A jack plane and a smoothing plane are both essential hand planes used in woodworking, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics.
So, in this comprehensive comparison guide, let me explain the differences between a jack plane and a smoothing plane to help you understand when and how to use each one effectively in your woodworking projects.
Jack and Smoothing Planes at a Glance
A jack plane and a smoothing plane have different functionalities, purposes, and physical appearances, making them different in a lot of ways.
To get a rough idea of the differences, you will need to know and consider the factors that make them different in the first place. You can examine this brief comparison table to see the differences between a smoothing plane and a jack plane:
Mainly utilized for general tasks
The primary purpose is to smooth surfaces
It has a dull, rounded, cutting edge
It has a sharp, crown-shaped, cutting edge
12-18 inches (length)
7-10 inches (length)
About Jack Plane
Coming from the bench plane family, the jack plane is an all-purpose and versatile woodworking tool mainly used for trimming down wood pieces and smoothing surfaces. It is an essential tool, the king among bench planes.
The jack plane can do what other planes can. If you are considering the functionality, a woodworker or carpenter can use a jack plane after a scrub plane but before jointer planes, smooth planes, and fore planes.
This bench plane is a powerful must-have woodworking tool since you can use it for multiple tasks. You can use a jack plane to remove large quantities of wood material from a particular piece or level out irregularities.
Additionally, a jack plane usually has a long body type that can flatten stock. To operate a jack plane, you need to use both hands. Since it comes with an adjusting nut, you can easily adjust and customize the cutting depth of the jack plane to your liking and preference.
With the versatility and functionality of a jack plane, it is dubbed as the most commonly used bench plane in the woodworking industry.
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About Smoothing Plane
Once the lumber’s rough surface has been adequately dimensioned using the jack plane and flattened with the jointer and fore planes, it’s time to refine and smoothen the wood surface with the final bench plane, which is the smoothing plane.
You can use this plane to smoothen a surface. It can remove fine shavings from the wood and create an extremely smooth surface ready for staining and sealing.
A smoothing plane also serves as a last step in most woodworking projects. It is mainly designed to perform different smoothing tasks and purposes that strip off thin shavings to produce an equal and level finish.
A smoothing plane is available in various sizes, with each having its own specialties. If you plan to incorporate a smoothing plane in your toolbox, ensure that you have it in different sizes to gain its maximum potential in woodwork.
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Key Differences Between Smoothing and Jack Planes
To give you the exact differences between the two tools, here is a thorough jack plane vs smoothing plane comparison:
Common Uses and Purposes
Jack plane and smoothing planes have common and typical uses that you need to know.
The most common uses of a jack plane are:
As for a smoothing plane, here are its common uses:
The primary difference between these two planers lies in their intended functions, as each is designed for a specific purpose or to achieve particular goals.
This is a general-purpose plane used for numerous tasks.  However, its primary use is reshaping and resizing timber or lumber for a finer and more desirable shape.
Also, a jack plane is typically used at the beginning of woodworking since it helps attain a certain smoothness for the surface. Jack Plane can perform the job of most bench plane family members!
This plane is a woodworking tool that can shape and reshape wood, flatten surfaces, perform jointing work, and smoothen wood.
The smoothing plane is primarily used for smoothing the surface of the wood, whereas jack planes are typically employed at the beginning stages of woodworking, with smoothing planes being utilized towards the end to achieve a finely finished surface.
Being the last stage of most woodworking projects, it’s the job of the smoothing plane to ensure that the wood surface is even and smooth. A smoothing plane can also help get rid of fine shavings from the surface.
Note that if you’re trying to purchase a new smoothing plane, be sure to pick one plane with an adjustable throat plate. This specific kind of smoothing plane allows you to customize and adjust it according to your needs.
Aside from functionality and purpose, these bench planes also have noticeable differences in the appearance of their blades. They have different blade shapes, so their methods and results are also vastly different.
A jack plane has a cutting edge that is dulled, rounded, and honed straight. With those features, you can leave behind your worries about needing a sharpened blade every time you will use it.
The blade has a 1-2 inch cutter width angled at 45 degrees. It is necessary to identify the cutting width to get a good idea of the resulting surface’s flatness and the amount of work to be done.
Wider planes will create flatter surfaces, although it will require time. Planes that are narrower create flatter surfaces more efficiently if you wield them correctly and precisely. A jack plane helps prevent splitting and cutting with its rounded cutting blade.
These high-angle planes come with an angle of about 49 degrees. While working on intricate wood grain patterns, you can utilize the blade angle to prevent a tear out of the wood.
They have crown-shaped and sharp blades that require sharpening before use. With the blade having a cambered shape, the plane can move on small or minimal curves, which are hard to see due to overlapped cuts.
You must constantly sharpen its blade to get the expected smoothness you are looking for on the wooden surface. You may use wood stones to sharpen it.
Size of the Plane
Using a range of plane sizes, typically numbered from 1 to 8, allows woodworkers to achieve finer dimensions and a smoother finish on wood surfaces.
The functionality of a plane depends on its size and sole length, making it important to choose the appropriate plane for each specific woodworking task.
Number 3 and number 5 are the typical jack plane sizes. Although plane size number 5 tends to be cheaper and easily used on scrub work and tasks. That means you can save a few bucks and would not need to buy a replacement.
The number 5 has a 14-inch sole length plus a 2-inch cutting width, which efficiently and effectively works for finishing and rough tasks.
