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Planely speaking

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Blog entry by Paul Sellers posted 05-23-2011 09:59 PM 3837 reads 6 times favorited 58 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Disputes about planes have gone on for about three decades now, to my knowledge anyway. Before that, craftsmen just used them.

From my personal experience, following the men who trained me way, way back in the last century sometime, most craftsmen enjoyed many planes. I would look inside their toolboxes and see a variety of planes we generally call bench planes. I thought that their chests looked like a nest of gathered eggs, each placed so carefully alongside the other. The lids were always closed after the tools were placed on the bench to keep out stray shavings and dust.

My woodworking friends, apprentices and students over the years usually end up asking me if I can tell them which plane would be the best to buy, as if there is some definitive answer. I have seen this request on blogs for a long time too. Inevitably the well-intended opinions come back in profusion and the arguments begin. I use the word opinion on purpose because often the answers are little more than that. Mere opinions. Of course we than have to go through the extended opinions that one maker’s plane is better than another, or you must retrofit this plane with a thick iron or this iron or that iron or choose a Bedrock over a Bailey and so ad infinitum the bitter disputes end up serving only to confuse the newbie who cannot make any kind of educated decision from what’s taken place.

Perhaps framing the issue will help to determine the outcome. First of all; if I post on here and say I am thinking of buying a new plane, which one should I get? Inevitably someone will post, “Get the best you can.” Or “Get a good one straight off the bat. Go for a Low Neck or a Veritable.” “Forget the number 4. Too small, you should get a 4 ½.”

No one asks how big the questioner is, what upper body weight they have or what upper body strength they have. What about hand size? Their occupation? They can be built like a tank, pump iron all evening in the gym yet have weak hands, wrists and fingers. So many influences affect giving the right answer. Yet no one asks the question but all give an opinion. Add into the equation the fact that they may have some infirmity, women are built differently to men, children are underdeveloped and so too some might be software engineers typing in 6,000 digits a minute on a keyboard. So here are a few thoughts on what happens beyond the opinions of the many.

I don’t believe one plane size fits all or even needs to and I know that heavy 4 ½ Bedrock planes can cause more difficulty than say a No 4 or the even smaller No 3 Bailey pattern. The question for me is not which single plane will do the job best, but which planes do I need and what is the order of priority.

When I was 15 years old my stature was such that a No 4 ½ was simply too heavy for me. At 21 it worked fine and for my general work I preferred it. Did I then abandon the No 4? Not at all. I still use it, like it and for some tasks prefer it. Therefore the priority was established. The No 4 was my stepping-stone to adopt a larger plane later. If I were a woman and untrained for the muscular work planing by hand demands, I would follow the same pattern. If I were a man and untrained for the muscular work planing demands, I would do the same. Furthermore, if I were physically disadvantaged in a way that affected my upper-body manipulation of the plane, I would choose the narrower width and lighter weight of the No 4 over the No 4 ½. Had I truly small stature, I would seriously consider the No3. I used one of those for a season too.

-- Paul Sellers, UK http://paulsellers.com/paul-sellers-blog



58 comments so far

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Brit

6711 posts in 2302 days


#1 posted 05-23-2011 10:10 PM

Very true Paul. There is a lot to consider when answering these questions. I think woodworkers will always discuss this one and never grow tired of the subject. This thread which some of us watch, is an example of that:

http://lumberjocks.com/topics/26023#reply-284627

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

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Bertha

13003 posts in 2153 days


#2 posted 05-23-2011 10:43 PM

I could read this post over and over all day. Thank you for this gift. There’s a plane for all occasions in my shop. Sometimes, I’ll manufacture an occasion to use a plane I’ve been eyeing. I enjoy fiddling with them, tolerate sharpening them, but using them is the true joy. Had I not discovered hand planes, I think my interest in woodworking would be long gone, like all the other hobbies I pursued voraciously, only to abandon. Had I not discovered the hand plane and it’s lore, I wouldn’t have become interested in chisels, saw, guages, all the things that give me pleasure in the workshop. Flipping on my massive vintage bandsaw gives me a spark, but nothing like picking up my bowsaw.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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Div

1653 posts in 2400 days


#3 posted 05-23-2011 11:05 PM

Good words Paul. I say the same to many. We DO like to talk about planes though!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

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Bertha

13003 posts in 2153 days


#4 posted 05-23-2011 11:10 PM

I’ll reach for the #4 1/2 ALL the time. I’ll reach for the #3 simply to use it; it’s a nice break from the heft of the bigger benches and it feels tall and proper in my hands. I haven’t met a tuned vintage Stanley that I didn’t like (with the normal fibreboard exception). I nearly gave up on planes after buying some recent ones; luckily fate intervened in the form of a 404.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 2030 days


#5 posted 05-23-2011 11:14 PM

Now what of the best of the best and then all the rest? I have and still own several planes. More than I can use in my lifetime. I have them because of the research I work on and also because I feel they have been important to my work as a working craftsman. My first ever plane in 1965 was a Record No 4. It served me well until I became competent with my Stanley No 4 ½ came along. I am still using it after over 40 years of working with it six days a week throughout the year. That’s 12,000 days of active service. Some say fitting the plane with a thick iron eliminates chatter. I have worn through three full plane irons and am 1/3 through my forth (I never mechanically grind my irons in the sharpening process) and none of my ‘thin’ irons have ever chattered or left chatter marks. For over a century craftsmen used thin irons and their plane irons never chattered either. We could discuss that further too if you like.

