Some might call this type of hand plane exotic, eccentric — even antiquated, but Japanese planes are attracting increasing notice and attention, even in today’s world where modern tools and machines offer instant ease and results. The Japanese plane, known as Kanna to the native speaker, appears to be simplicity itself. Historically, this plane was comprised of only two parts, the Dai or body, and the blade. But this apparent simplicity is deceptive because the designing and crafting of each part is a complex and exacting process steeped in history.
Fortunately, using a Japanese plane, at least at a basic level, is far easier than making one. In this video, Japanese tool expert Craig Vandall Stevens introduces us to this interesting, useful, even powerful hand tool. He’ll break down the basic construction of the plane and take a closer look at the uniqueness of the Japanese forge welded iron & hardened steel blade. Craig also demonstrates the correct methods — the hand & body positions and the unique pulling motions for enabling maximum success. (6 Minute Woodworking Video)
What a great video, well done Keith and Craig! A couple video suggestions for the future:
1. Using a kanna to smooth a wider board (so far we’ve only seen Craig plane edges).
2. Using other types of Japanese planes (jointer, block, whatever they use).
Does the kanna have a cambered blade? What’s the most common way to sharpen it – waterstones? Anything tricky about sharpening a Japanese blade?
Keith’s Note: Thanks Eric for all your kind words and support (from Malaysia!). Great comments and yes, I’ve got more videos in the pipeline. Viewers should make sure they subscribe so they don’t miss new stuff coming out – on the subjects you mention above and other vidoes from my travels in the world of wood.
Yes, great video! Shouldn’t jump in, but yes Eric, it needs to be cambered. I have a Japanese smoother that needs a bit more camber, it makes a nice clean cut but you can see an feel the edges of the cut still. I need to camber it a bit. Bob
Keith’s Note: Bob – Thanks for your thoughts on this video. On cambering – I’m not taking a position on what, if any, amount of cambering is correct, because where views differ there are always several approaches. Craig’s approach (who is in Japan teaching artisans in plane use, right now as I type) is to not camber the blade of his smoothing plane. He says that the final cuts are so fine, so whisper thin, that it is not necessary. Craig is very interested in the reflectivity on light on his work, so he has told me he generally wants a perfectly uniform surface. Still, when I speak with him next, I’ll ask Craig for clarification on his view. All that said, there are many outstanding artisans who camber their plane blades, so there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat. (Wink!)
Funnily enough, woodworking tools are about engineering, not religion. A brand new Stanley jack-plane (and it doesn’t get much better) is about $100 (plus a bit for two extra blades – – guess why?) and NOT $300-$700. So, if you are serious, stay with your Western engineers. So, unless of course you want to do “Zen and the art of planing”, take a modern plane (forget the collectibles: modern steel is a different animal from what our grandparents had access to), take a diamond stone to the base to get five years polish in afternoon, and go do some serious work. One other point: you punch forwards, not backwards, and a javelin is thrown forwards, not over the shoulder. Yes, rowers face backwards, but that’s because their power comes from their legs. You don’t plane with your thighs: you use your back. Planing is about upperbody muscles.
Keith Note: Most viewers and visitors to WoodTreks like to remain open to — and celebrate — the wide variety of approaches to the craft. That said, I’m glad you’ve found an approach that works for you.
If you follow Christopher Schwarz, who is one of the most knowledgeable people in the craft when it comes to hand tool usage, especially hand-planes, he will explain how planing (with a western style plane) should use the muscles in your legs, NOT your arms. Your leg muscles are much larger and tire much slower. You should “walk” the plane down the wood, lunging forward smoothly with your legs. You can plane for far longer, especially when planing long stock, than you can if you just “shove it” with your arm muscles.
Anyway, Japanese have studied body movement and how to best do things for longer than we have had western planes. I’m sure they have invested far more time in finding the best way to use the body for planing than we have in “engineering” a Stanley Jack plane.
