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Thread: learning hand planes: confused about pros and cons of bevel up versus bevel down

  1. #1
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    learning hand planes: confused about pros and cons of bevel up versus bevel down

    Hi all,

    I had some real fun this summer learning the basics of hand planes. I restored an old Stanley 60 1/2 that I got on ebay (mostly just involved flattening the bottom) and I bought a Lee Valley Veritas low angle jack plane and a Lee Valley Veritas low angle block plane (a bit larger than the 60 1/2). I also spent some time with an old Stanley No. 4, but it was a friends and I have since returned it to him.

    I have had good results learning to sharpen the blades -- I use veritas honing guides and diamond lapping stones and 3M lapping films to get very sharp blades. And I have learned how to use the planes to the point were I get nice wispy and micro thin shavings. While I am no expert, I am getting quite satisfactory results smoothing wood with the planes in multiple applications.

    I know that low angle, bevel-up planes are supposed to be better for end grain work and that standard (bevel down) planes are supposed to be better for general purposes and for "difficult" wood. As you can see from the above, most of my experience is with low angle planes. I find the bevel up approach easy to understand, and the simpler mechanism easy to set up.

    I am going to purchase another plane soon: a Number 4 smoother which will fit nicely in between the two sizes I have and should be very versatile for me. I am going to a local Lee Nielsen event and I know they make beautiful planes. Like Lee Valley Veritas, Lie Nielsen make a standard bedded bevel down No 4 plane and a low angel No 4 plane equivalent. The low angle planes for both manufacturers are cheaper, undoubtedly because they do not have the additional heavy chip breaker that the bevel down planes use. I am trying to understand what the true pros and cons are for bevel up versus bevel down in a number 4 size smoother.

    I know that I will have a chance to explore this in person at the Lie Nielsen event, but would welcome any thoughts from the experts here to help me get my thoughts together before I am confronted with two beautiful planes and have to make a choice (or, God forbid, not).

    Thanks!

    -dan

  2. #2
    You should try both to determine what you like. Both styles can be made to work. You will get a million opinions , all as valid as (read, more valid than) mine:

    Bevel ups are good with end grain, are easier to reset the blade on, and have a low center of gravity which just feels better in some situations.

    Bevel downs handle trickier grain easier if you know how to set the breaker real close to the edge.

    For these reasons i like my bevel up jointer and jack, and my bevel down smoother. I also own a low angle block and a small bevel up smoother (which i use like a large, handled block plane).

    It took me a long time to conclude that some of the purported benefits about blade angle interchangeability on the low angles and frog/bed angle adjustability on the bevel downs do not matter to me; you can make a quality plane in either style work in your hands. Sharpening well and often, and learning to read wood trump the style of plane any day for the general woodworker.


    In the end the best advice is to continue what you are doing: Try them both. Live with them for a year or two. You will discover your own truth about this all.

  3. #3
    Here are some things to think about when comparing the two types of planes.

    Price: New bevel-up planes are less expensive than bevel-down planes of equivalent quality because they are mechanically simpler.

    Angle of attack: For bevel-up planes, you can hone blades with different angles, and easily swap out the blade to change the pitch, or angle of attack of the blade. A lower angle has less resistance and is also good for cutting end grain. A higher angle generally will reduce tearout in difficult woods, but will have lower surface quality in non-tearout situations. For bevel-down planes, the only way to change the angle for most planes is by using a back bevel. (For some planes, you can swap the frog for a higher-angle one, but this is more involved than just swapping blades, and there aren't many planes for which a different angle frog is available.)

    Chipbreaker: Bevel-down planes have a chipbreaker; bevel-up planes do not. A closely-set chipbreaker is very, very effective in reducing tearout.

    Adjustable mouth: The BU planes from Veritas and Lie-Nielsen have an adjustable mouth. Most BD planes don't have an adjustable mouth, though there are exceptions, like the Veritas Custom plane series. A tight mouth helps reduce tearout.

    Dealing with tearout: For a bevel-up plane, you can use a blade with a higher angle. For a bevel-down plane, you can move the chipbreaker very close, and/or use a back bevel. My impression is that back bevels are uncommon in practice, though. In my experience, a steep blade angle in a BU plane (55-degree blade plus 12-degree bed, for a 67-degree angle of attack) deals with tearout a bit better than a 45-degree BD plane with a very, very close chipbreaker, but it only matters in very difficult wood. Others may have different opinions about this.

    Lateral adjustment: I find that the lateral adjustment for my Veritas BU planes is difficult to fine tune, due to the Norris-style adjuster. I think the Lie-Nielsen BU planes are similar, but I don't know for sure because I haven't used them. The lateral adjustment for Stanley-style BD planes is much easier to control.

    Camber: Blades for bevel-up planes require much more curvature to achieve the same effective camber as a bevel-down blade. For me, it's not worth the trouble to significantly camber a blade for a BU plane. If you haven't seen Derek Cohen's article about it, you should take a look: https://www.inthewoodshop.com/Woodwo...aneBlades.html


    My most-used planes are bevel-down Stanley #5 planes. They're used to remove material quickly, and therefore have significantly cambered blades. If you haven't used a plane with a heavily cambered blade before, it's a revelation what it allows you to do. Cambering is very important to the way I use my planes. I think most introductions to using planes treat it as an advanced topic, when it really should be one of the first things that people learn about, in my opinion. For jack plane that gets used for roughing work, there's no question that a bevel-down plane is the way to go, because it is easier to use a heavily cambered blade.

    But you're asking about a smoother, where you wouldn't use a significant camber. I guess I don't have a strong feeling either way. If you get a bevel-up plane, I'd suggest getting a second blade for it, which you'd hone at a higher angle to reduce tearout in difficult grain.

