Bevel-up in a bevel-down plane? Questions on planes series

From the request for questions two months ago I liked this one, which tugged at me each time it came up.

Question:

When do you use the bevel up in the plane and when do you use it down?

Answer:

P1110838
The Bailey-pattern bench plane, which includes the Bailey-pattern Bed-Rock plane range all have bevel down iron presentation.

This question is more common than you might think. There are many plane types used throughout woodworking, mostly they are separated by their type in that they plough or rebate, smooth and so on. This question actually pertained to the #4 Bailey-pattern bench plane, which is one in the family of bench planes including those Baileys with Bed Rock frogs. Bench planes are generally the category of planes used to straighten, true and trim wood, taking it from rough-sawn stock to the finest levels of finished work. All the bench planes were bevel-down planes until more recent years when some modern makers introduced bevel-up planes and began calling them bench planes too. Bench planes can be left the way they are as bevel-down planes even though people can choose to call them what they will. The bevel-up planes are more limited in their functionality and will not perform all of the tasks the bevel-downs do and so should not be confused as capably one and the same tools in different versions. Bevel-ups are not technically true bench planes. If we alter that we lose definition for the originals.

All of the true bench planes then are bevel-down planes and offer no option as an alternative by reversing the cutting iron and using it bevel up. Bevel-up planes manufactured in the tail 1800s and  offered for sale today were developed for what they did best and that was to shoot mitres and endgrain. DSC_0008Collectable, these planes fetch collector prices because of the scarcity and collectability of them. Modern makers manufacture them and the price ranges from between £120 and £300. DSC_0004Though finely made, these planes act generally as secondary planes to the regular bench planes like the #4. Bevel up planes are best used for what they did in the 1800s and that’s planing end grain and planing mitres on moulded stock and so on. I do like them for jointing too, but haven’t really felt the the regular bench planes to be lesser planes for this if you know to work them.

37 comments on “Bevel-up in a bevel-down plane? Questions on planes series

  1. Hi Paul,
    To me bevel up planes are just a large expensive block plane. And do just what you said, that is for planing end grain and planing mitres.

  2. Paul,

    When I come back to using my planes after doing something else for a couple of moths, i ask myself, Now which way does it go? ” LOL! Not really laughing.

    Thanks!

  3. Hello Paul,

    I understand that bevel-up planes by definition aren’t true bench planes. Can you please explain which tasks bevel-down planes perform which can’t be performed by bevel-up planes? Thanks for all the great information you provide!

    • There was good reason that traditional craftsmen of the past generally did not use bevel up planes for anything but mitre shooting and end grain work and I think makers have somewhat ignored that. It is not the that modern makers are producing anything better than existed in the past. Bevel up planes date back at least 200 years. What most makers make has been in existence for a long time. Surface planing wood is one such task. I am not saying you can’t surface plane wood with them, but anywhere where the grain rises even very slightly, where the gain is not lying parallel to the surface being planed,usually results in grain lifting ahead of the cutting edge that then rips and tears the grain. This is but one aspect of planing.

  4. Thanks Paul for the explanation. I have seen many articles on the net debating bevel-up vs bevel-down planes, but they usually devolve into talks about wear bevels, cambering etc., rather than addressing the actual tasks that the planes are used for.

  5. Thank you Paul. I wish I had this info about a month ago before attempting to flatten a panel face with my bevel up #7 that resulted in tear out.
    I didn’t quite understand the problem..thinking it was purely my set up or technique.
    I get it now. Thanks for the justification to seek out a few more planes!

  6. Hi Paul,

    I always feel there is something missing in this debate BD vs BU. What are we comparing here? What cutting angle do you have in mind when you mention BU. What is the difference between BD plane and a BU with cutting angle of 45° (blade bevel at 33°). And why do some use BU planes with high angle blades for wild grain when you are saying this is not an appropriate plane. Does the chipbraker make this difference?

    If we have a cabinet scraper for wild grain and BU plane for planing. Where in between would you put a BD plane in terms of handling wild grain.

    I hope my questions are relevant. Thanks Paul.

    • I just know that here at my bench, and I own many bevel up planes and test them out for regular ‘experiments‘, they do not do what the makers and catalog dealers say. Everyone must remember as I have said that a description on an online website is composed by articulate sales marketing strategists and not users with any long term experience. There is nothing wrong with that but you must take what is read with just a pinch of salt. There are marginal advantage son some very occasional occasions where the BU planes do a little better. But at the bench I cannot rely on getting the performance I get from a BD. This is just fact. To me it is crazy to have to change out a blade or reconfigure a bed angle to get a plane to do what we can almost always get with the BD planes. I avoid the debates primarily because the substance of what people offer often has no background in the making of pieces in the everyday of work. I just present from my experiences as a working man using planes for 50 years, six days a week 50 weeks a year. It is not to dis the planes at all or in any way. The makers are excellent makers no matter where they are made.Any and all grain is generally tamed with a cabinets scraper and a card scraper in a heart beat. I have never known any grain type including on pine that a sharp scraper could not resolve. Combining the card scraper and the bevel down plane I can get everything ready for finishing. The bevel-down plane is more luxury plane that is excellent when dedicated as shooting board plane for end grain shooting and mitre shooting as well as occasional jointing (as a preference) when the grain is favourable. I often find myself correcting tear out from bevel up planes with a plain old number 4 bevel down..

