Home » Paul Sellers’ Blog » Planes to Buy and Planes You Best Avoid

Planes to Buy and Planes You Best Avoid

The Veritas block plane version they dubbed the apron plane is one of my favourites in the block plane range.

My basic view of the smaller planes called block planes is that they might occasionally prove handy but they have only limited real value in terms of general woodworking use unless you are working on  smaller work at say finer levels where larger planes may perhaps be a little cumbersome or for some other specialist application. These planes are not bench planes as such and therefore do not do nor were they intended to do what bench planes do. Don’t be confused as to their functionality and worth. I know a statement like this usually brings in a tirade of comments of how others find them to be their most used and useful planes. Of course that’s fine, I just don’t want people the do what the big brothers do that’s all. I use mine periodically throughout year, mostly some quite specific work surrounding small components and then for some single-handed functions. I in no way want to discourage anyone from owning one, but not all block planes listed under the name block planes were created equal; some that I know and speak of should never have been made.

Removing the arris is simple with a block plane as the singlehanded use means your non-dominant hand is free to hold the wood.

When I worked in shop-fitting,  some decades ago now, three block planes numbered as models 60 ½, 220, 9 ½ were well proven and better-made block planes that were somewhat irreplaceable for some particular tasks. Specifically, we used them mainly for trimming plastic laminate flush to the substrate or an adjacent facing of laminate too. Those were the days before flush cut router bits came in and plastic laminate work was very nearly an art form all of its own where all edges and corner were planed  with a block plane first to remove the bulk and then hand filed and to create a slightly radiused camber rather than merely bevelled.

This is my Stanley 601/2, which I have owned for 5 decades.

I recently watched another maker using a #220 to trim his ‘real wood’ iron-on edgings to MDF flush when he was disguising his substrate beneath veneer. This block plane was great for that too. But many new woodworkers buy these planes for surface planing believing that the size might be more manageable for them following a trend toward a bevel up option. Unfortunately, even with the better-made brand, they most often prove to be more of a problem to working wood than smoothing it and certainly become more than they are capable of resolving. What some claim only a block plane will do I can assure you, unless you are in a very tight space height wise, a #4 smoother will do just as well and usually much better. So for removing that internal arris of a drawer rim, trimming off plastic laminate or edging, they do have some valid usefulness. Mostly they benefit because of their single-handed, in-the-palm use, which releases the non-dom hand for holding the workpiece or indeed to pull against as you push the plane on into the cut. My concern is you might believe they will do more than they can.

I used this when I made the pieces for the Cabinet Room of the White House. Mostly for veneer work. It’s on of my two Veritas block planes.

Now for the bad,

bad onesNow then we get to the real purpose of my blog here. Two planes stand out to me as planes that should never have been made and should never be bought. The models Stanley #110 and #102 or the Record equivalents of them. They were the cheap and nasty, dead ugly and pretty useless. They were indeed by far the worst planes ever designed and made and they just keep popping up in places. I was asked again for my feelings on the them recently. So here it is. They are nor cute, nor nice. They’re awkward to use and rarely work. They bite like unpredictable horses and dogs, just when you least expect it. My best use for them so far is to use the blades to make scrapers and scratch stock blades from. Landfill burial is too good for them!

34 comments

  1. Eddy flynn says:

    Haha now thats not something you see every day Mr Sellers telling us something is not even fit for landfill look out aucton sites 110’s and 102’s coming your way

  2. Scott says:

    Heh, I’ve got a Woden and a WS 110; I think they look pretty enough, but I can’t see them being used much (indeed the WS appears virtually untouched in it’s 60+ years existence).

    Quiet like the #3 for small/light work, although not a single handed item, very nice to use.

  3. Dave J says:

    I’ve been saving up for a block plane. Been looking at a Veritas skew block plane with aguide fence that I hoped could double as a rabbit (rebate)plane. Now I am confused. Gee, thanks Paul. My last purchase was a used #3 bailey plane that I have absolutely fallen in love with, but I still find it a little awkward for some things & thought I could kill 2 birds with 1 stone by buying that block plane. Not a good idea? Opinions anyone?

    • Derek Long says:

      Just my opinion, but trying to use a block plane to cut rabbets sounds about as frustrating a task as could be imagined.

      I’d rather save and spend money on a real rabbet plane or a plow (which also can cut rabbets) and not worry about a block plane as much.

    • New2Woodworking says:

      I just bought a Veritas skew rabbet plane, and am a little disappointed.

      I am making a workbench with 3″ long and 2″ wide through tenons, and thought I would make “fat” tenons on the bandsaw and then custom fit each to their respective mortises with the skew rabbet plane. It might be my own “user error” or expecting too much, but I am having a hard time getting an even trim across the tenons. I am finding a rasp and sandpaper with a hardwood sanding block better to use.

