What is a Block Plane Used For?

In the vast arsenal of woodworking tools, the block plane holds a special place. This compact, hand-held tool, easily distinguishable by its small size and blade set at a low angle, might appear unassuming at first. However, its impact on woodworking is profound and has been so for centuries. At the crossroads of functionality and finesse, the block plane emerges as an indispensable instrument for both novice woodworkers and seasoned artisans.

What exactly is a block plane?

A block plane is a hand tool used in woodworking for smoothing and shaping wood, especially for trimming edges, and end grain, and fitting parts together. It’s compact and designed for one-handed use, making it handy for quick tasks.

Low angle block plane with wood shavings

The significance of the block plane lies not just in its ability to perform a variety of tasks but also in its adaptability. Unlike larger, specialized planes designed for specific functions, its versatility makes it a go-to tool for a range of woodworking applications.

Whether it’s for refining the end grain of a wooden board, creating a precise chamfer, or achieving the perfect fit between joints, the block plane proves its usefulness time and again. Its compact size makes it easy to maneuver with one hand, and its design allows for quick adjustments, offering unparalleled control to the user.

Since a block plane is smaller than other planes, such as the standard bench plane, It is easy to keep nearby and use as needed. It is one of the most used tools in my workshop. It can be used for many things and once you have a tool that is properly set up, its precision and ease of use will have you reaching for it over and over again.

Types of Block Planes

There are several types of block planes, each with unique features designed for specific tasks in woodworking. Let’s look at the various types below.

Standard Angle Block Planes

The standard angle block plane, often considered the jack-of-all-trades, is characterized by its 20-degree bed angle. This configuration makes it exceptionally versatile for a wide range of woodworking tasks. Designed to cut end grain and perform general-purpose work, it’s the go-to tool for quick touch-ups and refinements.

The standard angle block plane is perfect for shaving off thin slices of wood, assisting in fitting parts together, and rounding off sharp corners. It offers a balance of functionality and maneuverability, making it a staple in any woodworking shop.

Low Angle Block Planes

The low angle block plane is uniquely designed with its lower cutting angle set at 12 degrees. This lower angle slices through end grain more efficiently, making it an ideal tool for precision tasks such as trimming joints and fitting parts.

Stanley low angle block plane

The primary difference between a standard angle block plane and a low angle one lies in the blade orientation. The blade of a low angle version meets the wood at a less steep angle compared to its standard counterpart, facilitating smoother, more controlled cuts, especially on difficult grain patterns.

It gives you the ability to take whisper-thin shavings with little effort, making it a favorite for finish work where fine-tuning is required. It works great for planing end grain.

Rabbet Block Plane

The rabbet block plane serves a distinct role. Specifically tailored for cutting rabbets, a task typically performed using power tools, the rabbet block plane stands out with its unique design featuring a blade that extends the full width of the tool. This enables it to cut right up to the edge of a workpiece.

This property makes it particularly good at trimming and adjusting rabbets and tenons for a perfect fit. It allows for more control and precision than power tools, making it an essential tool for tasks that demand a delicate touch and meticulous attention to detail.

Adjustable Mouth Block Plane

The adjustable mouth block plane adds an additional layer of flexibility to this versatile tool. Its key feature, as the name suggests, is an adjustable mouth that can be widened or narrowed to accommodate different amounts of material being removed.

Adjustable mouth view on block plane

By manipulating the size of the mouth opening, you can control the thickness of the shaving being taken, allowing for more aggressive or delicate cuts as required. This feature is helpful for preventing clogs in the opening when removing more material. It can also help to decrease the amount of tear out.

Primary Uses of the Block Plane

Smoothing End Grains of Boards

One of the primary uses of a block plane, particularly the low angle variety, is smoothing end grains of boards. The low angle allows the blade to slice through the wood fibers rather than tear them, resulting in a smooth, clean finish that is often impossible to achieve with other tools.

This precision makes it an indispensable tool for any woodworking task that requires a neat, polished end grain.

I often use mine to shave down box joints after gluing them. Since box joints usually stick out after being glued together, you need a way to remove the excess end joints. An orbital or belt sander can work but a low angle block plane that is set up correctly is my preferred choice.

