Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Exploring my minimalist list, part 1 the Bench planes.

For a so called "minimalist" list, it may seems at first to be a tad bloated with too many planes choices?

Lets go thru them and see what options we have, and why these made it to my list. Will also look at various options for various budget. The point being, you do not have to follow blindly any list, including mine. What you need to do is to understand why some of these tools repeat themselves on many such "minimalist" lists, in order to make your best educated buys.

Always buy the best quality tools you can afford, you will never regret it and will save money down the road.  You can save lots of money by buying vintage, but you must be aware of what to look for and: Would it be possible to put this hunk of rust back into a working tool?
Regardless of the way you go, new or vintage, you MUST learn to sharpen all your tools as required, yes including your handsaws... Don't panic it is not that hard...

And finally, we will look at various not so essentials tools to add for each category that will come in handy. But understand that these basic tool lists are based on the premise that you will be making mostly furniture type projects. Whatever directions you want to go in, say; Luthery, carving, turning or simply works at smaller or bigger scale, will have obviously an impact on your tool list.
For example, if you work mostly in smaller projects, a No 8 jointer or bigger is obviously longer than necessary, a No 5 would probably do the trick nicely.

And finally, borrowing from Chris's Coarse, Medium and Fine, concept, the number and type of tools are influenced by it.

So lets look at my plane selection closer. Prices, were indicated, are in CDN funds, rounded up, at time of writing.
Not responsible if prices of vintage suddenly goes up and become sought after :-)

Bench planes

These, using the Stanley nomenclature system, comes from the diminutive No 1 to the behemoth of a cast iron beast, the 24 in long No 8 jointer.
In the Stanley system, these are the No 1 (1-1/8 pound), 2, 3, 4, 4-1/2 Smoothers
The  No 5, 5-1/4, 5-1/2 Jacks
And finally No 6, 7, 8 (9-3/4 pound) Jointers

From L-R No 2, 3, 4, 4-1/2, 5, 5-1/2, 6, 7, 8, my 5-1/4 is MIA?
would have fit between No 4-1/2 and No 5

Pic taken with all heel of the planes in line 
to better show the sizes difference

In this older pic, No 5-1/4 is there but No 5-1/2 is missing, sigh!
I'm getting the idea that my jacks don't want to all play together!

So which ones do you need? One from each category would be all you need, which Nos will depend on physical attributes (size of your hands, upper body strength etc) and of course, what scale are you working on. Some planes can be customized with various sizes front knobs and rear totes. I highly recommend that you spend some times getting these sized correctly for your hands, and if your vintage one has a broken horn, DO repair or replace it. A well fitted tote in your hand makes a big difference in your planing experience.
If you are unsure which totes and knobs shape you are more comfortable with, I would highly recommend going to your near by stockist which carries the Lee-Valley new custom line of planes. Not only are these great planes, but you can try various shapes of tote and knobs to see which ones fit your hands better, brilliant idea! While you don't have to buy these, you can surely used their size recommendation to help you out, if you cannot put your hands on them.
And Pst, you can retrofit some of these on your Vintage Stanley and al...

When squaring stock, the first plane to touch the wood is the Jack (coarse), set for a coarse cut, preferably with a heavy curvature on the blade. I like to use a 8 in radius on my blade.
This should probably be your first plane purchase. A good old vintage Stanley ($15-$50 depending on Type and condition, my favourite being Type 11), grind the original blade with a 8 in radius. It does not have to be super sharp to work, so don't go nuts on it.
Buy a spare blade, preferably a good quality after market, such as Veritas blade / cap iron set for Stanley & Record. This one kept super sharp, transform your vintage jack into a good smoother.

From L-R 
NOS Stanley, Veritas (not No 5 size), Made in West-Germany Chromium Steel and finally the original Stanley SW blade for this plane

Ever wonder how long the original where? Now you know :-)
These are 2 in wide blades, for No 4 and 5 planes.
Imprint this image in your brain bucket, and refer to it when looking at vintage blades to guess how much life is left in them.

A quick word about swapping blades in Leonard Bailey design planes.
If you tried different after market blades you probably noticed that some don't seems to fit as well: the range of adjustments is limited, or the blade wont fit without opening the mouth etc.
These two problems are caused by two different things, the first one is due to the location of the slot to engage the blade advance pawl, the other to the thickness of the blade. Best way to avoid the conundrums with the blade advance pawl is to install the original cap iron on your new blade if you see that there is a noticeable difference in the slot location.

Notice the location of the slot for the blade advance pawl.
The first one on the left is from a Transitional plane, their slot is higher than the traditional Bailey pattern. Veritas is second from the right, it fit my Stanley's :-).
The first blade with the hole on top is pre-1895.

In order to reap the benefits of a smoother, you should spend some time flattening the sole and fettling the plane better than if you were to dedicated it to a scrub/jack.

Another option is to buy a Low Angle Jack, such as the Veritas LA Jack ($280) Add other bevel angle blades (about $42 to $50 ea) and you have a very versatile smoother AND jack / jointer rolled into one. Its mass also makes it a good performer for shooting. If only buying one premium plane, make it this one, it is a very versatile and excellent performer.

My LA jack in use on my shooting board.

Next plane to touch our wood is the joiner or jointer (medium). Its job is to flatten the stock by making it flat. The length of the plane in relation to the length of the piece of wood is key here, hence why it should be scaled to your work.

