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How to Use a Jointer Plane

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The term “jointer” is used to describe a tool that makes lumber, usually boards, flat so that they can fit together to form a larger, solid piece of material. A jointer machine is a large table designed to create flat surfaces on wood.

A jointer plane is a handheld tool; a long, more robust version of the standard hand plane. In this article we will describe how to use a jointer plane.

Jointer Plane Basics

One of a few different types of bench planes, a jointer plane is meant for squaring edges and flattening panels. The jointer plane is one of the largest of hand planes, generally reaching between 20” to 30” in length. Longer planes exist, but they are often mounted on tables and not manually moved back and forth.

Jointer plane surrounded by wood shavings

A general rule of thumb is that a hand plane can flatten a piece of wood that is about two times its length. The extended length of a jointer plane means you can straighten, edge, or flatten a piece of wood that is over 40” long.

What makes a jointer plane so effective in flattening long surfaces is its long sole. The sole of a plane is the flat area that rests against the material that is being planed. You will realize after a while that many parts of a hand plane are named after parts of the human foot.

The long sole of the jointer plane creates an extended base that feels the inconsistencies of the board it is moving across. As long as the sole is true, the cutting edge of a jointer plane will do its best to create a flat surface, cutting away any excess material that does not match up with the long, flat plane that the sole is following.

Parts of a Jointer Plane

There are quite a few parts of the jointer plane, but we are only going to go over the most important ones, with a few of the less important parts listed only because of their interesting names.

  • Frog – the area where the blade and chip breaker rest.
  • Toe – the front section of the plane.
  • Tote – a front handle where downward pressure is placed from your front hand.
  • Sole – the flat bottom that directs the flatness of the cutting.
  • Iron – cutting blade of the plane.
  • Heel – the back end of the jointer plane.
  • Chip breaker – a hard piece of metal pressed up against the iron (normally with a screw) for stability. It also breaks up the shavings that come up through the plane.
Jointer plane on a table with wood shavings beside it

Using a Jointer Plane

Before starting any project, always make sure there is enough room to maneuver around the object you are working on. Since we are working with a non-powered hand tool, safety equipment like eye protection or gloves is not necessary, but still recommended.

Keep in mind that the cutting edge, the iron, is extremely sharp, so take the necessary precautions when moving your fingers around that area.

Adjust the Jointer Plane

Any hand plane must be adjusted before every use. Hard use, incorrect storage, or just simple jostling can change the alignment of the plane. Some vintage or custom made jointer planes may have different methods of adjustment, but we are following basic plane adjustment ideas here.

Check your manufacturer’s instructions to verify.

  1. Twist the depth adjustment wheel until the cutting edge sticks out a little bit below the sole.
  2. If the depth adjustment is hard to turn, loosen the screw that holds the lever cap and chip breaker in place.
  3. Once the correct depth is set, tighten the screws back up.
  4. There is a lateral adjustment lever used to make the cutting edge of the iron parallel with the sole. Adjust this so they match up, otherwise you may end up with a bevel instead of a flat surface.
  5. Check the lateral adjustment with a carpenter’s square.

When starting your planing project, set the initial cutting depth so that it takes off very little material. Starting out too deep can jam up the plane and cause unwanted marks on the wood surface.

Preparing the Wood to be Planed

Various kinds of woodworking tools

After all the proper adjustments to the jointer plane have been made, it is time to start flattening your board.

The first step is to stabilize the wood on a solid surface. A workbench is preferred, but any flat table that you are able to use clamps with will work. A woodworking vise is the preferred option to clamping the piece from the sides so that the entire top surface is free to plane.

However, there are other options.

Standard C-clamps by themselves will not work because they will block part of the area you want to plane, but you can use the C-clamps to mount another piece of wood (from this point on, known as the “planing stop” as a secure backing that you can plane the new plank against.

The Planing Motion

An important part of using a jointer plane is the motion used to run the tool over the wood board you are flattening. Two hands are used with the tool, so the natural thought is that you can simply move the tool back and forth or side to side. This could work, but will not be very efficient.

Be sure to note the direction of the grain, and plan to plane as much as possible along that same line.

Grip the back handle with your rear hand, making sure that your index finger does not try to find a place to rest on the iron or chip breaker. Pressing against these can knock the lateral adjustment out of whack. Make sure your forearm is in a straight line behind the jointer plane following the direction of the sole.

With the front hand, hold onto the tote, or front handle, with a comfortable strong grip. Lean forward, putting the strength and stability of your body behind it. Push from the back hand while pressing down with the front hand, keeping the sole as flat on the surface as possible. 

Person using a jointer plane to flatten a piece of wood

Forward strokes should be straight, while bringing the jointing plane back to its original position is often easier to do in a half-arc. On a wide, long surface, you can perform this action in a rapid, but smooth, motion.

For narrow edges and ends of planks, use a slow, steady motion. Since there is very little material surface to keep the sole flat, it is easy to tilt to the sides if moving too quickly.

Check your shavings as they come out of the jointer plane – they should be even from side to side. If one side is thicker than the other, you are creating a bevel that will need to be corrected.

Jointer Plane Tips

  • The iron/blade must be very sharp – using a stone, sharpen it at a 25 to 30 degree angle. A dull blade will be difficult to plane with.
  • Clean after every use.
  • Store on its side, or if storing flat, make sure it is on a flat surface and the iron is not protruding.
  • For tough woods, try planing with the blade at a bit of an angle.

Conclusion

Learning how to use a jointer plane is much the same as learning to use any other plane, the main difference is just that a jointer plane is a longer version. Because of the additional length, be sure to check that you have enough room around your project to use the jointer plane to its full ability.