It answered the question for me of what cutting angle on a hand plane I want to use to give a piece of wood a smooth surface—in short, it depends.
The lower a blade’s angle of attack the more it cuts rather than scrapes which in return leads to a smoother surface.
If planing leads to tear-out, increase cutting angle. Because we favour a rougher (i.e. less shiny) surface over a torn-out surface.
The last resort is the cabinet scraper or scraper plane. Advantage of a scraper plane compared to a cabinet scraper is that is has a sole and so keeps the blade from digging into the wood. In other words it keeps a perfectly flat surface.
- Start with a low angle plane, e.g. a #62 Jack plane with a 25° blade (37° angle of attack) or a Japanese plane which is typically equipped with a 38° cutting angle.
- If tear-out occurs increase the angle with a different blade or a bevel down smoothing plane, e.g. a Stanley patterned #4 or a German smoother which typically cut at angles of 45° an 50°, respectively.
- If tear-out is still undeterrable on high angled planes such as a #62 equipped with a 50° blade (62° angle of attack) resort to a scraper plane which should lead to a tear-out free surface that’s still smooth enough to put a finish on without resorting to sanding.
There is a whole series of Vic Tesolin talking at Peter Sefton Furniture School about hand planes. It’s well worth a watch.