Tool of the Week: The Power Plane

By Patrick Dunn

There’s a beautiful image that comes to mind when you think of an old woodworker in his shop, shaving off a paper thin slice of red cedar with a jack plane as the wood burning stove in the corner helps heat up a kettle of coffee for break time.

This picturesque scene surely still takes place here in Seattle but often there are a few modern conveniences thrown in to alter that nostalgic vision and maybe add a little noise and dust to the recipe. Among other tools, a power plane is usually one of the key culprits…and with good reason.

The power plane is designed to accomplish the same task as a traditional plane, which is mainly to smooth, flatten, straighten, or square off a wooden workpiece. With its additional muscle, however, it can far outperform a traditional plane in terms of speed and productivity. This performance undoubtedly comes at the cost of a little bit of finesse and woodworking poetry. Once you use a power plane, though, it’ll still be difficult to revert back to the aesthetic beauty of traditional planes.

Unlike a traditional plane with a solid base and an adjustable blade, a power plane has front and rear base plates and a non-adjustable blade drum. Rather than adjusting the blade, a user selects how much material to remove simply by rotating the front handle, which raises or lowers the front plate. The difference between the height of the front plate and the rear plate will then determine the amount of material that the plane removes.

Throughout these adjustments, the power plane’s blades remain fixed on a rotating drum, much like on a jointer. The smooth cutting action that results allows the power plane to handle wavy grain or knots with barely a change in pace.

To the inexperienced user, though, that smoothness can be both a help and hindrance, as it makes it much more difficult to feel the cut and to understand what the tool is actually doing. It’s also sometimes hard to tell when the wood grain of a workpiece suddenly changes direction, a variable that is crucial to fine woodworking. Users who are new to power planes and trying for that pretty look therefore often end up with a little cleanup work to do after they’ve completed the planning process.

Once you get the hang of it, though, the power plane can be a thing of beauty, even to the most hardened and stubborn, traditional woodworker.

The Power Plane is just one of over 1,000 tools currently available at the West Seattle Tool Library, which is free to use and run primarily on user donations. If you or someone you know you would like to be involved in The Tool Library, feel free to drop in on Saturdays from 9am-2pm or Sundays from 1-5pm to explore the Library, meet our community of DIYers, and maybe sign up for a membership. In any case, we look forward to meeting you!

The Tool Library is currently located in the LHO Complex off the North Entrance to South Seattle Community College, 6000 16th Ave SW. In April, however, the Tool Library will complete its move to the Denis Jorum Workshop at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW, and begin full operations at that location.

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