Looking to buy a Jack Plane - Should I get a No 5 or 5-1/2

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Forum topic by paxorion posted 12-22-2014 05:01 PM 2066 views 0 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1107 posts in 2043 days

12-22-2014 05:01 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question plane

I’m looking to get a jack plane to add to my meager plane collection. I’d be curious to hear from folks whether their preferred size is a #5 or #5-1/2 and why. I find that currently, when I want to use a hand plane, I am looking to:
  • flattening a panel glue-up
  • knock down high-spots on shorter boards in preparation for a surface planer
  • jointing the edge of short boards
Eventually, I plan on embarking on a workbench build to make hand tools a bigger part of my woodworking journey. For that build, I would like to be able to use a hand planes for flattening the top. For additional context:
  • I’ve ruled out getting a low angle 62, as I anticipate eventually adding other bench planes to my collection. Looking to upgrade my Groz #4 with a #4 or #4-1/2, and adding a #7 or #8 jointer plane.
  • I’m keeping my options open for antique or new. Currently leaning towards new, and I have thus far liked the feel of the Bedrock-based planes (Lie Nielson, WoodRiver V3).

-- paxorion

30 replies so far

View knotscott's profile


8013 posts in 3373 days

#1 posted 12-22-2014 05:22 PM

It’s going to be a matter of opinion, but I really like my 5-1/2.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View JayT's profile


5627 posts in 2209 days

#2 posted 12-22-2014 05:24 PM

5 or 5-1/2 depends on what I am doing. My #5 is set up with an aggressive camber for taking down high spots in a hurry or cleaning off rough sawn. Basically, it replaces a scrub plane. A 5-1/2, with a wider iron, really can’t be can’t be cambered quite as aggressively. I have a fore plane that gets used for similar purposes as the #5 jack, but in a different manner. My fore is a #6, but the same principles would apply to a 5-1/2 jack/fore plane. The fore plane takes a wider swath, but with a bit less camber, can’t cut as deep as the narrower #5.

For larger panels and those where I don’t want to remove much material, the #6 gets used. If I really need to take a lot of wood off quickly, the #5 works better because of how it is set up.

Biggest difference to me is that it takes a lot more effort to work the wider plane. I like the extra length of the larger plane and at times the extra mass is a benefit, but your arms and shoulders will definitely notice after a planing session.

When looking at your uses, my hesitation is that for knocking down high spots, I would use a pretty heavily cambered iron, while flattening glue ups would be less camber and for jointing, I use an iron with no camber at all. For those purposes, I have several planes each set up differently, but unless you are willing to buy two or three planes right now, compromises will have to be made.

If you had a #7 already, I would say get the #5. If all you have is the #4, then a 5-1/2 with a slight camber would give a lot more flexibility—it would take longer to knock down the high spots, but would work better for panels and jointing. Some people do like a bit of camber for jointing, so it will work, I just don’t fall in that crowd. If you get a 5-1/2, you might find you don’t need a #7 or 8. There are quite a few woodworkers (Paul Sellers would be one) that almost never use anything larger.

This is getting wordy, so my best recommendation would be to get a good 5-1/2 now and keep an eye out for a vintage #5. Those can be found frequently for less than $20 and a jack plane just doesn’t need to be as fine tuned as a jointer or smoother, so there’s no need to spend the money on a new #5 for rough work.

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

View Mosquito's profile


9305 posts in 2290 days

#3 posted 12-22-2014 05:29 PM

In my opinion, it depends on what you want to use it for, and how you want to use it. It sounds like you’re not planning on using it for heavy dimensioning or anything like that.

I have an antique #5 set up with heavy camber and use it for hogging off a lot of wood. I like it for dimension and flatten boards, and to knock off corners quickly to make a chamfer.

I have my #5-1/2 set up as a smoother, and love it. I like the weight and size of it.

I’d say, if you’re not planning on doing heavy stock removal, but just for those high spots and edge planing, I like the #5-1/2. Vintage or new, whatever is your preference.

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View bandit571's profile


19996 posts in 2681 days

#4 posted 12-22-2014 05:45 PM

Happen to have several #5s, each set up just a bit different from each other. From a “Hungry” cambered Scrub Jack down to a smoother style jack. And a few in between. All were vintage planes.

There IS a #5-1/2 and a #5-1/4 in the till as well

And the longest one being a #6. But the “Common #5 Jack plane can be set up to do a lot more than the others. Start with the #5, and work your way up and down from there.

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

View rkober's profile


137 posts in 2290 days

#5 posted 12-22-2014 05:51 PM

From the description of your intended work the #5 may be a little more “nibble” and adaptable. However either could work nicely for you.

If you’re interested I have a Type 20 (late 60’s) #5 that I got with an older plane that I wanted. It should make a great user plane and I’m just trying to $25 out of it (plus shipping maybe $13):

PM me if you’re interested. Good luck.

-- Ray - Spokane, WA - “Most people don’t recognize opportunity because it’s usually disguised as hard work.” - Unknown

View simmo's profile


67 posts in 3469 days

#6 posted 12-22-2014 06:25 PM

Hi whatever plane you get, get spare blades use one as a Jack ie curved and the others as jointers and smoother, a word of warning though planes don’t like being lonely and silently make you buy more, I had this affliction but have weaned my self to only a No7 and a block plane,HTH

View unbob's profile


810 posts in 1901 days

#7 posted 12-22-2014 06:37 PM

It looks like Bandit has a 5 1/4 size squeezed in there. That is a must have for me-use it alot. Yep, you need all three in the #5s!

