Knowing your Router

In my world, the real and true power in woodworking is in hand tools. Simplistic? Not at all. I deal with one of the two key realms that have gradually evolved in the world of woodworking. I am not interested in the so-called professional realm. Amateur woodworking is of primary importance to me because it is my firm belief that amateurs alone will be the ones to carry real woodworking forward as they better understand the power of hand tools and become as skilled or more skilled and knowledgeable than I am. Nothing and no one can change that because I have lived both worlds, cross-pollinated them, and I ultimately chose and continue to choose hand tools as my ultimate objective. It was a choice of lifestyle for me as a maker, writer, and teacher! The Lifestyle of which I speak is always choice. You may not get it all at once. You may only ever get it in part, but including it in your life is ultimately up to us.

I use this hand router plane more than any other, I think.

It seems such an insignificant tool in one way and then again it captures the imagination of all that see it. Its purpose seems less obvious than other planes because, to the uninitiated, its shape and construction together with its name belies all modern concepts of what a router is. Even in our woodworking world, the hand router plane went through decades of abandonment. For half a century I doubt I ever saw anyone use a hand router plane anywhere except to lay forlorn in the bottom of a tool chest. From my being 15 years old (1965) in apprenticeship through to my early fifties I cannot recall seeing any woodworker anywhere use a router plane and yet, for me, life as a maker relying on handwork making handmade pieces would have been nigh on impossible without it.

Small router planes have their place for small recessing work and such too.

So why is this plane such a needed tool for me?

After my #4 smoothing plane, the Stanley model #71 router plane is the only plane that delivers the perfect refinement to housing dadoes, tenon faces, recesses like housings and many more adaptations of the tool. Whereas the power router replaced the router plane in most workshops around the world, the hand router gives me the true power that hand tools seem always able to deliver. As with others, I have used so-called power router machines at different points in my woodworking life; I’ve also depended on them abnormally heavily for a short number of years. In the last 26 years, I think I may have switched one on a couple of times . . . and then switched them off within a few seconds. One thing that I can say about power routers in my day-to-day working is that I never ever felt peace about them. Why? Well, the power router is a powerful machine packed into a small body held between and relying on two hands to control it. In my work, fine woods, thin sections, small components, fine joints, a single slip, tip, trip and clip can destroy a section of my work in less than a heartbeat. If there was/is a benefit, it is far outweighed by the anxiety I feel as I lower it down fully powered or even soft-start into the wood and try to judge by torque which direction I should best go with it.

This may well be one of the rarer photographs of me with my hands on a power router. Admittedly and unashamedly it is a posed-for shot and not reality.

It is most unlikely that I will ever use a power router again. I will say this though, for moulding the end-grain of wood, for whatever reason, I can understand buying, owning and using one, but I can’t think why people would use mouldings like this much these days. They definitely date the work and tie it to bygone eras too, mostly these are eras of pretentiousness at best. But, thinking about it, if you’ve bought a £300 router and £300 worth of router bits, you have to justify the purchase and you have to do something with it beyond making a dado now and then, I suppose. And who am I to criticise? I own 500 moulding planes at at least £12 a pop and some worth hundreds of pounds that I no longer use! How do I justify that? I don’t! But then I can tell you that these are true works of art, they have helped me to replicate the impossible through the years of making and matching, and I am a collector of useable tools. In the now not too distant future they will be sold, I am sure, to the highest bidder. The sentimental ones will remain in the family if needed or preferred. They did indeed earn their keep and love to sit with them in my workshop for an hour and pull them out one by one as I recall which jobs they were used on. Either way, I am OK with that.

With the wooden sole in place, the router plane does not mar the surface of the wood being planed.

