Warning– the following blog may make your head explode.
Here in America, you probably have heard hand planes called various terms such as the try plane, jack plane , and fore plane. You may have had confusion deciphering them and which ones are what. To add even more to the mix, if you go just over the pond and up north, they also have names such as long, half-long, halfin and hafflin planes.
They look similar, so in many cases, they are lumped into the title “bench planes”. They are the planes that are longer than a smoothing plane and shorter than a jointer. They do have a usefulness to them and each woodworker should have one in their own shop. The good news is you don’t need all seven of them. So lets break them down.
Doing research on these planes I found that they mostly were the same plane. Yet, every author has a different thought on them. (including myself) Depending on region and time era, these terms might slightly vary. Here’s the history break down of them as found in the books I used as resources. (See Essential Hand Planes for the Workshop part 1 blog).
The JACK PLANE- The length can be from 14”-18” and anywhere from 1 ¾”- 2 ½” wide. It should have a blade that has a slight convex curve of 5-8 degrees in radius. However, most store bought jack planes today have a straight blade.
The name, jack plane, in history varied depending on when and where you lived.
In America, pre 1850 carpenters call this a jack plane and furniture makers call this a fore plane
after 1850 it was universal accepted as a jack by both trades.
However, if you lived in England the planes could have a different name.
USA 16” plane in length – 19th century called a jack 20th century called a fore
England “ same as USA
USA 18-20” plane in length- 19th century and 20th century called them a fore plane
England 18” same as USA
20-22” plane in length- 19th century called it try 20th century called it jointer
The FORE and TRY plane (Scotland calls it a long, half-long, halfin and hafflin planes) – was 22” in length, with a straight blade.
pre 1850 it was called a try plane
after 1850 it was called a fore plane
And there you have it! Clear as mud, and yes, you are correct. The terms seem to overlap in time and region. I guess even the experts all have a different say on the terms. So are you thoroughly confused? Well here’s my breakdown of them and it’s a whole lot easier.
In my opinion, I call the jack plane, one with a metal body and a fore plane with a wooden body. The term fore is rumored to be that you use this plane, “before” you use a smoothing plane. Both are 14-18 inches in length with the slightly curved blade. This curved blade allows you to take a deeper passes and remove more wood faster than a smoothing plane.
The try/jointer plane for me, it’s the same plane. It’s 18-30 inches in length with a straight blade. If I am using the plane on the face of the board it could be called a Try plane because i am “trying” to flatten the surface. If i’m using it on the edge of the board, it’s a Jointer plane to “join” the two boards together. To keep it easy, i don’t use the term “try” i just refer to it as my jointer.
So in summary, I would suggest woodworkers to have a Jack plane and a Jointer, and forget about the fore and try. So far i have told you which planes to own but in a later blog i will explain when and what order to use the planes. But until then, don’t forget to dance. Oh yeah!!!!!!