No. 3 vs. No. 4 Smoothing plane?

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Forum topic by 12strings posted 03-07-2013 11:41 PM 10335 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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434 posts in 2349 days

03-07-2013 11:41 PM

I suppose this question is for people who consider themselves to have “normal” sized hands (subjective, I know).

I need to get a smoothing plane, and for someone who already has a #5 Stanley, which I really like…do most people find a #3 too small for normal hands, or just different? Which do you prefer, if you have, or have used both?

And…Does anyone have both sizes and use the both regularly? What makes you pick one over the other?

It looks like I’ll get the chance to attend the Lie-Neilson hand tool event in April at Pop. Woodworking in Cincinatti, so I’m hoping to get to hold both sizes there and get a feel for which I prefer.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

16 replies so far

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2935 days

#1 posted 03-08-2013 12:26 AM

I don’t have a #3, but always felt like I should have one. Don’t know why.

I think there is a more vocal following of the #4 1/2 as a smoother because it has more width and weight.

Looks like a #3 would be going in the opposite direction but I could see it as useful for small work.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18685 posts in 2532 days

#2 posted 03-08-2013 12:29 AM

I prefer the #4, but I use both a #2 and a #3 for smaller work. I’d suggest starting with a #4. My 604 is the most used plane in my shop.

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

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3323 days

#3 posted 03-08-2013 03:13 AM

I have both and I use both. I use a 4 for table tops and other large areas and I use a 3 (or 2) for smaller areas like legs on a night stand. If you’re only going to get one, you should definitely try both sizes and see which feels better for you.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View LukieB's profile


966 posts in 2294 days

#4 posted 03-08-2013 03:24 AM

I have both, and probably reach for my 4 more often. But I love my 3 too.

I agree with Dave,#4 for larger areas, #3 for smaller areas…..or #2, if you’re so fortunate : )

-- Lucas, "Someday woodworks will be my real job, until then, there's this"

View JayT's profile


5588 posts in 2175 days

#5 posted 03-08-2013 03:37 AM

I definitely prefer my #4, but the #3 has its uses. I do not have large hands, but the little bit of extra room with the #4 makes it more comfortable for me to use.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2962 days

#6 posted 03-08-2013 05:02 PM

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest not to even bother with a #3 or smaller and just use a block plane. Same width, same length, same ability or better to close up the mouth. Now if you are collecting, that is a different question. If collecting, I say go for a particular style. Maybe all low knobs because they look much cooler.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View bandit571's profile


19723 posts in 2648 days

#7 posted 03-08-2013 05:18 PM

Ok, I will buck the trend here. I tend to reach for my #3 sized planes the most. I do have large hands, but there is just something i like about the #3 size.

And really, a 1/4” more in blade width? Not that much is it. The #3 tend to be just a hair less in weight, makes a bit of difference at the end of the day.

Yes, I do have a few of each, just prefer the #3s more. And yes, I also keep a few block planes around.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3123 days

#8 posted 03-08-2013 05:19 PM

I wear blisters with my 2 and 3 if I’m not careful. Not so with my 4. I still use them all though.

-- jay,

View bondogaposis's profile


4682 posts in 2316 days

#9 posted 03-08-2013 06:53 PM

I have a 3 and 4 1/2. I probably grab the 3 more often even though it’s a bit tight on my hands. I hang my index finger around the upper blade rather on the grip and it fits better. I’m not sure why I like it better, maybe because it is lighter.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Mosquito's profile


9278 posts in 2257 days

#10 posted 03-08-2013 07:02 PM

I’ve got a #2, #3, and #4. Between those 3 I use the #3 the most. I really like using it for chamfers, rounding corners, and smaller raised panels. I typically use my #5 1/2 as my main face-smooting plane, just because I like the size, weight, and blade width.

Similar to what Bondo does, I have my pointer finger extended along side the blade, and sometimes have my pinky extended on the bed of the plane (but still inside the sole). That feels relatively comfortable to me, and in some cases makes me feel like I have better stability of the plane in my hand

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View Ron Harper's profile

Ron Harper

133 posts in 1881 days

#11 posted 03-09-2013 12:21 AM

I use two 4s. One is my utility plane and I use it for almost everything ala Paul Sellers . I keep the other one set fot the very tiniest of shavings for final polishing. I do have an Old Street Tools smoother that is awesome. It is 2 sized. I use it for tough grain.

-- Ron in Kokomo

View Benvolio's profile


148 posts in 1896 days

#12 posted 03-09-2013 11:57 AM

I find it’s easier to get finer cuts with a number three as it has a smaller reference surface… but that’s by such a miniscule amount as to barely bother mentioning.

also because the blade isn’t as wide it’s quicker to sharpen.

Other than that, I think if Al Qaida came to power tomorrow and outlawed the number 3 – I think I could make it comfortably enough without being stoned to death. There’s nothing a number 3 does that a 4 doesn’t.

So if you’re in the market for buying both, I’d say just buy a number 4 and put that money towards one GOOD plane, rather than two pretty okay planes.

-- Ben, England.

View BigRedKnothead's profile


8513 posts in 1947 days

#13 posted 03-10-2013 02:32 PM

I guess the thing to take from this is: preference. I have both. Use them both. Try em both if your able. You can get good ol 3’s and 4’s for 30-40 bucks all day.
I made a custom tote for my no 3 because my large hands didn’t fit. Technically the tote is the same size, but stuffs a little more packed in. I have to put my in index finger extended on the side of the frog/iron on any of the smaller planes.
btw. I have a veritas no 4, and I like my 604 better.

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View pmayer's profile


1026 posts in 3030 days

#14 posted 03-10-2013 10:20 PM

I use a 4 more than a 3, but I like the 3 a lot. I would start with a #4, and then add a #3 within an hour or two at most. :)

-- PaulMayer,

View HorizontalMike's profile


7749 posts in 2878 days

#15 posted 03-11-2013 01:08 AM

I use the #6 more often than the #4. IMO, #4 is too short. I recently acquired 4 #5s and will let you know…

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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