A Beginner’s Guide to Chinese Planes

Sat, Jun 4, 2022

Read in 3 minutes

The Philosophy of balance.

A Beginner’s Guide to Chinese Planes

At a glance, a Chinese Plane looks like a Japanese plane with a horizontal stick. Yet upon closer inspection, a Chinese plane is a push plane, and the blade is secured with a wooden wedge, thus it now appears to resemble to a traditional western plane. As you pick one up, you find the similarity ends there: the mouth is somewhat in the back of the plane, and it uses a three-point contact sole like a Japanese Plane. What an interesting plane, you wonder, why this design? and how do you use it?

Well, good question.

The most important word when talking about Chinese planes is “balance”. A Chinese plane is balanced right in front of the mouth of the plane, so that the user can seamlessly switch between front registration surface (AB) and rear registration surface (BC) on the bottom of your sole.

rough illustration of Chinese Plane’s contact system

You stand behind the work piece and grab the plane with both hands on the handle while extending your index finger. When you lift the plane up in the air, it is important that you should be able to adjust the forward tilt of the plane with minimal effort. If your toe or your heel kept sinking down in mid air, you need to double check your center of gravity. To adjust your center of gravity, you remove material from the heavier side by shaping or chamfering, or when excessive material removal is needed, chopping off a sections from the heavier end. Your thumbs can be tucked behind the blades, or below the handles. You also want to rest your palm down on the plane, if you lift your wrist up, you may scratch your knuckles during planing.

Plane holding

When the plane enters its cut, your index finger applies pressure to keep AB plane on the workpiece.

plane enters cut

As the plane fully enters, pressure from index finger is released, and pressure is shifted to the back, applied to the handle (or to the plane body by your palm);

plane in middle of cut

so that when the plane exits the cut, it does not sink down in the front.

plane exits cut

The motion is ergonomic when you are anchored behind the workpiece and keep your arm semi-stiff: like the forward motion of an ab roller, the gravity pulls your head and chest down, causing your hands to slide forward. Your body weight provides the force as well as the pressure dynamics: the more the plane is extended further forward, the less vertical your body weight is applied onto the plane, thus your index finger naturally relaxes with your palm unconsciously pushes down. With your upper body as a vibration absorber, not only you get a stable cut, but you are also able to feel every bit of the wood grain when planing.

For me, this never gets old.