I first bought my bevel up Jack for planing end grain on thick workbench tops.
I’d always been a normal steel, conventional plane kind of chap before building benches, but as I touched on last time, hand tools can moan and groan a bit at certain woods, and I was building with a lot of kiln dried ash.
A few specialist tools made a huge difference, and the bevel up plane was perfect for all that thick end grain work.
The Attraction Of A Bevel Up Plane
That’s my particular love for these bevel up planes – they’re excellent for the low angle stuff.
And of course there’s a lot of people who love them for the opposite end of things – the high angle smoothing.
This is the attraction of a bevel up (or low angle) plane, that ability to change the cutting angle to these extremes.
Limitations Of The Bevel Up Plane
There is a place where I question the ability of the bevel up plane though – and that’s just on the versatility thing.
You’ll often hear that these make such versatile planes. And they do, at the ends of the spectrum.
But a lot of the time people forget to consider the middle ground. It’s just so very middle.
We always think of extreme. We always think of the problems.
If you work almost exclusively by hand, then the middle ground accounts for most of the planing that you’ll do.
Taking rough through to general shavings, all with an iron that’s cambered by varying amounts.
It’s those cambers which separate the bevel-up from a conventional plane when it comes to the middle ground.
And it’s the conventional plane that wins.
Thick Iron, Hard Steel + Bevel Up. A Bad Combination For Cambers.
The bevel up plane seems to be in it’s own realm when it comes to iron thickness. They are monstrous.
This alone makes sharpening a chore. Add in a camber and that chore becomes an overwhelming job.
Cambers on a bevel up plane iron are just awkward. They need to be more exaggerated, so there’s just a huge amount of material removal to deal with.
I’m not saying cambers can’t be done on these planes.
But fiddling about with cambers on my normal thin irons, is no harder than the standard sharpening routine.
The Importance Of Keeping Sharp.
The sharpness and set up of your tool is ultimately more important than the tool itself. And getting sharp is such a regular event when building by hand.
Getting sharp has to be a reaction.
If it becomes more like an ordeal, or even just a pain in the arse, then I’ll think twice about it. And then I’ll have a pot of tea, and it’s all down hill from there.
Setting and sharpening cambers is so easy on my Stanley, that I won’t consider the bevel up plane an option for the heavy to medium planing tasks.
For my furniture making I find my Stanley truly is versatile, and can deal with every part of a build. I can get by with this one tool.
I can’t deny though that bevel up planes are wonderful at the extremes. Nothing can plane end grain like a low angle – it just can’t be done.
My particular low angle Jack plane is a Veritas, and I don’t think you could get a better plane for shooting with.
So if you use machines for the majority of your prepping, then the bevel up plane may be that ‘ultimate versatile plane’.
But if you’re thoroughly hand tool woodworking, I do think you’ll always want something like a conventional Jack plane as your foundation, and then you can work around that.
N.B For a thorough understanding of your edges, including how to sharpen efficiently, understanding the sharpening kit, flat backs, creating cambers, knowing the optimum cutting angle, different set ups for different tools…
Basically, to learn everything the hand tool woodworker needs to know about Sharpening planes and chisels, have a look at our latest Video Series.