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Thread: Planes for Newbies

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Springfield, IL

    Planes for Newbies

    Hello guys, I'm a hard-core power tool only weekend hobbyist woodworker who after reading the neander forum a while realizes he is in serious need of reform. If I had a dime for every 1/8" - 1/16" of material I've power-sanded on for hours, made uneven, scratched the begeezus out of, and rounded off I'd be able to afford a Felder combo machine. That said, I believe my most pressing need is for planes. I have a $15 buck brothers bench plane that I believe is the basis for my previous plane-disdain; I simply cannot get it set up and hold that set up for more than a few strokes. More trouble than it's worth. Consistent with most of my other tool purchases, I'm planning to buy the best I can in the hopes it might help cover up my lack of skill. My limited research makes me believe Veritas is the right brand. The question is, since I can only afford one, maybe two at a time, where should I start? I'm pretty comfortable with my jointer and planer, so i won't be frequently using it to mill/prepare stock. My most frequent need is correcting sloppy assembly, like when the pocket screw slips a little and there's a tiny overhang that needs cleaned up. Maybe champhoring (sp?) an edge every once in a while. I'm guessing a block plane is a good place to start - it seems like its size might make it a simple plane to build skill with. Am I on the right track?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Lansing, KS
    Veritas planes are an excellent choice. Lie-Nielsen are also good. If you can, try out a friends or go to several stores and give them a test run. Tools, expecially hand tools are highly personal. You want it to feel like an extention of your hand, it needs to be comfortable, and it needs to work efficiently, or you won't use it.

    Based on what you think you will use the plane to do, I agree that a block plane should be your first purchase. A low angle block plane is a very useful tool--you will reach for it often to chamfer edges, even up end grain, etc. I think you will also want another plane to prepare your wood for a finish, so that you can cut back, or even eliminate all the sanding. The smooth plane fulfills this function normally. The Veritas bevel up planes are reportedly excellent (I say reportedly because I don't own one, I just want one). Lee Valley sells a low angle smoother with a 2" wide blade, and a bevel up smoother with a 2 1/4" blade. The wider blade helps the plane work with the bevel up jointer and jack. The You could even go with the bevel up jack as an all around utility plane if you intend to buy only a few. Nobody starts down this slope, however, and buys only a few.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Raleigh, NC
    "I have a $15 buck brothers bench plane that I believe is the basis for my previous plane-disdain; I simply cannot get it set up and hold that set up for more than a few strokes. More trouble than it's worth. Consistent with most of my other tool purchases, I'm planning to buy the best I can in the hopes it might help cover up my lack of skill."

    Welcome to the knuckle-dragging side of woodwork.

    A good quality plane will not make up for lack of hand-planing skill, but it will make up for lack of plane-tuning skill. That's a learned process, and isn't simple the first time around, even with excellent instruction from SMC.

    You're on the right track - the first plane purchase should be either a block plane or a smoother, you're choice, because they're both necessary. The smoothing plane will solve the problem of sander-induced non-flat panels, rounded edges, and the like. The block plane will greatly assist you in cleaning up ever-so-slightly out of whack joinery. You'll wind up with both, trust me, and you might was well save on some shipping and buy both at once.

    For the budget conscious, Veritas can't be beat. For traditional looks and method of operation, Lie-Nielsen can't be beat. Both make excellent, good-to-go out of the box planes. You'll be well advised to swallow the cost and get a medium-sized, 5" long low-angle block plane for your first one, preferably with an adjustable mouth. A low-angle is really a boon when trimming 90 degree corners made by rabbets, dovetails, etc..., and can also be used on face grain. While a standard angle can also be used on end grain, it takes a good deal more effort to push, and often results in frustrating chatter.

    For a smoothing plane, your best bet at first is to get one based on the smaller Stanley models (at least from the standpoint of length, blade width, and overall plane weight). Many choose bevel-up planes because they're cheaper and with additional blades, more versatile when working highly figured wood. You do give up one thing, however, that some of us like and don't use bevel-up planes because of - a traditional Stanley design allows you to advance the blade during the planing stroke, which gives you immediate feedback as to the projection of the iron and shaving thickness. If you're going with this direction, I'd recommend one the size of a Stanley #3 or #4. I'd avoid the larger smoothers with wider blades, at least at first. The reason is that they require considerably more effort to push, and that can be frustrating for a newbie.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Hampstead, NC
    My vote is for a smoother / bench plane. I agree that a #4 is an easy plane to find used, a plane that can be had new for a reasonable price, and one that should get a lot of regular use.
    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  5. #5
    I agree on the low angle adjustable mouth block, but let me add this thought. Veritas has an "Apron Plane" that is a sweet little pocket plane that I use all the time. I also own a LN low angle, adj. mouth, and it is a great plane, but honestly I pick up the Apron plane 90% of the time to do the little "corrections" which you mention. At $85, it is a bargain!,41182,48942

