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Bevel Up vs. Bevel Down - Why buy a bevel down plane anymore?

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Forum topic by Jeff_F posted 1523 days ago 12108 views 5 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Jeff_F

35 posts in 1778 days


1523 days ago

I recently attended a weekend workshop at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking on the use of hand planes. The workshop was presented by Thomas Lie-Nielsen and Chris Schwarz. Neither Chris nor Thomas needs any introduction, but just in case … Thomas Lie-Nielsen is the founder of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and has revitalized the hand plane tool market. Lie-Nielsen hand planes are based upon the original Stanley plane designs but he has taken them to a new level in terms of construction and functionality. Chris Schwarz is the editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine and has re-energized the use of hand tools in woodworking.

After returning from the workshop I was talking to some friends about the class and mentioned that I walked away with the question of ‘why would anyone buy a bevel down plane anymore?’ I decided to put together a short write-up about this topic and post it on the forum to generate some discussion.

The workshop dealt with the use of hand planes. We learned how to sharpen a plane blade depending on its intended use – hogging off wood, jointing a surface or edge or smoothing a surface. We learned about the setup of a plane and how to tune a plane you might find at a flea market (a good old trusty early vintage Stanley) or one that is new right out of the box. We learned about the process to dimension a rough piece of wood to make it 4-square and ready for joinery. But, the best part of the workshop was the discussion about the types of planes, their components and construction, and the evolution of the hand plane. We learned about the relationship between the angle of the cutting bevel and the opening of the plane mouth and the size of shaving that can be produced and the quality of the cut. It was during this discussion that Chris made the statement “… the cap iron (aka chip breaker) on a bevel down plane was required to strengthen the thin blades used in the early days, but really doesn’t play a role in creation of a shaving…” That got my attention … let me explain.

One of the key differences among planes is whether the blade is inserted into the plane with the bevel facing up or facing down. The most well known planes are the ones with the bevel down and shown in the first picture.


Bevel Down Smoother plane

In this type of plane the blade and cap iron are screwed together with the edge of the cap iron ‘somewhat’ close to the edge of the blade and then inserted into the plane with the bevel facing down. The blade and cap iron rest on a platform called a frog which is set at a particular, fixed angle. This combination is held in place with the lever cap. The next figure is a close-up of this arrangement.

Bevel Down frog closeup

Finally, this whole mechanism can be moved forward or backward to adjust the size of the mouth opening by adjusting a set of screws as shown in the following picture.

Bevel Down plane screw adjustment

The other types of planes are the ones with the bevel facing up. These have been around for a long time as well but have become more popular because of the improved quality that is available today. In this type of plane, there is no cap iron and the blade is inserted into the plane onto a fixed, non-moveable, platform with the bevel up. Here is a picture of a typical bevel up plane.

Bevel up plane

The plane’s mouth is adjustable by loosening the front knob and sliding the base of the plane forward or backward. There is a small knob which can be set to limit the travel of the base.. Here is a close-up.

Bevel up plane closeup

So, why is any of this important? It’s all in the angle and it’s all in the opening!!

As I mentioned earlier the thickness of the shaving and the quality of the cut are dependent on the angle of the bevel and the size of the mouth’s opening. The normal (typical) cutting angle is about 45 degrees for most woods but this can cause tear-out in highly figured wood or wood with wild grain patterns. You can use a higher cutting angle, 50 degrees or even 62 degrees, to reduce the tear-out. Also, normal practice is to close-down the mouth of the plane to just greater than the size of the shaving that you are going to produce. (The size of the shaving and the type of plane to produce it could be a whole other article)

Well, this finally brings me to Chris’s statement about the cap iron. I was always under the impression that the cap iron (aka chip breaker) broke up the chips and helped form the shaving. Not true! Chris’s recommendation was to set the cap iron close to the cutting edge but far enough back from the edge so that it would not clog the mouth. If that is the case, why would I ever buy a bevel down plane again?

The bevel down plane is much more complicated to set up than a bevel up plane. You have the blade and cap iron that must be matched with no gaps to make ensure that is doesn’t clog with small chips. The cutting angle is adjusted by replacing the frog with one of a different angle, at a significant cost (e.g., $75 for a new frog for my smoother plane) and the mouth size is adjusted by a trial-and-error approach by turning the screws to move the frog mechanism.