  7. Hi Paul,
    A short comment on this question. In scrub planes you can choose to use your iron either bevel up or bevel down. If you feel there is an advantage to have a steeper angle then just switch from bevel down to bevel up. I haven’t really done any meaningful tests yet, but it could be useful for difficult grain.

    • You can do this. You install the cap iron on top of the bevel side purely for filler in loading and the bevel up is then steeply inclined. I have done this on two occasions in my life and it did work for very rare and isolated types of grain.

  8. Hi Paul,
    probably a stupid question.
    Is it a good thing to use a Stanley 60 1/2 plane on a shooting board for planing end grain?
    Do you think it works better than a bevel down plane on this kind of jig?
    Thanks for everything you do. I’m waiting for your new book.
    Giorgio B.

  9. I think he means what way do I put the iron into the plane (after sharpening it I presume). But then that’s just how I read it.

  10. Paul, It would be interesting if you were to compare your impression of a BU plane with a BD plane when the relevant angles are the same AND when the cap iron on the BD plane is pushed way back away from the cutting edge (so that it has no effect). Some say the cap iron doesn’t act as a “chip breaker,” but there are some really nice Japanese videos showing how the cap iron really does help roll up and fracture the chip to reduce tear out if it is placed correctly. If that’s true, then that is part of the difference between BU and BD since the BU planes lack a cap iron. This would also explain why the BU does well on end grain.

    • (Replying to my own question, sorry) I should add, it’s enough for me to hear your experience and suggestion to favor BD planes. Despite my question/suggestion, it’s not necessary to reverse engineer the reason why. It’s just a habit, given my background.

    • There is absolutely no doubt that the cap iron directly affects the way the shaving is diverted up, into and through the throat. It is an Americanism to call the the cap iron a “chip breaker” for some reason, and like American English is spoken cross-culturally throughout the world because of people learning English from American TV and film production, because of the US dominance worldwide, people worldwide have unquestioningly adopted the term chip breaker. In my world there is no chip to break and the shaving is a continuous strip that is simply directed and diverted.

  11. Sorry Paul,

    Not using my planes for awhile and took them all apart to sharpen them. Putting them back together with the breaker I’d ask myself “Which way do they go?” I actually put the breakers on the wrong side? Trial and error. This post will help me in my ignorance.

    Oh yeah, trial and error helped me figure it out.

    Again, thanks

    • If I’d been taught the correct name when I was learning about assembly of a plane. I’d call it a cap Iron.

  12. Thomas Tieffenbacher
    Don’t worry, in past when I’ve been in a real hurry and not paying attention the cap iron of a Lie Nielsen type plane can fool you as it has a bevel not a hump like a stanley. I have a couple of times very carefully engaged the blade to the cap iron and then set the distance that the cap iron protrudes past the blade edge, tightened up loaded and………..Doh!

    Once in a while everyone puts salt in tea thinking its white granulated sugar.

    Cheers

  13. Paul,
    As I see it, the question is this — Assume that I just went to the flea market (boot sale) and found a nice Stanley number 4. I take it home, clean it, give it a good sharpening and reassemble it. When I take it to task, It does nothing, or chatters, or digs in to the wood and won’t cut. The first question that I have will be — Did I put the iron in correctly? Is it upside down? So, How do you know when you have a bevel up or bevel down plane?

    Having asked this same question when I started out and hearing it come out of my brother’s mouth, I can beleive that there are many new handtool users with this same question.

    Thanks,

    John

    • There is nothing wrong with your question with regards to which way does the blade go in. It’s a good question. You are right, how does the blade go in BU or BD?
      The question generally is are they one and the same plane and the answer is no, they are not. BD planes do much more and they always will. The plane makers today are offering the benefit of good engineering but then nothing more than has been around for 200 years. The bevel up is bedded at 12 degrees but the bevel of 30 to 33 degrees and the presentation angle is the same as the Stanley standard plane. One costs you £200 ($300) and the other £15 ($22) to £25 ($37). Aside from the price, or the name given as to type, or the make, we are not comparing apples for apples. The BU planes therefore become a luxury and possibly unnecessary.

