Ups and Downs With Plane Irons – A Working Video Perspective

DSC_0217There have been many questions surrounding bevel ups and bevel downs for a decade and more. My experience tells me many things different than I read elsewhere and it’s on my experience I rely the most. My recent blog post on this subject has revealed some controversial issues surrounding the modern-day woodworker looking for answers in pursuit of real woodworking. When you can’t make your plane work well, woodworkers have difficulty knowing whether buying new might be the solution. In reality, for the main part, all they need is a sharp edge in a well-oiled well set plane. Not knowing whether to buy new, pursue old, add a bevel-up or down plane or two all seem to add to the confusing mishmash of modern-day misinformation. The reality is simple. More simple than most people realise.DSC_0573

My quest is not to promote rejection of more modern makers, except those who ended up reneging on their responsibilities and let the standards badly slip, but to ensure that woodworkers understand they can master just a few very basic skills to become masters of the plane.



Why did they make bevel up versus bevel down? What is the essential difference in performance they are trying to achieve? Is it that with the bevel is up the angle to the grain is greater and therefore better for cross-grain cutting? I use primarily Stanley/Record bench planes but I have a Veritas low angle that I just got but haven’t use much. I have a No. 40 scrub plane that is bevel down.

The new video launch will help you see at least some of what I see as I work in my everyday as a working man.

In our trialling of these two plane types, bevel-up and bevel-down, we will take no sponsorship because really there is no one to take sponsorship from. I do hope that in doing what I have done I have in some measure preserved the integrity of the designer engineers who designed and manufactured them. There can be no doubt, what Leonard Bailey designed in his Bailey-pattern range of bench planes stood in the face of mass opposition for half a century because woodworkers were content with the wooden bodied counterparts of the day that worked very well. Gradually his plane became accepted by craftsmen to the point that for the next century it was the industry standard. Why? Because it worked so well.

We enjoy working as free entities producing video that preserve the integrity of our craft. Answering these questions and making videos for instruction is key to securing the best of the past, uniting it with the present and using it for the future.


DSC_0130In my purview at the bench, when I stand and stare at the plane, look inside its internal gubbins, something tells me this low-angle plane is better equipped to the task and challenge because of its low angle, thickness of iron, weight-in-the-throat, inline support of mechanical adjuster mechanism, mass of steel because of low-angle presentation and so on. In other words I <em>want</em><strong> to believe that by its very appearance it <strong>will</strong><em> be vastly superior in performance. In reality however, at the bench, there is barely (if any at all) any difference between a low-angle bevel-up and a high-angle bevel-down, whether wood or metal, new or old, straight from the box or from eBay once you sharpen and fettle the planes. So my <em>wanting</em> to believe in it’s better presentation angle makes no difference except for me to put more effort into the ‘one-I-want-to-beleive-in’ plane, which I avoided for the sake of the tests we did. Remember it wasn’t just me that tried the planes but two other craftsmen too. So my loving the bevel-up Veritas makes little difference. I can’t alter the fact that a 30-degree bevel on a 12-degree bed incline plane is only 2-degrees difference between and 44-degree bevel on a bog-standard Stanley or Record plane. Having now proved unequivocally that 96.9% of all planes present the actual cutting face and edge at the same angle, we can focus more on the performance found if any in different planes. In the stroke the low-angle, bevel-up plane felt a little more hefty and whereas there was something a little less ‘absorbing’ in the low-cost alternatives, I did definitely get equal results of quality from the inexpensive planes and I felt that the #5 Stanley gave me the least resistance of all in the cut. It was also the lightest and easiest to use and I achieved excellent results consistently stroke after stroke. Of course none of this means you shouldn’t own a low-angle bevel-up plane. I think people should, as and if they can afford one, and even if they don’t need one but would like to own one. But I certainly would advise any of you reading this not to feel at all ill-equipped or less adequate if you don’t own such a tool as a low-angle block or bench plane. They are just nice planes with smooth handles and nicely engineered parts. This work is more for that massive percentage of woodworkers who might be led to believe it’s an essential piece of kit that takes care of stuff the basic planes can’t handle when they actually do it just as well. If you can’t afford a nice looking plane, don’t sweat it and certainly don’t feel inadequate. You don’t really need it. Working wood is not a dress parade where fashion dictates what you wear and how, when and where.

I think that one good reason wooden planes were challenged by cast metal type or even those very fancy dovetail jointed metal types was that the steel industry and engineering brought compactness and centralised weight surrounding the very cutting edge of the tools. They could also be mass manufactured in a few minutes, which really brought the cost and the wait time down. I doubt whether most many cast metal plane takes more than a few minutes of actual man hours to make. the rest is usually in the packaging. Beech bench planes when used for mitre work with shooting boards could be somewhat cumbersome and awkward because of size and especially if you are not used to them. On the other hand, small wooden smoothing planes were too light with less concentrated weight in the body at the point of thrust. The very compact low angle chariot and mitre planes out-performed the wooden ones as would say the Veritas small bevel-up smoothing plane today.

Oh, and we also weighed in the different planes to see what differences we were dealing with. The comparable weights were very similar. We checked every angle and that was a greater surprise to me in that few planes varied from the 45-degree pitch. Norrises and Baileys proved equally angled and so too wooden jacks.

Please watch the video if for nothing else to clear up ambiguity, but also just for entertainment. We did enjoy the few hours in trial and error researching and making it and hope you find it as interesting and informative as we all did.

