The Demands of Thick Irons

P1030293 As  bit of a follow up to last night’s blog post I thought I should add some thoughts. There is a general assumption by many that the whole world has access to what some countries have available to them. For instance today I could most like buy 50 #4 smoothing planes from eBay for under £25 each and have them in my hand by the end of the week. For others, retrofitting a the yoke of a #4 plane is just a question of picking up the phone and saying send me a yoke and here is my CC number. Across the globe, say in Peru or Russia, the Philippines, a man has to find some steel and fashion one from scratch. I was always amazed at just what was available on the two continents I have lived on. When I travelled a little further south or north on the two continents the change was markedly different. Just thoughts really. Wherever we live we always assume what we have is the same elsewhere when the reality is most often very different.

P1030289 As you may or may not know, I am not really an advocate of thicker, harder irons because it’s not just a question of removing one iron and then adding another. Not usually. As in Florian’s case, the extra cost is no small amount. 95 Euros is £70 plus shipping. That’s $107 USD for an iron and cap iron, not the whole plane. I do know that advocates selling planes espouse the higher quality of plane cuts with thicker irons as do those who purchased them. P1030181 Ron Hock’s irons are not thick irons and they give the same results with O1 steel as the thick irons do. Actually, they give the same results as the standard irons that came with the plane too. There is only marginal difference in the cut and thrust of planing life. Naturally, when it comes to the the thickness agenda, the physics wins out in that the heavier mass will always absorb more into the body and the sound it makes is better, but when it comes to the cutting edge, where the rubber hits the road or the cutting edge the wood, there isn’t enough difference to justify the additional problems of removing a mass of extra steel in the sharpening process if you use regular O1 or the harder steels of say A2. P1030410 Add into the equation, as many now have found out to their own expense, the extra weight, need of a new yoke or retrofit and whether you must now open the throat of the plane and you may well find you’ve spent more on the plane than you would have done on the buying of a new Woodriver, Juuma or Quangsheng or whatever other name applies from foreign climes to your part of the world. Lie Nielsen, Kuntz, Veritas, Anant and so on.

Some wrote to give different perspectives on what’s to be done. Buy a new yoke, extend the yoke and so on. Usually it’s something they can do. They have metal and solder and soldering equipment and space to do it and knowledge and skill and, well, they’re retired and have disposable income and time too. You see the assumptions are too too great. Not everyone has the same provision at hand nor access to the same supplies. As I pointed out before, I can buy a dozen planes in the next ten minutes. P1030297

Today I ran three planes alongside one another and had Florian try them out side by side. The one conclusion we had was that the Bed Rock was too heavy, that the standard Stanley felt best, achieved the same smooth results. It’s interesting to see people’s reaction in the lab of real woodworking so to speak.


  1. Paul
    Thank you, you have just saved me 95 euros plus shipping. i was honestly thinking of buying a thicker plane iron.
    Thank God you exist
    chris from Belgium

  2. Quite correct Paul. I found a coffin shaped Mathieson smoothing plane approximately two years ago on a municipal dump but without the iron (1 and 3/4′) it was useless. I only found a wider iron recently and after cutting it to correct width did the smoother come into its own. In the UK you will most probably find same within days.

    I have been searching websites and secondhand stores in search of an old 4 1/2 Stanley/Record for 18 months without success as it is a very unpopular size in South Africa. But I will persevere and the success will be so much sweeter when I find one.

    To find a flat bottom spokeshave (151) is almost impossible and Stanley scraper even more so.

    You are truly blessed with your choices in tools, but as you have taught, there is more than one way of practising the craft with alternative tools and methods. Thank you for your efforts, its paying off, slowly but surely.

    Dewald Kruger
    South Africa

    1. Thanks David. My thoughts for woodworking really lie on each continent. My mind has embraced the globe in so many ways and I no longer take it for granted that the audience I now so enjoy comes only from my own country and the USA. I love the thought that so many are able to listen and watch what real woodworking is really what people were looking for before the machine woodworkers took such a toll on our wonderful craft.

