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Which plane–Bevel-up First or Bevel-down?

For more information on planes, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

Paul,

As I said, I have been reading all your entries and am through September 2012 and also read all your entries about buying good inexpensive tools, the 20 part series.

I am a fairly new woodworker and am gathering all the tools that I need (non power). I bought a used #4 Stanley Bailey and like it a lot. I am confused if I should buy more bevel down planes or go with low angle bevel up planes.

Could you write a blog for new woodworkers to clarify the pros/cons.

The literature (Veritas/Lie-Neilsen) say the bevel ups are good for new woodworkers, i.e., that is to say lighter weight and less complicated. Why? Do you agree? There must be some trade-offs that they are not mentioning? Also, if this is true, in a few years I will not be a new woodworker and may regret buying bevel ups if bevel down is the better for more experienced woodworkers.

Thanks,

Greg Washburn


This question is a frequent visitor, frequent enough for me to want to offer some facts, perhaps a point of view or two, and something to balance out what’s being expounded from sales catalogs, engineer makers and populist magazine writers, editors and such like that who have accountability to bottom liners.
DSC_0311_1A frequent massaged message I see is that suddenly we see these plane irons being touted as best sharpened at 25-degrees and not the usual 30-degrees. This effectively gives the combined lower angle of 37-degrees as apposed to the 44-degrees of a conventional bevel-down bench plane. This is a stretch massage of information to reinforce claims the different angle is considerably lower than conventional planes. Most of us sharpen at 30-degrees because edge retention is so markedly increased at 30-degrees and the plane stays usable for much longer and these planes are really no different.
A bevel-down bench plane is infinitely more diversely useful than any and all bevel-up planes touted as the new bench plane of the age. They will do work that cannot be done with a bevel-up plane and are always the go-to plane for me and also for my students on both sides of the pond. Bevel-up bench-type planes cannot and will never replace the infinite versatility of a #4 Bailey-pattern bench plane and a Bailey-pattern #4 bench smoothing plane is the very best and simplest of all bench planes for any new woodworker.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA It’s the number one first plane over any other on the market bar none. That’s my opinion but not mine alone. I could never be without a pre 1970’s Stanley #4 smoother no matter where I was in the world. I can on the other hand live without any of the other makers dating back to the 1700’s.
Now then, let me say this also. I absolutely love bevel-up bench planes. I especially like them for mitre planes which is all they are really. And this is why i said my opinion is not mine alone. These bench planes are identical to early planes used in times past. If anyone showed these planes to a craftsman a hundred years ago they would have said that they were mitre planes used for trimming end grain using shooting boards, mitre shoots and other contraptions used to hold and guide the plane and hold the wood as the plane passed over the surface being trimmed. Many of those craftsmen were around when i apprenticed and they had old rosewood, bronze and ebony planes with the irons set at about 12-degrees. these planes had thick irons too. now these men never pulled out their mitre planes and started using them as smoothing planes. That said, if I ever had the choice to make over any plane maker including those £3000 planes for a user plane, I would still choose a Stanley #4 for my daily user plane even though I can indeed admire the engineering in well crafted planes.
So, I especially like the chunkiness and weight of bevel-up planes for end grain work, but I can get identical results with a thin-ironed bevel-down Stanley and even if I couldn’t, it would be so close no one could tell the difference.
We use the bevel-up planes in the schools and find them truly positive to have for certain aspects of our work. I would recommend everyone to own one of them at least, but only after they own a couple of bevel down Stanley planes first. It’s no secret that I do not like heavy bench planes of the #4, 4 1/2, 5 and 5 1/2 sizes. I feel that they are generally excessive and costly and especially is this so for new woodworkers. I believe I speak truthfully on this issue and even after fifty years of working wood I still rely almost solely on the the planes numbered above for my daily work. With these four planes I can do anything I can with other planes.
One plane I really like and one that makes a close second to the Stanley smoother is the small bevel up smoothing plane by Veritas. I think it’s the best bevel up plane because of its lightness, feel in the hand and balance. I love it and use it often, especially with a shooting board and on light materials. My second choice is one I use for shooting edges and shooting board work is the Veritas Jack plane. These two planes are wonderful to own.
My suggestion to any new woodworker?
Go get yourself a cheap Stanley #4 first. Follow my free YouTube videos and fine tune it. Just try this and see if it doesn’t do what I say. After that get a #5 Jack plane quickly followed by the wider Stanley #4 1/2. This plane give a little extra weight over the super light #4. Next in the stable is the #5 1/2.