By contrast, the cutting angle of a bevel up plane can be easily adjusted by honing a secondary bevel on the plane blade. If the blade bevel is ground to 25 degrees (typical) a secondary bevel can be honed at 30 or 40 degrees very easily. You can also purchase additional blades (for less than half the cost of a frog) and grind and hone to whatever angle you desire and just switch blades as necessary. Finally, the plane’s mouth is easily adjustable by sliding the base forward or backward. This type of plane is extremely flexible and easy to setup for various planning situations.

Therefore, I pose the question …”Why would I ever buy a bevel down plane again”?
Jeff

-- Jeff, www.jeffswooddesigns.com


39 replies so far

View doordude's profile

doordude

1085 posts in 1609 days


#1 posted 1523 days ago

Don’t know why? why didn’t you ask while you were there?
now this question will haunt me all week…

View swirt's profile

swirt

1937 posts in 1598 days


#2 posted 1523 days ago

1) tradition
2) need the higher iron to shield your knuckles from low hanging branches in the shop
3) easier to find on the used tool market

-- Galootish log blog, http://www.timberframe-tools.com

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2398 posts in 2153 days


#3 posted 1523 days ago

Jeff,

This does not really answer your question, but keep in mind that the cutting angle of a bevel-down plane can also be increased by creating a back bevel on the blade:

The instructions for the Veritas® Mk.II Honing Guide explain it like this:
On a bench plane (where the blade is mounted bevel down), a back bevel is used to increase the effective cutting angle from the otherwise fixed 45° of the plane bed. This is useful when working wood with highly figured and/or reversing grain. The back-bevel angle will need to be tailored to the particular situation.

Here is the drawing:

-- “That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet. ” ― Emily Dickinson

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14721 posts in 2302 days


#4 posted 1523 days ago

I suppose it is just like shooting flinklocks. You put the flint in which ever way works the best ;-)) Buy which ever plane works the best, if you can afford a Lie-Nielsen!!! Or do enough wood working to justify buying them.

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View swirt's profile

swirt

1937 posts in 1598 days


#5 posted 1521 days ago

One advantage that occurred to me last night while I was planing, with a standard bailey bevel down design is that you can adjust them while they are actually in use. The depth wheel can be run fore or aft in the middle of a cut as can the lateral adjuster. I’m not aware of any bevel ups that have adjusters that would allow that.

-- Galootish log blog, http://www.timberframe-tools.com

View Jon_Banquer's profile

Jon_Banquer

69 posts in 1434 days


#6 posted 1411 days ago

I read a blog post today that inspired me to do a search on Lumberjocks to see if the subject matter had already been covered here. Thankfully it has so I decided to try and revive what I consider to be an excellent thread.

http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/Important+Differences+Between+Bevelup+And+Beveldown+Planes.aspx

I’ve been thinking about buying a plane(s) and I have not fully worked out many of the issues that being an informed plane purchaser require.

I would appreciate any comments on this subject matter as I’m leaning toward going with low-angle bevel up planes because to this woodworking newbie their benefits seem to far outweigh their drawbacks.

-- Jon Banquer San Diego, CA CAD / CAM programmer, CNC Machinist

View lwllms's profile

lwllms

540 posts in 1907 days


#7 posted 1411 days ago

Chris Schwartz is a pretty bright guy but he’s young and arrived on the scene with little real experience. He learns pretty quickly and his views have changed a lot over the last few years. I know, for example, that his “Coarse, Medium and Fine” video on stock preparation would be very different if he were to do it today. I haven’t asked him his opinion on the differences between planes today, when we’ve talked we had a lot of other things to talk about. You could e-mail him and ask or you could post the question on his most current blog entry.

You might also be interested in Konrad Sauer’s blog on this topic and the comments discussion that followed:
http://sauerandsteiner.blogspot.com/2010/07/up-down-bevels-that-it.html

View Gofor's profile

Gofor

470 posts in 2413 days


#8 posted 1411 days ago

With a bevel down plane, you have a lot more metal behind the edge to keep it from deforming. This is a big plus when taking off a lot of wood, or when you run into a knot, etc. A bevel up plane has the meat metal in front of the cutting edge, giving it no support. Yes, finer attack angle which is good at shearing, but fails when hitting hard obstructions.