  3. Also here in the US we can afford to be brand snobs. Not afford in the financial way (though that’s also often the case), it’s just that they are ALL available here and we can afford the time and effort it takes to search out our favorite brand, and be selective about what we buy. In other places, they must take what they can get and do what they can with it.

    So I agree! I’ve spent way too much money on planes, and I’ve been a brand snob. Honestly, they are almost all exactly the same and will do the exact same work with the exact same effort.

    But I bet in those places they’re far more self-reliant, and can often take a hunk of an automobile leaf spring and turn it into a useful plane or shave iron or pinch dogs or whatever it is that they need to be made of it, while over here, we often obsess about “having the right thing” without ever knowing just what it is that we really need. Others may envy the positions we’re in on our two continents but I think the wisdom is probably elsewhere.

  4. There is a lot written to promote exotic tools. It is not just replacement irons. Many of these tools are examples of fine engineering, good design and the use of beautiful materials. They are very pretty but work no better than the ordinary kind or they are not needed at all. My list of particularly disgusting examples:

    Striking knife £60 or £12 or make your own.
    Bird cage awl £50 or £10
    Scratch awl £62 or £10
    Dividers £38 or £8
    Combination square £90 that many in North America consider essential but I find no use for whatsoever.
    Shooting plane £360 – a dedicated tool is not needed.

    1. I think that there are times to buy high end tools. I have seen some makers make design concepts I really admire and bought the tools to purely support their efforts and encourage them. I think there is a place for both really.

  5. Paul – you’re entitled to your opinion on thicker plane irons, and you’re entitled to express it. However, this blog post and the last do slightly give the impression that you are denigrating Clifton and their efforts to try to make something of genuine quality. I do hope that’s not the case.

    1. Well, I have always respected high levels of engineering and especially Clifton, but sometimes things can be over engineered and then priced accordingly. That can be prohibitive for the majority so I feel it’s not a bad thing to say you can get the same work done with models not quite so highly engineered. In any case, Clifton planes are on a par with all the other well engineered planes from makers like Lie Nielsen, Veritas, Woodriver, Quansheng and several others. I couldn’t really pick between them; they are all making good working planes and they don’t need my shout. I do see a problem when salespeople for these companies, that’s magazines, catalogs and direct sales, tell an audience that the reason these planes work better is because they don’t chatter or they are built to last, the insinuation is that Stanley or Record planes do chatter and don’t last. That’s not true but no one actually says so and so a few years ago that’s when I came on the scene. I am probably one of only a handful of men still living and working that has been using a Stanley bought in 1965 six days a week and for several hours a day for 50 years. I own or have owned all of the above planes and in most cases found the Stanley planes to be as good or even superior in some ways. I find Clifton planes to be well refined highly developed models of the Stanley Bed Rock. Clifton did not engineer the design and neither did any of the other makers, though they may well have refined some elements. In other words there is nothing wrong with Clifton planes with regards to quality of manufacture or materials. I have in fact found it generally the case that those making or selling the Clifton plane (and others too) are the ones more likely to do the denigrating and perhaps rightly so in that Stanley of recent years (the past fifty or so) failed to hold the standards even with their “high-end” planes, I don’t know why. I simply find it respectful to give any and all credit to any inventor where it is due and that is that Leonard Bailey invented planes and developed them for Stanley and Stanley was the one that invented and developed the Bed Rock plane that Clifton, Lie Nielsen, Juuma, Quangsheng, Woodriver and many others copied and based their planes on.
      I did write a very favourable article on the Clifton hand planes for a US magazine back 10 or so years ago. I even flew to the UK and visited Clifton and the foundry and forge to do the photography and meet the workers making them. It was all very good.
      Oh, and on a personal note, I would generally not advocate heavy bench planes for users using planes in the everyday of life, just too much of a workout for me.

