Ninety percent of all my hand tools I inherited from my father but he never owned a fully adjustable block plane. He personally did not see the need for all those adjustments in a block plane. He spent all his woodworking years with two very basic Millers Falls models. I on the other hand am not a fan of the tap the heal of the plane for this, front of the plane for that, and nudge sideways etc. So I decided to go forth and buy one along the lines of a Stanley 60-1/2
My first stop was my local Sears as it is only 7 minutes from my house. They had the Footprint brand model but all the boxes looked like they had fallen from the truck, and to be honest I thought (wrongly so) that the fit and finish could have been better. The sears craftsman model looked OK in it’s blow molded box but I did not like the fact it was “Assembled in Mexico with foreign components.” but the 19.95 price tag not bad.
I go out of my way to buy American first, Canadian second, European third so I went to the local woodcraft store to see what they had. They had the very nice Lie-Nielson but the over hundred dollar price tag was a bit much for a block plane (I am my father’s son) the Stanley Sweet Heart series of planes had two nice block planes, but alas still a lot of money for a block plane.
Not inside the locked cabinet were the Gröz planes. Despite their German name are made in India and the quality looked about the same as the footprint or sears plane. It was priced around $30. Next to it though was a Stanley 60-1/2 in it’s blow molded plastic box for $45. Unlike the footprint or Gröz plane I could not open up the package and look at it closely but i figured it was a Stanley and since it cost $15-$25 more it must be better….
I was wrong… I somehow assumed it was American made. I mean it is an American company. But when opening the box I noticed it had the same “Assembled in Mexico with foreign components” label the Sears plane did… Actually now that I think about it the packages looked an awful lot alike. I should have returned it right there, but I wanted to tune it up. I still hoped for a redeeming moment.
The grinding job on the sole of the plane was miserable. I am a tool and die maker by trade so I can speak with some knowledge here. I still thought it would be flattish. I put some emery paper down on an old surface plate I use for sharpening and started lapping the sole. And lapping the sole…. And 45 minutes later… Still working on a low spot… OK I gave up… It was flat enough. If i ever want it perfect I’ll just bring it to my friend’s shop and trade some beers for 20 minutes alone with his surface grinder. I could get a hell of a better finish on it also.
So what’s my point here? Well I have a few. First, they really don’t make them like they used to. All my other planes (aside from a Record rabbit plane) are prewar and the fit and finish on them are hundreds of times better. Secondly never assume where something is made. Third and my main point is this: You get what you pay for to a point. A Lie-Nielson or Stanley Sweetheart would have been a much better plane on the high end, but a Groz or Sears plane would have been just as good as my new Stanley, and I am reasonably sure that sears plane is a Stanley.
I think I’ll be willing to jump into the Lie-Nelson price range in the future as I know most hand tools it will outlast me… Though maybe I’ll start saving for that really nice Veritas Block Plane i saw in a magazine…
Take care every one and happy sawdust making.
-- I don't know where I'm going but I'm on my way!