Paul, Long plane? Bevel-up, bevel-down? Part I

Question

Hi Paul,

I need some help on deciding what direction to go in regards to purchasing a hand plane. There are a few to choose from and just when i thought i may have it figured out another one pops up. Now all i have right now is a standard block plane and an old Stanley no 4 smoothing plane. I have a little bit of a budget but not much. Basically i build tables and book shelves and what not and sell them as a little side project but I’m starting to take it seriously and i would like to flatten and hand joint boards with hand planes because i cant afford a machine jointer or a thickness planer. A lot of what i read online people say to go straight to a no 7 or an 8 but on the other hand a lot are saying buy a no 5 jack plane or a low angle jack plane so you can inter change irons for different tasks. Im an Englishmen like yourself in Canada with Veritas knocking at my door but they are expensive! I do like the sound of their low angled jack plane with the different irons because I’m on a budget but it seems to short for jointing 4-8ft boards. What would your advice be to a 23 year old just starting out?DSC_0006

Answer

I had a similar question in my personal email this week when someone, following research online, concluded that for some reason they then needed a bevel-up jack plane as a first-purchase best all-rounder plane. So we can talk about that in a minute but I think that there is a serious problem here leading to equally seriously flawed thinking. I confess feeling a little sad that the reason you wanted to use hand planes was because you couldn’t afford machines. Lets look at long jointer planes.

DSC_0032Unwieldy, awkward, heavy, sluggish and absolutely unnecessary. I think that’s how I might best describe them. Secondly, the reason secondhand ones are always in good condition is because no one ever used them. I have yet to meet any craftsman that ever used them in my 50 years continuous woodworking. That includes the old craftsmen I worked under as an apprentice. None of them had a #7. So who was it who said buy a #7 or a #8. Always remember the saying from Benjamin Franklin quoting Socrates in part, “the first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority.” So, on what basis do people say go for a #7 or 8?

DSC_0022Now then. I cannot give you this experience, but a longer #7 sized wooden jointer plane is a totally different animal altogether. I don’t expect anyone to agree and even anticipate  some thinking me to be a crank in what I say next but I have to say it in the name of truth. No modern all-metal plane comes close to a well-made wooden jointer plane. It weighs about the same as metal ones depending on the chunk size of the wood used, but in terms of lightness on the wood it feels like about one eighth the weight and glides so absolutely smoothly.

Personally, I have no use for a plane longer than a #6 max. Totally unnecessary, impractical and difficult to address to the wood. They are never flat because the steel moves all over the place depending on temperatures and such. Surprisingly wooden planes change only minimally by comparison, so the supposed greatest attribute of owning long all metal planes is compromised by the fact that metal planes move when when temperatures  change. As I said, most long-soled planes are never actually flat and they also flex very easily under pressure too. Wooden planes do not flex, by the way.

DSC_0013I think buying a bevel-up plane instead of a standard bench plane, be that Bed Rock or Bailey pattern, should be purely a matter of choice and not something based on current trends and then based on erroneous information. In my view one simple fact remains and that is a bevel-up plane will not accomplish a small fraction of the work the bevel-down planes will, but a bevel-down can do everything a bevel-up plane does and of course more. That makes it a no-brainer for me. Of course there are some elements of physics playing their part here and I am not saying owning one as an additional plane to bevel-downs isn’t well worth it, just that bevel-downs win hands down for 99% of all tasks. I should point out here that your using the name “low angled jack plane” automatically means a bevel-up jack plane, for those who might not know.

DSC_0067

Of course bevel-up planes are not new to woodworkers. They’ve been around for about 250 years or so. Today’s makers just copied what existed in the Stanley range and added a few improvements of their own that make them functional and some really high end ones do parallel the beauties of the early 1800’s.

I think things have gotten a little silly these days, when it comes to planes and such. I have a list for tomorrow of the planes I would recommend in order.

 More tomorrow.

34 comments on “Paul, Long plane? Bevel-up, bevel-down? Part I

  1. I bought a 607 Bedrock last year for a song because the guy in front wanted to give it to be wife as a door stop. I hated both the implied sexism and the idea of a good tool being used in this manner and pulled out the £30 from my purse….