      1. Paul, you are quite right that recent Stanley and Record planes are not of the older quality. I speak from bitter experience. When I started woodworking as a hobby in the 1980s, there was little choice of new tools available, and even less information. I bought a new Record 04 which was, to put it mildly, a load of rubbish. I also bought a Record 07, which was excellent – in a totally different league, and I still use that plane. I have no idea how one factory could turn out two such different planes. My only other choices then were new Stanley, something from the local junk shop (assuming they had any tools), or secondhand by mail order from a very small handful of reputable dealers like Bristol Design.

        We are very lucky now compared to then. There is easy access to good secondhand tools through the internet (we didn’t have that in the ’80s) and an increasing number of knowledgable dealers. There is bags of information about now – internet, books, magazines. There are a number of firms making new high-quality tools on several continents, and international trade means they can be purchased by almost anybody in the world. There are even people making new wooden planes.

        We should count our blessings, be thankful for the choice we now have, and give every encouragement we can to manufacturers prepared to make quality tools.

  6. One of the things that I like best about your blogs is that you supply us with the basic, bare bones information about how things really work and what affects a tools function etc. Then when we are in a position where we have to Jerry rig or adapt something, we can do so with confidence instead of getting bogged down in the morass of sales pitch info floating around. Thanks Paul!

  7. About two months ago I bought a Stanley #4 Sweetheart circa 1921 on Ebay for about $70 USD, including shipping. It was in fine condition. Last night I used it to smooth the posts on an Early American doll bed I’m building for my granddaughter. The shavings were 0.003″. Curious, I pulled a hair out of my head: 0.002. I think the plane is satisfactory.

    Many thanks to Paul for sharing his knowledge and experience, his instructions for sharpening a plane iron, and his instruction on using a plane, i.e. you don’t need to dog it, etc. The doll bed is all done with hand tools except for a cordless drill to drill four 1/4″ holes. I don’t have a 1/4″ auger bit.

  8. Hi paul,
    Someone gave me a nice wooden spokeshave, the blade is with tangs 10 cm apart, but is VERY pitted with rust. Do you know any address which supplies new ones?
    If not, would a Veritas blade fit?
    Chris from Belgium

    1. Sorry I don’t. I am sure that you could get the Veritas to fit though. They give details on their website for sizing.

  9. Mr. Sellers.
    Although this is an old post I’ll try my luck 🙂
    I need to buy a plane- an old Stanley/Record nº 4. Ebay didn’t work to me yet so I checked some reliable UK sellers from your blog and Phil’s (WWMC) advise.
    It goes around 50£ (20~25 (not a pre II WW)+25 for shipping)

    As You point in this post:
    “…you may well find you’ve spent more on the plane than you would have done on the buying of a new …”

    Here (in Portugal) I can buy a new Stanley (I know quality is an issue) for a litle less money or an ECE wooden one. I read You mention earlyier that even a new Stanley will work well.
    Or I can get a “Dick” (I’m not moking, it’s Juumas twin from Dictum Germany) for 70 £.
    In beetwin there’s the new Axminster Rider for 56£

    So for the same price what is Your advice?

    Thank You in advance

    1. The only issue I have with these types of planes, I believe they are all one and the same and parallel the Quangsheng and Woodriver too, is weight. They are kinda clunky but some people like that so if you like weight then you could go that route. You will get used to whichever plane you choose. You can get a good Stanley or Record on eBay, not the new ones, for around £25 and probably get it shipped for between £25-50 and that will give you as good a plane too.

  10. Thank Paul for the great information. You saved me quite a sum of money. I was thinking of the Hock or Veritas blades for some of my Stanleys and Millers Falls planes. Now I have decided to forgo the expense of this and stick with what I have. I am sure the thicker blades would work well but the expense and time at my age and health do not seem warranted after reading your blog. Thanks

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