Bevel Up Plane – The One Plane To Rule Them All?

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Veritas low angle Jack plane vs Stanley No 5

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.

low angle plane vs standard

The bevel up plane iron (left) goes in to the plane with the bevel facing upwards – hence the name. Another unique feature is the low angle that the iron is held in the plane body. This combination gives the ability to sharpen the iron at a wide range of cutting angles, which makes the bevel up plane ideal for taking on more challenging smoothing tasks (using a high cutting angle) along with end grain work (using a low cutting angle).

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 find varied cambers incredibly important for taking on the full range of hand planing. Bevel up plane irons are a faff at best when it comes to medium to heavy cambers, so I reserve this plane for smoothing and end grain work.

I find varied cambers incredibly important for taking on the full range of hand planing. Bevel up plane irons are a faff at best when it comes to medium to heavy cambers, so I reserve this plane for smoothing.

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.

Thelow angle jack plane is excellent for shooting end grain

The bevel up plane is excellent for shooting end grain

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.

And as a final note, we’d like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas!
Thank you for all of your support this year – it certainly means a lot. And thanks Barry.

In the New Year we’ll be launching a new Video Series that may well help if you’re struggling to shave your bollocks. So stay tuned!

25 Responses

  1. Len A

    Merry Christmas to you and Helen.

    As you know I always look forward to any new series from you but is there any good news you can share on the Plane Build videos?

    As always your knowledge and down to earth plain talking makes much sense. An interesting article.

    All the best for another successful year to you both.

    Len

    Reply
    • Richard Maguire

      Thanks Len,
      The plane video is also on it’s way, seems pointless to apologise again for the delay, but just life doing it’s thing and getting in the way. It’s all but finished though.

      Have a great Christmas!

      Reply
      • Len A

        Great news Richard and we are very patient as we know how good it will be when it is released. Wood has been seasoning well and irons and cap irons safely stored away waiting for their day.

        Len

        Reply
  2. Jasper

    Yes, you want to use these for finishing purposes only.
    Even more so when you throw “clearance angle” into the mix.
    Unless you enjoy working metal more than working wood.

    Reply
  3. Kermit

    Well, blast. A low-angle for shooting, eh? Maybe I should have asked for one for Christmas.

    I’m in agreement about the Stanley/Bailey planes. I have 7, 6, 5, 4, and 2 #3’s, a couple of block planes, and an assortment of filister, plough, shoulder, rabbet, etc., and a few self-made Krenovs. I estimate that 80% of my work gets done with the 5 and the 3’s. Your mileage may vary.

    Reply
  4. Tom Rathbun

    Some of my low angle block planes have a camber. It seems to change the cutting angle, making knots easier to deal with.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS

    Reply
  5. Blaz

    I own this plane an I love it. in fact I only own three metal planes and they are all low angle (jack, small smoother and block plane). I find low angle jack a precision plane. For rough removal they invented toothed blade but I am yet to try it one day. And yes it is not suitable for heavy cambered blades. But it anyway hurts me if I have to attack a board with such a nice plane. I prep my boards with a machine and then clean it with a jack. I also find that it is a bit heavy to do raised panels for example.

    Merry Christmas to everybody. May Santa bring you all a low angle jack.

    Reply
  6. Salko Safic

    I also agree the old stanley’s are better to use due to their light weight, chipbreakers that you can hone a small steeper secondary degree bevel and eliminate tearout entirely and not to forget their thin irons that are so much easier to sharpen than the modern thick A2 steel.

    I also have a Veritas shooting plane and besides the iron which takes a lot to sharpen I reckon this plane out benefits the low angle jack 1000 times over. Shooting end grain is such a pleasure and most of the time effortless.