    I hate to admit it but the man in front was right, pushing the thing as an utter misery and every time I use it I think “must find a wooden one…”

  2. I’ve jointed wood up to six foot long successfully using only the Stanley No4 in the past. At that time I didn’t know any better, and that was the only bench plane I had other than the little 09-1/2 block plane I just sold (I now have a 60-1/2). I later acquired an infill plane of similar length to a jack plane, and that joints beautifully because it is so flat.
    More recently, I was given two No6 planes, one Stanley and one Record. Only one of them had an iron, and both were covered in rust. In refurbishing these planes I found that one was so far out of truth on the sole that I gave up in the end, and sent the body to be recycled as scrap metal. The other #6 is now the one I reach for most when dealing with longer lengths of wood. I would like to have a long wooden plane that Paul so recommends, but I don’t have the space to store many more tools, so I would need to sell that #6.
    I will second Paul’s view that anything longer than a #6 is both an extravagance, and an obstacle to improving your skill level. If you feel you must have a longer plane than the #4, I would say look out for a used #5-1/2 or #6, but do check how flat the sole is.
    Let’s see tomorrow if I’m anywhere near Paul’s list. 😉

  3. I have a lovely Stanley #8 that I bought when I didn’t know any better. It turned out that it was just the thing for building my bench, especially the 8′ long edges I needed to glue up and then the cross grain and long grain planing to flatten the top. I actually did the gross work with a #5 I had converted into a scrub, and the #8 ended up as a finishing plane. I needed to do more flattening/finishing than usual, since I laminated 2×12’s flat side to flat side to make 3×12’s which I then edge glued. Note: I selected the 2×12’s that were rift sawn next to the center of the tree, and then matched up the growth rings so that I was gluing up what had been (or pretty closely so) a thicker piece. I can’t argue with success–my bench is smooth and flat and has stayed flat. but since I finished the bench, I can’t think of a project that could not be handled by a fore plane or a 5 1/2. So much so, that the #8 migrated to a box on one of my back shelves where it has laid unused for at least 3 years. At this point, I’m using a 6 (fore plane) for my rougher work, the #5 scrub conversion, and a #4 for smoothing and all round use. I have the small Veritas bevel-up, and an old refurbished Stanley $ 4 1/2, but don’t use them much. My own overall thoughts are that the key to improvement is repetition and building motor memory, and this is clearly done with fewer tools. I don’t give advice, for obvious reasons, but it seems to me that person starting out would need a small plane and a medium plane (whatever the numbers) and any additional budget could be allocated to spoke shave or draw knives. When your work demands something different (assuming you have mastered the first 2 planes) you will know what to buy, and the work will pay for it.
    Paul is a great model, and a good person to follow, especially for a beginner. I certainly have quaffed the Kool-Aid. But this is not a religious order. Check out what other folks have to say and make your own decisions.

    jim

  4. I must say that my favorite plane to use is a wooden jack plane that I picked up for $40 at a tool meet. It took maybe an hour (or less) to flatten the sole and sharpen the iron. It’s the plane I reach for first when edge jointing. It glides over the surface taking down the high spots. When I finally can take a continuous shaving, I check for squareness and only then will I reach for a #4 with a very shallow set to finish the job (something I doubt that I really need to do).

    All I really use is the wooden jack plane, a Stanley #4 that I got on eBay for about $50, and another one I got for maybe $30 that I set up as a scrub plane. That’s three planes for less than the price of a new Veritas.

    I never reach for my Veritas 4-1/2: it’s too heavy. I’ve heard “experts” say that you really need a heavy plane because the extra mass makes them easier to use. In my (admittedly limited) experience, they are harder to use; and for exactly that reason.

    I have some rough-cut walnut that I am going to use to make a table for my foyer and I think I’ll try using the jack plane to surface it as well as to edge joint it. Well, after I use the scrub plane to thickness it.

  5. I would second the sentiment that nothing beats my long wooden bodied jointer plane for shooting/truing a long edge. It is a pleasure to use for this, but really I use it for nothing else. I am lucky enough to have a wooden bodied jack plane for heavy stock removal, and a medium length wooden bodied try plane for truing the face of panels. But nothing beats the versatility of the Stanley #4 for final smoothing and for so many other jobs.

