Hope chest – prepping the cross rails

My hope chest has several rails to interconnect at the corners. Tough wood being made from solid oak, but I’m planing them by hand quite easily using hand planing methods I’ve used for 45 years and the same methods used by woodworkers for centuries.

Old fashioned? No, not really. These methods are ideal for developing a working knowledge of planes and though I may know hand planes inside out and upside down, I prefer using them for the following reasons:

  • I get the most excellent and total upper-body exercise (fingertips to torso)
  • Good workout for lungs and heart pumping (my form of exercise program)
  • Hand planed surfaces require no power sanding
  • Sand only #250-grit using sheet sandpaper
  • No dust mask
  • No eye protection
  • No hearing protection
  • No danger from power machines
  • Clean, dust-free environment for co workers
  • No noise for continued interaction with others
  • Phenomenal accuracy
  • Sustainability
  • Environmentally safe from noise pollution

And the list can continue if I mention lifestyle alone or control of work, life, environment and more.

To plane the surfaces after the bandsaw I first use the Stanley #4 with a curved iron I adapted. Some years ago I changed three irons that fit the #4 plane to radiused irons: The first with a shallow curve, the second more convex and the third one even deeper. Depending on the depth of cut, these plane irons enable me to cut large or small quantities from rough-sawn and uneven surfaces. On more refined work from the bandsaw as in this case I use the shallow iron as shown here.
Here are some of my thoughts on planes. My first plane was indeed a #4. I bought it on the strength of the advice given by older men overseeing my apprenticeship. Though careful not to offend me, the best reason given was the size of the plane being commensurate to the size of the 15 year old boy. It makes sense. Now I own a thick-soled modern-day #4 Bed Rock plane. It’s twice the weight of the old Stanley shown. Does it work twice as well or does it take twice the effort. Well, the latter is actually true. Now sales teams will indeed tout the weight as being a highly desirable feature assaying to the quality of the plane, but that’s not really true at all.

My woodworking friends, apprentices and students over the years usually end up asking me if I can tell them which plane would be the best to buy, as if there is some definitive answer. I have seen this request on blogs for a long time too. Inevitably the well-intended opinions come back in profusion and the arguments begin. I use the word opinion on purpose because often the answers are little more than that. Mere opinions. Of course we than have to go through the extended opinions that one maker’s plane is better than another, or you must retrofit this plane with a thick iron or this iron or that iron or choose a Bedrock over a Bailey and so ad infinitum the bitter disputes end up serving only to confuse the newbie who cannot make any kind of educated decision from what’s taken place.

Perhaps framing the issue will help to determine the outcome. First of all; if I post on here and say I am thinking of buying a new plane, which one should I get? Inevitably someone will post, “Get the best you can.” Or “Get a good one straight off the bat. Go for a Low Neck or a Veritable.” “Forget the number 4. Too small, you should get a 4 ½.”

No one asks how big the questioner is, what upper body weight they have or what upper body strength they have. What about hand size? Age? Their occupation? They can be built like a tank, pump iron all evening in the gym yet have weak hands, wrists and fingers. So many influences affect giving the right answer, yet no one asks the question but all give an opinion. Add into the equation the fact that they may have some infirmity, women are built differently to men, children are very often undeveloped and so too some might be software engineers typing in 6,000 digits a minute on a keyboard , but have never picked up a plane ever. So here are a few thoughts on what happens beyond the opinions of the many.

I don’t believe one plane size fits all or even needs to and I know that heavy 4 ½ Bed Rock planes can cause more difficulty than say a No 4 or the even smaller No 3 Bailey pattern. The question for me is not which single plane will do the job best, but which planes do I need and what is the order of priority.

As I said, when I was 15 years old my stature was such that a No 4 ½ was simply too heavy for me. At 21 it worked fine and for my general work I preferred it. Did I then abandon the No 4? Not at all. I still use it, like it and for some tasks prefer it. Therefore the priority was established. The No 4 was my stepping-stone to adopting a larger plane later. If I were a woman and untrained for the muscular work planing by hand demands, I would follow the same pattern and work to develop the muscle, strength or savvy I needed to make the larger work for me if I needed to. If I were a man and untrained for the muscular work planing demands, I would do the same. Furthermore, if I were physically disadvantaged in a way that affected my upper-body manipulation of the plane, I would choose the narrower width and lighter weight of the No 4 over the No 4 ½. Had I a truly small frame or slight stature, I would seriously consider even the No3. I used one of those for a season too.


  1. Dear Paul,
    It was interesting what you said about planing as a workout. I have a 5 1/2 LN benchplane only, and sometimes it feels more like a workout than woodworking. I really get tired, but always thought its my lack of skill and power. Do you think I should get a No 4? I am 73kg/176cm.
    Anyway combining woodworking and exercise is a good thing, you dont have to worry about fitting an exercise schedule in your routine. Another advantage of using handtools (only).

    1. That’s a big and heavy plane and ultra flat planes suck to the wood so it’s no wonder you feel like you ran a marathon after using it. The old wooden planes are surprisingly lighter and glide across the surface of a board like a swan on the Ogwen estuary below where I live and work. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with smaller smoothing planes first off to reduce the high spots ready for refining. I recommend anyone to own a #4 by any maker and spend an hour fettling it for use. My book Working Wood the Artisan Course with Paul Sellers really covers this procedure extensively.

      Your weight and height equals mine by the way. I use all of my planes in different measure and one of my favourites will always remain a pre 50s Stanley #4.

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.