Sharpening and the Japanese Hand Plane – In Depth

by Dale Brotherton (adapted from The Wooden Post, vol 8, September 2017)

Our sincere thanks to Dale Brotherton for allowing Kezurou-kai USA to reprint these pages from his book. Sharpening and the Japanese Hand Plane – In Depth can be purchased directly from Dale’s website here.


When planing, consider the shape of the piece of wood being worked on and realize that every stroke is reshaping it. If it is flat and you want it to remain flat, then the planing must be even from end to end and edge to edge, with each path slightly overlapped and overhanging each edge of the board at the start and the finish. 

When the plane is set up well, with the cutting edge straight, the block conditioned properly with subtle relief, and the wood being planed is flat, then the entire surface of even a wide board can be planed without leaving any corner step cuts. There is no need to curve the blade edge to avoid steps.

If the piece is not flat and your plane base is finely conditioned, then you will only be able to shave (remove wood) from the high spots. The plane itself is the tool to make it flat. Examine the piece of wood with a straightedge and winding sticks and notice where your plane is cutting (the high spots) then proceed to shave the wood as neccessary, working towards a perfect flat surface.

If you will be regularly flattening boards by hand, consider having a series of planes set up for the job.

  1. A rough, coarse-set plane for removing waste quickly.
  2. A medium-set plane for getting closer to flat.
  3. A jointer plane that has a longer-than-normal block with fine relief for the most accurate flattening.
  4. A finish plane with the finest setting for the best final surface.


Before starting, examine the board to get an idea of its overall shape. Try to picture where it resided in the tree, how it was rough cut, and how it might have changed (shrank or warped) to its current shape. Pick a wide face to start with and set winding sticks on each end. Then prop up the corners of the sticks as needed until they register no twist.

Now measure down equal distances from the winding sticks making marks at each corner of the board. Snap lines on all edges of the board, connecting the marks and creating a reference plane to work towards.

Next plane a 45º chamfer down to the line all around. This makes it easier to see the reference marks while looking down from the top as you are planing. The surface can now be taken down with your rough plane, concentration mainly towards the perimeter, leaving the center of the surface slightly bulged. When you get close to the lines, switch to a medium plane to refine the surface and flatten out the center, using a straightedge for reference. Further refinement in flatness is accomplished with the jointer plane. Work until you can achieve unbroken shavings that are the full length of the board from overlapping straight cuts, starting at one edge and moving across the board to the other edge. (See diagram to the left.)

To prepare the other surfaces of the board, mark the location where one edge wants to be by snapping a line. Plane to the line, checking for square off the already flattened face. Then measure over from the first edge, or, if it is a small enough piece, use a marking gauge and create a straight line and create a straight line for the second edge. Again, you can square off the first face.

Finally, the opposite face can be marked in the same way by measuring or using a marking gauge off the first face. Then flatten it as you did the first face.

Sharpening and the Japanese Hand Plane In-Depth Cover Photo

Published in 2017. This is the first comprehensive guide to the setup and use of Japanese Hand Planes. Using traditional methods, Dale presents step by step procedures supported by years of experience teaching workshops in the United States. A must have for beginners, loaded with valuable information for any level of skill!

Click here to buy Sharpening and the Japanese Hand Plane – In Depth by Dale Brotherton

DALE BROTHERTON, began working in this field in 1978. He spent 6½ years in traditional full time apprenticeship with a well known teahouse carpenter in the San Francisco Bay Area. This apprenticeship was dedicated to concentrated practice with traditional hand tools and learning refined joinery methods. Dale then spent 2 years as a “journeyman” in traditional residential construction in Nagano-Ken, Japan expanding his skills, studying traditional building design and structural layout. With nearly 9 years of intense study accomplished, Dale returned to the USA founding TAKUMI COMPANY. Since then he has remained committed to the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship completing over 100 projects for private customers, institutions and municipalities.

Dale Brotherton