Get to Know Japanese Handplanes
A guide to setting up and using these rewarding tools
Synopsis: Ready to take the plunge and try using a Japanese handplane? With its massive, tapered blade, this tool can be sharpened to an unmatched edge and leaves a surface that is second to none. Japanese planes cut on the pull stroke, however, and it requires time and dedication to learn to use them correctly. Andrew Hunter offers an introduction, from setup to sharpening to proper use.
I first took the plunge into the unfamiliar waters of the kanna, or Japanese handplane, more than 15 years ago. Learning to use one took time and dedication, but the reward of the shimmering surface it leaves was well worth it. There is more to Japanese handplanes than can be expressed in a single article, but my aim here is to provide a kind of diving board for anyone else interested in taking the plunge. I promise the water is delightful.
What makes these planes different
Japanese planes cut on the pull stroke, and it can take a while to adapt to this, though when you do you’ll discover it gives you both more power and more control. But the first challenge with a Japanese plane is that it isn’t ready to use out of the box. You get great ingredients, but it is up to you to make the tool perform well. This responsibility might seem daunting at first, but as you grow more comfortable with your plane you will be glad for the control.
The heart and soul of the Japanese plane is its massive tapered blade. A descendant of the samurai sword, the blade has a thin layer of superhard steel laminated to a thick layer of softer mild steel or iron. The hard steel provides a cutting edge of unparalleled sharpness, while the softer backing metal dampens the…