  14. Different words describe the same object that’s just how language works I would not call a truck a car or a car a truck but they can both be vehicles. Definition vs Functionality “A bench plane has three jobs in the woodshop: to straighten the wood, to smooth it and to remove it.” I did a search for bench planes on my browser it brought back a model airplane on top of a bench. I like reading this blog. I read some where else that a bench plane is a plane you used at a bench. I use both bevel up and bevel down planes and they are both capable of the same work the tear-out issue is not in the planes fault but on the set up. You can get a few blades for a bevel up and hone different angles a blade change is not any harder than taking out your blade on a bevel down and sharpening in that respect it’s cheaper. For tear-out on bevel up planes you would need a back bevel to increase the pitch some modern makers give you the option of choosing the frog angle from aka york pitch middle pitch and even higher. If you used a bevel down all the time you most likely will not find a bevel up to your liking. I love my bevel ups and my bevel downs I have a tooth blade that handles tear out and sizes my stock very well and it weighs like 3 lbs so its a Rocket. The advantage that I have with the bevel down and its why I love the bevel down is that I can adjust my depth of cut and adjust the slant on my blade on the go. I can’t do that with a bevel up. Now on a smoothing plane or a jack plane that is not that critical to me but on a jointer its nice to have. All in all there all a chisel on a jig.

  15. If you’re not sure which way to install the iron in the plane, just remember that the folks who made it would like for you to be able to read their company’s name when the iron is in place.

  16. Thank you Dave Ring! Now THERE is an answer that I can live with! I will pass that along the next time I get asked how to install the iron.

    JohninVa

  17. I think he is saying do I put my plane iron with the bevel up or with the bevel down (in the stanley bailey). I think this might be what the questioner tried to ask too.

  18. I use a mechanical sharpening system. I recently sharpened one of my planes at 35 degrees by accident. I tried using it anyway, and suddenly I am able to plane end grain so that it is perfectly smooth, with very little trouble. It also seems to me I am getting less tearout. Is this just my imagination, or is it real and there is a logical explanation?

    • You don’t say whether it is a BU or BD plane. You can sharpen a BD plane to around 40 degrees but once you near 43 or so there is no relief and the plane stops functioning unless you steepen the frog bed which you can only do by changing the frog itself. If it is a BU plane then a steeper pitch does alter the physics markedly and on some woods it will produce a cleaner cut and on end grain too. Mostly this is nearer to a shearing cut. All cuts depend on how new the sharpening is. All cutting irons deteriorate as soon as the blade hits the wood though. The fracture caused gets slightly larger as the plane is used to a point where fracture is pretty much maximised and it does not fracture so quickly because all fracturing is done. The plane still cuts but less effectively and less cleanly.

  19. On a BU plane you can’t get the chip breaker close to the cutting edge that would help with year out, actually I’m not certain they even have one

  20. Hi Paul,

    Your answer left me still wanting for more. I hoped that in you answer to question from Blaz I would see something that would make it clear to me. Sometimes a view from another perspective is all that’s needed. And my situation is the following. I never hold a good BD plane in my hands but I have a few descent BU planes from Veritas. With those I was able to build tablesaw stand from pine and workbench from beech. My sharpening skills are doubtful as well. I just had the will to make it done one way of another to get me started. While planing I’ve got tear outs from time to time with BU plane and 37 cutting angle. Then I’ve got another plane with cutting angle 50 and that resulted in much less tear out.

    Now, from what you wrote in the blog and here in comments I conclude the following. Most of the time BD plane perform better than BU plane and I assume that is for long grain. Does it mean that if I trade my BU with cutting angle 45 or 50 to a BD plane I would enjoy planing board’s surfaces even more? (And of courser the whole point is to know that before buying BD plane and trying it myself.)

    (Cutting angle for me means the sum of bed angle and bevel angle, like 12 bed and 38 bevel angle results in 50 cutting angle in BU plane).

    Thanks for all the useful information I’ve got from your blog and videos and it was plenty!

  21. Thank you Paul for your work. Whenever I have an opportunity to sit down and watch TV, my go to has been the nature programs as nothing else seems worth watching. With my new interest in woodworking, your videos and blog have made the top of my list. An appreciation for nature and woodworking go hand in hand. I wish I would have discovered your work sooner. I found myself in a woodcraft store in the market for my first bench plane. I went in interested in the No 4 bench plane, and the salesman convinced me to buy the Woodriver no 62 low angle jack plane which is 14″ long, bevel up with an adjustable mouth. This was after telling him I was interested in owning just one all purpose bench plane.
    I am now interested in purchasing a hand saw and am trying to avoid a similar mistake. Is there a type/make of hand saw that you could recommend that would be efficient as both a tenon saw and a dovetail saw? I would be looking into second hand sources for this one. Thank you again.

    • The best choice for a new handsaw would be the Spear and Jackson 22 handsaw with 10 tpi. here’s the UK link. You will need to pay more on shipping but it’s worth it as no other saw comes near for the money. When it comes go to my YT channel for refining the teeth for a premium cut. Cuts as well as or even better than a £220 premium saw I compared it to.

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