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

As far as long planes go

DSC_0050The longest plane I use is a #6,  bevel-down Bailey-pattern plane, even though I own full ranges of bench planes in wood and metal types and by different makers, new and old. For the main part they don’t get used past the #6. So, occasionally, about once a year, and for no good reason really, other than I like it to feel wanted, I use a #6. This is for definite the longest plane I ever use. If, if, I were to use a longer plane I would most likely pick a wooden bodied plane rather than a metal-bodied one and if I were planing for thicknessing, say some tabletop boards, as I am here, I would rarely use anything longer than a jack plane. It’s not an age thing, nor a muscle thing but a sensing thing. I know a wooden plane takes about one third the effort a metal one takes and so I would tend yo use a longer wooden one because they do remove stock much much more easily and, though perhaps as heavy their metal counterparts they move much more lightly and swiftly over the wood, even with a heavy set. Because I am basically training new woodworkers I tend to use what they can get hold of at a reasonable price and encourage them to find older planes and tools to restore because this speeds up what they must best understand to be true to their chosen craft. There is no better way to understand a plane than to take it apart and restore and sharpen it from a flawed condition.  Also, in my view, there is no point paying top dollar to avoid what they must face in just a few hours after purchasing what are expensive tools. New planes need restoration work and set up and often even straight from the box. That was standard when I was a boy buying new tools. Today many makers put effort into getting the planes set up, but in transit things move through vibration. That’s a fact.

DSC_0008

I could never steer someone towards #7 or 8 plane that here in the UK would cost $630 for a high-end US model and $500 for a high-end UK model. If I haven’t used one but six times in fifty years of daily at-the-bench woodworking for a living how can I possibly suggest someone new to woodworking should buy one? Certainly I would never use a bevel-up or low-angle jack for this work even though I own some and like them for certain work.

DSC_0022I think craft work in woodworking is very different today than it was for me starting out. Woodworking for me was never a hobby or pastime because paid or not I always took working seriously no matter what I did. I think most woodworkers I know as amateurs are indeed some of the most serious woodworkers I know. They are also some of the best, the most contentious and the most sharingly hospitable. Many professionals fit into the category of amateur woodworkers with this as the definition. Most types of woodworking has become of greater interest to amatuer woodworkers who are generally as proficient with hand work (if not more) than many if not most so called professionals; proportionally that is. And amateur woodworkers outnumber professionals by many hundreds to one. Tool makers and sales outlets indeed target amateur woodworkers more than professionals but they also give tools to professionals to get them to use them if they are public figures. We stopped accepting tools three or four years ago because we felt it would compromise our work testing tools and giving our findings here.DSC_0032

Two or more camps in woodworking

I see that today there are two main woodworking camps and there is nothing wrong with either. On the one hand you have people like myself, craftsmen who worked most if not all their working life making their living from custom-built furniture making and working primarily with hand tools. I, like others, pick up tools where I can, when I can if I like the look of them and usually will only haggle for the right price if I feel the price is too high. I don’t waste money on buying planes because they look pretty or even well made but I do like seeing nice planes from time to time and see nothing wrong with people who like to do that. And it’s here you meet other people who have a different perspective. These are the people who admire good looking planes and can simply enjoy the collecting of them by buying them outright from makers, engineers mostly, that make very admirable planes and tools. Now both categories of planes work; that’s the seek-and-find type where you buy what you can afford secondhand, and then the higher-dollar so called premium ones brand new that usually but not always work straight from the box. This alone adds appeal and especially to new users. It postpones the learning curve as I said, and most of the people I have trained are often glad to have got stuck into learning how to sharpen and adjust their planes straight from the beginning because within an hour or so of use they’ve usually got it. DSC_0010

So this becomes a personal choice and I think a personal-preference issue because most old planes that have no particular collector value and no really redeeming qualities apart from working well can do everything a new plane will do and dare I say even more sometimes. You will read in some of the comments that you need fine planes to create fine work and I feel that that’s true. But, really, what you actually need is perhaps any well-known maker type that’s well-tuned and sharp to create fine work. P1020791Not really high-end at all. These include just about any older Stanley and Record planes say pre 1960’s depending on the makers. In terms of purchasing bench planes in the bench plane category my recommended list goes as follows:

#4 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane by Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.