Thankfully, I can say hand on heart that I have never used a machine-driven router to make a dovetail and I have never been tempted once. Why? Well, someone wrote recently how they were cheating themselves by using a bandsaw. I don’t at all feel that way about machines. There may well be a time for anything and everything in woodworking. I am not averse to buying in a power planer if age and strength become to limiting for me in my aging years – I am certainly not a purist when it comes to hand tool woodworking. In my world of reality, that would be plain silly. My reasoning is based on several things not the least of which is that I doubt a machine like a power router will cut a dovetail faster than I can if we are starting from scratch. I doubt whether setting up the power router can match my abilities to proportionalise a dovetail’s sizing according to a design in my head as readily and as quickly as I can if indeed it can even ever do it. I doubt many things that I might do with any type of dovetail are even possible with a power router. What is surprising to me though, is that people so associate the power router with the hand router plane and even often think that the hand router plane does the same as the power router; that it holds interchangeable bits to mould the edges of wood. They ask me where they can buy the bits for an ogee or an astragal! But I also feel that in the evolution of woodworking people see powered equipment as an evolutionary process bettering what existed before but no matter how you slice it, a planing machine, a belt sander and a random orbit sander cannot produce the multidimensional results that a single hand plane can if you know how to use it to optimise the best outcome

My router planes give me different options beyond colour alone. Blade widths are different.

Leaving off two words, ‘hand’ and ‘plane’, fails to identify the tool I speak of and might mistakenly identify a power machine instead of the tool of which I speak. Whenever I say router, it is never the visualised machine you are thinking of now in your mind’s eye and it’s not the networking device that forwards data packets between computer networks. That’s why I usually make sure that the word router, in my world, is always accompanied by the two words ‘hand‘ and ‘plane‘ wherever possible. This hand tool, in the hands of any skilled woodworker, is the true power tool. You will never hear me say the words ‘power’ and ‘tool’ together either. This was a developed term birthed in the US to suggest a more advanced level of hand tool and nothing more than a sales strategy. These, whether handheld or stationary, battery-driven or hard-wired, are just machines. The user, as a mere part of the mechanisms, is a holder and a pusher of buttons. Not much to it if you really think about it honestly and with an open heart.

This hump was a feature that allowed chips to escape in the foredge of the plane to prevent the shavings jamming between the plane rime and the rim of the recess

The word rout means to uncover, eject, grub out, and so on. Pronounced it as ‘rowt‘, will help to distinguish the networking device pronounced ‘rooter‘ (or in the US ‘rooder‘ or ‘rowder‘) but will not help separate the power router and the hand router plane. These two pieces should never be identified as partners and nor should they be compared with one another. In our world of real woodworking, the hand router plane is second only to the #4 bench plane in terms of significant importance. Just as no modern maker has ever been able to offer more than the Stanley bench plane series for smoothing, evening out and truing our wood, so too the hand router plane has yet to be improved on in its ability to level dadoes and housings, recesses for inlaying and such. This is one plane I included in my book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. It’s a plane I would not be without. Hence, since I started extolling the virtue of the Stanely router plane a decade ago, the price has remained steady at the same and higher prices of those made new by Veritas and Lie Nielsen. How remarkable is that! When it comes to invention, Stanley had it. Perhaps I should say The Stanley Rule & Level Company had it, actually. The Stanley, and then later the English Record versions, were and still are lifetime tools. I can hear the groans when I mention this because there are those out there bidding for theirs on eBay as I type. Truth is, even when they are £220 a pop and more, as they are if boxed and in newish condition on eBay tonight, they are well worth the money. I pull mine to task many times in a day. It makes the best marking gauge and the finest recesser of any tool I know. What does not make sense is buying them over a Lie Nielsen or a Veritas version, which do exactly the same for much less money.

For perfecting the recesses, this Stanley development plane knows no equal.

Adding the wooden sole eliminates the metal on wood marring that pretty much seems always to take place without it. The plane operates much more smoothly wood to wood too so in general I always reach for the ones I have with wooden soles attached. How many do I have? Well, I think I have four hanging behind me at my bench and I use interchange between them as I work. Remember, I gave one of my Preston ones away a month ago when I reached 500,000 on my YouTube channel. I own several #71s by both Record and Stanley from my school days when I ran classes too and I still use these as loaners here at the workshop for my apprentices or visiting students and such. Setting them up with different sized cutters and using two in tandem makes my work more efficient as I can keep one set to final depth for final cleaning up and the other for staggering the depth to get down close to level in increments.

Yes, it makes a wonderful marking gauge too.

