My first best handplane

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Forum topic by klassenl posted 02-26-2012 04:10 PM 3141 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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185 posts in 2623 days

02-26-2012 04:10 PM

I am a power tool guy as opposed to a hand tool guy but I concede that hand tools are a good way to work. I recently came into some money and with that money I thought I should buy myself a good hand plane for smoothing those never quite flush joints when gluing panels together.

I also want a tool that I can pass down to my children or grandchildren in years to come, this is maybe as important as it’s usefulness.

After some forum reading and a lot of Lee Valley catalogue reading I have come to the conclusion that a #4 smooth plane is what I want. But there’s a number of planes in this size with different configurations, #4 smoother, #4 1/2 smoother, low angle smoother, bevel up smoother, small bevel up smoother.

For general use as stated above what is the most correct choice?

-- When questioned about using glue on a garbage bin I responded, "Wood working is about good technique and lots of glue........I have the glue part down."

22 replies so far

View ShaneA's profile


6909 posts in 2562 days

#1 posted 02-26-2012 04:48 PM

I guess it would be relative to budget, and out of the box useability. If the budget will stretch, a LN #4 or #5 would be a great plane. But if you are prepared to work on it a little, or the budget is not that high, you could get a fleet of vintage planes for the cost of one LN. Maybe a Bailey 3, 4, 5 and 7? It can be rewarding to tune and restore the old planes.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2962 days

#2 posted 02-26-2012 04:52 PM

I think that one of the things that discourages people adding hand tools to their basic tool set is that people attribute almost mystical properties to planes at times. It is just a jig to hold a blade. They don’t do anything that you can’t do with a chisel and a steady hand. Grab what feels comfortable to you and work with it. There is no correct choice. It is all personal preference. There is a set of trade-offs that you choose for the results you want. A longer plane is going to have to take everything down to get a planar surface. A smoother can clean out in a “low” spot. Same difference with the width of the blade. If you have a narrow blade, you might have to make a couple passes to cover the same area. A high angle plane doesn’t lift as much and is good for highly figured wood. A low angle plane is nice for end grain. You can get the same effect by skewing the blade (or the whole plane) while using it.

If you only have one, a #5 jack plane is a nice general size. When you get into the smoothers, whatever feels comfortable. A #4 is not a bad choice but if it is too large for you, drop down to a #3. If it feels small, jump up to a #4-1/2.

The low angle planes are not bad if you do a lot of end grain. I don’t personally feel much of a point to the bevel up bench planes but there is nothing wrong with them. Historically, they were prone to cracking but I can’t say that is an issue with modern ones.

The one thing you do want is the ability to adjust the mouth size. It is a really nice convenience. Whether it is moving the toe on a bevel up plane or moving the frog on a bench plane makes no difference.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

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Don W

18685 posts in 2532 days

#3 posted 02-26-2012 07:01 PM

I’ve got a few, I love finding and restoring them. I’ve made a few and I like using them.

For a smoother, I’d recommend you start with a good old Stanley #4(or equal maker). First, they are relatively reasonably priced. Even cheap if you know what to look for. They are easy to find. Ebay, flea markets, antique shops and numerous online tool sellers have them. If you ever decide you don’t like it, they are easy to unload.

I’ve got 2 #4 1/2 (well, 1 4 1/2, 1 Millers Falls #10, same thing). They are great planes. Just a little wider, making them a little harder to master, and a bit more expensive. Go with a #4.

There are several other options, but they tend to be more personal preferences.

The most important thing about it is you must learn to sharpen them. It doesn’t matter what kind you buy, if its not sharp, its not going to work.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2412 days

#4 posted 02-26-2012 07:55 PM


first off, if you truly want something special, letting us know a bit about your budget will help. And there are some options you should really (REALLY) consider before you make your mind up.

But, before I get into that, I’d like to give you a few of my thoughts on what model/models you should look at, and also what to avoid:

First, a #4 is not a good choice for a “general use plane”, it’s just not. It’s called a smoothing plane because that’s what it does, it smooths. It does not and, in most cases, will not flatten a panel. They are normally tuned to take a .001” shaving, and sometimes less. It also has a relatively small area of contact, meaning it will simply follow the contours of an uneven panel rather than riding on the highs and leveling them out.