Today we have a lot of machines that do the rough work, so hand planes are used more for finishing work by most people. However, if you are scrubbing, or taking deep cuts, particularly in knotty or hard wood, and you get your shoulder behind a bevel up plane, expect to be repairing a badly chipped edge as opposed to just a dull one if the bevel is down.

JMTCW

Go

-- Go http://ncwoodworker.net/pp/showgallery.php?cat=500&ppuser=730

View Jon_Banquer's profile

Jon_Banquer

69 posts in 1434 days


#9 posted 1411 days ago

Would it be possible to deal with quicker wearing blades by preparing multiple blades in advance and quickly switching them out?

-- Jon Banquer San Diego, CA CAD / CAM programmer, CNC Machinist

View lwllms's profile

lwllms

540 posts in 1907 days


#10 posted 1411 days ago

Are you talking about disposable irons? If not, you still have to sharpen them eventually and planes with excessive wear on the flat face require a lot of grinding or an awful lot of labor intensive flattening.

View Jon_Banquer's profile

Jon_Banquer

69 posts in 1434 days


#11 posted 1411 days ago

I wasn’t aware that disposable irons even existed.

I’m trying to determine if there is a decent compromise that can be made if I choose to go with low angle jack planes.

-- Jon Banquer San Diego, CA CAD / CAM programmer, CNC Machinist

View lwllms's profile

lwllms

540 posts in 1907 days


#12 posted 1411 days ago

I have a conflict of interest here. We do make and sell traditional jack planes. I suppose all irons could be disposable if you don’t care about cost.

One thing is that a jack plane is traditionally used as a roughing plane. Using a bevel-up jack is difficult, at best, for use as a roughing plane because it requires a significantly greater amount of curvature to the edge to get an identical cambered profile presented to the wood. Also the spring back of the wood fibers will serve to limit the depth of cut.

One of the real issues for me is that all this nonsense is further obscuring the rolls of hand planes. If every plane, to you, is a smooth plane perhaps you should give a bevel-up plane a shot and just deal with accelerated edge wear and greatly increased sharpening issues. But then, if all planes are smooth planes in your world, you’re missing out on about 99% of the capability of hand planes.

BTW, the instructions above for putting a back bevel on the iron, as shown earlier in this thread, only serves to make the clearance angle problems worse. When I’m talking to customers or out conducting workshops almost all the sharpening problems I see originate on the flat face of the irons. Dubbing, rounding of the edge on the flat face, is something to be avoided regardless of whether that dubbing is accidental or intentional. Back bevels like the one illustrated are a perfect example of intentional dubbing.

View Jon_Banquer's profile

Jon_Banquer

69 posts in 1434 days


#13 posted 1411 days ago

I believe it’s extremely difficult to be unbiased even without the appearance of conflict of interest so I hope this won’t deter you from posting.

I feel very comfortable in stating that I don’t know enough about planes and that I have zero experience using planes. I don’t think I suffer from a major plane use bias at the moment. If it turns out I do I’ll try very hard to be realistic about it and to deal with it fairly. I have read blogs, books and viewed videos on planes and planing by Charlesworth, Schwarz as well as many others. I feel that doing so has really helped to give me a broader view but I don’t feel that it has helped me to feel confident in a direction that would be best for me to move in.

-- Jon Banquer San Diego, CA CAD / CAM programmer, CNC Machinist

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14721 posts in 2302 days


#14 posted 1411 days ago

Edit: I think I had that backwards :-)) Why were all the old planes from the days of hand work bevel up?

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View lwllms's profile

lwllms

540 posts in 1907 days


#15 posted 1411 days ago

Jon,

See if you can find an old Stanley #5. Tune it up and make it work well. Simply doing that will teach you as much as you can get from any basic hand plane video I know of. My guess is you can find a pretty decent one for about $20. You’ll end up spending more than that on sharpening stones. Learn to grind, I think good grinding is the key to success with hand tools and sharpening. I also have strong opinions on sharpening stones and grinders but I don’t think you’ll have good success with hand planes or even chisels unless you get good at grinding and sharpening. You’re going to need a decent sharpening system regardless of which way you go with the bevel-up question. Get your skills up with a $20 #5 and you’ll be ready for which ever step you take next.

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