  6. I wonder if Paul has actually used a Lie-Nielsen No 8? It’s a much heavier built plane than the originals that it’s modeled after. It probably doesn’t ‘move’ nearly as much as the typical metal plane that he’s thinking about.

    Sometimes I think Paul forgets that probably 99% of the people who follow him (me included) pursue woodworking as a hobby, and as the case with most hobbies, we like to buy tools to support our pursuit.

    Yes, we can do everything with a No 4, one chisel, one saw, and a hammer. But it’s more enjoyable having all the other variants that are available to us now. Bring on the No2, No6, 5-1/2, 8, molding planes, grooving planes, scraper planes, fishtail chisels, etc. It’s all good, and fun.

    • I take Paul’s words as those of a distant mentor. Though him and i may never actually meet, what he says is sound. Hasn’t steered me wrong yet. There are extravagances hobbyist may afford themselves, but that is what they are. If blowing your money on gadgetry suites your purpose then by all means, do so. Just remember a lot of these tools you mentioned where gimmicks when they were first introduced. No sect of business has seen the wheel re-invented more times than that of the tool making industry.

      • You’ll notice that Paul has a huge collection of tools, many of them in view behind his bench. So he’s not immune to collecting (and probably using) ‘gadgetry’. I just wish he’d use more of it in his lessons.

    • unfortunately i have to agree with Marty i do enjoy buying more tools than i’ll ever use,if i spent more time using what i have, and less time buying “that other tool i need” i’d get more done lol , i’m in the process of fettling a couple of wooden planes and they feel fantastic and we are lucky enough to pick them up for a couple of pounds at a time.

    • Woodworking is a hobby for me too, but as I’m not a gentleman woodworker who can afford to lay down the cash for a cabinet full of planes and other tools, Paul’s advice and way of approaching is just what I need. And for all of us, it’s a great way to get started, no matter what we may wish to buy or not as we progress. While I read and try to learn from many of the well known blogging woodworkers, I’m grateful for someone like Paul.

      • I think what Paul is consistently trying to convey to his target audience (hobbyists, inexperienced, people who are trying to learn woodworking) is that the craft of woodworking is littered with information that will confuse and cloud the minds of those who cant possibly know what is accurate or required even. He is allowing the easy entry into the craft which many are greatful for. People are then free to roam and buy what they like and try new things as they have that foundation created by paul. If i could meet paul just to shake his hand then i would, his honesty and his thoughtfulness is commendable.

  7. @martybacke, I couldn’t agree more. But for me (and perhaps you as well), there is real enjoyment in restoring old tools, which are generally less expensive and often of better quality than new ones.

    What I appreciate about Paul’s approach is that he is not a slave to fashion and teaches that inexpensive does not equate with cheap when it comes to tools.

    • Yes, me too. I love my new tools, but also old tools. Just this week I got an old 5-1/4 and a real old 102 block plane. They work great, and there’s something about using a tool that was made before I was born.

  8. In the original question, there was a good point. Since the person already has a Stanley No 4, a good choice would be a No 5 since it has the same 2″ iron. If the budget is tight, he might look for a “junior jack” or 5 1/4. It has a body that is longer than a No 4, but the iron is similar to a No. 3 and this keeps the weight down. Not many people like the 5 1/4, so they usually go a lot cheaper than a comparable No. 5.

  9. This is a disaster. I’m bidding on a 5 1/2 and a 4 1/2. After his post tomorrow the prices will sky rocket.

    I’m joking, sort of (about it being a disaster — not about the prices).

    • The 5 1/2 and 4 1/2 bench planes have irons bigger than the No. 4 and 5 Stanleys. They therefore are heavier. As Paul has pointed out, a lot of the so called “experts” are trumpeting the benefits of a heavier plane, and they sell at higher prices on Ebay because of the hype. The 5 1/4 planes were often used in industrial arts education, because they were narrower and slightly shorter than a No 5, and therefore lighter in weight. I guess they thought the young students could handle them better than the standard Jack planes. Sadly they don’t have many “shop” classes these days, and I don’t think any 5 1/4 bench planes are made anymore.