If you want to have only one hand plane, your absolute best investment will be in a Veritas Low-Angle (bevel up) Jack Plane, as pictured HERE
Then, expand upon it’s versatility with some of the different irons available (the iron is the blade).
One of each angle would give you the utmost in versatility. Reason being, the different angles will perform better on different types of wood. Examples: The 25 degree blade will be best for end grain and soft woods like pine, the 38 degree blade will be good for general hardwoods, and the 50 will be perfect for really difficult grain and highly figured woods. The toothed blade is also good for highly figured woods or in instances where you have a lot of reversing grain and tear-out is becoming an issue.

Another suggestion, would be to have 2 of the 38 degree blades, one with a very slightly curved edge on the iron for general use and smoothing, and the other sharpened to an 8” radius for roughing in stock and quick material removal. It’s also handy for for jointing a very rough or out-of-square edge.

That one Veritas low-angle Jack will be the most versatile plane you could possibly buy for general use, and it’s what I would be looking to for a one-plane arsenal.

Then, when you decide to go for your second plane to gain even more versatility, the Veritas low-angle Block-Plane (HERE) would be an excellent choice, as it too shares the same versatility, if not even greater versatility.

It too offers numerous blades for different tasks, but it has another major advantage over many other block planes; it offers an optional tote and front knob (HERE effectively transform it into a bevel-up #3 smoother.
I have one of these planes with the knob and tote, as well as several blades, and it is one of, if not the most, versatile plane I own. I reach for it constantly.

If you were fixed on a smoothing plane and don’t want to consider a jack, this is what I would recommend. Truly an exceptional tool, and made with quality by a very reputable company.

With these two planes, you could literally have the versatility of a whole cabinet full of traditional bevel-down bench planes, and a block plane, while only needing to purchase 2 planes and a few different irons.

If you were to buy a “standard” #4 bench plane, all you would have is a smoothing plane with little versatility. It’s not going to flatten well, and will leave you wanting more immediately.
Either of my above suggestions have the versatility of several more traditional bench planes all rolled into one easy to use and tune plane.

I understand both of these are a significant investment. But, in reality, what you get for your money is likely much more than you would get for a comparable investment in traditional frogged bench planes.
You will have the versatility of a scrub-plane, jointer, fore-plane, jack-plane, smooth-plane, block-plane, toothing plane, and if you were to grind a 90 degree edge on an iron, you could have a scraper plane too! And, you will have the versatility of changing the angle of attack while performing any of the above operations. Literally giving yourself a full arsenal of planes while only purchasing two planes and some irons.

I just don’t think you could possibly do better or get more versatility from any two other planes sold today, bar-none.

Good luck! And if you have any questions about anything I said, just ask.

-- Kenny

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8163 posts in 2541 days

#5 posted 02-26-2012 08:06 PM

Thanks for the explanation Kenny, you rock as does LJ. Yeppers.

View klassenl's profile


185 posts in 2623 days

#6 posted 02-26-2012 09:58 PM


That is exactly the kind of advice I’m looking for. Budget isn’t a concern at the moment, but dropping $200 on a plane seems like a lot, but my table saw was almost $1000, so I guess a plane is comparably cheap.

Can you shed some light on your logic when you recommend a low angle jack.

-- When questioned about using glue on a garbage bin I responded, "Wood working is about good technique and lots of glue........I have the glue part down."

View Don W's profile

Don W

18685 posts in 2532 days

#7 posted 02-26-2012 10:11 PM

I don’t disagree with much of what Kenny said, but I think it need to be expanded on. I have an LN #62 and agree its a great plane. If you have the disposable income to invest that kind of money, its a great choice. I disagree though that its a complete replacement for bevel down planes. There is a reason the bevel down planes are the most widely manufactured.

I also hate changing blades constantly. True, its a personal preference, so its everybodies choice. I like to get my planes set where they work well and leave them until they need sharpening again. True, its less important for the bevel up planes, but its still a hassle to me.

A new #62 will cost about $230, then add another $60 or so for a different blade and you can pretty much have a complete set of vintage stanleys.

I’m not disagreeing that its certainly and option, I’m just saying it wouldn’t be my first choice.

When I first started all of this, I couldn’t afford the #62, my kids education came first. Now that that’s paid for (well almost) i can afford the nice new shiny LN #62.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2412 days

#8 posted 02-26-2012 10:49 PM

The low-angle Jack is more easily tuned to different uses than a comparable bevel-down plane. Figured woods will often experience tear-out with a 45 degree angle of attack. To change this on a bevel-down plane, you must change the frog, which is a major expense. Or, the other method, which I do NOT recommend, is to hone a back-bevel on the blade. To remove this back bevel, you must grind away the end of the blade until the back-bevel is gone, wasting a lot of steel in the process.
To make this same change on a bevel-up plane, you can simply swap the blade to one with a higher angle honed on the edge. Or, hone a micro-bevel, which is much more easily removed than the back-bevel.

