Hand Plane Shaping

Making a Body Surfing Hand Plane

Almost every time I shape an alaia surfboard I’m left with a good 10″ or more of extra wood.  I used to just toss it or give it away…bad idea.  I’ve since  discovered that besides being a complete waste of wood, these little bits of Paulownia (or whatever wood you might have) are excellent to make body surfing hand planeswith.  Hand planes for bodysurfing are a ton of fun.  Just get some churchill’s and hop in any shorebreak (or regular wave for that matter) and have a blast. They’re not super complicated to make and if you’ve already shaped an alaia surfboard, I’m sure you can figure out a hand plane.  Regardless though, I thought I’d pass along a bit about how to make a hand plane.  For the sake of full disclosure, know that this is just my method, it may not be the best and you may know how to improve on it.  If you do, let me know, I’d love to provide better instructions.  Here we go:


  • Cardboard for an outline
  • Wood (preferably Paulownia)
  • Jigsaw
  • Hand Planer
  • Drill
  • Hand Sander (50, 150, 300 grit sandpaper +/-)

1.  First of all pick your size.  Admittedly, I don’t have any legit outlines.  I did find some measurements online though and I’ve recreated them by combining the measurements with sight.  I made this outline with regular cardboard and traced one side then flipped it over and traced the other.  That way it’s at least even on both sides.  The board measures.  16″ long x 7 1/4″ wide (5 1/2″ down from the nose) and 5 1/2″ wide at the tail end.  That means the outline measure half that horizontally at 16″ long x 3 5/8″ wide by 2 3/4″ wide.  Oh, P.S. I put a slight arch in this one’s tail too.

Hand Plane Outline

2.  Once the outline is traced get out your jigsaw and make the cut.  I usually give it about 1/8″ buffer zone outside the traced line.  If yours is a bit crooked or off in some way don’t worry, you can sand it later to get out any of those minor knicks.  You can actually see a little chunk on the left side of mine…dropped it on a metal rod…but it comes out great later on.


Hand Plane Concave3.  Using the hand planer, I shaved bottom rail down about 1/4″ and kept the bottom rail fairly sharp.  The top I just plane down at a pretty heavy curve until it just about meets the bottom rail.  The exception to this is the nose which, from the bottom, I do the opposite and shave 1/2″ down while the top only get’s planed 1/4″.  This helps give the nose something similar to rocker.

4.  Now it’s time for concave.  Since your board is only 5 1/2″ wide at it’s thinnest point, I put a concave about 3 1/2″ wide and 1/4″ deep that runs at least 2/3 of the way up the center of the board.  That should leave an inch on each side of the concave at the board’s tail (since the concave rolls and doesn’t have any sharp edges, your 3 1/2″ concave area may creep slightly into the 1″ buffer zone on either side of it.  See above pic.

Free Hand Drawing of Hand Grip5.  Now that you’ve got your concave in your ready to cut a hole for your hand.  Some people put a strap on that you can slide your hand under.  If you want to spend money on it they’re awesome.  If not, no worries.  The hole method works great too.  I really just eyed this part, however, it should end up somewhere around 1/3 of the way down the board.  This board measures at 16″ long and the center of the hand hole (which will be called hand grip from here on so I don’t have to feel awkward about saying hand hole…not even sure what it could be but

Hand Plane Grip Cutoutsounds kinda sketchy…) is placed 5″ down from the nose.  I use a drill to clear a space for my jigsaw, then saw away.  To round out the edges of the hand grip I used a Dremmel with the sand paper bit but you can really use any type of sand paper you can get in there.  Just make sure it’s comfy in your hand.


Sand with Multiple Grades of Sand Paper

6.  You’ve probably noticed in a few of these pics that so far my plane job looks pretty rough.  It it.  Sanding is the final step in the shaping process.  First of all, if sawed outside of your outline and have extra space still, sand the board down to the outline to make sure it’s even.  Now, as far as sanding the rest goes it’s pretty straightforward.  I usually start with a low grit like 50 and work up to at least the high 200’s/low 300’s.  Remember, the bottom rail can stay fairly sharp except in the nose; I usually round that out just a bit.


Tung Oil for Hand Plane

7.  Now for the finish.  I use Tung Oil as I’ve found that it holds better than others and gives a nice gloss to the wood as well.  Feel free to use whatever you think will work better.  The first coat sinks in quick and doesn’t leave many results from a visual standpoint.  But after 3 coats you should see that protective coat build up and leave a good glossy finish.  Depends where you are, but it usually takes at least a couple hours in the sun for the oil to dry.  Probably best to let it sit a day between the last coat and using it too.

Ok.  That’s about it.  Now it’s just getting those fins and hitting the water.  You’ll find these little guys give you more float than you’d expect and allow you to prop yourself right up when you’re riding waves.  And like that, one man’s trash becomes another mans body surfing hand plane.   Their tons of fun, so enjoy!