Aside from obvious visual differences, the unique feature of Japanese planes (kanna) compared to Western planes is they are pulled towards you, not pushed. Commonly used in a standing position with an angled planing beam, the plane is used to create polished surfaces without the need for sandpaper or finishing oil.
A Japanese plane consists of 4 main elements:
Body – usually white or red oak
Blade – laminated from two pieces of steel, to produce a thin, hard, brittle edge supported by thick, soft steel
Chipbreaker – a second blade that breaks the wood fibres after they’re cut, reducing tear out
Holding pin – holds the blade and chipbreaker in place
There a many different planes for all types of work, here are a few of the most common. Please note, if you buy a Japanese plane, you’ll need to set it up, including conditioning the body and sole, instructions for which will be posted in an up-coming blog post!
Hira Kana (Common Plane)
There are several types of hira-kanna which look very similar but each have slight differences in size and set-up for different tasks e.g. roughing or smoothing work.
Summary: A cutting-down plane used to get material to rough size
Ideal for: Removing large amounts of material
Tips: When setting up this plane make sure the area of the sole in front of the blade is relieved slightly more than other planes, enabling this plane to shave all areas of the wood you’re working on.
Blade width: 60mm or narrower
Summary: Like Herashi-kanna, another roughing plane but with shavings that aren’t as thick
Ideal for: Rough sawn wood straight from the mill
Tips: Be aware this plane will leave some tear out which can be tackled in the next stage of finishing (see chu-shiko below).
Blade width: 60mm or 65mm
Summary: This plane is used for the smoothing phase after using an ara-shiko plane for roughing
Ideal for: Tackling those tear outs left by the ara-shiko
Tips: Craftsmen in Japan often have two different chu-shiko, with one leaving a better finish
Summary: For the final phase in smoothing, this plane will be used to get that glassy, polished finish
Ideal for: surfaces that are visible to the naked eye
Tips: For micron-thin shavings the blade needs only protrude a fraction from the sole
Summary: The Japanese ‘Jack’ plane, with a body longer than it’s sole
Ideal for: Cabinet makers use this kanna to produce a completely flat surface
Tips: Can be used just as well both flat and on it’s side
Other Types Of Planes
Summary: A scraping plane with the blade set at 90 degrees to the sole, this plane scrapes instead of shaving the wood
Ideal for: Planing very hard wood and soles of plane blocks (dai)
Tips: Plane across or diagonal to the grain
Summary: A Japanese ‘shoulder’ or ‘rabbet’ plane, where the blade is angled so that the cutting edge is even with the side of the block
Ideal for: Cutting the corners of rabbets
Tips: There a several sub-types of these planes, all of which are detailed in Toshio Odate’s book
Interested to learn more? We’d recommend Toshio Odate’s book ‘ Japanese Woodworking Tools’ as a great introduction to the history and evolution of kanna, including vital aspects such as set-up and care.