Also, to change the mouth opening on a bevel-UP plane, like the Veritas, you can simply loosen the locking knob and turn the adjustment screw.
On all but the Bed-Rock design (ie: all Stanley Baily style planes), you must remove the blade. loosen the screws which affix the frog, slide the frog forward or back, tighten the screws, install the blade, check the opening, and if it’s not perfect, go back and redo all previous steps.

Part of learning to use a hand-plane properly is learning how to quickly tune it. This should take no more than a minute at most once you gain experience. I can swap blades in my low-angle Veritas block plane and be back working in under 2 minutes, taking even thickness shavings of .001” thickness if I choose. And I’m slow!

Changing a blade in a bevel-up plane to deal with varying conditions is MUCH faster than doing so on a bevel-down plane. I’ll swap a blade over a frog any day!

Bevel-down planes also lack a cap-iron, or chip-breaker, so this is one less area you have to deal with adjusting. The blades are much thicker because of this, and will resist chatter because of this and the fact that the blade beds directly to the sole, creating a very stable blade platform.

Yes, the initial price is higher than a vintage Stanley. But, consider this: You pay for the Stanley, unless you pay a lot you will need to clean it up a good deal, removing rust in many cases, then you’ll need to lap the sole and sides (I’ve yet to find a vintage plane that HASN’T needed this), you can figure at least 4 hours of work to do this properly.
Now after the sole and sides are flat, you’ll need to inspect the mouth and file it square if it’s not already, and they’re usually not. Often times totes and knobs are in bad shape and need repair and refinishing or replacement, more time and cost.
Now, you still have to get it sharp. And in several cases I’ve seen, the blades need a lot of work! Not to mention the factory Stanley blade and cap-irons are much thinner than those made for the planes we make now. Most people opt to replace them with an aftermarket blade and cap-iron assembly which is thicker. This often results in the mouth needing to be opened more, depending on how thick you want to go.

Figure in all the time and effort you have put into this 80 year old plane, and you could have just bought the Veritas and been done with it.

Take this example: I have a nice Stanley #4 I picked up for $20 on Ebay. I spent just over 6 hours cleaning it up, squaring the mouth perfectly, lapping the sides and sole flat and square and refinishing the tote and knob. I then spent nearly $80 on a Hock blade and breaker package. So, I have $100 in this plane, plus 6 hours of my time. Figure I charge $35 for my time in my shop, and I have $310 invested in this plane! Not such a “steal” after all, now is it?

Now take my Veritas Low-Angle Block plane: I paid $130 for the plane, $35 for the tote and knob, and another $80 on 3 optional blades. $245 total, for a brand spankin new plane that is much more versatile and was dead flat and true out of the box, ready to be put to wood and make shavings.

Me, having tried both methods, I’ll spend the money if I have it every single time. It’s just a better investment to pay the money and end up with a better tool with more versatility.

I do still buy and restore hand planes, but I do it because I enjoy it and I like the history. When I want a plane that is going to just work and be versatile, I buy new.

-- Kenny

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185 posts in 2623 days

#9 posted 02-27-2012 01:00 AM

Good info again. How about sharpening. Is it the same method for sharpening bevel up as it is bevel down?

-- When questioned about using glue on a garbage bin I responded, "Wood working is about good technique and lots of glue........I have the glue part down."

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2412 days

#10 posted 02-27-2012 01:40 AM

Yup, exact same method. The angles are sometimes different, and depend on which blade you’re sharpening (if you have different blades for different uses), but it’s the same idea.

I sharpen with a basic Eclipse jig on silicon carbide sand-paper, though I have been known to apply some diamond paste to some worn 2000 grit paper to get a really fine polish if needed.
I can free-hand sharpen quite well, but I find I can maintain more exact angles with a jig and a set-up block with various stops for different angles.

Any sharpening media will work, oil stones, diamond, water stones, sand-paper, whatever you have, as long as it’s flat, properly maintained and suitable for sharpening quality tools, it will work fine.