20 Comments

  1. David Knight on 29 June 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I couldn’t agree more Paul. When I first started with hand tools, I took a hand plane class at a local wood specialty store. It was geared towards their plans, obviously, but touted the Lie Nielsen and Veritas planes as well. I already owned some Baileys, and thought the weight of the LN made them more difficult to use than my Bailey.

    My go to plane is a type 10 Bailey #4. Following your advise, I have it working perfectly. I also own a #4-1/2 size Sargent, and a Bailey #5 that see regular use. I have picked up size #3 – #7, a few in each. Most are Stanleys, but I have found Millers Falls to be exceptional planes as well. I have a pair of 14’s (#5 size), and a 22 (#7 size) that I really like. I recently aquired a MF 8 (#3) and 9 (#4), but still need to clean and tune them.



  2. whitneyturk on 6 July 2013 at 3:02 pm

    When you say the Veritas Jack Plane, do you mean this one: http://www.leevalley.com/US/Wood/page.aspx?p=49708&cat=1,41182 ? What they call a Low-Angle Jack Plane, with the 25 degree blade (and I think bevel up)?



  3. Paul Sellers on 7 July 2013 at 1:29 am

    It should read ” a #4 Bailey-pattern plane”. Don’t know where I did this. Sorry.



  4. Paul Sellers on 7 July 2013 at 1:31 am

    The physics of the cap iron makes all the difference and this has been discounted from the equasion. I plan to go into this when i have time. Tearout is more inevitable with all low angle bevel ups, but shhh, don’t say anything.



  5. Bondi MacFarlane on 12 March 2014 at 9:29 pm

    I do believe I have been assembling my planes upside down – at least I’ve put the iron back into my Faithfull #4 and #7 with the bevel up after sharpening.

    I suspect that may explain a lot. I’ve found that nothing happens and I don’t get a shaving at all, or if I give the knob only a few twists I’m left with deep gouges in my stock and experience tearing regardless of which direction I plane.

    I shall turn the iron the right way round again (bevel down) and see if that doesn’t make a difference. I’ve been finding planing a bit of a chore of late



  6. Alan Anderson on 28 June 2014 at 5:41 am

    I guess I was lucky in that I started out with a Union #4 I inherited from my father when he passed away. Not that I’m going to abandon it after all the work I’ve done on and with it, but are there any differences I should know about between the Union and Stanley-Bailey designs that would make the latter more suitable for a novice?



  7. Alan Anderson on 28 June 2014 at 5:44 am

    I guess I lucked out then when I inherited my grandfather’s Union #4 after my father passed away. Not that I have any intention of simply abandoning it after all the work I’ve done on it and with it, but are there any meaningful differences I should know about between the Union and Stanley-Bailey designs that make the latter more suitable for the novice?



    • Paul Sellers on 28 June 2014 at 6:52 am

      No. A lot of makers made planes under other name or used foundries where castings for different makers came from. I understand some Sears Craftsman planes were Stanley made.



  8. Salvador on 26 December 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Hello Paul, I have struggled a lot with a new Stanley #4 and did all your tuning suggestions, flatten the sole, smoothed the edges of the blade, closed the mouth a little, keep the blade sharp, put a little wax or oil on the sole. At first it feels right, but very fast everything changes, and I hate that the plane stops taking shaving and suddenly digs into the wood like a sholvel in the soil, ruining my progress; when I check the sole is out of flat (big time) and the frog has moved back. This happens no matter how much I torque the securing screws of the frog. So, I guess your advise works best with OLD planes. My conclusion is that the new ones are very bad, very very bad. I guess the casting has something wrong, is not possible that it changes so dramatically, and the tolerances of everything else is very poor, lots of play and wobble. And the meeting part of the frog to the sole is not grounded-machined, its covered with paint, not slightly flat, i planed it with a file. On the other hand, i got an old stanley # 6 and it’s very different, works well.



    • Paul Sellers on 26 December 2014 at 8:07 pm

      I have never owned a #4 of any make that I couldn’t get to work yet. So something is wrong with this particular plane and it can be anything from tightness on the lever cap to a dozen other things. I can’t really answer your question now without having the plane in my hand so I am sorry. New Stanley bench planes are indeed bad and hard;y worth buying because UK Stanley have no standards in place as to quality control. They should be ashamed but they are not. It’s the sad condition of some UK manufacturers of hand tools. I have amplified this in the past through my blog but it is too late for some.



