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How to choose a bench plane?

How to choose a bench plane

Shop for Woodworking Hand Planes
Metal and wooden bench planes Choosing a bench plane depends on the types of woodwork you do, whether you prefer to work with metal or wooden planes and, if you prefer metal ones, whether a standard or low-angle plane suits you best. Another consideration is, of course, cost.

Metal vs. wooden

Coffin-shaped wooden bench plane The comparative lightness of a wooden bench plane can make it preferable for those who find planing physically challenging. Wood is also the more aesthetic, tactile option for some woodworkers.
Stanley Bailey style metal jack plane However, the metal versions are generally easier to adjust for most people and are the most popular choice today.

Low-angle vs. the standard Stanley-Bailey design

Low-angle jointer plane Low-angle, bevel-up planes are generally easier to set up, and they have a lower centre of balance so can be better for the actual job of planing, too.
Mouth adjustment of low-angle plane is easy It’s much easier to adjust the mouth opening of a low-angle plane. You have to partially dismantle a standard Stanley/Bailey type to get to the frog release and adjuster screws, and even then you need a screwdriver.
Stanley Bailey style iron depth adjustment wheel However, the Stanley/Bailey design is easier for blade depth adjustment – you don’t even need to take your dominant hand off the rear handle. It’s also generally claimed that the blade depth adjuster of the Stanley/Bailey design has less backlash than the low-angle plane’s Norris-style adjuster. See What is backlash for more details of this common problem with hand plane iron depth adjusters.

New vs. second hand

Second-hand planes might be better than some new ones Some experienced woodworkers believe good-condition, older planes, even up to 100 years old, are superior to moderately-priced new ones as the materials used in their manufacture are better.

It might take a little while to set up a second-hand plane (see How to set up a metal bench plane and How to set up a wooden bench plane) but the results could be better than if you bought a new one.

Veritas smoothing plane However, if you’re willing to pay, there are high-quality new planes available that are generally considered to be among the very best.

What’s the most versatile bench plane?

Low-angle jack plane The low-angle jack plane is perhaps the most versatile of all bench planes. It can be used effectively for stock removal (reducing the size of the piece of wood), truing (levelling and straightening) and even smoothing the wood.
Irons for low-angle bench plane The way to get the most out of the low-angle jack is to have a number of blades honed to give different cutting angles for a variety of tasks.
Wonkee Donkee on the best bench plane to buy; woodworking hand planes

Ease of uses vs. past experience

Low-angle jack plane If you’re new to woodworking and are only buying one bench plane, Wonkee recommends a low-angle jack plane.
Stanley Bailey jack plane If you’ve had experience of using a standard bench plane and like the feel of it in use, then a Stanley / Bailey-style jack plane would be a good choice. A jack plane can also do the work of a smoothing plane and a fore plane to an acceptable quality.
Rough sawn wood If your projects involve taking wood from its rough-sawn state through to smooth finished pieces, you will need more than one plane – a jointer and a jack, or a fore and a smoothing plane would be useful combinations, unless you can afford three or even all four bench planes!Again, get low-angle planes if you’re looking for ease of setting up, or standard Stanley / Bailey-type planes if you have experience of them and like their feel.

But wood still has its attractions…

Wooden bench plane with Norris adjuster If you’re fixed on wooden planes due to their look and feel and their closer relationship to the material you’re working on, you need to decide between the basic type and those with additional features such as handles and blade depth and lateral adjustment mechanisms.
Wooden bench plane and mallet Purists will happily embrace the challenges of adjusting irons with a hammer and removing and wedging them in with a mallet. Others may sacrifice some of the tradition and nostalgia for convenience.

The cost factor

A cheap smoothing plane You can pay very low prices for some new planes, but the quality of the materials used, accuracy of machining and hardness of the iron are unlikely to be sufficient. At the other end of the scale, some metal smoothing and jack planes cost several hundred pounds, but the quality is vastly superior.
Low-angle jointer plane Naturally, the bigger the plane, the more expensive it’s likely to be. This is why jointer planes, which are up to 610mm (24″) long, usually cost more than other bench planes of similar quality.
Second-hand jack plane Unless you have a big budget, it’s probably best to go for something in between the expensive and cheaper ones, or to look at second-hand options with a view to perhaps spending a little time on the set-up.
Wooden bench planes Although generally less popular than metal ones, wooden bench planes are still manufactured by specialist firms, but these tend to be very expensive.If you’re on a budget, it might be best to look at the large number of second-hand wooden planes available. You should easily be able to find used wooden bench planes in good condition at a reasonable price both online and in some second-hand and “antiques” outlets.

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