When entering the world of carpentry, you will quickly learn that every tool requires a certain amount of practice to get used to. Hand planers are among the basic tools with which you get acquainted almost right at the start of your endeavour. Still, they have their peculiarities which makes using them a bit tricky. Here, I will show you how to use an electric hand planer and walk you through some of the most important do’s and don’ts of this instrument.
Before I go through the basics of using this tool, make sure you check out my hand planers guide where I’ve described the tool’s parts and how it works quite in-depth. I’ve also compiled a list of some of the top models for this year, in case you are still trying to find the perfect fit for your needs.
Hand Planing Basics
There are three main steps to working with a hand planer. As a whole, it is one of the easier woodworking tools to learn and it generally doesn’t require a lot of practice before you master using it. Still, let’s see what the proper process should look like:
- Checking your tool
- Proper body position
- Making the pass
If you are just now starting to work with this or any other type of woodworking tool, pay special attention to the first two steps, as they are universal and should be followed for most procedures no matter if you’re using a planer or a circular saw.
Checking your tool
Making sure that the necessary adjustments and checks are made before you start cutting is vital to your process. Adjusting your planer should be done according to your project goals. Hogging off dimensional lumber is most often done with a cutting depth of 1/8 inches, while smoother finishes are done with 1/32 or 1/64 inches of depth.
One model that is particularly great at depth adjustments is the Dewalt DCP5808 Brushless Planer. It can adjust its cutting depth all the way down to 1/256th of an inch.
One crucial thing that you will have to regularly check with your tool is your blades’ sharpness. Nowadays, most good models are equipped with self-sharpening blades.
Pro Tip: For blades that are too dull, use a whetstone to quickly sharpen them up.
Once all that is checked out of your list, look for the planer’s kickstand which is usually down in order to protect the blade. Lift it up before you start making your cut. Now, let’s talk about body positioning a bit and then we will get to the cutting part.
Proper body position
Balancing your body is crucial for all type of woodwork. Improper balance can throw you off when pushing against a wooden surface or a tool and can either damage your work or yourself. This is why you need to start with your feet by keeping them well apart until you feel that you have proper support. Make sure that you feel comfortable in that new position and you have enough force in your hands to push through with the planner.
Once you are sure your tool is ready to go and you’ve learned how to properly position your body, it is time to make your first pass…
Making the pass
The planer’s front part is called the shoe. The tool works by having its shoe pressed to the wood and pushed forward. That will drive the wood’s surface to the blade which will chisel the top layer depending on what depth you’ve set.
When making your cut/pass, first place the shoe flat on the wooden surface. Make sure the blades don’t touch it otherwise you might make some unnecessary cuts that can compromise your process. Next, turn on the electric planer and let the motor reach its maximum speed. Once there, start moving forward until the spinning blades come into contact with the surface of the wood. As you are pushing the tool through, keep steady pressure on the handgrip. Try not changing the pressure you apply too much as that can create uneven surface.
Avoid putting extra pressure at the end of the cut, as this is one of the most common mistakes, also known as snipe. It will chisel too much of the wood’s end and will create a deep cut in the corner.
Once you’ve reached the end remove the planer and release the power, letting the motor rest. You’ve just done your first pass. If you need to do more, keep the motor running and repeat the same process.
Apart from learning how to use the tool, you will also need to obey the safety rules that come with most woodworking tasks…
The major points that I want to hit on here are:
- Hand planers are power tools, so you will need to protect your hearing and eyes when working with them.
- Once you turn your hand planer off place the front planer shoe up on a block until the spinning stops.
- When working on something above your head that is too high to reach, use a walk plank set between two ladders at the direction in which you will be working with the planer.
- Use dust masks to prevent inhalation of dangerous chemicals found in some woods
- Make sure that the planer is disconnected when you are changing blades or doing basic maintenance
- Keep the blade-locking screws tight
These are some of the basics that you need to memorize in order to enjoy a safe working environment. Safety is also crucial if you want to comply with your state’s regulations in order to get a business license and start earning money from your woodworking.
Learning how to use an electric hand planer is usually an easy task that won’t take you more than a day even if you have little to no experience in woodworking. It is a straight forward tool that operates on a simple principle and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Ensure that your tool is fully operational, the blades are sharp enough, and your body posture is good. Then, all that will be left is to make the cut. Different cuts will require different periods of getting used to until you fully master the craft.