Questions Answered – 50-Degree Bevel Irons?


Hi Paul,

I am early in my woodworking “career”, and I recently purchased the 50 degree blade for my trusty Lee Valley low angle Jack plane. It seemed to function fairly well over the weekend as I was smoothing some cherry boards. What are the relative merits/disadvantages between this and a conventional smoothing plane (I have been looking at the Lie Nielsen 4 1/2 for a comparison)? Other than the length (which I suppose is the key factor), they are about the same weight and the same width of the iron.




First of all smoothing planes are part of a family of planes we commonly and very distinctly refer to as bench planes. These are bevel-down planes ranging in length from  around 5″ to 24″. New planes now being made and sold as bevel-up planes are not bench planes and generally cannot be used in the same way or for the same task range as the bevel-up planes. They can of course be called by the same names, ‘smoothing‘ planes, ‘jack‘ planes and so on, but they are not the same in the hand, on the job or in what they are generally used for. They do have their place in the shop and on the bench, but they are different.

I am not sure if there is a need for a 50-degree bevel iron as such. This is one of those situations where I might consider an increase in bevel angle by adding a micro bevel on a regular iron, which is usually best at 30-degrees, to increase the angle of presentation to the wood. This is of course for the bevel-up planes we are taking about. It is not necessary to use a 50-degree iron on a regular basis nor to use a bevel-up plane, which is very limited in its function for normal bench plane use. The bevel up plane is not a bench plane as such but more a mitre plane revamped under a different name. Essentially it is the same plane.

I think it’s important to see that the bevel up plane is always described by the makers as, 1, a low-angle plane, 2, a bevel-up plane, and 3, having a 25-degree bevel. Configuring the numbers this way, they then present the plane as a different plane to a bevel-down plane, citing the difference mainly as the low blade angle and the lower bevel. Even so, a 25-degree bevel is weaker and more prone to fracture and the better bevel will in practice and in everyday work be 30-degrees. At the end of the day there is 5-degrees difference between the two conventional bevels. Add the 12-degree bed angle to a conventional 30-degree bevel and you have either 42-degrees or 37-degrees if using 25-degrees. Not too much different but a little. I have tried both and cannot really discern the difference. Lowering the angle of presentation does affect the iron very directly however. The lower the angle the less leverage there is along the cutting edge as the plane is forced into and along the grain. The low angle plane will stay sharp longer because edge fracture is reduced. Much of the problem I see now is that, whereas the bevel-up plane will resolve the issue of planing tangentially to the axis of the grain as in mitres and end-grain planing, it copes very badly with the slightest rise in grain in opposing direction and it’s here that difficult grain triumphs. When that does happen, half the wood you are planing tears rather than cuts and usually these tears are two to three times deeper than the thickness of the shaving taken and repairing the damage is major. I think perhaps Veritas offered the 50-degree bevel to counter an introduced problem in offering the bevel-up plane as a bench plane. What I am talking about is not at all a rare occurrence but a common one. Trees don’t grow straight grain much of the time. There are in general two accepted reasons for the increased bevel angle or bed angle that present the cutting edge at a steep angle. One is for use on burly, awkward-grained woods where often the material is almost standing perpendicual to the axis of the board being planed. This is rare and usually we rely on scrapers for this type of wild grain and less so on planes. The other is certain hard woods as distinct from hardwoods work exceptionally well with a 50-degree bevel whether it’s the large face of the iron or the bevel that’s presented to the wood’s surface – that is, bevel up or bevel down. Rosewood, ebony, boxwood and many others would be considered hard, dense-grained hardwoods with minute and tight cells. These are the type of woods that work well with steeper bevels.


    1. I think Lee Nielsen and even Lee Valley sell way too much stuff that is just not needed. The furniture made hundreds of years ago was pretty much 100x better than what is made these days, yet the didn’t have this whole array of sharpening jigs, stones, slurries, and what not.

      I think if you stay extremely basic, woodworking is much more rewarding. I saw a video from Lie Nielsen about sharpening and I almost gave up woodworking. Then I saw some Paul Sellers vids and it opened up my eyes to the basics that work.

      In the end, most of these companies need to keep selling to stay in business. There are only so many chisels or planes that they can sell people. So then they just tweak a few things here and there, whether a blade angle or whatever and then market it as a whole new product. The products these companies sell are top quality, I just sometimes question the ridiculousness of certain things they sell.

      1. Both of these businesses are in business to make money and of course the bottom line matters. I think too that they employ people locally to their business and generate domestic industry within their spheres of influence. I have visited Lee Valley Veritas in Canada and enjoyed two days of their hospitality and beyond that found their engineering efforts exemplary. I would love to visit Lie Nielsen one day when I am in or near Maine. I have been near too several times and it’s only a few hours from where I stay when I am in NY. Perhaps I can make it happen later this year.

