Use a Smoothing Plane to Prepare Wood For Final Finishing

Before the widespread use of sandpaper (or glass paper as it was formerly known), artisans used smoothing planes to prepare their work for final finish. It was the “smoother” that the master journeymen of the past used to achieve the mirror-like finishes seen in many examples of the finest historical wood masterpieces.  So with such a pedigree, it seems a shame that this specialized hand plane has been all but replaced by the widespread availability and appealing usability of sandpaper.

Now don’t get me wrong, I use sandpaper as much as anyone, but despite sandpaper’s dominance, there remain good reasons to use a finely tuned smoothing plane for some of your projects. One is the simple pleasure of creating whisper thin shavings from wood. Plus, the smoother makes no dust so you eliminate the messy and dangerous particles that can clog up your shop, your tools, and your lungs. But perhaps the most attractive reason to consider this tool is the superior finish smoothing planes can impart to the finest of work. In this video, furniture maker Craig Vandall Stevens reveals the secrets to using a smoothing plane for final finish work. Craig’s mastery of this tool for final surface preparation is inspiring. After watching his amazing demonstration, you may become tempted to master the technique too. (4.5 Minute Woodworking Video)

This video demonstration features a Japanese smoothing plane, but the methods and concepts described apply directly to any smoothing plane including western style metal & wooden hand planes.

(5) Comments   


Very nice video. Sounds like maybe Craig doesn’t camber his blade?


Eric – That is correct. He sharpens his blades flat. He says that if he takes a fine enough cut, he won’t have the typical edge ridges that most of us are accustomed to seeing.


One craftsman told me he likes sanding because, while the planed surface is beautiful, he can not plane mouldings and other details of the piece, so he sands in order to get a uniform finish over the whole piece. He might use different grades in different places to plan ahead for how different grains might take up more/less finish and blotch. I was wondering how Craig approaches these sorts of things.

Keith’s Note: I can’t answer for Craig, but when I chat with him next I’ll ask him and relay it on here. As for the advice about prepping for finishing by sanding all surfaces with the same final grit – I would agree with the advice you got. Complex shapes call for a uniform abrasive rubdown. If you are working, as Craig often does, on flat surfaces that can all be smooth planed then, of course, the need to sand is lessened.

Tony Clancy

Quite obviously one would not camber a blade on a smoothing plane. That defeats the purpose. As for smoothness of mouldings….sanding with fine GLASS paper…not emery (and in most cases, on a block, not supported only by hand)can be followed by what professional french-polishers used…as do I…fine steel wool after the appropriate scraper…and scrapers don’t have to stay the ‘shop size’ they can be cut to suit particular purposes. . Craig’s commentary is valuable however…as he showed, but didn’t bring to our attention as he should have, timber blocked only say the END by adog or other can wander and spoil the surface. Timber should be supported closely on at least 3 sides by a frame screws to the bench, or to an adjustable fixture made for the purpose and of timber…which is solidly able to be fitted to the bench and the frame should be less in height than will be the finished timber…and just low enough so it cannot intrude on the planer’s hands…you can’t teach amateurs half the story….you MUST teach them how to firmly hold the victim timber. Cheers Tony

Keith’s Notes: One thing I’ve observed while filming some truly talented artisans is that there are many ways to reach a desired objective. That’s why I so welcome your comments here at WoodTreks. Thanks.


I believe he mentioned in the video why he chose not to support the piece by clamping. He did not want to bow the work piece. Clamping can do that. *can* do that – doesn’t mean it always will. Supporting it in the fashion he did will not stress the work piece, resulting in a perfectly flat face, which seemed to be important to him, given his other comments.