As for a smoothing plane, the most commonly used plane size is the number 4, which has a 9-inch sole length and a ladder that is 10 inches long.
Notice that a smoothing plane has a well-balanced sole length and width for the cutter— a critical feature when smoothing parts and woodwork furniture. Number 4 smooth plane is famous for cabinets since it is quite heavy and doesn’t wear out quickly.
The larger ones are typically heavy and can leave behind tears on the delicate surface. Therefore, it is vital to find the right plane size in line with the delicateness of a wood surface.
A plane frog exists to work as a scraper. An adjustable iron wedge can help keep and maintain the plane iron at its proper angle. The frog’s angle can directly influence and affect the plane’s functionality.
A jack plane features a tooth-shaped iron edge. The number 5 jack planes can come with a 45-degree blade angle that allows the plane to glide along the wood surface easily.
While you can utilize a jack plane to smooth surfaces, its sharp blade edges can never be better than smooth planes.
A smoothing plane features smooth edges, allowing it to perform final smoothing for a wooden surface. Unlike jack planes, it does not have sharp, rough edges.
This bench plane is undoubtedly perfect and designed for smooth surfaces. For specific features, its number 4 variant has a frog angle of 50 degrees, which can help lessen and reduce curly wood tearing.
Another factor wherein jack and smoothing planes differ is their camber. The cambered iron can help in terms of smoothening wood and light shaving. Also, camber can quickly remove materials.
To attain full functionality of the jack plane, you must use a couple of iron cambers to make it work. Heavily-cambered iron can take narrow and deep scoops out of the wood.
Also, a less-cambered iron typically does a similar job as a smoothing plane in terms of smoothing the wood surface.
Conversely, the smoothing plane has a minimal camber since it is only utilized to smoothen wood. The plane’s irons are also straight-nicked and have a softened corner.
In woodworking terminology, a mouth opening is a gap between the plane and its cutting edge. A hand plane with a smaller mouth opening tends to create thinner shavings. Mouth opening is another factor that makes these two planes different.
A jack plane has a mouth opening that you can adjust at 1/16 inch or 1.6 mm for typical and general woodworking activities and tasks.
The mouth opening must be set depending on the shaving’s thickness. Since the shavings of a jack plane are thick and large, the mouth opening should also be more expanded than other planes.
You can control the mouth opening by loosening the plane’s front button, then turning its lever to adjust its twisted plate at the front.
A smoothing plane has a thinner shaving, making the mouth opening smaller. Though, with a smaller mouth opening, the plane can prevent a wood tear.
However, if you engage in rough or heavy smoothing tasks, the mouth opening needs to be wider to avoid the smoothing plane from choking and clogging.
Keeping the mouth opening small is fine for lighter and non-rough surfaces with minimal defects to prevent the wood from tearing out.
When to Use It
Here is a smoothing plane vs jack plane comparison in terms of their differences in usage:
You can utilize a jack plane when working on general tasks on a wood piece. That includes resizing, reshaping, flattening, and even smoothening.
A jack plane is also great for removing the wood’s higher points. Since it is longer than the smoothing plane, it provides a straight edge.
Typically, a woodworker uses the jack plane at the beginning of most woodworking projects as it can mainly resize and reshape wood to acquire a desirable smoothness on the surface.
The smoothing plane is mainly reserved for use at a woodworking project’s final stage. Its primary purpose is to create maximum smoothness on the wooden surface.
Can You Use Jack Plane Like A Smoothing Plane?
You may use the jack plane the same way you’ll use the smoothing plane. However, a few exceptions exist. While a jack plane contains properties similar to a smoothing plane, it cannot compare to the latter regarding smoothing a wood surface.
A jack plane can never perform as exceptionally well as a smoothing plane since the latter plane is specifically designed to achieve a highly smooth and even result.
The jack plane is not ideal if you’re aiming for an even and smooth finish. It can never replace or exceed a smoothing plane in terms of smoothing abilities. Choosing the smoothing plane for smoothness is always better since a jack plane can accidentally ruin it with its dull blade.
Can you join using a jack plane?
You may use a jack plane to join wood. Although, while capable, it would always be better to use a joint plane if you’re doing any jointing work.
What plane should you have as a woodworker?
For professional woodworkers, it would be ideal to own and have each plane to perform every task with precision, efficiency, and effectiveness. Among the planes you must have are the Jack plane, Smoothing plane, Shoulder plane, and Block plane.
What other kinds of wood planers are there?
The woodworking industry has various types of wood planes, all with their own uses and individual purposes. Aside from the smoothing plane and jack plane, other wood planes include:
Can you use a smoothing plane for rough stock removal?
You may use the smoothing plane and try it for the removal of rough stock, but it is not entirely ideal or recommended. It differs entirely from the type of work the smoothing plane does.
Are smoothing planes and jack planes good for all wood types?
Both bench planes suit different wood types, although some may need different angles of blades to work efficiently.
What are safety precautions when using jack and smoothing planes?
Like any other woodworking tool and plane, you must take safety precautions and measures when using the smoothing plane or jack plane.
Among the must-have gear are safety goggles to protect your eyes and skin from potential irritation. Also, make sure you use the correct technique while using these planes.
Hopefully, this jack plane vs smoothing plane guide answered most of your concerns with both tools. Each plane has a specific use and purpose, but if you’re woodworking for a living, it might be essential to have both to enhance your skills and gain better results.