  10. I have a #7, and I don’t find it too heavy to use. I’m sprightly and young and might change my mind in a decade or so though.

    I do agree with Paul insofar as a #7 is far from the most useful plane. I have found it somewhat useful for jointing long edges, and I also use it for final flattening of board faces. 90% of my dimensioning work is done with a #5 plane with an 8″ radius cambered iron though. It’s a far more useful plane for flattening, being both small enough to find the high spots on your average board, long enough for good accuracy, and light enough to use for hours on end.

    If I could only have one plane, it’d be a #4. If I could only have two planes, I’d have a #4 and a #5.

    As a final note, the #7 doesn’t have a flat sole, and it probably never will. Most of the accuracy comes in using the extra length with an appropriate amount of manual skill and some flexing of the plane where necessary. It won’t give you a truely flat surface on it’s own.

    • I wholeheartedly believe that anything Paul says can be taken as woodworking gospel. If Paul says a #7 or #8 is not needed-so be it.
      Many of us love collecting tools, me included. But for what is needed to actually MAKE things, Paul tells us what we need to know based on experience and expertise. If I had found Paul and his teachings sooner I would have much more space in my garage and a few thousand more $$ in my pocket…

      • To quote Paul Sellers quoting Benjamin Franklin quoting Socrates in part, “the first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority.”

        A #7 isn’t needed, but it also isn’t useless. Of the #6, #7, & #8 planes, the #7 is most useful. If you can get your hands on a large wooden jointer plane, all the better, but for $100-$150, a #7 is also a viable option.

        • I did think Paul’s quote regarding authority was kind of funny, considering he then proceeded to pass along his version of authority.

          I enjoy Paul’s writing, and learn a lot, but I certainly don’t consider what he writes as gospel.

  11. I have read Paul’s comment previously on ‘bevel down planes winning on 99% of tasks’ over a bevel up plane. He’s not yet elaborated on these points, and a detailed post would be interesting. I say interesting because it appears bevel up planes are more versatile than their bevel down versions. This is especially true when you consider tight throats and numerous angles are possible.

    I agree with a reply earlier with regards to basic tools. Sure, it all can be achieved with a basic set, but there is no denying finer work using finer tools.

    • Some of the features of the Veritas planes are very nice, particularly their quality out of the box and the separately adjustable mouth. The argument for plane angles usually goes something like this: Higher angled blades generally work better on difficult grain, lower angles will give a better finish on straight, predictable grain.

      Paul has made his argument for bevel down planes elsewhere, and I think what he’s saying here is that the bevel down bailey planes are better general purpose planes. So if you can only have one, you’re better off with a Bailey than a bevel up plane.

      An argument I’d make is that you can easily get a full set of second hand Bailey planes for the price of one new Veritas plane.

  12. Just to bring the discussion full circle. I quite liked this post from Chris Schwarz.

    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/handplanes-the-long-and-short-of-flat

    Particularly, the idea that “A handplane can easily and reliably flatten a surface that is about twice the length of its sole. Once your work is more than twice as long as your sole, a good deal more skill is involved.” sounds reasonable.

    Paul of course has that skill. I’d like to have, so I think I’ll stick with the #4 and put in the effort, rather than buying longer planes.

  13. After reading the above comments I went to have a look at the No 7 Record I purchased new from a hardware store closing down. The sole has so little deviation it is negligible and the same goes for square. Aside from sharpening the blade there has been no need to do anything by way of fettling but to be honest I didn’t bother checking too much when I purchased it. I have mentioned this plane before as it was made by Bahco from what I understand and was totally the opposite to one available in the same box made by another company whom had purchased the Record name at a later stage, which I unwittingly nearly bought. I bought it because it was the right price (I think $130 aus) and at the time did not have the time to fettle the No 5 1/2 Stanley I inherited from my late father. The No 5 1/2 Stanley is a dream to use now (turns out it is a sweetheart under the rust and grime) and more versatile in weight and size but the No 7 has served a purpose and is pulled out on the odd occasion, more so because it is at hand rather then stashed away. I suppose what I am getting at is that it would not be my first purchase after a smoother for instance but I have and do use it enough to make it a worthwhile addition. It may get relegated further down the line when the wooden equivalent is refurbed. I have found the wooden planes I own are a joy to use but appreciate aspects of both wooden and metal bodied. If a plane comes up from whatever source (and type) have a look but definitely run with what Paul recommends if starting out. I think the biggest plus is the wider understanding that develops with the usage and research that comes with each tool.

