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Thread: Heavy vs Light planes

  1. #1
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    Heavy vs Light planes

    There has been some controversy over many years as to the part played by mass in a plane. Some argue that it improves planing and others that it is irrelevant. Higher mass is typically a feature of premium, especially custom planes - among vintage planes, names such as Spier and Norris come to the fore, while Brese, Sauer and Steiner, Holtey, Daed, are among the modern planemakers. Lower mass is found in woodies, such as HNT Gordon, and metal planes such as Stanley. Modern planes, such as Lie Nielsen and Veritas fall into the middle ground.

    The heavier planes were considered de rigueur about 15 years ago. Many of these planes were single iron and high mass, thick irons and a tight mouth were believed to be necessary for performance planing. Generally they fell out of favour, and this was partly as high cutting angles on bevel up planes gained momentum, and then this was accelerated when the close up chipbreaker returned to the equation.

    My high mass planes have sat on the shelf for many years as I found a preference for lighter, more nimble planes which require less physical effort to move around. In smoothers, I like small planes, such as #3 size, and have a few that get rotated, such as a Stanley #3, LN #3, and a Veritas Custom #4 (come on Rob, where’s the #3?). I also have a wonderful high angle woody by HNT Gordon.

    In recent months, spurred by curiosity, I have used a Marcou BU smoother and a LN #4 1/2 Anniversary.



    Note that the LN is planing into reversed grain in interlocked Jarrah ...



    What was this like?

    Well, firstly it brought a smile to my face. Planing was effortless. Push the monster forward, and it peeled off a shaving and left a glowing surface behind. “Monster” is the appropriate term since these planes are not just large physically, but they feel large .. and there is the rub. They disconnect one from the wood. It is a little like pushing a board over a power jointer (although the other way around). There is little that is delicate about this experience so, for those who have a yen for the Jim Krenov spirit, these planes are not for you.

    But they perform or, rather, I believe that the extra mass makes performance easier to achieve, which is likely to suit a lesser experienced person.

    Interestingly, many years ago I described the Marcou as the best performing smoother I had used. This is a bevel up plane, which I set up with a 60 degree cutting angle. I wrote a review years and years ago about this plane, and my esteem for it has not altered. One of the planes it was compared with was a LN #4 1/2. That did quite well .. but that was pre-chipbreaker days. The LN Anniversary, used here, has a lot more mass than the standard LN #4 1/2. It came with a 50 degree frog, which I have replaced with a 45 degree from (after an unhappy and brief time with the 55 degree frog .. can one say immovable tank?). Closing down the chipbreaker is a revelation with this plane. It could go into reversing grain where the Marcou could not. Simple a powerhouse in every way.

    High mass? Definitely not for someone planing all day and every day. But otherwise .. yes .. it does add up to more in a number of ways.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek
    Last edited by Derek Cohen; 06-27-2020 at 10:07 PM.

  2. #2
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    My L-N 4-1/2 weighs about the same as my Type 15 Stanley Bailey 5-1/2.

  3. #3
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    Bob, the LN #4 1/2 in bronze weighs about 2lbs more than the iron version. At around 7 1/2 lbs, similar to the Marcou, and getting close to a Stanley #7. This is serious mass in a smaller plane!

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  4. #4
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    I do wish I had opted for the bronze 4-1/2 when it was still available, and also for a smooth bottom! Oh well.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Derek Cohen View Post
    There has been some controversy over many years as to the part played by mass in a plane. Some argue that it improves planing and others that it is irrelevant. Higher mass is typically a feature of premium, especially custom planes - among vintage planes, names such as Spier and Norris come to the fore, while Brese, Sauer and Steiner, Holtey, Daed, are among the modern planemakers. Lower mass is found in woodies, such as HNT Gordon, and metal planes such as Stanley. Modern planes, such as Lie Nielsen and Veritas fall into the middle ground.

    The heavier planes were considered de rigueur about 15 years ago. Many of these planes were single iron and high mass, thick irons and a tight mouth were believed to be necessary for performance planing. Generally they fell out of favour, and this was partly as high cutting angles on bevel up planes gained momentum, and then this was accelerated when the close up chipbreaker returned to the equation.

    My high mass planes have sat on the shelf for many years as I found a preference for lighter, more nimble planes which require less physical effort to move around. In smoothers, I like small planes, such as #3 size, and have a few that get rotated, such as a Stanley #3, LN #3, and a Veritas Custom #4 (come on Rob, where’s the #3?). I also have a wonderful high angle woody by HNT Gordon.

    In recent months, spurred by curiosity, I have used a Marcou BU smoother and a LN #4 1/2 Anniversary.



    Note that the LN is planing into reversed grain in interlocked Jarrah ...