      I think the rabbet plane would work better for smaller work, and possibly with wood that is not as hard (my bench is out of ash).

      However, the main reason I am disapponited is the open side, as I have nicked myself a few times (not bad, it’s just the small amount of blood stains the white ash! … I know … user error). If I could go back in time, I would buy the Lie Neilsen skew rabbet plane, with the removable side, so I could have a true block plane (with side attached) when I wanted to use it as such. The reason I didn’t get the Lie Neilsen in the first place is that I saw some comments on the internet where people said the patina on brass can stain your workpiece … I don’t know if this is true or even likely/possible, but I thought better to be safe than sorry. I am now sorry, but for a different reason… not buying the Lie Nielsen plane …

        • peewee1703 says:

          Have a look at Paul’s Mortise and Tenon blog article where he uses a router plane to trim down the tenons. This gets the cheeks of the tenons exactly parallel to the face of the board and gets the tenon placed in the centre of the work piece.

      • Allen Long says:

        The whole purpose of hang a rabbet plane is that the sides are open to allow the blade to reach ritzy up to the shoulder.

        That said, I had the LN rabbet block plane, the one with both open sides. Cut the bejeezus out of myself a number of times. Returned it for their low angle adjustable block plane and love it. A good shoulder plane might be what you are looking for. Although some seasoned pros sneer at having to use one. Though they are open on both sides, you hand is sufficiently up and away from the blade to minimize cutting yourself.
        Many Kind Regards. . . Allen

    • Mike Ostrander says:

      I know everyone’s financial situation is different but I’m not sure I understand the “saving up” part of this. You can buy a 60 1/2 on eBay for $20-$50 anytime you want (new in box around $100). If you want to try a block plane that would be the way to go. As Paul mentions here you won’t be using it much. I bought a pretty nice one at a flea market (Boot Sale across the pond) about 30 yrs ago for $5 and that’s about how much use I’ve gotten out of it. Buy a Stanley #78 Rabbet plane as well, same price range on eBay and amazingly good a cutting rabbets and trimming tenons.

    • Richard C says:

      a used Stanley #78 is a useful tool for rebates and can double as a bullnose. I use mine with and without the fence and it’s great

  4. Ioannis Dounis says:

    Hello everyone, i have one modern Stanley 102 for 5-6 years, it is such a useless tool out of the box, too sloppy and badly machined.But, because i never want to toss a tool in the garbage, i gave it some time and flattened the sole, corrected the two elevated plates were the blade sits on with careful filing so the previous rounded and painted surfaces now are square and flat for very good support of the blade, fixed the lever cap so its really tight on the metal cross pin. Now it performs so superb with a properly sharpened blade, i can adjust it so fine with a wooden setting hammer that i can take half thou shavings and i can plane a small surface dead flat with it so fast. I still use of course my stanley n.3 for anything bigger, but what i love most in block planes is the low height of the body that gives so much control,at least to me.

  5. S Richardson says:

    Well Paul,
    And I thought you knew everything ! my 110sand Record equivalents have always been my ‘go to’ block planes, easy to set( hammer) easy to sharpen easiest to use. When I was fitting kitchens it was always mine that was used ,never mind those finicky Stanley things with the adjustable throat and screws ! I’ve just picked up off a shelf in the living room an old 102, without toutching it for about 10 years it still takes off a lovely clean arris, and would only take a couple of strokes on an oilstone to be back to work. I do agree that the block plane is a ‘fitting’tool and not a substitute smoother although at a pinch….. Also, have you ever tried putting a smoothing plane in your apron pocket ?

    • Ray Pope says:

      I use the 110 and have three of them. They are “OK” but not great.

      For me they are ‘toolbox’ planes to have around in the field just in in case.

      However the 60-1/2 just ‘feels’ right when using it.

      My .02

  6. Richard says:

    Each to their own I suppose. I sold my Veritas apron plane because I found it too bulky for one hand use but I use my Lie Nielsen 102 all the time. I even have a second blade for it sharpened at a steeper angle which sees more use than the low angle!

  7. Jeff Mazur says:

    Good article, thank you. No argument from me – my one block plane is a 60 1/2, which I love, but must confess is loved more for its cuteness than for being in-demand. I’m quite sure that I could live without it. The most use it’s gotten to date has been when my daughter used it to put a little chamfer on some trim pieces for a project we were doing together.

  8. Donn Sword says:

    I agree 100%. I’ve got an older one and someone gave me a brand new one. Let’s say there not enough hours in my life to get the new one tuned up. I won’t even try.

