Questions answered – On long planes and 4 1/2s

Q:

Hi Paul,

Just discovered your site last week and I am really enjoying it. I do have a question about bench planes that you use. Do you ever use a No. 6, 7, or 8. to do any fore planing or jointing? I notice that you use the No. 4 1/2 quite a bit, is there a reason you prefer it over a No.5? It seems older Stanley No. 4 1/2 are harder to come by and seem considerably more expensive than other Stanley planes.

Thanks.

James.

A:

Yes, I do use long planes for some work such as jointing the edges of boards and truing and squaring longer stock. I must say though that the Stanley or more accurately the Bailey-pattern 6, 7 and 8 planes are no longer what I would consider high priority planes  and I might even say are actually more non-essential in today’s world of working wood. In most cases, stock will be delivered from a machine to the bench and will usually be squared and dimensioned to a finished size, having been run through tablesaws, jointers and planers. My favourite long plane today is the Veritas bevel-up Jointer plane, which I like to use for most jointing work after using the shorter bevel-up jointer they make. I still use the Bailey-pattern bevel-down #5 1/2 for most prep work and even final finish planing before the smoothers I use and so for me it is not an either or but a question of prioritizing.

Re the 4 1/2 I use. Alongside my #4, this plane works really well for surface work on tabletops and so on. First I go with a customized #4 sharpened with a convex edge along the edge. This reduces undulation fast and preps for the #4 smoother. Beyond that I go with a #4 1/2 finely set. This expands the surfacing capabilities to improve flatness.

For me, this is reality woodworking. Surfacing wider boards with long planes was actually much easier work with wooden jointer planes and I mean about half the effort. Most joiner’s kept two; one with a more open throat (usually an older plane with a worn sole) for hogging off at 30-degrees to the long axis of the grain, and then a followed by one with a tighter mouth and a dead flat sole. Whereas most metal jointer planes can be flexed and bent during task, wooden ones cannot.

Stanley 4 1/2s are still inexpensive compared to when I was a boy. My first 4 1/2 cost me a week’s pay as an apprentice. I just looked on eBay and found one at £15, one at £35 and one at £45 (not even a morning’s pay). All looked like good planes. I usually pay about £20-25. That’s a whole lot less than the new heavyweight planes, about one-tenth, and it will do everything they will do and more.

4 comments on “Questions answered – On long planes and 4 1/2s

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your answer, I guess that does make sense. I watched your workbench videos and saw that you did all the planing work with a No 4 plane was just curious if you ever used any of the longer planes and you answered my question. I don’t own a powered jointer or a jointer plane and would just have my wood milled by the lumber yard, so I guess and no. 4 or 4 1/2 would make more sense in this case.

  2. Hi Paul,
    I’m pretty confident any current plane manufacturer would love to see their planes used in your videos. I’m certainly not asking you to speak negatively about any manufacturer. I assume you like your Bailey’s because you have them fine tuned to your liking. Aside from that fact, if you were a new woodworker, and money was not the deciding factor would you be looking at some of the premium manufacturers like Lie-Nielsen or Veritas? What about for specialty planes – plows, routers, etc? Are you utilizing the thicker after-market blades like Hock, or are you working with “original equipment”?
    I am thoroughly enjoying the Woodworking Master Classes series, and plan to build each and every project. Your teaching style is perfect for my learning style, and I’ve already learned so much. Thanks for putting the series together for us!

    • I use only the original equipment and do not advocate thicker irons or harder steel because the price of thicker steel, heavier weight and harder material are paid for in other ways than just higher prices of good engineering. I have found minimal difference in delivering goods at the cutting edge, I like spinable whiplash in the adjustments and I like sharpening something that actually holds a good edge and gets me working wood instead of sharpening twice as much steel. But, I still enjoy good engineering but not at the expense of working wood. If other manufacturers have a plane that matches the Stanley number 4 then I would use it.
      As to plough planes and hand routers. I have to say I love Veritas. I like their quality and their prices. I like their customer service and their engineering and I like their behind-the-scenes people I know who pull everything together. If someone is looking for a heavyweight plane that’s topnotch, you couldn’t do better than the Clifton number 4 or 4 1/2. For me, I cannot find anything that works better than a plane-jane Stanley or Record number 4.

  3. The Veritas jointer plane Paul mentions looks “the business” and costs around £300-£350 with the novel optional fence. Wooden jointer planes seem like an attractive alternative to me (as an occasional user), they typically go for around £10 in vintage/antique stores in my experience (more on ebay + shipping, because there it takes effort to photograph, list, pack & post items, convenience, etc.). Apparently prices and availability are similar in the USA too (east coast at least). Paul describes their benefits – they work well and frankly they are also nice things to own, use, look at and have around.

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