  9. Bob McConnell on 24 January 2016 at 4:43 am

    In your article: 29 JUNE 2013 – Which plane–Bevel-up First or Bevel-down? You stated:

    “It’s no secret that I do not like heavy bench planes of the #4, 4 1/2, 5 and 5 1/2 sizes. I feel that they are generally excessive and costly and especially is this so for new woodworkers. I believe I speak truthfully on this issue and even after fifty years of working wood I still rely almost solely on the the planes numbered above for my daily work. With these four planes I can do anything I can with other planes.”

    I am not sure I follow what you are saying. Are you saying you do not like the Lie-Neilsen “heavy” planes but do like the old Stanley Bailey planes of the #4 to #5 1/2’s? I have never held a Stanley Bailey, are they lighter than the LN’s? I thought the LN’s were patterned on the Bailey’s. Am I missing something?

    Another question. I inherited three saws from my uncle that he purchased around 1980 and have hardly been used. Tyzack-Turner – Excalibur No. 1, Nonpareil:
    1) Dovetail Saw – 8-inch, 20 teeth/inch
    2) Rip Saw – #154 4 ½ teeth/inch
    3) Crosscut Saw – #154 12 teeth/inch
    What is your opinion of this line of saws? I know of nobody who has an opinion.

    I am a beginning woodworker using a mix of power and hand tools but trying to slowly wean myself from most, or all, of the power tools. I am learning a lot from your YouTube videos. Thank you for providing them.

    Best regards,

    Bob McConnell
    Redding, Connecticut



    • Paul Sellers on 25 January 2016 at 3:45 am

      Bob, I answered this on my blog because I thought it was interesting for others to read other than in just the comments.



      • Bob McConnell on 25 January 2016 at 11:49 am

        Paul,,
        I appreciate your answer and I am sure others will too. I have been looking on Ebay for Bailey’s and see such a wide range of apparent condition and prices it scares me. Looks like a perfect place to get screwed by scammers. I just keep looking and eventually bite-the-bullet an buy one and see how it works out.
        I am going to try to sharpen and reset the teeth on my Tyzack-Turner saws and see how that works out. I am sure I can get them in good enough shape for my needs.
        Once again, thanks!
        Bob



        • Paul Sellers on 25 January 2016 at 8:28 pm

          In the past three or four years I have bought well over 100 Bailey pattern Stanley’s, Record’s and others and have only bought one plane I might consider to have been somewhat flawed by someone adding and subtracting original parts. With two occasions where tools arrived broken in shipping the sellers compensated me fully and told me to keep the tools to boot. I may well have bought many hundreds of tools via ebay as well as a van, all the shipping blankets for wrapping my furniture and so much beyond and all without issues. I am also aware that eBay always seems very willing to compensate a fraudulent deal too. I would try it and see how you go.
          I am sure others have an entirely different story and perhaps here in the UK things are a little nearer and thereby tighter in terms of distances than the US and other long-distance separations.



          • Bob McConnell on 25 January 2016 at 9:18 pm

            Thanks for those words of confidence regarding Ebay. I will try and see how things work out. Is there any good reason to pay $150+ for a Bailey that looks good vs. $75 for one that looks like it has been ill treated (providing there is no pitting)?



          • Paul Sellers on 25 January 2016 at 9:23 pm

            I still like the challenge of rougher planes but that’s just me. Is it cheaper to buy UK and ship or no? I often find ebay.co.uk #4 for £15-20 so even if shipping is twice that you still come out with a lifetime tool. I am never sure why US Stanley’s go from so much more. Could be that they are just not as plentiful as the UK.



          • Bob McConnell on 25 January 2016 at 9:33 pm

            Paul,
            Interesting point. I just turned 72 and when I was a kid in the mid-50’s the U.S. population was 150 million and had been growing rapidly throughout the first half of the century and continued through today where our population is now around 330 million. if Stanley was making tools to supply a population of 75-100 million in the early-1900’s it stands to reason that those old planes might well be tough to find for a population of over 300 million. Make sense? My guess is the UK population has been more stable – true?

            I will look at the UK version of Ebay – I did not know there was more than the “.com” version.

            Thank you!!!

            Bob



  10. Júlio Aragão on 10 May 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Paul,

    If we use a common bevel up plane (with a 12º bed, generally) with a blade sharpened to a higher angle (38º or higher) in a way that we get a 50º cutting angle, does that make the bevel up a good alternative to smoothing as the bailey pattern bevel down plane? Or the are results not similar in quality?

    Thank you!



    • Paul Sellers on 11 May 2017 at 7:45 am

      They are different and we sometimes increase the angle to 50 for certain grain configuration but around 45 degrees handles more grain types than lower or higher.



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