    Reply
  7. davidos

    i still can’t seem to get my head around low angle, high angle, bevel up, bevel down .i own a veritas jack(bevel up) and two stanleys a 4 & 5 . i know i’m sharp but angles and chambers seem to go over my head .for example. yes the veritas works great for shooting but at what angle ? does it depend on the wood been shot? do you open the mouth full or is it better tight ? its hit and miss with me trial and error .
    the internet is full of projects to be made but very little about setting the tools right to make the projects more enjoyable. that’s why i love this channel you give that insight .i.e having a chisel sharpened up dead square to chop a mortise. .thanks. a simple thing but it makes a huge difference. hope you do a sharpening vid for us.
    happy christmas.
    dave

    Reply
  8. Mark Terry

    I just want you to know that I sincerely enjoy your posts. They always seem to make sense, and are relevant to my needs.
    Thanks, and happy holidays.
    Mark

    Reply
  9. Andrew Margeson

    I think you are right. It is very tiring to read the people who take absolute positions with regard to bevel up and bevel down planes.

    Reply
  10. Andy Kevill

    The Veritas LAJ has become my most used plane. When I started woodworking about three years ago, I was advised to get a Bailey style #4 and essentially I couldn’t get it to work decently: it was hard to turn what I read in the books into practice. Than I saw the LAJ in a tool shop and I could see how it worked just by looking at it. I’ve put a very slight camber on the blade which makes bringing edges down to square a fairly straightforward operation. In severe cases of out of square you can just shove the blade into a skew position using the adjuster.

    In short this is my plane for getting everything generally flat and I don’t care if there’s a bit of tear out because I take care of that with a Bailey style jointer which I always use to get real flatness. (I’ve managed to crack the mysteries of Bailey planes but I reckon I couldn’t have done it without developing an understanding of planing itself via the LAJ). In my humble and untutored opinion, the LAJ is the definitive beginners plane because it is mechanically simple and seriously effective.

    Reply
  11. Matthew

    Merry Christmas to you all! Look forward to what the new year brings. Just made your English style plank bench and so far the test drive is pretty sweet. Thanks for everything

    Reply
  12. Patrick

    May you and Helen have a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!
    Cheers!

    Reply
  13. Brett Thorne

    I have owned a low angle jack from both Lie-Nielsen and Veritas and they where both great to work with. I particularly liked how they felt with a low center of gravity. However I never found that they cut end grain much better than my sharp Stanley planes. The 12 degree bed angle and the 25 degree primary bevel with a 5 degree secondary gave me a 42 degree overall angle. That just wasn’t enough difference from the Stanley planes to make a huge difference for me. The back bevel issue with a low angle is a pain as well, but if you plane like Richard where you turn the plane sideways as your return the plane to is starting stroke, I think this would be a non-issue. Something I am doing now with Richards great video instructions.

    I recently purchased a Veritas custom No. 5 and really enjoy it. I wonder if a 40 degree frog in that would do a keen job on end grain? I’ll have to try it out!!

    Thanks Richard and Helen for all your great videos. I just purchased all three and can’t wait for new ones to come out. Happy Holidays!!!

    Brett

    Reply
  14. Dan Murphy

    Hi Richard. Merry Christmas to you, Helen and Jeremy!

    Out of curiosity, have you tried making one of your (bevel-down) wooden planes with a 40-degree bed angle? In principle, it should cut end grain just as well as a bevel-up plane with a 12-degree bed angle, while having all the nice sharpening properties of bevel-down planes.

    Reply
  15. Dan

    I’m feeling like a simpleton, but I’m not getting how a bevel up requires a more exaggerated camber to match a bevel down (but I know it must be true).

    In the instance of the first photo, showing a BU next to a BD, let’s presume both of their effective cutting angles are identical. Wouldn’t the radius of the bevel be the same regardless of which side was on the wood??

    My lack of understanding of this is matched closely by my lack of ability to illustrate my thinking. Apologies. But thanks to anyone for their help.

    Dan

    Reply
  16. St.John Starkie

    Have you tried one with a toothing iron?
    Plane any which way you like with no tear out.
    Bloody brilliant.

    Reply
  17. Dennis

    After getting the tearout under control on my bailey smoothers using your youtube guide (also a year of experimenting beforehand, but it was your video that allowed me to get consistent results) I have been wondering… what’s the point of a bevel up plane when a good ole stanley does it without flaw?

    I don’t own one, never tried one. I only buy used tools and so far I’ve never come across a used bevel up plane. Based on this blog post it works as a jack for difficult grains (though how much better than a properly set up stanley I dunno?) and for end grain planing.

    Reply

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