    From there, it is a gentle slide down the remainder of the slope!!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Fort Gordon, GA
    Dave -

    First of all let me say, I've been there... And let me also admit, I didn't start off with a Buck Brothers, but rather a Lie-Nielsen #4. So limited I am in inherit skill, even the top of the line was of no use to me.... Hopefully, I've stumbled in the right direction a bit further since then.

    There are a few types of different people who get started off in planes: collectors of old planes, collectors of new planes, people who want to learn in depth, and folks who just want a means to an end, etc...

    In many cases, my first recommendation are the old Stanley planes. It is my opinion that working through the fettling and tuning process of a plane is important to a thorough understanding of planecraft. I gather from your post, you aren't terribly interested in the karma of old planes, and just want a tool to accomplish various tasks.

    My guess is that many (most, all?!) would recommend a block plane to you in this case. Eh, I'm one of the few who rarely uses a block plane. Perhaps it's that I've got several planes set up for various tasks, or maybe I've just not learned enough (most likely!) to know its best use. In what I do, a block plane's size is just too limiting.

    Again, while I'd like to push you to Stanley - I think you should strongly consider the Lee Valley Low Angle Jack . It buys you a few things -

    #1 Size - Large enough to work as a jointer (remove those machine marks). Small enough to work as large smoother (excels at this!). A block plane is not really suited to either of these tasks.

    #2 Versatility - Stanley planes are bevel down and fixed at 45 degrees (generally speaking).The bed on this plane is at a very low angle, and the blade is used "bevel up." What this means is that you can change the blade bevel to perform various tasks. Use a low angle blade for trimming or shooting end grain, a high angle blade for taming the gnarliest of grain during smoothing, and a standard angle for everything in between.

    #3 Ease of use - Lee Valley has designed a few features that make the plane very easy to use for those who aren't big into plane tuning (adjustable mouth, blade that's easy to center\adjust).

    #4 Quality - Good stuff.

    So buy the LA Jack or Smoother - and a few blades.

    Now for the rest of the story. Completely ignore everything I just wrote...

    cover up my lack of skill
    Hand tools require skill to use - skill, finesse, touch, practice, patience - whatever you want to call it. Point being, there is some amount of personal investment required to use these tools effectively. This is where I fell down with my first plane.

    Does it take a great deal of skill to push a piece of metal across wood? In the most basic of terms, no - but more than you might initially think. Splitting out the end grain, planing a board convex, reading grain, tear-out, hand pressure, or blade tracks - should all be constantly considered. Hurdles in the hand tool world can't be overcome by machine clearances and impressive horsepower.

    Most importantly, you must make a commitment to learning how to sharpen. There are many methods, but find one that you believe in and can be successful at. The best plane becomes useless after a very short period of usage. I commend David Charlesworth's DVDs to you...

    Good luck - there's nothing like it...

    - jbd in Denver
    - jbd in Denver

  7. #7
    Dave, after John Dykes post, I just had to reply.

    See, I was trying to help you gently into this hand plane world with the Apron Plane. John, on the other hand, has given you the best option should you be so inclined.

    In full disclosure, this is how John works. He comes to your shop, brings his favorite LV toys (including the plane to which he has referred), tempts you with them, and leaves. The next day, you quickly get online and order the BU LA jack (with extra blade) to which he makes reference!! That is his modus operandi! He is so sly!!!

    On a serious note - it is the finest plane I have, although I have few compared to John and others.

    But, I will still go back to the original stated purpose "correcting sloppy assembly, like when the pocket screw slips a little and there's a tiny overhang that needs cleaned up. Maybe champhoring (sp?) an edge every once in a while."

    For that, I like the Apron plane, but it is really not "a simple plane to build skill with" as it has limited function in my opinion. But, it is a sweet little tool!!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Longview WA
    Blog Entries
    All the above is as good if not better than my advise toward a new plane purchase.