Am I ashamed of owning so many hand router planes. I am not. these planes will keep cycling through beyond demand for the foreseeable future. Loading mine on eBay will not lower the prices but even possibly raise them. Also, I bought mine when they were indeed all but abandoned and there was no sign of any price rise until I began to write about how valuable they are to my work as both a maker and as one intent on conserving the art of my craft in all levels and areas of fine woodworking, furniture making and so on.

The router plane makes perfect recesses and perfects the faces of tenons too.

What of the difference between my Preston-type hand router plane and the more commonly known Stanley #71 version? There is no doubt that these two planes give equal quality in functionality and neither one is better than the other when wooden soles are attached. When not, the hump-backed opening improves on the Preston-type i that removing the sole in this area allows for uninterrupted routing in stopped housing and housing in general because there is a space for the ejection of shavings without jamming between the rim of the plane and the rim of the rims of recesses and so on. Of course, the difference in price is significant too. The Preston type costs around £1,000 on eBay.

These two hand router planes are my favourites but the lower one costs five times the cost of the upper.

51 thoughts on “Knowing your Router”

  1. The power router picture was obviously posed. Paul would be wearing hearing protection to complete his required PPE ensemble. 😉 I recently sold my Stanley 71 that I had for a decade and had money left over after buying a Veritas large router plane. I like the angled handles and fine thread of the adjuster, which are not functional differences just preferences. How the values have changed since finding Paul’s Youtube channel with 46k subscribers.

    1. Having bought #4 Stanleys for as little as 50p plus shipping of £3 ten years ago and router planes for a tenner with three cutters and in the box, things have surely changed. But with an average of ten selling per day since then it gives you an idea of how we have revived the craft of hand tool woodworking, at least in the realms of the real woodworkers. And wouldn’t that be around 35,000 hand router planes passing through the hands of eBay buying woodworkers and sellers in the next decade? Could so many have found good homes without eBay over the past decade too? I think not and I also think that we should celebrate the service eBay has given to us woodworkers. It might have taken a decade to find them without eBay.

      1. Chris Manning

        Hi Paul, yes, you’re right about the hand router’s lack of use. When a dear friend of mine passed away at 92, I catalogued his tools (he had been a woodworker all his life) and still have some. Among them was a Record 071, and significantly, it had never been out of its immaculate box. All the bits and pieces were still in their grease-paper wrapping. All the other tools had signs of wear, but not the 071!

        I have another that cost me fifteen quid in the 90’s – again unused – but those days have gone, and they’re now costing more their true worth.

        1. Typically, from my recent searches, they are selling in the $150-200USD which is way more than they sold new. Often listed as “vintage” most for sale are not. It turned out to be about the same to buy a brand new Veritas which I believe is a fairly serious upgrade from the 71s or 071 for material content. I have a power router and have had for years but this is a delightful tool to work with and it has already been used for several jobs which my power router would have made awkward. And Paul is right, if you want to screw up a job really quick use a power router. The router plane lets you set a pace you are comfortable with and as well is quiet and does not throw debris all over the shop….

  2. Supply and demand. Your clear teaching via your books, web sites and videos has educated and inspired so many like myself. 80% of my kit is from eBay. The gems that I learned from you include my Record a151 spoke shaves (flat, round, and “Sellers half round”), bronze eclipse saw set, Stanley 13-030 simple plough, and Stanley 92 bullnose plane. I am sure that many of these treasures would have been tossed in a skip without the internet providing the education and market place to revive the art and craft of hand tool wood working. I work as a software engineer and unplug with wood working. My shop is a bit bigger than a one car garage and has no machines or power tools, those are in the garage for home repairs.

  3. Hello Paul,
    I was fortunate a while ago to pick up one of these (Record 71) for almost nothing from a junk shop. It didn’t have a blade and they seem very difficult to pick up even on e-bay. I was recently told the Veritas one will fit – do you know if this is correct ?

    1. Hi Steve, yes this is correct, one can fit Veritas router blades onto a Record/Stanley router. I am fortunate to own a Veritas and Stanley 71 and confirm that it works

    2. Steve,
      With some filing and sharpening I have various blades ex. rusty Alan keys ! And they give me a greater depth of cut than the manufactured blade. Orange NSW AUS.

