Japanese hand planes are simply a delight to use. When well set up and sharpened by an expert they glide through wood with little resistence and leave a surface finish second to none. The thing that impressed me most about planing wood on the kesorokai tea house project however was the way the worksite was organised on a sloping site so that gravity helped the work.
The Japanese carpenter planes not at a bench but on a beam, these beams are portable and we had several set up on the tea house work site, the beams were all sloping slightly downhill and as we worked we pulled the planes down the slope.
The obvious big difference between Japanese planes from European is that you pull rather than push them but there are other differences too. The blades are very very thick, always laminated and sharpened on a single bevel rather than with a secondary bevel. This has pros and cons, it means when sharpening a larger area of metal is in contact with the stone which means it is easier to control the sharpening and maintain a good flat bevel by hand but it takes longer to remove the metal. The Japanese deal with the latter issue by having incredibly fast cutting waterstones, more on those later.
There are other differences too, in tuning and setting up of the plane and in use. The blades are set at lower angles than typical European style planes, around 37-8 degrees rather than 45, this makes the European plane easier to use but the lower angle of the Japanese plane when correctly set up gives a far superior glass like finish.
The Japanese tea house we built had a lot of planed timbers where the the European timber frame was predominantly finished with broad axes. I liked these simple supports for planing long timbers, the rough timber was marked with a snap line, rough shaped with the axe then planed. I spent one afternoon hand planing solidly for 4 hours, it was surprising how much work could be achieved and we were soon knee deep in shavings.
More posts coming on saws, axes, yariganna and my favourite tool the Japanese adze.