Staff, Courtesy of Stanley
Block planes are invaluable when it comes to smoothing and trimming wood surfaces, and unlike their larger cousins—bench planes—are small enough to be used one-handed. This makes them not only useful for smaller planing jobs like cleaning up end grain, or leveling out dovetails, but also convenient to carry around in your belt or toolbox. Even if you’re more comfortable working with power tools, traditional hand tools like these still have their place in a garage or tool shed, and once you get the hang of them, you might find yourself using them more than you think.
What to Consider
If you know that you’re going to be working with medium-sized lumber, any of the basic, single blade options below will be fine, but if you know you’re handling smaller pieces, we’d recommend going with an extra-small option. Their narrow blades allow you to focus your planing on a more precise area, and can offer more control than larger planes.
For shaping softer wood, or materials like drywall, PVC, or foam, you should probably consider a surform option. Unlike most planes that use one blade to remove single sheets of wood, these are designed like a food grater, with many small blades.
When your work calls for more larger-scale planing projects, you’ll likely want to go with a bench planer, instead of a block plane. These are larger, two-handed tools meant for smoothing rough lumber, or other lengthy wood pieces.
How We Selected
Although I typically used automatic, corded planers in my woodshop, I still have experience using different types of block planes. I used this insight to put together this list of options, as well as additional research to get a better idea of the different types of planes that would be most useful to the average DIY-er. I kept pricing in mind as well, so whether you’re ready for a high-end tool that will last for years, or a beginner option to get you started, you should find a plane that fits your budget.
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Best Mid-Sized Option
This fully adjustable Stanley planer can be customized to a range of depths and alignments, making it a good choice for those who are looking for a reliable, all-around tool. An epoxy coating makes this an especially durable option, and should stand up well to potential drops or falls that can occur while working. The machined sides give it a smooth finish, and help contribute to its slim, 2.17-inch width.
At $33, it’s priced lower than most similar planers you’ll find, and the limited lifetime warranty will have you covered if you experience any issues.
Best Overall Option
We’re big fans of the quick-release cam lock of this planer, which makes it easy to switch out or remove the blade whenever you’d like. It’s also designed to be easily used one-handed, thanks to the convenient finger grips on the sides of the unit.
It rests at 21 degrees and can be adjusted to 13.5 degrees, and also features a cast-iron base that makes for a solid, heavy-duty feel. This plane also weighs just 1.3 pounds, which makes it a good fit for those who are planning on using it for all-day projects.
Best Budget Japanese Model
This wooden Kakuri planer is designed to be used by pulling it down your wood surface, as opposed to pushing it like most other models. This allows you to maintain maximum control during operation, making it a great choice for those who prioritize accuracy in their work. Its wooden body, light weight—just 8.9 ounces—and compact size also makes it ideal for performing precise movements that would be less intuitive with heavier, bulkier planes.
With so few moving parts, this is an especially durable option, and should stand up well to regular wear and tear of a garage or woodshed.
Most Durable Option
Bench Dog Tools No. 60
It’s more expensive than the other picks on our list, but if you’re looking for a high-quality, precise planer, this Bench Dog model could be worth the investment. The frog and base are cast in a single piece, making for a nice and smooth operation, and should eliminate any rattling during use. It also includes a soft storage sock for the planer itself, which will reduce the chances of it getting scuffed or accidentally damaged when not in use. Made of cast iron and brass, this planer is nice and durable as well.
Best Surform Model
We love the design of this planer, especially the textured finger grip on the front which allows you to really maintain control as you go. This emphasis on control, and its slim footprint, make this model especially useful on narrow, thin surfaces, as well as for use in awkward or hard to reach areas.
Despite this lightweight and compact design, this plane is still really durable, due to its single-piece metal body. Blade changes are also quick and easy, thanks to a convenient thumb screw on the rear of the plane, with no screws needed.
Best For Extra-Small Applications
It won’t be practical for typical large-scale planing projects, but this tiny tool will be invaluable for precise, intricate tasks. At just 2.7 ounces and 3.15 inches long, it’s also compact enough to keep in your toolbox or tool bag without taking up much room at all. It is also easy to disassemble when it’s time for a blade change, since both the frog and the base are cast in single pieces. It’s probably smaller than you think, so make sure to really check the specs on this tool before you purchase, and make sure it’s suitable for your intended use.
Best High-End Option
E.C. Emmerich 649P
Even though its more expensive than the other block planes on our list, the handcrafted look and precision craftsmanship of this model could be perfect for the right customer.
It’s nice and compact as well, and along with the finger grips on the sides and front of the unit, make it easy to control and comfortable to use. A handy screw adjustment mechanism makes it easy to customize the blade height to your specific project, and the large rear knob provides a sturdy place for your palm to sit while you work. At just one pound, this is also one of the lighter options we included.
Best Japanese-Style Option
Another Japanese plane, this Kakuri model is designed to be used for larger planing projects, and is capable of removing 60mm of material with each pass.
Even though this option is larger than the other planes featured here, that size does result in more control as you go, and less effort required to operate. Its squared-off wooden body is also comfortable to hold, and provides a natural, textured grip.
This wouldn’t be ideal for a first-time woodworker, but if you have some experience and are interested in learning more about Japanese planes, it could be a great fit.
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