    3. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

      I have the exact same router plane. I got a Veritas blade in it now. I needed to take the adjuster wheel to the diamond plates as it was a gnat’s nadger too wide for the slot in the blade stem. Quick to remedy. It works great, but I find that the adjuster wheel sometimes binds in the slot, and the blade tilts sideways. This only happens when I’m doing larger adjustments. Never happens for fine adjustments when the collar is adjusted relatively tight.
      A non-issue, really.

    4. They fit, but you may need to turn the depth adjuster upside down. Using Veritas blades is a bit of a kludge, but they work. What’s surprising is that no one seems to make new blades for the older routers that don’t require a bit of fuss before they can be used. The Veritas is a perfectly good replacement. The single “gotcha” about the Veritas is that the depth stop will slide gradually upward, regardless of how thoroughly you think you tightened it. You have to monitor that and adjusted as needed. Even slight over cut tends to spoil the look of a joint. Learned that the hard way.

  4. I was introduced to the router plane one afternoon at college in 1984 when I was 17. I speedily obtained one and have used it ever since. I now own 4 of them. The older craftsmen I worked with used them at the firm I trained at in the mid 1980s, quite regulary. Despite being a pro worked ,the only power tool I use is a cordless drill, I would say 90 percent of my work is with hand tools.

  5. Michael michalofsky

    Ah Ha!
    I Think you admitted in writing
    That you are a tool hoarder
    Admit it!

    Hahaha
    Michael in bx

  6. Paul Westlake

    I find with my Stanley, if I fit a board to the sole, it shortened the effective length of the cutters so that I usually have to remove it to use it. I use a 3/8 board, but can’t go thinner because the screws don’t hold. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you manage please?

    1. Just checking that you have turned the thumb screw upside down (or is it the right way up!), to gain a bit more depth?

  7. Mike Towndrow

    I guess the steady increase in the cost of hand router planes on eBay over the last few years, is just one of many indicators of how successful Paul has been in getting his woodworking methods adopted by so many.
    It’s such a simple but useful tool. I’m sure an effective budget version could be manufactured far cheaper than the those currently available. Unfortunately it would depend on any new manufacturer having some idea of how woodworking hand tools work and, as has been previously shown, through lack of understanding they frequently manage to mess up the design of the simplest tools!

  8. Hi
    The hand router was one of the tools not taught by my woodwork teacher all those years ago. I must say thank you to you Paul for introducing it to me. All my projects I have used my Veritas router with added wooden base and the calming effect of a joint well done to be a revelation. I bought the Veritas after missing several ‘71 on eBay. The only tool I have found difficult to use since returning to woodwork is the panel saw hence my use of a drop down saw and track guide.

    Thank you for your continuing blog and you tube.

    Kind regards,
    Kevin Harvey

  9. Paul,
    On the Preston router planes, one can unscrew one or the other handle and replace it by the cutting iron.
    Putting the iron at the exterior is supposed to be handy for tenon adjustment.
    Do you ever use this feature?

    1. I see it is shown in your blog:
      METAL-CAST RARITY PLANES AND UNIQUENESS
      dated 21 November 2018.
      I guess you don’t use it in your teaching because not everybody has one.
      (Nor do I)

        1. Contrary to what I thought, the iron can not be turned 90° to the body length, unless one modify the adjusting slots in the top of the iron.

  10. Yes, it is a shame the Preston router will never be available to most of us due to scare availability & cost. I did get a new Lie Nielson router plane & I have loved it.

  11. Ken
    14 June 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Paul, can you direct me to a source for learning good ways to sharpen the blade on the Stanley 71 and other wood-bodied planes that have curved cutting irons?

  12. Walke Moore Tools is manufacturing batches of Preston look alike but they cost 285$

  13. Gordon Fretwell

    Paul–
    The wood sole on your Stanley 71 looks like it is just a hair beyond the metal sole, both fore and aft, as well as about an inch or so wider on each side. Are these measurements close enough or do you have specific dimensions you have found appropriate. Also, what is the depth (it appears to be about half an inch)?\

    Thank you, Gordon

  14. Hi Paul,
    Great blog post as always. Just to make you aware (if you aren’t already), I’ve been struggling to find your latest posts online. When I go to your website directly the last post was the “experiential learning” blog. The only way I’ve been able to see the two most recent ones has been directly from the email newsletter today.
    Thanks
    Ross

    1. Ross, I was also having this issue, until today when I tried refreshing the page (again) by pulling down from the top of my mobile screen.

