and a metal plane.

metal smoothing plane IRON

The end of the 19th century through to the current day saw the iron plane.

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