      2. I know the video you mean, on sharpening. Yes. It is very discouraging. Too, too much time sharpening; not enough time cutting wood.

        I recall that the use of a honing guide was advised. I too saw the Paul Sellers YouTube videos on sharpening plane irons and chisels and opted to try his natural, hand-held, convex camber approach. I’m not missing my honing guide.

  1. .

    By my arithmetic, a 50 degree bevel in a 12 degree bed produces a cut at 62 degrees – somewhat steeper (by 2 degrees) than a standard Half Pitch plane which is bedded at 60.
    Any micro-bevel is going to make it steeper still….. almost getting into the realms of a scraping tool.

    But on the positive side and in defence of high pitches, I have a set of so-called ‘Hong-Kong’ wooden planes made in China by Mujingfang, bedded at exactly 60 degrees – Half-Pitch – and they are superb at dealing with areas of hard Oak, for example, prone to flaky tear-out. To my knowledge they seem to be the only wooden planes bedded at that higher pitch available today.

    I know that scraping is a quick solution to small areas…… but there is a place for a good high angle cutting action in my opinion, a god-send when dealing with some of the hard, wavy Oak that we get here in Wales – especially when you have lots of it to do.

    All best


  2. There is an Australian manufacturer by the name of HNT Gordon who produces a wide range of wooden planes with a 60 degree bed which with a very high quality manufacture work exceptionally well on some of our more troublesome timbers. The article he has written regarding blade/ bed angles and presentation/ durability with use is informative and well worth a look in my mind. I have used one of their smoothers for about five years now along with a few other models and always had good results with it. They are also rather beautiful to look at which is a bonus. In saying this, until I really started achieving a decent edge on any of the planes I use It was harder work then it should have been. Paul has been a great help in this respect.

  3. I personally think its just a ploy to sell a new tool. I will stick to Paul’s method. A 45 degree plane with a 30 deg iron finished off with a scraper when necessary. I now find as my skill is improving I have rough up the surface so it will take a finish. I have a 1200 sq foot shop full of tools both power and hand tools. Paul has tough me to keep it simple. Thank You Master for showing me the way to true happiness.

  4. I was wondering if a Stanley 80 scraper works better than a 50 degrees plane or more to tackle with a raw cherry board.

    1. A number 80 never falters in dealing with any and all grain in almost any wood. What it will not do is straighten surfaces as a plane does. That being so it cannot substitute for an actual plane completely.
      I’ve worked my whole life without a plane dedicated to a steep pitch. On the rare occasion I can’t handle some grain I pull out a spare iron with a small 5- to 10-degree micro-bevel on the flat face. This can be altered according to need. This gives me what I need for under a pound and the effect is the same as a dedicated plane. For smaller areas say on the edge of wood, a block plane can be altered to a steep top pitch to the bevel.

      1. .


        Who needs a wall-full of fancy planes when a few basic tools will do the job in hand?

        All best


  5. I am glad that we continue to make new plane designs and models. For people who have the money and like to OWN a lot of planes, it is great. Time will test the new designs and the best will take their place in history. We do not NEED all these planes. But I think we need to have all the choices.

    1. I agree.
      But it’s good to have a guide in this lot.
      As beginners we need someone to separate the essentials from the bonus from the unnecessary.

  6. Thank you all for your thoughts on this. As I look at my results with the boards (understanding I don’t have much experience), I believe I recognize some of the issues of tearout Paul was commenting on at the start. It looks like the 4 1/2 would be a useful addition, and a jointer (I was thinking of a Number 8) a bit later on. I’m definitely not looking to own a lot of planes; just ones that will help.

    1. I would personally stop at a number 6. Longer planes are of minimal if any use. My plane suggestions in order are 4, 5, 4 1/2, 5 1/2 and 6. If a 7 and 8 come along for £20-30 then buy to complete the set of bench planes.

      1. Hi Paul, if you were buying a new #6 (eg. Lie-Nielsen) and had the option of buying a 45 degree or 50 degree frog, would you go the 45 degree or the 50 degree?

        I know you don’t need York Pitch a lot, but does it create a lot of extra effort using it when you don’t need it (eg. on a board with nice straight grain) or will the difference barely be noticeable?

        1. Naah! Certainly not. You don’t need it on any plane really but especially a #6. On the other hand you might like owning it. Always remember that engineers in all spheres of life have a penchant to keep inventing needs. Without this drive we would not have the wheel or the cell phone. And it’s good for job security and sales.

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.