This weekend was the Indianapolis stop of “The Woodworking Shows” series, and I couldn’t pass it up. As usual, there were a bunch of seminars, a bunch of vendors doing demos, and a bunch of random junk. After getting through the junk (where I picked up a few triangular files for sharpening hand saws) and trying to sit through a few seminars geared towards people who were clearly not me, I spent a bit of time at the Lee Valley booth playing with some of the planes that have been on my wish list.
Specifically, I spent a good deal of time with their bevel-up jack plane and smoother, and was quite impressed. The piece of wood they had clamped to the bench was a nasty piece of curly maple that would have posed a challenge to any plane that you could throw at it! The first plane I used was the jack plane with a 25 degree bevel, and when I first saw that board, I laughed at the audacity of the guy in the booth to start off with such a “low” beveled blade on this piece. I took a few “practice” cuts to get everything tuned, and then started going to work. Before long, it was the Lee Valley rep who was laughing as I was blown away by the ease at which this plane, and especially the 25 degree blade took on the really tough, gnarly grain (really, this was a pretty curly piece!). There was a good bit of tear out from the thickness planer that the board had been through before it was put on the bench, but try as I might, I could not find any tear out from the jack plane.
A few caveats here—they guy with whom I was speaking had just sharpened the blade, and it had an excellent camber on it, so this was a best case scenario. Still, the ability to fine-tune the throat opening did a great job allowing a smaller bevel angle (and thus an easier cut) to make quick work of surfacing that board. As I got it leveled off, I backed off the blade depth and was easily able to get whispy shavings like what I expect from a final smoothing plane. Just to see how good the surface really was, I grabbed a handful of shavings, burnished a spot, and it honestly looked like I had gone over that part of the board with my freshly sharpened #4 Stanley with an aftermarket A2 blade.
After that, I tried out the proper smoother with a steeper blade angle, which I am pretty sure was set to 35 degrees. Again, the blade was freshly sharpened with an excellent camber, and again I was getting fantastic results without spending much time setting things up. I did play with the adjustable throat to see if I could induce some tear out, and I had to get a pretty decent shaving to have any problems with either plane. I am sure this is as much a function of the freshly sharpened blades as much as anything, but it was pretty nice to see that the tools they had on display were able to be used properly.
I really can’t justify buying another smoothing plane, but the bevel-up jack plane is definitely on my short list for using with a shooting board.
I was also in the market for a good block plane, so I had to try those out too. Their super-premium planes were quite nicely made, and sure did look pretty, but they just didn’t fit my hand. I don’t have huge hands, so this was a little bit of a surprise to me. I did find their “regular” block plane to be very comfortable and quite well made. I really like the Norris style adjuster that the Veritas BU planes use, and the depth of the low angle block plane certainly was easy to adjust with it. I did notice that lateral adjustment was a bit more touchy, but the guy who was helping me actually suggested I use the plane hammer he had on the bench, and low and behold, it worked great! I’ll have to keep that trick in my back pocket for my Stanley planes. The lateral set screws that hold the blade in place also worked pretty well for keeping a rough lateral alignment when I took the blades out to look at the frogs (which were very well machined, might I add), and I can’t believe more plane makers haven’t adopted this feature.
Long story short, all of the planes I used were quite well made, cut fantastically well, and were a pleasure to use.
I know this sounds like a plug for Veritas, and it sort of is (not that I am getting anything out of it! I wish!!), but this was the first time that I have had an opportunity to use one of their planes, and I was very impressed with them. I didn’t end up buying anything from them (at least not today), and they helped me out extensively and answered every question I could throw at them, and then they suggested many more. I figure the least I could do is to pass along how great of an experience I had playing with the toys in their booth! I’m not ready to trade in my set of old Stanley’s, but I’m not saying that I wasn’t tempted! :)
The only other tools of note that haven’t been advertised to death were the ebony “Taiwanese-style” planes from Woodline. Needless to say, when I picked each of these up, they were SEVERELY mis-adjusted from all of the people playing with them who had no idea how to use a wooden plane. I started by testing out the “8 plane, and it actually wasn’t half bad and I got half decent results, even though the plane clearly could have used a bit of tuning. There is a brass key right in front of the mouth, and as I drug my fingernail across the transition from the wood to the brass, it felt like the brass was slightly proud of the sole of the plane. I am sure some sand paper could fix this, but it was a little disappointing that someone selling wood planes didn’t take the time to fully tune them before putting them out for demonstration use. Oh well. Still, these planes definitely have potential, and even with that goof, they actually felt pretty good when pulling them, but didn’t do well at all when pushing, even though the web site claims they can be used this way. They came in a range of sizes, but all of the ones smaller than 8” really didn’t feel right in my hands. They blades were A2, and unfortunately were not the sharpest in the world when I tested them, but it was obvious that they could be tuned up pretty quickly if one were so inclined.
So, that’s about it. I also picked up a few Timber Wolf band saw blades, so I’ll be sure to write an actual review of those after I have some time to use them for a while, but I certainly hope the will live up to the hype. If anyone is going to the show tomorrow, have fun trying to sort the trash from the treasures!
-- David from Indiana --