    What was this like?

    Well, firstly it brought a smile to my face. Planing was effortless. Push the monster forward, and it peeled off a shaving and left a glowing surface behind. “Monster” is the appropriate term since these planes are not just large physically, but they feel large .. and there is the rub. They disconnect one from the wood. It is a little like pushing a board over a power jointer (although the other way around). There is little that is delicate about this experience so, for those who have a yen for the Jim Krenov spirit, these planes are not for you.

    But they perform or, rather, I believe that the extra mass makes performance easier to achieve, which is likely to suit a lesser experienced person.

    Interestingly, many years ago I described the Marcou as the best performing smoother I had used. This is a bevel up plane, which I set up with a 60 degree cutting angle. I wrote a review years and years ago about this plane, and my esteem for it has not altered. One of the planes it was compared with was a LN #4 1/2. That did quite well .. but that was pre-chipbreaker days. The LN Anniversary, used here, has a lot more mass than the standard LN #4 1/2. It came with a 50 degree frog, which I have replaced with a 45 degree from (after an unhappy and brief time with the 55 degree frog .. can one say immovable tank?). Closing down the chipbreaker is a revelation with this plane. It could go into reversing grain where the Marcou could not. Simple a powerhouse in every way.

    High mass? Definitely not for someone planing all day and every day. But otherwise .. yes .. it does add up to more in a number of ways.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek
    Your a hoot Derek. Some philosophical hogwash about James Krenov spirit and lesser experienced woodworkers. The feel of the wood and connection to it. All the while pushing a plane with the chip breaker trying to force the chip back into the wood and leaning on the front knob to keep the the chip breaker from forcing the plane out of the cut. 😂
    Last edited by James Pallas; 06-28-2020 at 1:06 AM.

  6. #6
    Interested to read the thoughts and experiences this hopefully spurs. Personal preference is a large player but there are other interesting points to be discussed.

    Thanks for starting this conversation Derek.

    Jonathan

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Pallas View Post
    ... All the while pushing a plane with the chip breaker trying to force the chip back into the wood and leaning on the front knob to keep the the chip breaker from forcing the plane out of the cut. 
    Jim, in all seriousness, that is part of the equation.

    I have written ad nauseum over the years about planing with a low centre of effort. This equates into planing by pushing the plane horizontally and not downward. These heavy planes do not need to be pushed down at the toe - they do this very well on their own.

    Of course, one still needs to push them forward, and then pull them back.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek (disciple of Krenov)

  8. #8
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    Well stated Derek, as always. I have the Marcou S20 smoother, 8.5 lbs, and just love it.
    My LV smoother is my daily driver for sure, cause it works GREAT and is lightweight...
    but when its time to relax and have some fun for slow go projects, out comes the S20.
    I love the fact it uses Veritas blades, so I always have a series of blades sharpened and ready for use.
    While the cutting is effortless, the back stroke and the moving of the plane on and off the work piece, would wear down my arms / hands if I used it 5 hrs a day. Of course, I am not 20 and super strong either
    Mass is not the answer to everything, as I mentioned in a previous thread, adding weight to a LV Jack and Jointer offered minor benefits. I inserted large metal blocks as passengers on the plane. The weight needs to be in the right components in the plane, primarily in the bed, blade and lever. My S20 has yet to chatter at me!

  9. #9
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    I seem to have gone the other way as I have gravitated towards wooden planes (double iron) over the last two-three years. I enjoy the lighter weight and (to me) the "slicker" feel of the plane sole gliding over the surface of the wood. Before I went almost completely to wooden planes, I was gifted a LN bronze #4 a few years ago and my first impression was that it was a heavy plane, but worked (mechanically) very well as compared to my refurbed older Stanleys. I still use the LN #4 and alternate it with a #3 sized coffin smoother for most of my smoothing tasks. I can't hardly imagine going back to the weight of a #7 when compared to a wood 22" long try plane. I never bought in to the need for a thick iron to assist with the prevention of chatter, or for using an extra heavy plane in general. To me, chatter is a product of a dull iron, too big a bite and a poorly adjusted plane.
    David

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Pallas View Post
    All the while pushing a plane with the chip breaker trying to force the chip back into the wood and leaning on the front knob to keep the the chip breaker from forcing the plane out of the cut. 😂
    Dude.

    Where's your website and collection of Museum quality furniture that you made with your own hands?

