These tools are used for a variety of purposes, smoothing wood, both on the surfaces and edges, cutting grooves, forming mouldings, and suchlike work, according to the shape of the cutting iron. This may be compared to a chisel, but instead of being loose, so that it can be used in any position or at any angle to the wood being operated on, it is held firmly in a block. This serves as a guide to keep the edge from entering the wood wrongly. The chief use of the plane is to smooth and level, or, perhaps, it should rather be said that more wood has to be made level than have any other form given to it. The primary planes have, therefore, a straight cutting edge and a corresponding flat sole, while the others have the edges and soles shaped to suit any work they are intended for.
The ordinary English plane has a wooden block usually of beech, but of late years many iron planes have been introduced, chiefly from America. It is sometimes considered that these latter are superior to the former in every way, and as the question is sure to occur to the novice whether he should use the iron or the wooden plane, a few remarks are not uncalled for.
I am not prepared to advocate the decided advantages of either kind over the other so ardently as some do, the advocacy of those who generally reach the public ear being generally more in favour of the newer-fashioned iron planes. In the practical, everyday life of the workshop, however, the old wooden plane holds its own; and whatever may be the case in other crafts, the cabinetmaker as a rule works with it. It is not at all an uncommon thing to find that a man who has iron planes, which he has got either from curiosity or with an idea that they may suit him better than the others, after a time discards them altogether or uses them very occasionally. Here and there a man may be found who uses iron planes exclusively, but he is the exception, and in any cabinet workshop the wooden plane holds its own. Of course, in saying this I must not be understood to imply that iron planes may not be used by those who prefer them, but I think it is only fair to the novice that he should not be misled into supposing that better work can be done with iron planes than with wooden ones, or that the former are necessary to him.
Equally good work is done with both. In theory perhaps the iron plane is better; in practice the wooden one, when properly used and understood, is just as good and often better. By many it is assumed that the iron plane must work more truly, be more durable and less likely to get out of order. These are specious arguments, and if nothing were said about them the novice might conclude them to be unanswerable. The quality of the work done with wooden planes is quite as good as that with the others, except in very rare circumstances. Iron is of course more durable than wood, but then there is not a vast amount of wear on the sole of an ordinary plane. A good wooden one will last a man a lifetime if proper care be exercised, so surely nothing more can be necessary. An iron plane may be faulty or defective when new, just as easily as a wooden one, and a defect in it is not so easily remedied. Wooden planes are to be had quite as accurately made as any in iron, and if properly treated they will remain in perfect condition. In cost there is no comparison between the two, the advantage being decidedly in favour of wood, to which the prices named on the list exclusively refer. The low-priced, toy-like planes of iron hardly come within the scope of comparison, as they are not used by the practical artisan. A wooden plane which has been very extensively used may get so worn that the mouth becomes too wide for some purposes. In such a case it is a comparatively easy matter to let a new piece into the sole or to resole entirely either with wood or iron. I cannot, however, too strongly advise the novice not to tamper with the mouth or sole of any plane he may have. Directions for rectifying are unnecessary, for the simple reason that by the time any truing up is required the user will be a novice no longer, and may safely be left to his own devices for doing the needful rectification. Let him get good planes to begin with, and if after a time he fancies they are unsatisfactory he should get some experienced hand to pass an opinion before deciding that they are defective. They may be so, for even the best of tools will show unsuspected faults occasionally, but the novice certainly should not attempt to rectify them. If he does, he will probably increase the fault or cause others. My advice to the novice and amateur is to get good wooden planes, and then when he can use them to full advantage to get the more expensive kind if he thinks they will be better. It should be said that iron planes are occasionally of English make. In addition to those planes which have blocks either all iron or all wood, some varieties which have principally the latter are fitted with iron soles, when for all practical purposes they may be treated as iron planes. If these latter have arty advantage over the wooden ones, it may be said to be principally when planing end grain or a particularly cross-grained piece of stuff. In competent hands, however, a wooden plane will do anything that a plane can do.
On purchasing a new plane it is advisable to thoroughly oil the block. This may best be done by immersing it in raw linseed oil and letting it lie in it for a week or so till soaked. Such treatment will cause the plane to work more sweetly than it otherwise would, and by filling the pores with oil will lessen any danger of the block casting or becoming untrue on the sole. On examination of the ordinary bench planes - jack, trying, and smoothing - it will be seen that the irons are double. The larger of the two is the true cutter; the other, the break iron, or back iron as it is often called, though it actually is in front of or on the other, being used to turn up the shaving and prevent the wood being torn. On the width of the mouth, as the opening across the bottom of the plane is called, and the distance of the edge of the back iron from the cutting edge, the thickness of the shaving depends. The width of mouth, of course, remains fixed, except from the widening by wear, while the cutting iron can be regulated. For coarse, rough work, as that done by the jack plane, the mouth may be comparatively wide, and the edge of the back iron be set one-eighth of an inch from that of the other; while for fine work, as with the smoothing plane, the mouth is narrow and the cutting edge only very slightly in advance of the other. In any double iron plane, the nearer the two edges are together the finer will be the shaving, but the labour of planing will be increased. From this it will be seen that the relative positions of the two irons is of considerable importance, and that within certain limits the planes can be regulated to suit the work on hand. As jack, trying, and smoothing planes are made with both double and single irons, it should be said that the latter, though cheaper, are not suitable for cabinet work. With this we may proceed to consider planes more in detail.