I reviewed 7 of the most popular hand planes online and found that overall, the Stanley no 4 12-404 is the best manual hand plane.
In the years that I have spent woodworking, handtools have always come up top for me. I prefer them for their accuracy as well as for their reliability. Thus, I prefer hand planes over electric hand planers. You can get hair perfect accuracy with a hand plane once you get used to it.
The only advantage that you will get from an electric planer is speed, which is good if you need to work on large batches in short time frames. They are not the best for beginners, and only the expensive ones will give you the accuracy you can get from hand planes.
Maintaining hand planes is also part of their appeal. You can easily take out all the pieces, hone the blade and tune the parts to your liking. The sharpening method is the same as your knives and chisels. It is a process that I have come to enjoy, and I believe you will too once you get into it.
Why Stanley 12-404 No. 4 plane?
The Stanley 12-404 No. 4 hand plane represents a fantastic balance between affordability and quality. As with all budget options, the sole of the piece that you get might need grounding up to get it truly flat. The blade will require some sharpening and honing and this is true even for some expensive pieces, although maybe not as frequently.
The 12-404 hand plane from Stanley, after you have taken it through the one-time grinding process, has the potential to become your only hand plane. This is especially good for beginners and those who are on a tight budget.
In exchange for a few hours of work, you are shaving off more than a hundred dollars from the price of a good hand plane. While it is not perfect, such as the two screw adjustment system that can weird out many users, it is still a great bargain and will last decades if used with care.
My List Of The Best Woodworking Hand Planes:
1. Best Overall: STANLEY No.4 Hand Planer (12-404)
There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to picking the best overall plane. Stanley has been successfully relied upon for decades by carpenters and woodworkers everywhere. They started the no 1 to 8 sizing pattern and all the other companies followed after. They are known for their expensive hand planes worth $200 and more. However, the No 4 12-404 is like a well-kept industry secret, given its price.
Like all other mass-manufactured tools, you do get the odd lemon. Most of them will need some tuning like flattening the sole and the sides, honing the blade, etc. As a beginner, if this seems daunting. Don’t worry, it is a good thing to get used to.
I choose this as the best overall because once you are done with your grinding and tuning, you will be getting a reliable workhorse of a plane. One that will see you through decades of work.
If you are not afraid of getting down to flattening and sharpening right out of the box, you will be hard put to get a better deal on a plane like this. Great for beginners as well as for professionals looking for a backup or rough planing piece.
2. Best Block Plane: STANLEY Hand Planer (12-220)
This piece by Stanley is the best block plane for the price. It is an extremely handy piece of equipment to have for intermediate to expert woodworkers. If you are a beginner but need to work on finishing end grain and smaller spots, you might also appreciate its compact, one-handed design and hard steel blade.
As a bevel up block plane, it has the advantage of getting more control with shallower cuts. Perfect for those end grains, but it might catch the grain in other parts of the wood. Once you get used to it, though, it is a good piece to have on hand for finishing your projects. I especially like the screw adjustment on the blade – something that a lot of budget block planes lack.
Like all budget hand planes, this one will most likely need some amount of sharpening and tuning before you can use it. Once you do tune it up, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well it performs. With proper time and effort invested in maintaining it, it can serve as your go-to block plane from here on out.
3. Best Jack Plane: Stanley 1-12-137 62-Low Angle Plane
This list is getting pretty heavy on the Stanley planes, and with good reason. Their reputation is built on decades of experience in creating some of the best woodworking tools in the market. This low-angle plane is no exception. It charges a hefty price for it but manages to live up to the proportionately increased expectations.
Low-angle planes are versatile tools because of the way the blades are positioned. With a couple of spare blades ground at various bevel angles, this can become your main plane for everything from roughing to smoothing.
Buy this if you want a professional piece that doesn’t require much work out of the box. It will last you a lifetime.
4. Best Jointer Plane: Grizzly Industrial H7568-22″ Plane
Many of you may think it is best to do your jointing with a dedicated machine. Owning this jointer plane from Grizzly will quickly change your mind. Machines are only good when you have tons of money to invest and a lot of rough work to get through quickly. If you want a smooth stock that slides true, nothing beats jointing by hand.
Even if you are using a machine, you can finish off the job using the Grizzly and be amazed at the results. The 22” length is convenient for dealing with large pieces with dips and bumps to even out.
If you are willing to work a bit for the initial setup, this will be a great addition to your shop. It is handy for the times when you need to flatten large areas or pieces. Even though it is more expensive than most Jack planes because of its large size, it is still a budget piece for a jointer plane.
That said, it performs admirably, and the initial setup is not always very elaborate, depending on the work you get and your personal preferences.
5. Best Japanese Plane: KAKURI Mini Kanna Wood Planer
As I mentioned earlier, the Japanese always have their unique take on things, and their planes are no different. That said, once you get used to Japanese planes, you will start wondering why you ever did it any other way. The Kanna or the wood plane is one such thing.
This specific model from Kakuri is ideal for those looking to get buttery smooth surfaces on their projects. The blade is simple to adjust – just use a small hammer to push in or hold the blade with your thumb and hammer the base to push out. I know it sounds like it cannot be precise, but it is. It takes a little getting used to, though.
The crucial difference here is that you pull the plane instead of pushing it, like a vegetable peeler!
If you are looking for precision work and greater accuracy, try this out. The Japanese are known for their intricate and precise woodwork, and they always use the Kanna.
6. Best Professional Bench Plane: Stanley No.4 Premium Plane
If you are looking for a premium option for adding to your professional woodworking operations, one that will perform various planing tasks, look no further than the trusty old Stanley No. 4. Pretty much every woodworker worth the name has one or an equivalent because it is just a great size to have.
A versatile piece, this is the jack plane you want to have if you can only have one. It will do everything from roughing to smoothing, especially if you are willing to invest in a couple of extra blades and bevel them differently for different tasks.
You will barely need to do any flattening or truing right out of the box at this price. The blade might need some honing on your strop but that’s about it.
You will notice the quality construction on this plane the moment you take it out of the box. The sole and sides are always properly squared and there is usually little to no setup required. If you want world-class quality, buy this plane.
7. Best Mini Plane: Stanley 21-399 6-Inch Pocket Plane
When working in tight spots, you need something so small that it fits in your pocket. The 21-399 is precisely that.
It is a tiny hand plane made for small applications, such as board edges and end grain. You will also find people using it for a wide range of non-woodworking uses, including leveling the hooves of their goats!
If you are looking for a dirt-cheap pocket plane for various DIY uses, this is the option you have been waiting for. It will be the best $10 you have ever spent.
The Final Cut
Overall, I think that the Stanley 12-404 is the best hand plane for the money as it provides a good balance between quality and cost at most price points.
That said, if you want a well-rounded piece that will serve you in several different situations, I recommend the low-angle plane. It is lighter than other types of hand planes, and changing the blade will allow you to tackle a wide variety of grains.
Otherwise, just go for the best Jack/Bench plane you can afford. Don’t be confused by the names. They are the same thing. The No. 5 plane is the most commonly used size, with some opting for the No. 5 1/2 because it is slightly wider.