  15. I am glad I purchased a Stanley 071, probably in the 90s, when the tool catalogs still listed them. The blades that came with it are not long enough to use with a wooden sole. However, the Veritas blades by Lee Valley are longer, allowing use of the wooden sole. Mine has plastic handles; at some point I intend to turn some wooden handles.

  16. I purchased a Stanley 071 back in the 90s probably. Glad I got one while they were still sold by the woodworking catalogs. The blades that came with it are not long enough to use with wooden sole. However, the Veritas blades from Lee Valley fit, and they are longer than the original blades, so they can be used with a wooden sole. I plan to turn some wooden handles to replace the plastic ones.

    1. If I may ask, how deep are long are the Lee Valley cutters? I want to add a wooden sole but that would leave me maybe 1/8″ left of depth on the stock cutter.

  17. Absolutely agree Paul. I use my router plane as the go to tool. Power routers are such a waste of money for most people. I use them at the mens’ collective shed sometimes as it makes sense to share an expensive tool that is only used by most once a year.

  18. I have a compact router but actually using it requires making jigs, guides and fences, not to mention me overcoming my fear of the tool’s ability to injure me and/ or my work. No question that it’s a powerful piece of gear in the right hands. Working with wood is a satisfying hobby for me and I’m not in a hurry.

  19. Stephen Tyrrell

    I love using my Stanley hand router. It was one of the first tools I bought after starting Woodworking Masterclasses. I am so glad I happened upon your website a couple of years ago when they could still be purchased at a reasonable price – I think I paid less than AUD150 for it. The prices now are astonishing.

  20. I really admire your devotion to traditional techniques and hand tools. It is a huge inspiration to people like me who have an ambition to gain your hand tool skills but are starting off too late in life to catch up. I am of an age with you and devoted most of my working life to marine electronics. Very satisfying at the time but now woodworking has more appeal. So I hope you don’t object to people like me who will learn as much about hand tools as we can from you, while still resorting to power tools as short cuts for those with lesser skills than yourself.

    1. I have striven to correct the imbalanced view that when I say this or that about hand work or machine work it does not mean I am judging anyone for using them. Frankly, I actually don’t care at all what methods people use. I don’t write for machinists and neither do I try to ‘convert’ them. It’s of no consequence to me at all. What is of consequence to me is the constant onslaught from machinists and professional machinists who constantly try to defend their methods and approach to woodworking and try to make out that the machine is the more advanced method. In the recent blog, I strove to make sure that everyone who reads here understands that I understand the many reasons that people use machines for their woodworking. Even so, I can’t stop people from feeling judged because it revolves mainly around their upbringing and not me or what I say.

  21. I knew that there were differences in the power routers and the hand router planes but, I always thought of them as two side of a coin. But I see i was wrong. There similarities seem to end at the name. They preform a few over lapping tasks. But I’m with Paul when it come to the anxiety that come with operation of one those power routers. I have never used a hand router plane only because I’ve never owned one, known anyone who owns one that I might use. But one day I will.

  22. Renea Buchholz

    OH my, what I learn from reading your posts. I can hit myself in the head, or say awesome I will do better. Thank you.

  23. Hello Paul,

    When my father died about 30 years ago I inherited is Montgomery Wards electric router. I had never used one before but in time I learned how to use it. It is terrible to set up and almost impossible to see where you are going. I too had problems in wondering what would happen if I chose to move it in the right direction. Anyway I have been following your blogs and videos and decided I needed a real router. Alas the sky high prices have held me back for a year or two. Emboldened by watching your videos on poor man’s routers I took the plunge and choke a design and built my own router. It is made out of some basswood scraps from my carving days. I did cheat and bought a cutter from Veritas. So my costs were about 20 US dollars.

    My first project was to rout some 10, 3 3/8” dadoes for my project. It was a joy! I reinforced the adjusting back edge with a stainless steel plate because I had to dig out more wood than anticipated. My fathers inheritance to me is precious but it will not be used. TOO DANGEROUS and skill-less. Thanks everyone.

