No. 3 vs. No. 4 Smoothing plane?

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Forum topic by 12strings posted 03-07-2013 11:41 PM 4552 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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434 posts in 1418 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


3871 posts in 2005 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.

-- Michael: Hillary has a long list of accomplishments, though most DAs would refer to them as felonies.

View Don W's profile

Don W

16640 posts in 1601 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.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View sikrap's profile


1094 posts in 2393 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


962 posts in 1364 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


3750 posts in 1245 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.

-- "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." Abraham Lincoln

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2032 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


10094 posts in 1717 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 2192 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


3361 posts in 1385 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


6516 posts in 1326 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 -- Stanley #45 Evangelist -

View Ron Harper's profile

Ron Harper

133 posts in 950 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


144 posts in 965 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


7026 posts in 1016 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


697 posts in 2099 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


6975 posts in 1948 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..."

showing 1 through 15 of 16 replies

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