-- Paul Sellers, UK http://paulsellers.com/paul-sellers-blog

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Bertha

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#6 posted 05-23-2011 11:20 PM

I WOULD like to discuss that further, because I’m of the opinion that the standard blade from a vintage plane (if unpitted), properly positioned under the chipbreaker, properly seated on a flat frog, with a correct mouth, perfectly sharpened, will serve you well. That being said, I’ve bought into the hock iron/chipbreaker combo and it’s great (if not a tad too thick in sum). I prefer the old triangular logo Stanley blades but they’re difficult to come by. Rather than search for an iron to replace a damaged one, I usually go hock. In wooden planes, I like a very thick iron but I’m honestly not sure why I need it.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 2030 days


#7 posted 05-23-2011 11:29 PM

I like the Hock iron too, but only because it’s thinner than those who tell us we need thick irons to take care of the problem we didn’t know we had. Many people fail to recognize that the two parts to the conventional iron/back iron assembly are supposed to be in contention with one another and its this unique combination that hits the spot in the physics dynamic of planing.

-- Paul Sellers, UK http://paulsellers.com/paul-sellers-blog

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 2030 days


#8 posted 05-23-2011 11:31 PM

Thick, hard irons have their problems, but they come automatically with more expensive planes to take care of the problems we didn’t know we had. No one mentions that to sharpen them takes at least twice as much effort and twice as long as the thinner irons. No one can convince me differently. If I were to pay that much for an iron twice as thick and twice as hard, I wouldn’t want to grind away what I paid an arm and a leg for on a power grinder. I rarely ever use power grinders anyway. Even the best of the best are like watching paint dry. I like thin irons. They work well. You just need to sharpen them well (like any iron) and set them rightly. No one will convince me that craftsmen used these planes for well over a hundred years and every day they had to face problems of plane chatter because of thin irons. That’s not true at all. Funny thing really. In the pre-chatter days of the 50s, 60s and 70s, decades when I worked with woodworkers every day, I never heard a one of them say that their plane chattered and I never saw it either. I never heard any man complain that his plane chattered until someone came along and said that they had created an iron that resolved the issue of plane chatter.

-- Paul Sellers, UK http://paulsellers.com/paul-sellers-blog

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Bertha

13003 posts in 2153 days


#9 posted 05-23-2011 11:41 PM

Laughing with you (Sorry Ron Hock). Sharpening a Hock on a wet grinder is not a thing of beauty. I find that I can touch up an older plane iron quickly on sandpaper with an eclipse, followed by a quick strop hit. I could probably free hand it, but I’m not yet that brave. A Hock, on the other hand, is a bit of an ordeal. I find myself over time allowing a very wide secondary bevel to develop because I’m too lazy to restrike the primary. The only chatter I’ve ever experienced is when I let the iron hang out under the chipbreaker like an ungroomed fingernail.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 2030 days


#10 posted 05-23-2011 11:47 PM

Well, between my sons and me, all woodworkers, we own a Clifton No4, a Lie Nielesen No4 ½, a Veritas No4 ½, a Juuma No4, 15 Stanley No 4s, 6 Record No 4s, 6 Stanley 4 1/2s and 6 Record No 4 1/2s. Every one of them works perfectly well. One of them has a retrofitted Hock iron. All other planes have the original irons. Now I am not saying that there isn’t some modicum of a difference in thicker irons, but then I see that there is as much benefit to having thinner irons as there is thick ones. At one point I took out a thick iron and retrofitted a thin one and it worked wonderfully.

-- Paul Sellers, UK http://paulsellers.com/paul-sellers-blog

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Dennisgrosen

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#11 posted 05-23-2011 11:47 PM

well spoken Poul
thank´s for sharing your thought´s

take care
Dennis

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WayneC

12642 posts in 3557 days


#12 posted 05-24-2011 12:07 AM

I think having the variety of planes and blades you have availble allows you to understand more about planes and how to tune them. Getting a new plane is like a science experiment to see how it performs and leads to new understanding. Personally, I’m using hock blades and chipbreakers in my Stanley planes.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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Brit

6711 posts in 2302 days


#13 posted 05-24-2011 12:47 AM

Interesting post. I have a 607, 6 and two 5s waiting to be restored and I’d decided to buy Hock blade/chipbreaker combos for all of them. I haven’t done so yet because money is tight at the moment, Now you’ve made me think about using the existing Stanley irons and chipbreakers instead. So whilst you might have stopped me wasting my money, I’ve no longer got an excuse for putting off these projects so thanks, I think :-)

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

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Paul Sellers

278 posts in 2030 days


#14 posted 05-24-2011 12:50 AM

I think that it would be true to say that many woodworkers avoid wooden bodied and wooden soled planes like the American-style Stanley transitional planes. Most believe that in the Industrial Evolutionary process, whereby all inventions better the failures of the previous generations, wooden planes were abandoned because they didn’t work that well. They believe that what we really needed was a good, all-metal plane to replace what wasn’t working that well prior to their inventions. Sound familiar?
Anyway, many are surprised that I still use wooden bodied planes. I don’t use them to be cute or nostalgic, live in the past or pursue Neanderthal woodworking. I use them because they work so well and they glide across the surface of most woods like the 200 swans on the Ogwen Estuary below where I live. You can hardly tell that they are working compared to all metal planes and that’s why Stanley spent 40+ years in exasperation trying persuade craftsmen to accept his all-metal soled planes straight off the bat.
I think many wood be shocked at the joy they would feel using a Stanley transitional plane. These were and are wonderful tools and I only wish they were available here in the UK.

-- Paul Sellers, UK http://paulsellers.com/paul-sellers-blog

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WayneC

12642 posts in 3557 days


#15 posted 05-24-2011 12:55 AM

I’ve been setting some wooden planes aside when I find them in good condition and at a low price. I’ve tended to stay away from the transitional ones I have seen mainly because of price and condition issues. I’m planning to make some wooden planes and see how they perform.

I will have to look more closely at the transitional planes when I get out and about.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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