  9. Mike Baker says:

    A couple of things I see people write that a block plane is meant for boggle my mind.
    The first is to put a camber on the corner of stock. I can’t imagine reaching for a block plane when the bench plane in my hand will very simple do that job, and it’s much quicker than stopping and reaching for a block plane.
    The other I see all the time is that they are good for planing end grain. Ugh. I have tried that a couple of times, with the iron as sharp as I could possibly get it.
    Miserable. Give me my #4 or #5 and I’m happy as a clam.

  10. Woody Johnson says:

    I use an old 110 to put a sharp point on my pencil. That’s about the only use I’ve ever come up with for it. On the other hand, I use my Stanley 65 all the time. Difficult to believe those two planes came from the same company.

  11. Gav says:

    Respectively disagree Paul, quite happy to accept any you wish to offload. The 110 actually sits really nicely in my hand due to the shape and height of the lever cap and I quite like how nimble it is due to the light weight compared to some. After flattening the sole and sharpening the blade I have found it really useful for site work. Usually relieving edges etc. I am quite fond of the weight too and have found with regards to adjustment light taps do the job with the requisite adjustment on the wheel. Being a later model with the screwed on knob which stands reasonably proud I have been known to use it between my fingers on one hand while pushing with the other on the lever cap for a quick bit of flattening, on selective areas. I use a later model Stanley lower angle model and a Record No. 4 smoother as well on site. Bulk removal most often is relegated to the electric plane sometimes supplemented with a No. 5 1/2. I wouldn’t use it for really fine work but it does serve a purpose and I find has a place.

  12. Christopher Mitchell says:

    Hey Paul,
    Tell us how you really feel about them!!
    Lol, Now that was funny,
    I would really like to know your take on Novaculite Whetstones. Especially the Washita’s Old Washita’s and the Translucent. Seems to me that something that’s 100% abrasive would have some advantages. Verses Man made where the abrasive particles are in some type of bonding agent. I’m not trying to re invent sharpening here at all. I’m curious but I can’t seem to get an answer on the subject . And I even called the two suppliers here in the US.
    I understand why you don’t use them , you don’t use a secondary bevel so maybe it’s slower cutting since your abrading the whole bevel and maybe because you don’t have to dress the diamond plates. I understand this is off the subject of block planes and for that I do apologize but as I sit here drinking my morning coffee I started thinking about these particular stones and wanted to ask before I forget all over again.
    Hope you have a wonderful Fathers Day.
    Chris

    • Paul Sellers says:

      I would readily go to Norton India stones again and then follow up with natural stones. But the flatness is a good advantage for a couple of reasons and of course the stones I and you mention do wear to a hollow. I have no reason not to use them except that diamonds cut steel fast and are fairly international now.

  13. Arthur Coates says:

    Funny thing that I picked up a 103 on Friday that had a piece of saw plate crudely fashioned into a cutting iron.

  14. James says:

    For what it’s worth, the Lie-Nielsen 102, though moderately expensive, is an excellent general purpose handplane. Not sure if build quality or usability was your concern with the old one. The LN 102 was the first plane I ever bought and I use it absolutely all the time.

    • Paul Sellers says:

      People tell me they “use them all the time.” but what on earth for and how much is all the time? Every day, once a week, once a month, in place of a bench plane? I have premier models and only pull them out once a month for five minutes max. I just don’t understand what they do for people, and even premier makes are still as ugly as the Stanley models. Oh well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder even if they’re not beautiful.

      • James says:

        As a 100% rank amateur, I end up using it on every project. Not for things that you couldn’t necessarily use a larger plane for, but I like being able to use it with one hand to trim stuff up, cut things flush, etc.

        Good case to be made that I wouldn’t/won’t need it if/when my skills improve and I generally ‘get better’ at making things, however.

  15. Richard C says:

    I use a relatively cheap Axminster block plane. it’s not perfect, but the iron is ok and it hardly needed any fettling at all to make it ‘sweet’

    I find it invaluable with tricky mahogany, where you get ‘stripes’ as the grain changes direction. by using a very fine set and skewing the plane, I can take a very narrow shaving and avoid tearout. it’s also useful for edging and tricky grain where a #4 would take too broad a cut

  16. Richer says:

    The block plane, in various derivatives including rabbet versions, is an essential tool in traditional boat-building. When bevelling plank edges on the boat to a fit, and rabbeting plank ends, block planes, and sometimes spokeshaves, are the appropriate tools. For one thing, you are leaning over the boat and often need to support yourself with one hand. Secondly the angle of the bevel or chamfer changes every inch you move along the plank – you need a light, small and nimble tool for the most part, certainly on smaller boats, where space is usually at a premium. Of course, for work you can do on the bench you will use the whole range of conventional tools.

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