  11. #11
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    I like a stout plane too. My LN #4 (bronze) and #4 1/2 (iron) are favorites for smoothing. My LN 62 (iron) weighs the same as my bronze #4. That said, it feels lighter because of the increased footprint. I honed a steeper angle (35*) on a spare iron and it makes for an agile, easy to push smoother at an included cutting angle of 47*. I'll be honing to 40* next so I can use it on tougher grain.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  12. #12
    Hi Derek,

    There is a lot of science in planing but it is difficult to measure and make the observations quantitative and “scientific”. We fall back on feel and preference by necessity. We talk about the planes themselves but the sharpening, set up, the technique, and the piece of wood itself makes everyone’s experience so different. I agree about mass. It powers through irregularities in the grain. I have an ECE Primus smooth plane. It is light and has 50 degree bed angle which make it difficult to operate without hanging up on the grain.

    Enough on agreeing with you at length. My question is why did you need to plane the jarrah against the grain? Did it just work better that way or something else?

    Thomas

  13. #13
    I tried a Marcou "smoother" in 2009 and wrote about it on another forum. David Weaver later reminded me that I said it was like playing ping pong with a cast iron frying pan. The response on the forum was interesting. I was called "delusional", idiotic, stupid, silly, fool, poser, yutz, bozo etc. Somebody from the Marcou camp alerted an old pensioner named David Trusty, who then joined the forum just for the purpose of berating me. Trusty thought his colorful language would make up for his inexperience with planes. Raney Nelson wrote me a private note of sympathy, but he did not take on the pack in public. I think the moderators thought I deserved the treatment I got for daring to criticize something so shiny and expensive.

    Historic smoothing planes were not much more than a pound. The workers could have added weights to the plane if such were any benefit; they did not. People talk about momentum as if it comes out of the air, but in fact it is created by the force of the user. It takes more effort to get a heavy plane going, more effort to stop it, and more effort to lift it. More work just to put it on the shelf. We don't wind up the propeller and let the plane fly. We have more control guiding the plane as we work. With a smoothing plane especially the effort to push it is minimal.

    It looks like Marcou still hasn't figured out how to use a double iron plane, or that a plane iron 1/4 inch thick is easily three times what is needed, or that those six extra pounds are not a benefit. Why can't these guys learn how to use a plane?

  14. #14
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    Warren, to be fair to Philip Marcou, he was a furniture maker first-and-foremost, and a very good one, turning to plane making when he migrated to New Zealand and discovered there was not a market for his furniture. His own choice in planes were Records, and he knows how to use a plane.

    These heavy planes - and not just his - were a sign of the times. It seems a lifetime ago, but it was only a decade. Heavy planes, high angle beds (these remain relevant), back bevels, ultra thick blades (which are still with us) ... all were considered relevant then. For some, these remain the zenith for plane design.

    I would like to say that Jim Krenov got it right - light, simple planes that become an extension of the hand. I have one of his planes., and I have made copies. They work and work well, both on performance and feedback. But, as far as I am aware, Jim worked with less complex woods and did not use a chipbreaker in his planes (when he sent me a plane of his, the chipbreaker was pulled back). He never wrote about it in his books.

    I was using my HNT Gordon smoother today: light, effortless, high cutting angle with a single iron. Wonderful performer.

    The point is, that there is no one way to get it right. What can we learn from the different approaches?

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  15. #15
    Derek, below is the reply I posted at wood central.


    I appreciate you bringing up the topic and laying your cards on the table. As a maker of wooden planes, I am obviously biased, so that's my disclaimer. All the same, a couple comments are in order.
    First, I have a bone to pick with how you frame the issue. You define a "premium, custom" plane exclusively as an infill or metal-bodied plane. Raney did the same thing in an article that someone recently reposted on Sawmill creek. I think this is very unfair. Wooden plane makers build planes one at a time or in small batches; they are every bit as custom as the metal planes. They are made to very high standards, so they are every bit as "premium" or "high end" as the infills, even if the price tag is lower.
    Second, I disagree with how you lump metal Stanley planes in with "woodies" as being "lower mass." A Stanley jack is roughly twice the weight of a beech jack: the difference is huge. The only "low mass" planes are woodies: metal planes are either heavy (Stanley), really heavy (modern copies of Stanley), or extremely heavy (infills and related).
    As to the issue of which is preferable: it has to be framed in terms of the work one does. If one is merely smoothing the ripples left by an expensive combo machine like you use, then it doesn't matter that much. But if one is doing heavy work, it matters a lot. I would suggest a simple formula: the ideal weight is inversely proportional to the amount of physical labor required. Try flattening a large table top with a no.5 followed by no.8, then try the same with vintage beech jack and try planes. I think there is no comparison, none. Though I will close by reiterating that I am biased on the topic.
    "For me, chairs and chairmaking are a means to an end. My real goal is to spend my days in a quiet, dustless shop doing hand work on an object that is beautiful, useful and fun to make." --Peter Galbert

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