#5 Bailey-pattern Jack plane by Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.

#4 1/2 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.

#5 1/2 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.

#3 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane by Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.

Wooden Jack plane in good working condition with no throat closure repairs

Followed then by a non bench plane plane:

Veritas Bevel-up Jack plane

DSC_0006

Bevel-up planes are nice to own, and it’s here I will give the same answer I gave to the other couple of emails I got this week if that’s OK. Personally I find these planes are quite limited in bench work, to the point that for the most part they are not what I might call essential planes. Some espouse the advantage of having different blades or being able to change the bevel angle for different tasks according to grain. I find that establishing techniques works much more effectively for dealing with awkward grains than changing bevels or irons. I haven’t found any difficult grain I couldn’t deal with using a regular bench plane, a scraper or two and then a couple of other tricks too. You only get technique by working in the field so to speak. You can get great results with a#3, 4, 4 1/2,  5 and a 5 1/2 for smoothing and jack plane work such as surface planing and edge jointing. Perfect in fact. That said, I do like bevel-up jack planes for some limited work. Length of wood makes almost no difference so all the theories I’ve seen over the years haven’t really held water for me. When they go wrong though it’s often too late, it’s often when you least expect it and it’s often in places you least want it to happen. P1040318 - Version 2In such cases the bevel-down planes will often but not always repair the deep rooted damage that quite regularly occurs as torn surface grain. Remember too that for those of us not selling or engineering planes but using them in the day to day of life use wood not at all designated to give perfect results at sales venues. 75% of the time wood responds adversely at the cutting edge and salesmen give the impression that their planes plane anything and everything thrown at them. They demo with hard maple and state they are indeed planing “hard maple”, which is a wonderful wood to plane with great results almost every time. PICT0174They use curly maple to show the planes work even on wild grain, but curly maple generally planes quite well and often wonderfully too. This is especially true if you spend half an hour tweaking and fine tuning the plane ready for the show. Do the same with your more ordinary planes and you will get parallel results, even using thin irons and no retrofits. You see, at the bench, life’s really quite different. I say all of this to add some balance to those searching for the reality at the working end of the plane and at the bench in daily life.

31 comments on “Paul, Long plane? Bevel-up, bevel-down? Part II

  1. Paul, you said brand of plane was important, and this caused me to wonder if the brand new plane I just bought at Home Depot was any good. Due to limited funds and lack of options at the store, I purchased a Buck Bros no 4 plane the other day. Will I be able to ge it to perform well enough to do fine woodworking, or do I need to return it and shop some more? Also, can you please make a video wherein you give a detailed instruction on tuning a new plane and how you make adjustments on the fly as you are working wood? Your help s greatly appreciated.

    • One record I have from a comment was they had bought one, fettled it and got good results and then some others have said they are junkers. I don’t have any experience of them except to pass them over in the store when I sued to see them. Try it out and of you can’t get it to work well take it back.

  2. Paul your lessons and thoughts have helped immensely. I have a #6 as my largest and do like it. I don’t think I would ever need a longer one. I think the best thing is to do more woodworking and less internet reading (except for your material!). I know because my first plane I bought an extra think iron to replace the “inferior” stanley. That was a mistake. At least now I can swap irons in my 5 from a cambered to straight to use as a smoother. I really don’t find any performance benefit with the iron but I read it had to be done. As a beginner I think its best to find a #4 or 5 and start working wood. Find what YOU like and go from there. I found I prefer wooden bodied planes. I never thought that would be the case when I was sitting behind the computer. As a musician you try to find your own voice, and this process should be the same.

  3. Here in the U.S. we can buy Wood River Bedrock style planes made in China for half the price of premium planes, they are well made and take very little time to tune up.

    • WoodRiver #4 needing “tuning” – $145
      Stanley #4 type 13 ready to work – $75 from Ed Lebetkin

      Your Chinese plane is double the price of a premium plane.

      • Is this really the place for such smug self-importance? I think we all know what Mark means by “premium plane”, and the WoodRiver will not need much “tuning” beyond honing the blade, which any plane will need soon enough.