Chamfering (Beveling) Edges

Chamfered edge on walnut board

Chamfering, or beveling, edges is another common use of a block plane. With its sharp blade and precise control, it can transform a square edge into a beveled one with ease and precision. By carefully positioning the plane at an angle to the wood and applying steady pressure, thin layers can be shaved off of the wood to create a beveled edge.

This process not only softens sharp edges and corners, reducing the risk of splinters but also adds an aesthetically pleasing, finished look to any woodworking project. The ability to manually control the depth of cut provides the flexibility to create a wide range of bevel angles, from subtle to pronounced.

Cleaning Up Rabbet Cuts or Tenon Shoulders

Rabbet cuts, a crucial part of woodworking joinery, often require refinement and cleaning. Here, the block plane’s precision and ease of use shine brightly. Its sharp blade allows for the smooth removal of small, unwanted wood shavings from the rabbet cuts without disturbing the adjoining wood surface.

The compact size and low angle of the block plane blade facilitate precise control, enabling the user to clean up the rabbet cuts without risk of overdoing it, thus ensuring a snug, perfect fit for the joint.

A rabbet block plane is perfect for this use and can make the tedious task of readjusting rabbet cuts a breeze.

Removing Thin Shavings for a Fine Fit

Perhaps one of the most valuable uses of a block plane is its ability to remove thin shavings of wood, allowing for a precise, tight fit in woodworking projects. This is especially crucial when fine-tuning joints or fitting pieces together. Rather than taking off large chunks of material that could potentially ruin a carefully crafted piece, a block plane, with its razor sharp blade and precise depth control, can delicately shave off minuscule layers of wood.

This process, often referred to as ‘sneaking up’ on a fit, ensures that a woodworker can incrementally work towards the perfect fit without the risk of overdoing it. Just a few passes over the material using light strokes is usually all it takes.

The shavings can be so thin that they are translucent, a testament to its capacity for remarkable precision. This meticulous level of control, combined with a keen eye and steady hand, can lead to spectacularly tight fits, and joints that are both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound.

Another method to remove small amounts of wood is by using sandpaper. However, this technique requires significantly more effort and elbow grease compared to using a plane. This can be time-consuming and physically demanding, especially when attempting to achieve the same level of removal that a block plane can easily accomplish.

Furthermore, sandpaper may not be the most efficient tool for reaching all areas of a piece of wood. The flat, inflexible surface of sandpaper may not be able to access tight corners or irregular surfaces, which a block plane can handle with ease.

Lastly, sanding could potentially result in uneven results, especially if done by hand. The amount of pressure applied can vary, leading to inconsistent removal of material. This contrasts with the smooth, uniform shavings achieved when you use a block plane.

While sanding can be used for minor adjustments and surface finishing, a block plane is your go-to tool for more significant material removal and precise shaping in woodworking.

General Shaping and Fitting Tasks in Woodworking

When a wooden piece needs minor adjustments, the block plane’s sharp blade and precise control allow for quick and smooth shaping. You can simply glide the plane along the surface of the wood, with the blade removing small amounts of material with each pass. The cutting depth can be finely adjusted to ensure that the plane removes only what’s necessary, preventing over-shaving and maintaining the integrity of the wooden piece.

One of the main advantages of a block plane in these tasks is its ability to handle both straight and curved surfaces. Whether you’re trying to shape a straight edge or a subtle curve, the block plane can adapt to the task at hand. Its compact size also enables it to reach areas that larger planes cannot, making it particularly useful for intricate shaping tasks.

With a block plane, it’s not just about removing material. It’s about refining and defining the shape of a piece. Slight adjustments can make a significant difference, and the block plane facilitates such precision, allowing woodworkers to achieve their desired aesthetic and functional results.

For those small tweaks that often make the difference between a good and a great woodworking project, a block plane is indeed the tool of choice.


A block plane is indeed a multifaceted tool, proving its usefulness in a myriad of applications. The ability to chamfer edges, clean up rabbet cuts, remove thin shavings for a fine fit, and handle general shaping and fitting tasks, truly highlights the versatility of this simple tool.

As a personal testament, my experience with my first block plane was enlightening. It quickly became an invaluable tool in my workshop, deserving a spot on my workbench every day. It is a tool whose potential I hadn’t fully grasped until I began to use it. From that point on, the block plane has enhanced the precision, efficiency, and quality of my woodworking projects.

Whether you are a seasoned woodworker or a beginner, investing in a block plane could be the difference between success and frustration when it comes to your woodworking projects.