View Loren's profile (online now)


10390 posts in 3646 days

#8 posted 12-22-2014 06:52 PM

Well, weight is a factor if you’re going to do a lot of
work with a jack plane. I get by fine with a couple
of old Bailey #5s, never had anything else. They
are among the most common planes to find at
flea markets and so on and of course once you
start acquiring iron planes, you’ll find yourself
mysteriously drawn to flea markets and yard sales.

View paxorion's profile


1107 posts in 2043 days

#9 posted 12-22-2014 08:17 PM

Good feedback from everyone so far. After tallying the recommendations, it looks like there is an interesting tally:
  • 3x to start with a #5
  • 3x to start with a #5-1/2
  • 2x to call it a wash because I should just get both

I’m almost tempted to declare that I will buy both and make it a 3 way tie. But in all seriousness, I’d be curious to hear more feedback to determine any tie-breakers. Here is a summary of my take-aways from the advice given thus far.

Reasons for a #5:
  1. Cost – Plentiful antiques worth getting and restoring. Even moderate restoration will give me what I need for the flattening tool I am looking for.
  2. Will likely start as a gateway tool leading to more planes with different blades setup.
Reasons for a #5-1/2
  1. Companion to a #4 – Jay and Mosquito gave very compelling arguments that a #5-1/2 may be a better companion to a #4.
  2. Short jointer – Depending on my projects and use, it may be a better gap fill, and I may not find myself needing a #7 or #8.

-- paxorion

View Mosquito's profile


9305 posts in 2290 days

#10 posted 12-22-2014 08:35 PM

I agree with reason 2 under #5-1/2. I very rarely use my #7/8’s anymore. I tend to generally make smaller sized projects, though.

Reason 1, though, I actually use the #5-1/2 instead of my #4 in most cases. If I do use a smoothing plane (#4, or #4-1/2), it’s typically for a slightly heavier cut to go from the jack to smoother a little faster than what the #5-1/2 will do. Then I follow up with the #5-1/2, which I usually have set up for a very fine cut.

Under reasons for a #5, I agree with both :-) They’re cheap, and don’t have to be perfectly tuned up to work, or even razor sharp. I’ve never flattened the sole on any of my #5’s, and … I’d be lying if I said I’ve sharpened my main user #5 yet this year…

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View Don W's profile

Don W

18713 posts in 2565 days

#11 posted 12-22-2014 10:52 PM

If its for a Jack, I’d suggest the #5. They are cheaper, easier to find replacement blades (or anything for that matter) and they are MUCH easier to find.

With that said, if you walk into an antique store and a #5 1/2 is sitting there for $15, I’d suggest taking it home.

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

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15351 posts in 2616 days

#12 posted 12-23-2014 04:30 AM

I’m a #5 vote. It’s likely been 18 months or more since I used my #5 1/2. For me, it’s too long to be a smoother (a #4 1/2 is ideal for larger panels) and clumsy as a jointer (I prefer the #8). But to each his own. Many like the #5 1/2, I just never made a connection to mine.

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

View Lumberpunk's profile


334 posts in 2335 days

#13 posted 12-23-2014 04:47 AM

What about a low angle jack with multiple blades? lee valley offers 25, 38 and 50 degrees and you can grind any angle you want and they have a toothed blade for figured wood, plus adjustable mouth opening. Definitely not the cheap option I know but it is super versatile. I have the Veritas with all three blades and I love it, works for smoothing, flattening and jointing + lots of mass and low angle for shooting.

Don’t get me wrong I also have a No 4 (which I use a lot) and a No 7 (which I use less but really appreciate when I have to) but the feel and versatility of my LAJ have me reaching for it almost as much as my block plane.

-- If someone tells you you have enough tools and don't need any more, stop talking to them, you don't need that kind of negativity in your life.

View Andre's profile


1830 posts in 1804 days

#14 posted 12-23-2014 04:58 AM

Don’t use the big hand planes very much mostly work with Krenov style wood planes with Hock Irons and my trusty Stanely 60 1/2 and a LN 102. I do have a Stanely 3, 4, 5 1/4 and a 6. I have replaced all the blades with LV PMV 11 and could not believe the difference.

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View OSU55's profile


1670 posts in 1987 days

#15 posted 12-23-2014 05:39 AM

Don’t use my 5 1/2 that much. My 4 1/2’s are much better smoothers, and the #5 gets use on rougher lumber because it has a narrower blade. Everyone should have a #4 – there’s always a use for it, like knocking down high spots for a planer and jointing short boards, and about anything else, just check Paul Seller’s website. A #7 is a must have for jointing and flattening panel glue ups, and a 4 1/2 is the best bevel down smoother. Forego the 5 1/2 and get a #7. Used, whatever vintage you can find. There really isn’t a reason to buy a new high dollar Bailey style bench plane. OEM Stanley blades and breakers work just fine when you learn how to tune and sharpen. High cutting angles for unruly grain is where the higher $ planes come in.

When you’re ready to buy new, get a Veritas BU LAJ – shooting plane, jointer, panel flattener, big smoother all in one with the right blade assortment.

I have a 1/2 dozen wood body planes. They’re fun to mess with and I enjoy them, but if I had to choose I’d burn them in a minute and keep my metal planes. Woodies are much more tempermental.

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