What Is A Compass Plane? What Is A Circular Plane?

what is a compass plane
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The Compass Plane, also known as a Circular Plane, is a woodwork plane with a curved sole which curves through the length while staying even across. Compass planes were traditionally used by wheel-wrights and joiners for planing concave and convex surfaces.

Planes curved across the sole are either called a Round Plane or a Hollow Plane depending on the profile of the curve.

Compass planes were originally made from wood and were usually fitted with a 1 3/4 inch or 2 inch cutting iron and back iron. Most of the wooden compass planes were fixed to the curvature in which the soles were made to. If the user required a different curvature they would either need a different plane or they would need to reshape the wooden sole manually with hand tools.

In the 19th century iron versions began being sold, the peak of these sales were reached in the 20th century. At the start of the 21st century there is hardly any of these hand planes made.

The metal compass plane / circular plane has a flexible steel sole which is fixed to each end of the body. The centre of the sole is adjusted with the use of a screw. This screw mechanism pushes or pulls the flexible sole to set the curvature required. The frame incorporates a feature to act as a front and rear handle.

What Is The Difference Between A Compass Plane and Circular Plane?

A compass plane and a circular plane are both woodwork planes for working curvatures.

Historically a compass plane was a wooden plane with a fixed convex curvature. Later in the compass plane evolution came the invention of the iron compass plane which was adjustable to allow an arcing range of convex and concave curves, this led to the name 'Circular Plane' being used by the manufacturers.

The term 'Compass Plane' is often and more commonly used for iron circular planes.

The Iron Compass Plane (Circular Plane)

old compass plane

The iron compass plane was most represented by Stanley followed by Record.

The iron compass planes were advertised and called 'Circular Planes'.

The iron compass plane / circular plane is usually equipped with an adjustable sole and fine blade adjusting mechanism.

The iron compass plane offered some big selling point improvements over the old wooden compass plane designs.

Two of the big improvements were:

  • The iron compass planes had a depth of cut and lateral blade adjustment mechanism.

  • The iron compass planes had a curvature adjustment that allowed the user to adjust to a wide range of concave and convex curvatures which was a massive improvement over its wooden counterpart design.

old compass plane

The iron compass plane is a plane which is readily seen today which is a sign of a popular tool (certainly popular in the past).

However... given that there are virtually no new manufacturers of this type of tool today, it says one of two likely things:

1) This tool has been superceded by a technological tool advancement which makes the job a lot easier.


2) There is too much supply of old compass planes to make it worth new manufacturers producing this type of plane.

The iron compass plane has seen a very long production run of over 100 years which is another big indicator of a successful, popular tool.

There have been two main iron compass planes designs which have seen the most production, these are the Stanley 113, Stanley 20, Record 0113, and the Record 020 plane.

There are a couple of other manufacturers who have made their version of these types of design including Sargent and Union.

Today there are virtually no new makers of this design, the only one I am aware of at the time of writing this is the Kunz compass plane.

The Wooden Compass Plane

old wooden compass plane

The wooden compass plane is an old traditional woodwork plane with a curved sole, usually a fixed convex curved sole.

There were three main types of wooden compass plane:

Many of the fixed sole wooden compass planes were manufactured by various wooden plane makers however it should be noted many wooden compass planes seen today have at some point in their history been formed by a previous owner reshaping a wooden smoothing plane sole into a curved compass sole - this makes little difference from a user point of view.

old wooden adjustable compass plane

The adjustable wooden compass planes have an adjustable node at the front of the plane which depending on the design is either knocked gently with a small mallet or wound using a winder adjusting mechanism.

The concave compass planes appear to be a lot less common with many of them often relating to coopers tools / barrel making.

The wooden compass plane has likely been around for centuries with it growing to prominence through the 1700's, 1800's into the early 1900's.

There have been a number of compass plane makers in the past, with very few present makers. Below are a list of a few well known compass plane makers:

Old Compass Plane Makers:

New Compass Plane Makers:

  • Kunz


(i) This review/article may give warning(s) / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines given in good faith, any such information should not be solely relied upon and seen as the exhaustive list of warnings / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines. Refer to good safety practices for the safety of you and others. Refer to good practices for the good health of your tool and property.
(ii) The details here are given in good faith, the details are constantly growing and evolving, there is scope for error and shouldn't be fully relied upon, please confirm any details for yourself by performing additional research from reliable sources.

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