    My curiosity is piqued about the Buck plane. Was it bought used or new?

    If it is a newer one, then it may suffer from the collective race to the bottom of trying to produce a cheaper tool.

    If it is an older one, it may just need adjustments and fettling.

    Fettling is a word you will hear a lot around neanders with old tools.

    It can not be emphasized enough how important it is to learn the art of sharpening.

    One word of advise though, keep quiet about your sharpening abilities around the neighbors or they will want you to sharpen everything they own.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Fort Gordon, GA
    John -

    It's only a condemnation of my lack of craftsmanship. While others may have mistakes that can be corrected with gentle stroking of a block plane, my joinery corrections require aggressive application of a scrub and lots of putty!

    Waiting for information about your pursuit of the perfect London Dovetail....
    - jbd in Denver

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Springfield, IL
    You guys are great! Not identical responses/avdice, but certainly consistent. I'm guessing it would be a good idea to take a class at woodcraft or maybe even join a woodworkers club to get some hands-on tutoring. It certainly would shorten the learning curve. I knew when I was typing my origonal post that I'd follow it up shortly after receiving my first plane with a post titled "sharpening plane blades for newbies". Thanks!

  11. First, I must say that I own several LN and LV planes, generally the more exotic models that collectors of the vintage Stanley planes have priced out of the ballpark. That being said, there are two prevailing theories out there as to initial plane buying. The first is to buy a new high quality plane at retail so you will know how a plane should work, then consider vintage stanleys. The second is to get your "feet wet" with some lower cost used Stanleys, which can be made to function quite well (Hock blade replacement, etc., but this too is subject to debate) and then add more specialized planes as you go at "retail" from LN/LV. Since you are talking about starting with a block plane and a #4, there are plentyl of very servicable used Stanleys out there, and frankly, vintage Stanley block planes (heck, even new "contractor grade" Stanley block planes, one of my user low angle blocks is a newer Stanley) can be just as functional as a LV or LN (and I own both as well). A nice Stanley 9 1/2 standard angle block plane can be had for relatively little, see Walt who is a member here, or watch the classifieds here or on WoodNet or other forums; they come up pretty regularly in the $35 to $45 range, and you generally get a full description from someone who knows and has used the plane.

    A final note, IMHO you can't go wrong with any of the LV or LN products if that's what you end up doing, so if you can afford it, go for it. Just giving you the options.


  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Springfield, IL
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Koepke View Post
    My curiosity is piqued about the Buck plane. Was it bought used or new?
    I bought it new about 6 years ago from Lowes. The entirety of the the instructions that came with it would fit on a business card, and even though there's only a couple of things to adjust in the setup process, I've never been able to get it set up correctly or tight enough to hold the set up.

    I printed the Veritas block plane instructions off of their website, and they're 6 pages long. That along should make a difference.

  13. #13
    This is easy. In this order:

    1. A Veritas Low Angle Jack. Capable of a LOT of different things, if you buy an extra blade.
    2. A Lie Nielsen 102 Low Angle Block Plane. Handy, quick, and sweet.
    3. A Lie Nielsen Low Angle Adjustable Mouth Block Plane. A bigger block plane that doubles as a smoother.


  14. #14
    Dave, excuse me for a slight hijack interruption! John, if the weather warms sufficiently, this next week will be my first attempt at handcut DTs. I have all tools in hand (so to speak), and have studied it to death. I am ready!!

    Dave, back to you. John and Jim are right regarding sharpening. The difference between a very sharp plane, and a slightly dull plane is night and day! And, in use, you will know immediately when you cross that line.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Dayton Ohio

    Best beginner plane...

    The new premium line block plane from Lee Valley is the best option for a beginner. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is, in my opinion, the best. Even better than the L-N. While you cannot tell any difference between the cutting of any similar planes that are properly set up, the difference is in the process of making the adjustments.
    Stanleys need to be tuned. Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley are both ready to use. The premium is the easiest to adjust.

    Many plane owners will set up two similar planes differently so that they can use one for coarse and another one for fine cutting. The premium makes the adjusting process so easy it begs you to adjust, and the stop on the mouth prevents damage to the blade if clearing shavings. I would recommend this plane, with an extra blade sharpened at a higher angle over all others (if you can afford it). Also consider it won't rust (except the blade).

    Later you will need a longer plane. I recommend either the L-N or L-V bevel-up types, again with an extra blade sharpened at a higher angle.


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