Block plane dials in the details
Mike Pekovich demonstrates how he uses his block plane to create roundovers and bullnose profiles, to make parts appear thinner or thicker, to exaggerate a curve, or even to make a straight edge appear curved.
Synopsis: If all you’re using your block plane for is to knock the corners off the edges of a board, you’re missing out. This little handplane is one of the most important design tools in your kit. You can use it to create roundovers and bullnose profiles, to make parts appear thinner or thicker, to exaggerate a curve, or even to make a straight edge appear curved. You can fix shadowlines and reveals with it, and design a number of creative edge treatments.
The block plane is probably the one hand tool that inspires the least amount of fear, but maybe the least amount of excitement as well. Even if we’re not at the level of taking gossamer-thin shavings with a smoothing plane, there’s a good chance we’re knocking the corners off the edges of a board with a block plane without a second thought. However, if that’s all the consideration you give to your block plane, you’re probably missing out on the capabilities that make it one of the most important design tools in your kit.
While larger, longer planes excel at flattening and smoothing, the block plane excels at shaping. That chamfer we cut on the edge or end of a board changes the geometry of the board. And therein lies this little plane’s power as a design tool. It’s the details of a design that bring a piece to life, and those details are often best handled with the block plane. While it’s great for a simple task like breaking an edge, it can also create roundovers and bullnose profiles. It can refine the appearance of parts by making them look thicker or thinner. It can exaggerate a curved arch, or even give a straight edge the appearance of a curve. You can straighten up shadow lines light is dispersed as it reflects off the rounded surface. On the other hand, the light will reflect evenly off the flat surface of a planed chamfer, creating a crisp highlight or shadow line. While the difference may be subtle, when you multiply the effect by every edge of a project, clean chamfers will add a crisper look overall.
There is nothing wrong with a rounded corner if that is the effect you are after, but having the ability to create a crisp corner offers you a second choice, and therefore more control over your design.
The wider you make a chamfer, the greater the impact it will have on the look of a piece. And the location of the chamfer will determine the effect you create. A tabletop is a good example. Adding a chamfer to the edge can make the top appear thinner or thicker. Since you view a tabletop from above, adding a heavy chamfer to the bottom corner of the edge will make the top look thinner. But a heavy chamfer along the top increases the visual width of the edge and makes it appear thicker. This is because the eye takes into account the width of the chamfer as well as the thickness of the edge, and the total is greater than the width of a square edge with no chamfer.
From Fine Woodworking #284
Photos: Rachel Barclay
To view the entire article, please click the View PDF button below.
Learn how to restore a block plane to peak performance