Like many of my fellow LJ’ers, I started out with power tools and have started to develop an interest in hand tools. I have been picking up some odds and ends, when both the wallet and the need permits. I received an early birthday present from the wife, partly as a thank you for helping her with all of the cleanup and move after the apartment fire. I have been looking at the Stanley 6 1/4 contractor block plane at Lowes and have been himing and hawing on whether or not to buy it. It is a mid-level plane with very mixed reviews and I have been leaning towards picking up a LN when I had the money. Fate lent a hand and my wife noticed that I checked it out a few times and bought it for me.
I have not used it enough to feel comfortable putting my name to a review but I did spend a few hours today tuning it and checking it out. I can tell you that, out of the box, this plane is not ready to go. Nor, for the price, should anyone expect it to be. One thing I have learned when it comes to reading user reviews is that much depends on their expectations, experience, and abilities when it comes to evaluating a new tool. I can tell you that some complaints that I have read were that the plane didn’t cut well (a good deal of chatter), that the locking mechanism would jam or not work at all, and that the blade was difficult to align.
In regards to the complaint involving chatter, I would attribute this to the lack of tuning before use. The blade is stamped “Made in England” and judging by the time I spent flattening and lapping it, I would say the steel is fairly hard. To what grade, I cannot say. I know it isn’t A2. It is listed as hardened chrome steel. When I sharpen, if a blade that has machine marks is flattened quickly, I have doubts that the steel will hold up to any use. It took me about 15-20 minutes of steady work on the worksharp to get the machine marks off, the blade flattened, and a nice honed edge on it. I kept the angle low, set it for 20 degrees with a 30 degree micro-bevel.
One thing I like about the plane is the adjustable throat. Again, it took me a little while to flatten the sole. Upon opening the box, the sole was a gray color with machined marks. After a good deal of time, I was able to get a decent shine on it and flatten it. The knob in the front loosens and allows the throat to adjust the clearance to reduce tear out that can occur with a low angle blade.
The locking mechanism feels flimsy, more like pot metal, and I will be careful when it comes to flipping the lever. How much pressure is required depends on the set screw that the frog slides on to. The screw was very tight when opened and would not allow the lever to slide all the way to the locked position. What I discovered is that if I loosened the set screw, adjusted the frog, set the locking lever, then tightened the screw, I was able to lock the blade in effectively and not put too much pressure on the lever.
Aligning the blade I didn’t find overly difficult. There is a lateral adjustment bar that the blade rests on. It is sloppy and you would find that you would have to move the bar pretty much all the way to the left or the right to keep the blade parallel to the throat. The knob in the back sets blade depth. I found it fairly simple to adjust the blade depth and the knob provided enough control to let you make micro adjustments for the depth. Past that, it was a matter of testing cuts on scrap pieces to set depth and throat adjustments that provided nice thin wood wisps to glide through the plane.
I am new to hand planing. It took a little time to figure out placement, direction, rhythm to make decent wood shavings but I am getting there. Just a matter of technique and developing it.
The skinny – If your pocketbook is limiting you to a mid-range block plane and you have the patience to tune it, I think this plane would work for you. Other planes I have seen in this price range were the Buck Brothers models at home depot and the footprint versions at Sears. These models are made in China, the Stanley had English steel but components from Mexico. Personally, I think the steel is better for the blade on this plane than the Chinese knock offs. I don’t think the plane compares to the Stanley’s of yesterday, but it seems to work well when after investing the time and effort to tune. I know the general advice is to find old used planes but I don’t run across them in my neck of the woods. The ones I see on ebay are usually scooped up quickly by collectors or the bidding is at a level I can’t (and won’t) compete with.
Happy woodworking all,
-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.