Although in the Stanley system, jointer stop at 24 in, in wooden jointer they goes to 30 in, and there is nothing to prevent you from making one any length you want.
Coopers (barrel makers) used a very long jointer, 3 to 4 ft long upside down resting on a bipod on one end and passing the wood over the stationary angled down jointer.

Home made joiner. Source

Jointers all work by bridging the small gaps under their long sole, once you pull a full length shaving, you are as flat as can be. Well as flat as the sole will let you that is...

Lastly, the smoother (fine), thanks to its smaller size, is able to work localized spots to reduce tear out and such. Regardless of construction, wood or metal, its sole shall be flat, really flat in order to pull thin fluffy shavings.
If buying vintage, that one should be supertuned, fettled to your best efforts, in order to work as advertised. You have many choices here, from traditional wooden ones, to modern laminated construction to premium metal ones such as LV, LN, Clifton, WoodRiver V3 etc. to the sublime Norris types such as Sauer or Holtey.  Regardless of vintage or types these are only as good as the blade in it and how sharpened.
The bedding angle varies from roughly 40 to 55 degrees, the most often seen being 45. The higher the angle of attack of the blade (the frog angle in bevel down planes), the less prone to tear out it would be, but resistance to pushing it will increase. Skewing the plane can help. Also you need a small mouth (aperture).
Again, size matter to your size of work. A block plane can be used as a smoother so can the LA angle Jack...

Pics from LV site. 
Essentially what you end end up with is a miniature sized LA smoother

By adding a bail tail , you can convert some block planes into a small smoother. Stanley long ago made such a bail tail and now Veritas took the concept a step further by adding a rear tote and front knob ($38), essentially transforming a block plane into a No 3 size smoother. But realize that if you are into model making, a regular block plane, unadorned, could be performing as your smoother or jointer...

Usualy, to reduce plane tracks, the corner of the smoother blade are slightly relieved, while the jointer blade is keep square .

Block plane

You can do without, but it is very handy to have and because of its low angle blade bevel up construction, works great on end grain. Moistening the end grain with alcohol help, so does water, but alcohol does not raise the grain as much because it quickly evaporate.

BTW that steel block plane No 118 is pretty good, and 
you won't cry if you drop it from a ladder... :-)

Block planes comes basically in two types; Regular (20 degrees) and Low Angle (12 degrees). This refer to the bedding angle of the blade, which are mounted bevel up. This translate into easily tuned angle of attack by changing the blade bevel angle, just like our previous LA jack.

If only one, I recommend the LA variety and one fully adjustable: mouth aperture, lateral adjuster and depth adjuster. Stanley No 60-1/2 is the most common variety of these. Another option would be the No 9-1/2 (Regular 20 degrees). Basically a No 9-1/4 with the addition of an adjustable mouth.
These are probably the most produced Stanley block planes, hence they are numerous. Avoid incomplete or badly damaged ones.

How to spot a good block plane, take a look at the bedding surface, how big is the machined area.

Good Record No 060-1/2
Better Sargent No 5306
Best Lie-Nielsen No 60-1/2

And don't forget, block planes comes in a wide variety of size, use whatever is applicable to your type of work. A small sample shown below.

From L-R
Woodriver small chisel plane, LV little Victor, Sargent BL, LV squirrel tail , 
Lie-Nielsen No 60-1/2, Record No 0130

So what would be next? You could get different sized tools to expand your repertoire, but you would get probably more bang for your bucks by investing in spare blades. Just remember to pay attention to the slot location in the cap iron. If you do get spare blades, you should also invest in some sort of protective case or some means to store and protect these blades.

LV cases, pic from their site, about $3 ea

Veritas came out with two sizes of blade case. I like the idea so I bought a bunch, both sizes. It obviously fit their blades perfectly, but the larger ones advertised for the Stanley/Record types of blades does not fit them all! :-(
And forget trying to store your blades with the attached cap  iron, the box wont close. That was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. I own a ''large'' selection of planes and various blades makers, models and vintage etc. There is nothing standard about them. I wrote to them about it and am hoping that if enough people write to them, they may redesign their cases to fit blade AND cap iron... Pst, if you read this write to them :-)

The first one from right is a Veritas Stanley/Record replacement blade made to fit their case, look at the length difference between them all. The NOS blade besides it looks the same but it is slightly longer and the case wont close. The other are all too long

This post was getting too long, so I split it. Next will conclude our look at this plane category; Joint making planes, scrapers.

Bob, trying to raise his spirit by staying occupied


  1. Hi Bob

    Excellent post.
    I showed it to the first mate who has expressed quite some interest in starting to work wood.
    I had told him a bit about planes and also that reading blogs was a great source of information. I showed him your blog, and he was very impressed by your plane collection.

  2. Hi Bob,
    once again an interesting read.
    But weren't you talking about the minimal list? :-)

    Stefan, who is curious to read the second part.

  3. Hi Jonas
    Thank you for your encouragement. Your first Mate is lucky to have you to help him get started on the right path. When we both started years ago, there was no internet, no blogs and etc to help us, as a results there are a few things I would have done different and save a few $$ for sure.

    Cheers to you and your 1st Mate
    Bob, the old Chief Petty Officer (my equiv rank in the Navy)

  4. Well hello Stefan
    yah.. I stayed (or is that strayed) true to my minimalist intents :-)

    I elaborated on my choices in order to show the why and what you could use to achieved the same results at different price points, along with pointing out some accessories or tools I never felt the need for in case some were wondering. In the ends such list remains suggestions based on one experiences.

    Hope you enjoy reading part 2 and the followings ... :-)

    Bob, going thru a rough week