  4. #4
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    There is good information above, but one statement might be a momentary lapse about metal planes.

    Most BD planes don't have an adjustable mouth
    Bevel down wood bodied planes do not usually have a convenient way to adjust the mouth.

    All my Stanley/Bailey planes and just about every plane that looks to be a copy of the style allow the user to move the frog back and forth as an adjustment to the mouth.

    Since you already use and get good performance from the Veritas LA Jack, you might want to get the LA smoother so as to use the same blades in either plane. Then you can have one blade with a higher angle for the tricky times.

    A Stanley/Bailey #4 is an inexpensive plane. My two #4s are pushing 130 years and still work fine. This would at least give you a feeling for the bevel down planes. #5s are also inexpensive. As Winston mentions the #5 is a good plane for truing and dimensioning rough lumber.

    Then if you like the BD planes but want one of higher build quality, you will be confident it will be something that works for you.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  5. #5
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    I strongly recommend a LN #4 in ductile iron or bronze, with the standard angle frog. Excellent tool.

    I think BD planes are more versatile due to the ability to use the chipbreaker. This allows you to plane just about anything without tearout. With BU you can increase the blade's bevel angle to mitigate tearout, but you will get a poorer surface finish (especially on softer woods) and the cuts require more force. The only thing the BU can do that the other can't is go to a lower cutting angle - if you sharpen the bevel at 25 degrees then your effective cutting angle is 37 degrees, whereas you're always at 45 degrees in a BD plane. I've only found this to be useful in special situations, and even in those situations the standard angle planes worked almost as well.

    Another big advantage to BD planes is the adjustment mechanism. The bailey style adjuster (which is what LN uses) has not been improved upon, and is much better than the norris-style adjusters used on the bevel up planes (b/c there's no room for the bailey style adjuster). For a smoothing plane this is important because you will need to set the tool for .001" shavings at times, or even less, and getting the depth set accurately and the lateral adjustment dead on is much easier. The norris style adjusters I've used all seemed too "fast" for fine settings, and overshooting your intended adjustment is very easy. I'd rather adjust with hammer taps to be honest.

    This is a no-brainer especially since you already have a BU jack in case you want to plane an end grain cutting board or something.

  6. #6
    I agree with Robert that the bevel down planes are more desirable. I started researching double iron planes (bevel down) in 1973. I stopped using all bevel up planes and sandpaper over forty years ago.

    The block plane was developed as a carpenter's plane for "blocking in". This is a technique where a board or piece of molding was trimmed on the end to make a tight fit in an opening. The piece was first sawn a small amount oversize then trimmed with a block plane to fit snugly. The block plane could be kept in an apron and used with one hand while holding the piece of wood in the other. The term block plane dates to about 1880.

    The "low angle jack" was originally No. 62 a plane designed to cut endgrain butcher blocks. They were introduced in 1905. The modern versions were designed and promoted by people who did not actually know how to use a double iron plane.

  7. #7
    The norris style adjusters I've used all seemed too "fast" for fine settings, and overshooting your intended adjustment is very easy.
    Lee Valley does sell a "slow" norris adjuster with a finer thread for those that find the standard one too coarse.

  8. #8
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    This is all very helpful thanks. I was leaning toward getting the standard no 4 for many of the reasons stated above and also for the learning aspect. Much appreciated

  9. #9
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    Hey Dan

    If you're anywhere near Cockeysville/Hunt valley you're welcome to stop by try out some different planes. I've got the "Big 3" LV bevel up planes and a lot of Stanleys from 3-6. I've also got most of the other LV planes, rabbet, shoulder, plow, router, shooting, etc.

    Brian
    Last edited by Brian Hale; 10-23-2019 at 12:19 PM.
    The significant problems we encounter cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

    The penalty for inaccuracy is more work

  10. #10
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    This post is 18 hours old and only three replies? We're slowing down

    I have both types of planes. Bevel down in #3, #4, #4 1/2, and #7. Bevel up in a Shooting plane, a #62 Jack and in some block planes. They all work well if properly applied and well sharpened. Volumes have been written about the relative strengths and weaknesses of both types and some quality time spent searching this site will be a great education.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Luter View Post
    This post is 18 hours old and only three replies? We're slowing down

    I have both types of planes. Bevel down in #3, #4, #4 1/2, and #7. Bevel up in a Shooting plane, a #62 Jack and in some block planes. They all work well if properly applied and well sharpened. Volumes have been written about the relative strengths and weaknesses of both types and some quality time spent searching this site will be a great education.
    One place to start searching is here:

    https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?103805

    It is the Neanderthal wisdom FAQs page or the archive of some of the many informational posts from the past.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  12. #12
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    I would solve the issue by having one of each. That way you can't go wrong.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowell holmes View Post
    I would solve the issue by having one of each. That way you can't go wrong.
    Sounds like my kind of solution:

    Plane Wall.jpg

    There are more in other places around the shop.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  14. #14
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    All, thanks for the replies. Rob — I am not good at searching this site — I tried that first and did not find what I was looking for. Jim thanks for the link to the wisdom thread —very useful. Lowell your “solution” is exactly what I am afraid of. Brian — I am not that close to you (well over an hour) or I would take you up on your kind offer. Thank you Prashun, Winston, Jim, and Warren for your detailed thoughts. Everyone I really appreciate the help.
    Last edited by Dan Gaylin; 10-23-2019 at 9:15 PM.

  15. #15
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    I am not good at searching this site
    For some reason when searching on > using hand plane < the search on the search engine comes up like this:

    using hand plane site:www.sawmillcreek.org

    Remove the > www. < so it is this:

    using hand plane site:sawmillcreek.org

    And the results will look better.

    You may also try changing it up a bit to narrow the results. Try > start hand plane < > sharpening hand plane < > rehab hand plane < etc.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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