        If you know of a good place where one can get a well-restored old Stanley for a reasonable price, that’s wonderful. By all means let us know where it can be found, but please, leave out the condescension; the world can be unpleasant enough without those who go out of their way to make it more so.

        • Your comment also seems uncalled for. This isn’t youtube, let’s not try so hard to upset each other….

        • It is unfortunate that you chose to interpret my terse reply as being rude rather than helpful. A “premium” plane is either a plane costing more than usual (Lie-Nielsen or Scott Meek) or one that delivers greater value than usual (older Stanley or Record). In my estimate most people around here are interested in later definition. What is more premium to these woodworkers than a Stanley #4 that is ready to work wood at half the the price of the least expensive new plane? My hope was that at least one person would not turn to Woodcraft in despair and would instead see that they could own two premium Stanley planes instead of one budget new plane. I regret that this was not the actual outcome of my post.

  4. I have to agree with you Paul on your comments about “amateurs” woodworkers being more capable of hand woodworking than a lot of professionals. Being in the trade, off and on over the last 40 years, 99% of the work I have done has been performed by machines with hand tools used only to clean up or to ease a clearance or two. Even a well setup planer / jointer (if you can find one in most of the workshops I’ve worked in) can cut to about 0.1 mm (4 thou) but even a “not that sharp” hand plane can cut finer than that.

    Getting the product “out the door” leaves little time to use hand tools and often there is little scope to expand on experience due to the same or similar work being done all the time. Now days I count myself lucky because when I started my apprenticeship in 1970 the use of hand tools was still common place. But it was also on the cusp of power tools becoming common in the workshop as well.

    I still have and use the hand planes i got in my apprentice kit and they are a Stanley #4 & #5 and which one has been used the most often over the years? … the #4 of course.

    May I add that since discovering your website a few weeks ago my passion for woodwork has been re-kindled. I sit in wonder & enjoyment of your videos, not as a wide eyed newbie, but as a professional who has either forgotten,or was never shown.the technique or instructions of unplugged woodworking that you show. As many have said before me,you are a true Master Craftsman.

    Peter Littlejohn

  5. Moving a little away from the bench I have found a block plane to be extremely handy on site, a lot of the time due to the restrictions of using one hand as a clamp on whatever surface is suitable, be it sawhorse or otherwise. Being bevel up it can assist with some surfaces the smoother encounters but the smoother does 95% of the work including endgrain. I did take my 5 1/2 the other day which was quite handy for flattening a 2 m long 220mm sill for a door frame out of recycled jarrah. As proficiency has increased, as has my distaste of noise and dust the electric plane and belt sander are relegated second. It is easier to produce a flat surface with hand planes anyway. This is on the proviso there isn’t sand embedded in the timber or very large amounts requiring removal. Time can be an issue and the powered stuff handles the dirty work and saves my hand tools. Sorry for the digression. I like the block planes for arising edges as well and the fact they take up little space.

  6. Those seeking inexpensive tools should try often as possible to attend flea markets (boot fairs) antique shows and garage sales. Today I attended what was billed as an antiques fair. The usual over priced items from dealers were there but also ordinary folks getting rid of clutter and attic stuff. Picked up an older Stanley brace (in incredible mint condition) for two dollars.

    A restoration older Bailey #3 needing only a good cleaning and a new handle for $18.00 dollars. A glue up for now will suffice and it will be a nice worker.

    A #29 transition plane with a very good bottom and small handle chip for $5.00 dollars. Easy to restore.

    A machinists compass bevel with only years of surface dust and minor rust on the exposed metal surfaces but perfectly painted. Cleaned it up and it looks like it was bought brand new. It was $3.00.

    Home Depot is not the place to go. Get out and explore on a weekend and you will find some gems for next to nothing.

    • I will hit the “junk” stores and yard sales this week and hopefully I can find a treasure or two. Thanks, Joe.

    • Also check estate sales. Estate sales.net has loads of sales listings in many parts of the country and they usually have photos to see what’s there. I just look for the pictures of the garage to see whether it’s worth driving to.