  14. Alan Peters reputedly used his no 7 plane for almost everything. I love mine. It feels right for me. A no 4 doesn’t – doesn’t fit my hands, feels awkward and shifty and slippy. The no 7 (mine’s a Record) has a nice heft and the blade responds well when I sharpen it and the sole, which I’ve never got round to flattening, seems to sigh over the wood, and the whole thing makes me feel … happier. I like using it, and when I do, I make better stuff. Isn’t that the point, Paul?

    • Not really. The point is is the #7 or #8 a recommendable plane as a next level plane and I was asked my point of view. I answered it with honesty and integrity, giving the question honest consideration. Despite the freedom of others to state their point of view here, and providing the platform for other views as well, I cannot hand on heart say that it’s a good choice of plane at all, let alone say it’s a necessary plane. I also think that it is worth noting that Alan Peters did most of his rough work, rough cutting and wood dimensioning and preparation work using machines like rip or tablesaws, bandsaws, jointers, planers and other machines. Just to balance things out again.

      • Alan Peters served his time in the Barnsley workshops, where it is a long standing tradition that apprentices learn to do it all with handtools before being allowed to use machines. I think it’s fair to say that Alan was fully capable of going from rough-sawn stock to finished job by handtools alone. That he used machines for the grunt work was more a pragmatic decision to reduce making time than by any inability on his part. Alan could do it all, hand or machine, and do it very well.

        • I think it’s still true to say that he did the bulk of his stock prep work, that’s 99%, by machine and very little dimensioning by hand. I think that that’s a good thing not a bad thing. It’s a pragmatic approach for the donkey work. That’s what he did and that’s what most people might do to make the work more balanced. I don’t think anyone is really disputing his abilities at all, simply countering what people are saying in suggesting that the #7 and 8 planes are essential planes when in reality they are not really too practical at all. If someone says alan Peters swore by his #7 plane in that context of the argument then they are saying Alan Peters would also support the argument that it was an essential plane in that context and I doubt very much that he would. Alan Peters also used a #4 1/2 plane and and 5 1/2 plane also. If he was easing a door in a cabinet I doubt he would reach for a 7.

  15. I have several planes, but other than shooting with the LA Jack, I’ve found a No. 4 and my 5 1/2 handle just about every task. It seems like everyone I’ve met that has a No 7 sort of shrugs their shoulders when I ask about it. They don’t seem to actually use them. I’m not sure if the extra inches over my 5 1/2 is worth the money and the space on my shelf.

    • They have their uses, but they are nowhere near as versatile as the #4 and #5. I would still get a #7 over a #6 though. That’s just personal preference.

  16. I actually like my number 8. The weight of the plane in my case doesn’t slow me down or drain stamina. I wouldn’t say that for any particular material prep that it will do 100% of the work, not like a 5. I like the weight of it though, there in the final shavings with an oiled sole that bull dozer can be thrown around with 2 fingers.

    I despise the #4 i have. it’s an all steel model (4s) i picked up before i knew anything. It’s being converted to a scrub.

    What’s in my Goldilocks zone is the 5. I have a Sargent with a wide throat and a Stanley with a narrow throat and between the two anything gets worked over just fine.

  17. I think Paul considers his primary audience as the new hand tool user. Someone who has an interest in woodworking and is trying to make some decisions on how to build a tool collection as well as some skills. I think Paul wants to help steer these people in the “right” direction. The “right” direction is one that allows one to get working with the least amount of barriers (money and frustration to name just two). Now if you have a #7 or #8, enjoy using them and have success with them, I would highly doubt that Paul would recommend you toss them in the bin. If it works, good on you. Just don’t think that they are required to build something nice.

You must enter certain information to comment 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 comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *