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