Hand planers come in a couple of varieties, electric and hand and they really serve 2 different functions. Hand planes have been around in one form or another for a centuries and are used in many areas of woodworking. Electric hand planes are a somewhat recent addition having been around for the past 30 or so years.
The electric version, which is what we are dealing with here are more associated with building type construction and carpentry and even home renovation, than they are to fine woodworking. That's not to say that many of us don't have them, just that they get used less frequently by woodworkers than a carpenter might or renovator might. For example, I do a LOT of woodworking and I'm not sure I use mine more that a couple times a year, but when I do, it works great for what I need.
One of the issues with electrical hand planers is their short length and the amount of wood they can plane down in very little time. The short length, like any plane, does not allow for a huge amount of control in terms of making a board straight and flat, and if the blade is set to a low depth, a person can sometimes do more damage than good when working with fine tolerances.
My plane gets most used when I have some rough lumber that I am planning to run through the jointer and later of the stationary planer. Sometimes this wood gets some nasty jags in it as it comes from the mill. Rather than run these boards dozens of times through the joint, sometimes it's quicker and easier to hand plane these down to a workable stage with the electric hand planer.
When using the electric hand planer that are a few things I have learned ...
1 - always set the planer to take of small amounts of wood, just a skim at a time.
2 - make sure you have clear path to plane and that there are not bumps or notches that will prevent a smooth transition from end to end. If there are, skim these off first
3 - do NOT expect your electric hand planer to make your boards flat and straight. They will pretty much follow the contour of the wood so you will need to manually skim off parts to try and make it flat.
4 - as you begin planing move pressure on the tool toward the back part of the plane and let the blade do the cutting
5 - the electric hand planer is NOT a substitute for a jointer or even a stationary thickness planer.
Electric hand planers are great little tools in the right conditions and can save time and effort when used correctly. Make sure that you never lay any plane flat on it's blade, even if the blade is fully retracted, best to lay planes on their side or mount them so the base is angles away. Just a good habit to get into.
Copyright - Colin Knecht