Anyway, everybody knows Lie-Nielsen is king of the hill in brass and iron western style hand planes. Stanley is not even close in quality. Come on, aluminum cap on the new SweetHeart? the threads were nearly strippen on the brand new, in the box plane that I inspected. Total junk.
Old Stanley’s, awesome, will never say otherwise. New stuff in junk, period.
And as for “steel technology” being better now, that may help with the blades, but as for the bodies, they’re cast iron, and old cast iron is better than new for many reasons. One major reason is new iron is usually made in China, with very few manufacturers using American foundries for casting plane bodies and other parts. Chinese cast iron is junk, with a very high silica content, very brittle and hard with no malleability, not near ideal for a plane.
Again, Lie Nielsen leads the way in that area of technology, with Stanley lagging FAR, FAR behind.
Stanley was King, they never will be again. NEVER.
Keith’s Note: Thanks for the thoughts Kenny. As with most things having to do with the craft, opinions will vary but overall you’ve captured the essence of what most hand-tool users generally agree on regarding hand planes. And I’d clarify, and I think you agree, that the old pre-war Stanleys/Baileys are still highly regarded and bear no similarity to their modern cousins.
Thoroughly enjoyed the video.
Good video, but one question about planing technique with japanese planes:
You are using the smoothing plane with two contact surfaces on the sole. You told that you press back of the DAI (the DAI-jiri) with your right hand and left hand is for controling only. So, you don’t press front of the DAI (the DAI-gashira) at all, because there is recessed area; it makes sense. But if you press the DAI-jiri on the board’s end (on near you), the end of the board surface will go down (.. will became “convex” bit by bit..). So, your board is not straight after that…
So, HOW you KEEP the plane after last contact surface on DAI-jiri by-passed/touched the end of the board ? (You cannot press DAI-gashira nor DAI-jiri; both of them will cause problem related to straightness.)
Comparing to Western plane: 1) Start planing by pressing front of the plane 2) When you are coming closer to the end of the board, you must press back of the plane, so this is somehow “U” -shape planing motion. Otherwise the end will become convex..
Keith’s Note: I’m not sure I can answer your question. Craig is the expert on this and I think his explanation in the video will have to stand on it’s merits. It might help to bear in mind that the total amount of wood taken off during the smoothing plane process is microscopic, so no matter how you conceptualize the possibility that you might plane a slight curve into the board, the amount will be almost unmeasurable. Also, there is probably far great deflection caused simply by human error in handling the plane. Good question though and again, I don’t have a definitive answer myself on this.
I agree with you, and I think that this issue will get worse when using a Japanese jack or jointing planes. This kind of “tipping error” will also happen very easily in western planes although planing technique is a bit different than the Japanese one.
Cat photobomb @2:17!
Appreciated the video. On pulling vs pushing technique: traditionally daiku — the several trades westerner would call carpenters, joiners, cabinetmakers, etc. — typically worked on-site; instead of spending the clients’ time-money building workbenches with heavy vises they’d use a simple planing beam for large or heavy work. For precision there was the most stable surface: the ground.
Try pushing a western plane or saw from the ground….
The pulling motion begins with a stretch: tension in the lats and hamstrings and abdomen. This is where motor-neurons signal a brief stretch response aiding the muscular exertion of initiating the pull. Watch sprinters crouch down and “set” their stance before jumping out of the blocks.
I have been using and making Japanese planes since the 70s. I have a different take on all the points that CVS makes, though I will say he is sticking to the generally conveyed script. That doesn’t help though, because technical explanation is not part of the Japanese craft style, so a lot of these reasons westerners are placated with are possibly constructed.
1) It makes no sense to say pulling is more efficient than pushing, both work fine if you are fit, injuries can dictate otherwise. What is happening with pulled planes (or pushed ones motivated largely by the front knob) is that the geometry is like an anchor where the blade is pulled in deeper and deeper. With push type forces any hesitation tends to pop the blade out of the cut. This is quite significant, in that once I built a whole 24 foot sailboat and didn’t have the chance to sharpen my Jap. plane. It got horribly dull and the min. shaving got thicker but it kept cutting wood, fiberglass, and plywood for 6 months. The efficiency of the geometry of the Japanese plane makes it possible for it to be made a lightly as possible, and still do just as well as a very heavy steel or bronze plane. And the existence of those heavy planes (a different use of the anchor principle) is evidence of the poverty of the design.
