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I've heard conflicting anecdotal advice on how to put down a hand plane.

"Don't put a hand plane down on its bottom; always put it on its side or you'll throw off the blade." (source: Grandfather, who was a contractor for 50+ years)

and also

"Don't put a hand plane down on its side; always put it on its bottom or you'll throw off the blade." (random people on the Internet)

Is there a more correct way to set down a hand plane? What is the best way to store a hand plane?

  • The most convincing reason I've found for setting the plane down on its side is that it has a sharp iron, and it's possible setting it down on its bottom will cause the iron to gouge whatever surface you set it on. But I also note that almost everyone who builds a plane till is setting them down on their bottom with no apparent damage to either the plane or the till. – Charlie Kilian Aug 28 '17 at 19:14
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"Lay your plane on it's side son."

This is the long-standing advice. It is old, nobody knows how old, but many (most?) now don't do this, some to deliberately buck Old Timer advice (which can often seem folksy and overly cautious*) but some because they've thought through the problem and come to a definite conclusion not to.

The evidence is in and it appears that you don't need to set a hand plane down on its side and I think the majority no longer do this. But it's still worth looking into it a little and see whether it might be good advice, as it apparently once was.

Why you should
The usual explanation given for why you should do this is to prevent damage to the cutter, and at first glance this does seem to make sense. But then you think about it a bit and realise that the edge of this cutter is (repeatedly, and at speed!) going to be asked to run over wood much like you were about to place it down on and you're not worried about it being damaged by that. So it sort of doesn't make sense.

But then you think about it just a little further — a benchtop is not the same as the wood you are working. Its surface is older, maybe scarred from use (look at old benches and their tops are often in horrible shape, even in really good workshops producing quality stuff) and all those imperfections might hold untold horrors when it comes to abrasive particles from many possible sources. I wouldn't want to risk the finely honed edge of a plane iron on that, much less risk picking up some grit on the sole of the plane (lubricated as they were with oil or grease) which could be transferred to the workpiece.

Why you shouldn't
One reason given for why we shouldn't do this now is that the old advice comes from an era when planes were made from wood with an iron very firmly held by a wedge, and so they retained lateral adjustment much better than metal bench planes with the usual mechanism. So, the thinking goes, any of the standard Bailey-style metal planes may lose lateral adjustment if laid on their side.

I find this superficial thinking and unsatisfying because of course many generations of users of metal planes were following the old advice by rote and dutifully laying their planes on their side and obviously weren't experiencing problems with lateral adjustment being thrown off. We can know this with some certainty because if it had been occurring regularly we'd have heard about the risk through the anecdotal sources and it would be immortalised in print in at least some of the books, and yet both are silent on this possibility. Well, until now and the easy spread of oddball ideas through the Internet!

Another reason given is that a plane laid on its side exposes the sole with the iron projecting slightly and this poses a danger to knuckles etc. accidentally bumped into or passing by the plane as you reach for something. This is much more convincing. I've nearly cut myself in just this way so it's not merely a theoretical danger.

The bottom line for a lot of us
More than a few current woodworking gurus using hand planes, with both wood and metal bodies, don't lay their planes on their sides and haven't done for many decades and have never had an iron's edge become damaged as a result.

Since most of us will be using our planes far, far less then they will and in a similar working environment (clean, or at least cleanish, indoor workshops) it's a fairly safe bet that you can safely follow suit.

But....
However, if you work on building sites and the surface you lay your plane down on might be contaminated with who-knows-what dust, metal particles and random specs of grit from many possible sources then it only makes sense to be more cautious and lay your planes on their sides.

Working at home you can follow the old advice and lay your planes on their sides if you want to, regardless of your reasoning, but I would caution to lay them down the the sole facing away from the side(s) of the bench you commonly stand at. Or lay it in your tool tray if you have one.


*You'll read in some older guides that chisels were supposed to be placed bevel down as well to protect their edges, which most assuredly seems unnecessarily cautious to modern users working in their home workshops.

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Do you really have to ask if your grandfather is more authoritative than random people on the internet? (Of whom, I should note, I am one.)

Put the plane down gently. It's a good habit to put the plane on its side, though I'm occasionally guilty of not doing this when the surface it's being placed on is non-abrasive.

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    Well, one of those random people was Paul Sellers. Is there a reason its a "good habit" to put the plane on its side? – Scribblemacher Aug 27 '17 at 1:04
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    I'm not steeped in Sellers, but it looks like he's always working at a bench. So, he's not going to damage his blade on anything abrasive. He'd probably argue that a plane sitting on it's sole is faster to pick up and use. My working life is out in the wild, so I do try to avoid placing sole down. – Aloysius Defenestrate Aug 27 '17 at 1:58
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    "Do you really have to ask if your grandfather is more authoritative than random people on the internet?" Why yes, yes he should. Many a grandfather is wrong about stuff! – Graphus supports Monica Aug 27 '17 at 5:40
  • I hate to break it to you, but your grandfather is also a random person. There's no knowledge of woodworking required to have descendants. – SaSSafraS1232 Aug 28 '17 at 15:58

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