      I have gotten a sweetheart no. 8 for $18 and a face vise for $25 at one sale. I got a couple of Stanley rip saws, a coping saw and a combination square for $15 at another.

  7. Wow, I would never have paid anything like $500 for my #7. It’s what I could get, and it performs well enough. I would like a good wooden jointer plane one day, but there aren’t an awful lot of wooden tools floating about Down Under, and those that do exist tend to fetch a premium as antiques.

    Perhaps you could do a video series on making a wooden jointer, as you have with some other wooden planes?

    • Lie Nielsen’s #7 is $425 in the US. The #8 is $475. Plus shipping. That’s a lot of bread for a plane that sits on the shelf most of the time, no matter how nice of a product it is.

      I do wish I had the extra income to spend on some of the fine wooden planes being made, if nothing else just to encourage the industry. They are pricey because it is such a small volume and done by hand by only a few. Philly Plane, Meek, Bickford, Time Warp, etc. Clark & Williams are so far behind in orders they stopped taking new orders.

      There’s HNT Gordon in Australia if you’re really interested, but again they’re pricey tools.

    • Hi Reece, I see someone else has mentioned HNT Gordan and they are not the cheapest but very nice to use and pay for themselves over time. If you keep an eye on the website some specials come up because of very minor defects in the timber used or some sapwood for instance. They back their tools too so any issues are resolved with a minimum of fuss.

      • There is a third option — HNT also sells a DIY build-your-own plane kit (available through retailers like Carbatec or Wood Works Book & Tool company), where they supply the blade, hardware and instructions, and you supply your own hardwood for the body, and your own labour…

        And maybe save $400 –> $500 in the process..

  8. I was given a rather nice Record #8 SS. Given to me by my Father – in – law who was a pattern maker. Unfortunately i received it just before discovering Paul’s blog and website. I purchased a new iron, a Hock, and I also spend some time fettling the plane and getting the sole flat. After reading Paul’s blogs It appears the plane is a lemon…. What to do with it now?
    I would dispose of it on eBay…. But I think the prices of #7 and #8 planes has just plumetted!
    Oh well, I suppose it makes an interesting paperweight?

    • Naah! I have #7’s and 8’s but really have no use for them. Seems others find them handy and use theirs even all the time apparently and you may find use for yours so just enjoy having them around.

  9. British prices include VAT (Value Added Tax) which was 18% last time I was in the UK and is probably more now. In the US, state and local Sales Taxes (typically 5-8%) are added to the price at the cash register/till so the real cost isn’t drastically different.

    • In the US: unless you’re ordering online and live in a State that doesn’t collect sales tax on Internet orders! Ka-ching.

  10. Paul, I recently picked up a Bailey #6 type 9 with a strange half circle cut from the left side starting at the top of the side hump and ending near the tote. Is this in unusable condition? Will it affect the planes usefulness? Thanks for all you do.

  11. …and then there’s shipping….

    Anyhoo, at the flea markets and estate sales where I buy my tools I don’t have to deal with either taxes or shipping–just rust.

  12. In regards to someone starting out and purchasing planes with the idea of batch production work ( book shelves etc.) and small scale work like picture frames etc, would you advise getting two #4 planes and setting one up as a scrub plane early on? When would you start to add in things like router planes and rabbet planes into that list. The router planes could be costly, especially where I live in Canada but for the person that sent in the question that led to these two blogs it seemed like they are beyond the hobby/ getting familiar stage. I guess what I am really asking is, in your experience when do the more specialty planes start to pay off in time savings in the “pro” shop. Most things can be done with just a few good well maintained tools and some creativity but the more specialty planes were made for a reason too, probably to save time on repetitive tasks.

  13. I love my #4. My grandfather bought an antique hand plane back in the 1970’s. He hung it by a wire on the barn wall for decoration. 40 years later, i start woodworking and my dad tells me about an old hand plane. We go get it, covered in rust. Knowing nothing about this or how to use it, I used fine woodworking, a rust remover to remove the rust, painted the parts that needed it, and oiled the others. All that to find out i had stanley baily that was hanging around doing nothing.

  14. It is very truth. Thank you very much behind the wonderful statement! These are very valuable words. love regards from Poland! 😉 Paweł

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 *