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Smallest stable of bench planes?

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Forum topic by Brett posted 08-25-2011 05:04 PM 1046 views 0 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Brett

632 posts in 1372 days


08-25-2011 05:04 PM

If money were not an issue, I’m sure it would be fun to have a stable of 30 or 40 Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, and Stanley Bailey Bed Rock or sweetheart bench planes in sizes 1 to 8, with soles both smooth and corrugated, and each with several irons of varying combinations of bevel angles and camber. However….

Money being the issue that it always is for us mortals, what is a minimum, basic set of bench planes that is required to handle most woodworking tasks? I know some old masters claimed to use a #7 for everything, but that seems too limited. Can I get by with just a #4 or #4 1/2 smoother, a #5 jack plane, and a #7 jointer? (Remember, we’re talking bench planes, not block planes, rabbet planes, etc.)

If I also have a #3, #5 1/2, #6, or #8, what could I do with them that I couldn’t do with the first three sizes I mentioned? What about irons? Is it beneficial to have two #7s, for example, one with a straight iron and another with a slightly cambered iron? What about having a #5 with a slightly cambered iron and another #5 with a deeply cambered iron? What about using two #4s, one with a normal iron and another with a back bevel of 10 or 15 degrees for highly figured wood?

What are your thoughts on a good, basic set of bench planes that include sizes and irons that would serve me well for most of my woodworking, and not include planes that I would almost never use?

-- More tools, fewer machines.


25 replies so far

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

2536 posts in 1465 days


#1 posted 08-25-2011 05:19 PM

There are a number of schools of thought – and you will hear many here.
I would start out with a low angle block plane, a smoother and jointing plane to start. Get the cheapest you can buy, take them home, clean them up and sharpen them. Once you figure out the in and outs, you may drop them a couple of times, mess upt the blades (these cheap ones have soft blades) and learn how to sharpen them, you will identify and know what you will need to do the work you want. If you break one, minimum expense, if you break a $300 or $500 LN plane or run it acroos a steel screw head – well, I have seen grown men cry from doing this. Removing a chip from a soft blade takes 10-15 minutes, fixing a chip in a good hardened blade can take a couple of hours.

This may sound strong but it keeps you from spending a whole lot of money on stuff you may not need. After you grow out of the cheap stuff, buy the best tools you can afford and enjoy them for a long time.

Besides, if you are working on reclaimed or junk lumber – grap the cheap tools until you know what you have.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

10051 posts in 1307 days


#2 posted 08-25-2011 05:38 PM

For a basic set, yes to a quality low angle block plane. This one should also have an adjustable mouth. Think Stanley #60 1/2 or Veritas, LN equivalent. Can’t go wrong there, will always use it.

Next would be a workhorse jack plane. Again, with the Stanley numbering scheme that’s a #5. Smooth or corrugated, whatever you find. You’ll camber this iron to the heavy side; it’s for hogging out material on edges and when facing stock across the grain and diagonally.

Then a jointer, Stanley #6 or #7 or #8. If you’re not into larger scale furniture, I’d recommend a #6. But it’s your call, because a #7 will do fine, too. It’s for making flat, both faces and edges.

Finally, a good smoother. And here’s where it could get interesting with multiple blades, changeable frogs, potentially redundant sizes, etc. So start with a basic smoother, Stanley #4 if it’s pre-war, otherwise an early bedrock or Veritas / LN. As is, and depending on the wood you work with, it will handle 90% of the tasks you throw at it. For small areas of tear out, if you don’t have a scraper plane (Stanley #80; it handles small as well as stubborn), you’ll benefit by having a smaller footprint smoother. Think #3 or even a #2. That these planes are able to reach into and address small spots is golden. Keeps you from having to work larger areas just to get a silver dollar sized spot.

And that’s the core. And my opinion. :-) So take it with a grain of salt.

From these, adding a wider smoother (a #4 1/2) helps tackle panel-sized smoothing tasks.

I step through using key bench planes here.

Regarding multiple irons, I’m sure there are craftsmen that do it, but it seems to be a hassle. In golf, it’d be like having three wedges in your bag. Unless you know you need each of them, learn to use one well. That means a light camber on the smoothers, little or none on the jointer (I have some), heavy camber on the jack, and a straight blade on the block.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View Don W's profile

Don W

15240 posts in 1256 days


#3 posted 08-25-2011 06:02 PM

Here is what I’d suggest, and its pretty much in line with the others. A 4 or 4 1/2 for smoothing(start with a 4 just because they are cheaper), a 7 or 8 (although I think a 6 would suffice as well) for a jointer. A jack (a #5) would be next, but I typically use a planer, so it would be last on my list. As for multiple irons, You can usually buy Stanley #4’s for $10-$15 at flee markets and such. I’d buy the whole plane instead, but agree its nice if you want to have a variety of angles on your irons, either way you go.

What can you do with the others? Well…..boost about how many you have. Sometimes you’ll reach for a different size depending on the job, but the 3 core suggested will do everything you need. Its a “do you need it” or “do you want it”. I buy them because enjoyoy restoring them, and i count it as an investment. I have very few planes I couldn’t sell for twice what I paid, or more.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12293 posts in 2786 days


#4 posted 08-25-2011 06:24 PM

I would agree with Don. For bench planes, you need to perform 3 operations Rough Stock Removal (#5 or #6), Flatten (joint) the surface of the board (#7 or #8) and smooth the board (#3, #4, #4 1/2, #5 1/2).

Choice is a personal preference factoring in how strong you are, what size hands you have, and what feels right to you. For example, some people prefer heavy planes. So they would go with a 5 1/2 for smoothing. Get your hands on different sizes and see how they feel to you.

There are options and trade-offs related to this as well. For example a low-angle jack plane can perform many of these operations by swapping out blades. Also, Some people use wooden jack planes or tranisitional planes for rough stock removal instead of bailey style metal planes.

From a block plane perspective, (as you said, not a bench plane) I would recommend a low angle adjustable mouth plane such as a #60 1/2 or a #65.

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

View Brett's profile

Brett

632 posts in 1372 days


#5 posted 08-25-2011 06:32 PM

Thanks. I guess I should have pointed out that I already have a two #4s, a #4 1/2, a #5, a #7, and a #8, plus a old #60 1/2 block plane and a modern Stanley standard block plane. I obviously have some duplicates, and I’m wondering whether I should add some missing sizes and have a collection, or sell the duplicates and spend the money on something else (like a back saw, a shoulder plane, or a router plane).

-- More tools, fewer machines.

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WayneC

12293 posts in 2786 days


#6 posted 08-25-2011 06:45 PM

I would stop adding more bench planes and then buy tools based on what your building. I would reccomend your next purchase be a book. For example, The new traditional woodworker the anarchist's toolchest.

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

View Dan's profile

Dan

3543 posts in 1569 days


#7 posted 08-25-2011 06:50 PM

Brett, it all depends on what type of work you are doing. You have more then enough bench planes do do all the task that a bench plane can do. If you got a #3 or #6 I don’t think they can do anything your others can do. So its all ones personal preference.

As for saws, shoulder planes and other specialty planes it will all depend on what work you do and again your personal preference.

However in my opinion if you are looking to get more planes a shoulder plane may be a good choice for your next one.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Brett's profile

Brett

632 posts in 1372 days


#8 posted 08-25-2011 06:52 PM

Thanks. I have the “New Traditional” book, but not the “Anarchist’s” book. I’m having fun fixing up the old planes, but I’m torn between having a cool-looking row of #3 through #8 Bailey planes (#1 and #2 are out of the question) and waiting till I can buy the other tools, or selling the extra planes and spending the profits to buy the other tools right now.

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View Don W's profile

Don W

15240 posts in 1256 days


#9 posted 08-25-2011 06:53 PM

I strongly disagree with Wayne. I would keep adding planes and buy tools based on what your building and ALSO buy the books. But then I have a bit of a “PLANE” issue. Someone mentioned selling duplicates. Is that really an option? :-)

Really, what Wayne says make perfect sense. But then, I can NEVER walk by a plane for sale.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

2536 posts in 1465 days


#10 posted 08-25-2011 07:25 PM

If you have duplicate planes, change and set the angles differently on the duplicates. That way you have what you need without re-configuring the hardware.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12293 posts in 2786 days


#11 posted 08-25-2011 07:32 PM

Lol…... Use your tools lest you be accused of being a woodworking poser or even worse a collector.

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

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dbray45

2536 posts in 1465 days


#12 posted 08-25-2011 07:35 PM

Wayne – thats not fair, you weren’t supposed to tell him until it was too late.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Don W's profile

Don W

15240 posts in 1256 days


#13 posted 08-25-2011 07:44 PM

not a collector!!! oh the shame.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View Brit's profile

Brit

5220 posts in 1531 days


#14 posted 08-25-2011 07:54 PM

Don – You’ve got to watch that Wayne you know. Its because of him that I’m restoring another brace. :-)

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.

View Brett's profile

Brett

632 posts in 1372 days


#15 posted 08-25-2011 08:17 PM

Wayne, I’m slowly creeping up on doing some actual woodwork. :)

One thing that I realized soon after becoming interested in hand-tool woodworking is that you can’t just start with a couple tools—you really need to have a critical mass of the right tools before you can do even simple projects: a workbench with a flat top, a side vise, a tail vise (or something like a Wonder Pup), a combination square, a tape measure or ruler, an awl, several chisels, several screwdrivers, several clamps, a marking gauge, a saw, a saw bench, a bit brace and bits, several hand planes, etc., etc., etc., plus the ability to sharpen all the pointy parts.

I have a few power tools, like a table saw and a battery-powered drill, which can substitute for some of the hand tools, but until I have nearly every item listed above, it’s going to be hard to do real woodworking.

I’m having a lot of fun restoring old hand planes, and once the weather cools down (my “shop” is in my garage in still-100-plus-degrees Texas) I’m going to build a couple saw benches and a saw vise for sharpening my saws. Who knows, one day I may actually be able to build something useful to present to my wife!

-- More tools, fewer machines.

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