2) The concave shape on the back of the blade may function as CVS says, though I believe the main function is to make it easier to fit the blade, which is something that can happen throughout a heavily used planes life (hobby use, you probably won’t need to). Japanese carps adjust the ramp with a chisel, not something like a float or scraper, generally. If is very hard to get a clean cut of extreme fineness with a chisel off a flat surface. It is far easier to get it off the aris of the convex form, just as we take cuts from corners, back and forth with chisels, to leave pyramids that are smoothly removed. But it is possible the location function also helps. Just consider the extreme accuracy that would need to be required for it to render adjustment unnecessary. It could make adjustment to the mean easier. It is the case that getting a blade back in these planes is incredibly fast. I did a test for Woodcentral once, where I cycled (removed and reinserted to the point it took a shaving, and it was like 12 seconds, 20 if set to a particular depth of cut).
3) On chisels and planes the idea the hollow is there to make removing metal less work doesn’t make much sense. First, the hollows are done with machine tools, and if making set-up was the only reason then they could simply be lapped flat without a hollow. At initial set-up the hollow does make it easier to flatten if you didn’t make it right in the first place, but over the life of the tool you have a far larger job getting through the hollow. Why would one take that on? The real reason is the Japanese polish just as much on the back and the bevel. When I started out the western advice was to just work the bevel for the most part. But in Japan they polish both equally, that is only practical if their area is similar. Particularly if you have incredibly fine cutting stones, it literally takes hours to polish the blades out to the finest degree with those stones, as the blades are.
4) On cost, I have always enjoyed the more expensive Japanese tools I have bought, and felt they added something and were good value, but we do not get the full range of tools over here by any means. I have a catalog that is twice the size of the Lee Valley catalog, and it was stuffed with pages of tools, in fine script, some are very cheap. The cheap tools, and the variety never make it here. One of my most used tools is a plane I made around 1980, that used a 65mm blade from the Lee Valley catalog, the blade cost 13.50 Canadian. It’s a great blade. I have some cheap chisels I bought back then that were about 8 dollars each and made with HSS in the Japanese style, wonderful tools.
People seem to have the idea that the whole Japanese thing is some thin scam. No, there are tons of makers, all kinds of price ranges. A country of users. The people who have earned the respect of the craft are making exceptional products, like a Krenov made, though frankly against a background of far deeper competition.
People in NA have today a choice of amazing tools, but it is still really thin compared to what they have in Japan, and that goes for power tools also. The reason Japanese tools crept into our market is something for the Stanleys and Records to explain, because it happened because their tools in the 70s were garbage, and there were not a lot of other choices. That has changed, but it wasn’t the foreign tool makers who were scammers, at the time.
Mikko The difference between jointers, jacks, and smoothers, and similar planes is that jointers make things flat as a consequence of their geometry; Jacks are more processed by eye (you see a high spot and reduce it); smoothers are running on surfaces that are already flat (or finished to some other shape they can follow). Japanese jointers do have 3 points of contact: Both ends and ahead of the blade. So they work the same way western ones do, which is not the way most people think they work. But that is another story.
A lot of western plane thinking is affected by the fact that for the most part they are used as toys (though this has changed a lot in recent years). Much of the interest has been in finish planes, and yet we have a sanding culture. If you factor in athletic plane activities like preparing wood from the rough, Japanese planes have many advantages, but one less wonderful feature is that they need to be gripped. Even when I had young rock climber hands, that was a stress during long sessions. These days it is getting to be painful. Western planes you can lean your hands and body on. Maybe some day I will have to add straps to my Japanese ones.