I do recommend using a jig, whatever you do. And the cheap Eclipse jig is the one to buy. Woodcraft and Rockler both sell them, as do a bunch of other places, and they can be had for $10 when on sale (which is often).
The other jig I like (though it does cost a good bit more) is the Richard Kell Honing Guide. It’s the highest quality honing guide made, period. His machining and attention to detail is second to none. He builds everything he makes with the precision you’d expect in a fine Swiss watch.

If you don’t have stones or sharpening equipment, let me know. I’ll message you with some good info on how to get set-up very well for short money. I’ve helped several guys out, and they’ve all had great results.

Hope this helps!

-- Kenny

View Farkled's profile


28 posts in 2280 days

#11 posted 02-27-2012 09:42 AM

You haven’t said what size projects you are looking to work with your plane (and it is very unlikely that you will stop with just one.) Flattening a 1 SqFt panel is much different than flattening a table top or desk top. Secondly, removing glue squeeze out is a job better left for carbide scrapers because glue will will damage almost any edge.

It is often said that one may flatten up to twice the sole length of the plane. That gives one a dimension of 18”. A jointer gives one a dimension appx. 4’ – or more in the case of some woodies. Referring to the Chris Schwarz model of rough, medium and fine, the jack does most of the work by getting rough wood into nearly flat and square condition. The jointer makes edges true and surfaces flat. The smoother makes surfaces smooth. Smooth and flat are two different things. If you are going to do hand woodworking you will need the trinity at some point.

Cutting to the chase, the beauty of the LV bevel up planes is that is that one set of blades will work through all 3 planes. By simply swapping blades, each of the three planes can quickly take on some of the characteristics of the the other size planes. Because they have adjustable throats, each can be used for rough, medium or fine tasks.

I would counsel that you pick one specific task, pick a body size for that task and then learn to do that task well. That effrot will tell you where you want to go for the other tasks.

View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2647 days

#12 posted 02-27-2012 03:42 PM

I’ve never owned one of the bevel-up LN planes. How long does it take to remove an iron, adjust the throat, seat a new iron, and tune it for a new application?

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2935 days

#13 posted 02-27-2012 04:16 PM

Nobody has mentioned the lowly little block plane. That is far and away the first plane to own. I can’t think of any thing I build that I don’t grab the block plane to break hard edges, shoot ends, adjust fits. It’s as essential as any tool I own.

Having said that, I will add that the second most useful is what Kenny said, the low angle jack. To me, every thig else is just refinements for specific jobs, but the jack and the block are the foundation.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2439 days

#14 posted 02-27-2012 04:35 PM

Kenny has summarized the advantages of BU planes in great detail. When I started WW those are the planes I purchased, they seemed easier to use and set correctly. Now that I am more experienced I seem to be moving more towards the BD planes for the following reasons:

- mouth opening, sure BU planes are more convenient but most planes are used for a specific task, with a usually constant mouth opening. So this is really not an issue.

- difficult woods, once again it is more convenient to change the blade than the frog. On the other hand with a BD plane you might just get away with sharpening a back bevel on the blade, in my opinion this would only be an issue if you are using a smoother with a very difficult wood.

- setting the blade depth. Here is where the BD planes win hands down and allow you to work more efficiently. With a BU plane you have to loosen the cap, turn the screw until you “think” it is high or low enough, tighten the cap and try it. With a BD plane you just adjust as you go with your index finger. In other words it gives you a faster feedback and a better feel for blade depth since you see and feel right away the thickness of the shaving.

- Putting a camber on the blade. This is done a lot easier on a BD plane than on a BU. I don’t consider this an important feature with exception of a smoother, and you can do it as well on a BU plane, but you have to remove a lot more metal, specially if you are using the 25º blades.

In my opinion you need to consider two things. As Farkled stated, what do you plan to do? Smooth, size, flatten? And the other is will you be sticking with hand tools. Lets be honest here, if you are one fo those guys who has a 20” drum sander, a 12” jointer and 12” planer and just want to try a hand plane for kicks, then go with the Veritas BU plane, it will get you working in no time with less frustration. If you plan to stick with hand tools then get the BD planes, they are more efficient once you learn to use them well. Which really it does not take that long, if you get a nice quality plane like a LN or Veritas they work out of the box.

Best of luck and I hope I did not confuse you more… :-)

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2962 days

#15 posted 02-27-2012 04:44 PM

Just to mix it up a bit. If I were going to buy just one new metal plane to start with and budget were not the prime driver, I really think I would get one of the skew bladed rabetting block planes such as the LN 140 or the Veritas version from LN. They are such versatile things. The only down side is that they are a bit harder to sharpen for new users.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

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