17 thoughts on “Ups and Downs With Plane Irons – A Working Video Perspective”

  1. Abhishek Mukherjee

    I am about to purchase my very first plane soon. This post was helpful. I haven’t seen the video yet, but I am sure it will help me make a choice.

  2. Paul you’ve really give me another reason / reminder to spend the time getting truly sharp well set plane as you always say, looking at the ease with which you are able to make them all work so well. Also you’ve said before we aren’t making shavings, it’s about the resulting finish on our piece that matters. Truly amazing that it seems so effortless for you. Back to the sharpening board for me. I have some oak right now that is giving me some difficulties edge planing, and the good folks on the WWMC message board echoed the same about the sharpness. I don’t need a new tool to solve the issue,I need to make sure what I have is performing well.
    Best regards and thanks,

  3. Paul,
    Once again, thank you for presenting a very down to earth point of view regarding what we really need to consider in our woodworking tools. I fully appreciate your view that it’s not so much about what brand of tools (to a degree), but rather, how you prep and use the tools.

    No tool will really fill in for lack of experience. I’m reminded of this when I use scraps and spend time just practicing sawing to the line,or just off the line, planing a square edge, planing rough sawn lumber to dimension, etc. The same goes for when I make something for my use in the shop. I now look at it as an opportunity to hone my developing skills.

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  4. happyshavings

    Great post! One of the best this year!
    I really like the plane cam!
    Thank you Paul

  5. Question: can the analogy of using a bench chisel bevel-up or -down in different tasks be used as a proxy to understand, at least partially, the different individual uses for the bevel-up or -down planes?

    1. Shawn,
      I shouldn’t think so since the “angle of attack” for the planes differs by only a couple of degrees.

  6. Paul you have once again hit it out of the park, that’s a baseball term for everyone across the pond. I cannot see how someone could ever question you on your motives when it comes to educating the masses. You have once again inspired me. I have many antique wooden planes with original irons just begging to get tuned up and put to work. for no other reason other than to experience the feeling of how it used to be before metal body planes. Thank you again.
    John Crosby

  7. Paul this is a great post and for me I totally concur with your findings. All of my metallic planes are vintage except for my Medium Shoulder plane which is a Veritas. I have tried all the different bench planes out at wood working shows over the years and i personally do not feel they work any better than my vintage planes.

    Yes they may look nicer ( matter of opinion there ) and have less back lash but they work no better than my vintage planes.

    Like you mentioned wooden planes are a different animal and take some getting use to but I do enjoy working with them as well. Tap tap tap as they say, it doesn’t take long to figure them out.


  8. Folks,

    I just wanted to make a few comments. First I have to say that my Stanley #4 did not quite reach the sharpness that Paul got until I was finally able to get some Chromium Oxide. This buffing compound did the best job of polishing the steel of the old Stanley iron. White was not abrasive enough to buff it out and rouge polish left the steel to rough. So if you have not tried to get the iron polished with Chromium Oxide I would highly recommend it.

    Second: I wanted to say that I believe Paul is correct in his statements about a sharp plane iron pulling the body down the work with little to no pressure.., this is seen to a greater extent when you use a Japanese plane that you pull thru the wood. You can’t exert much down pressure when using then in a pull mode. If you watch this youtube video I think you tend toagree.

  9. Paul, just a quick question, because I’m not oiling the working surface of the plane I am using: I think I recognize the tomato concentrate can. Nice size and handy.
    What did you stuff it with,
    what kind of oil are you using, and
    — oily cloth left to sit, oh,oh – I don’t want to burn the house down
    do you close that can tightly at the end of the day?

    1. Paul Sellers

      It’s stuffed with a tightly rolled up rag and then loaded w light machine oil, 3-in-1 works well. It does not spontaneously combust but other oils like Boiled Linseed Oil does so check out other oils before using if not using machine oil. No, there is no lid needed for this.

      1. Jeff Polaski

        Machine oil, I think.

        Oh, yes, happy Fourth of July, Independence Day. The Marquis de Lafayette slept only a few hundred yards from where I now sit. Seems he and his American army got whupped by one single platoon of Redcoats at the Battle of Germantown, holed up in Cliveden House and this is as far as Lafayette could retreat when his lads started falling asleep on their feet. There are cannon and shot and a bronze memorial plaque (filled with detailed lies) piled in front of their campground, maybe a ten minute walk from where I live.

        Don’t you’all go ringing bells now all of you Brits. My college buddy has a couple of Brown Besses and Kentucky Rifles, and we both know how to use them 😉

        I’ll take machine oil.

  10. What is the correct frog setting on Stanley planes?
    Why do some of my irons rub on frame of plane or close the opening when moved forward???? You explain things so well I can understand it.

  11. The level of skills and craftsmanship from 250- 300 years ago was possibly the zenith of hand tool woodworking. Now, would those craftsman have passed on a power jointer or a table saw if they could have had them … no way?! Donkey work is always donkey work, no matter with hand or power tools, but those people knew what to do with those tools. Today, there seems to be an idea that we can buy skills as long as we spend enough money on the tools, not so I believe. Skills will always be needed, and I am still learning that in order to improve upon my hand planing skills, I need to keep learning about better sharpening techniques overall. Thanks for posting these videos, is really nice to come back to them for a refresher in common sense when I need it, regularly!

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