    1. Try forcing a refresh of the page on Android you have to drag down from the top of the page. I’m not sure why this has happened more often recently but it seemed to coincide with a slight change in the appearance/different font? of the blog.

  24. Hi Paul,

    After about five years of looking I finally purchased a number 71 from eBay which arrived yesterday. I will be rewatching your videos on sharpening, use etc and with a bit of persistence I hope to get the hang of it.

    As far as powered routers are concerned I just cannot stand the noise.

    RG

    1. You know, there really is not that much to hand-tool woodworking. People often comment after I have said something like this, and it can be said disparagingly, that all you need is 50 years of experience. That is far from true: I am not convinced that I am any better at woodworking and furniture making now than I was when I was 20-years-old. I do have greater confidence but if I at one time suffered from low self-esteem at that time it was because I was getting over five years of teacher aggression in both passive and overt forms. Back then, when teachers could be nothing but bullies and get away with it, it can undermine your future confidence. It took another woodworker to dig me out and I am grateful that he saw a future for me. The reason I have spent so much time teaching handwork is not because I make more money but more because money never played a part in my decision. It will take no more than an hour to master the router plane. Much less than learning safety procedures and methods with the machine methods and that is for sure.

  25. Malcolm Smith

    I bought a record 071 a few weeks ago for £70. I just no longer saw the point of ‘watching’ and passing which only wasted time a delayed my using it. I also picked up a very cheap 043 plough – it only had one cutter and it was in bad shape but I discovered that some chisel blades fitted so I did a queen of hearts on them.

  26. Stephen Cooke

    I recently bought a Veritas router plane. It came with two blades: one straight, the other – not sure how to describe it – a sort of arrow head shape. I’m sure you know what I mean. My question is when would you use the ‘arrowhead’ blade rather than the straight?

  27. Hi Paul,

    I have a kind of outside-the-box question for you. Have you ever considered the utility of a rounded, scrub-plane type iron for a router plane?
    When you remove the waste from a dado, for example, you can saw the two edge cuts, “zip” out the bulk of the waste with a chisel, and then finish to perfect depth with a standard router-plane iron. Or when you create a tenon, you may saw the cheeks slightly over-thick and then perfect them with a standard router-plane iron. But for jobs like making the large reduced-thickness area that will form the tenons for breadboard ends, it seems that a router iron that could act like a scrub plane (ie. a very narrow scrub plane with a depth stop) could be really useful for removing all that waste. This de-bulking is one of the very few tasks that a power router really excells at and it’s a bit of a challenge with hand tools.

    Here’s an example. I’m in the process of adding wide (4″) breadboard ends to a board that’s 14″ wide. So I need to remove 1/4″ of depth from an area 4″ x 14″ from both faces at both ends of my board to leave 4″ long tenons with 1/4″ shoulders. These are too long and thin to easily saw-down like normal tenon cheeks. The board is plenty long enough that I could saw both sides of the tenon area (as if it were a 4″ wide dado) but I can’t reliably “zip” out the waste with a chisel on an area that wide. The standard or spearpoint router plane irons leave a great finish but they don’t “hog-out” material at all well without digging in and catching. What do you think of the concept of a scrub type router iron for this sort of job? Of course, you’d still use a standard iron for the final, finishing passes but a way to expediently and controllably knock out the bulk of material might be of value. Just kind of thinking out-loud here and would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks,
    John V

    1. Well, I probably wouldn’t even take the time to consider a router plane for any of it and would just go directly to roughing down with a #78 which will reliably take down large swathes of wood a good 2mm or more at a time in a heartbeat. And I often use a #4 for finely surfacing large tenons anyway, with the router plane used close to the shoulder line first, of course.

      1. Paul,

        Thanks very much for the quick reply and the good advice! I’ll go with the method you described. I presume that the no. 78 you’d do the roughing with is one you’ve adapted for use as a scrub plane?
        I haven’t gotten around to setting one up that way yet but I do have an old Craftsman model which lacks the depth adjuster and might be a perfect candidate for that conversion. I’ve got a good sharp #40 but I’m very intrigued by your #78 scrub idea and this just might be my excuse to try it out. I’m sure it will be a useful tool to have at hand (and it will likely take far less time to get into service than some experimental curved scrub-router iron).

        -John

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