The Right Plane For The Job

32

My favourite plane until now has been a very cute and tiny wooden smoother. It was small enough for me to manage the restoration, nice in the hand and just sweet. Time seems to get the better of me so I’m still very much at that stage of enjoying making shavings rather than much else, but with a considerable amount of help I have seen it to the end of a couple of small pieces.

My attempts to joint a narrow board have been made with my restored wooden jack. I’ve also tried Richard’s Lie Nielsen No 8 just for kicks but it’s heavy and in control of me. Generally I’ll shrink the board right down to nothing before the edge is anything close to square and then one ‘final’ stroke puts it way off again. Practice has improved things but it still feels like I’m missing something. It’s like walking a Jack Russell; with luck on your side you might get to where you want to be.
Wooden Hand Planes I tried the wooden jointer Richard made prior to it having a handle – well it was just sitting there so why not? It was light but cumbersome and I couldn’t really get a grasp.

When the handle was attached Richard set up a narrow board of pine in the vice, ruined the edge of it and then gave me the plane. With a handle the plane was now comfortable and unlike the metal jointer I could actually lift it and it wasn’t top heavy. I sat it on the wood and after a few strokes getting down the high spots I was planing lovely full shavings. Better than the shavings was the feeling of balance. The plane was straight and boxy it referenced itself and felt like it was doing the work for me. I laughed at how for the first time ever it felt like I’d planed square, but as I reached to put the square up I knew full well that it would be all over the shot. But it was perfect, no light. Further down the board the same story. I’d done it right, and it hadn’t felt like pot luck.

I know I shouldn’t blame the tools if I’m struggling with something, but this really was a case of one tool suiting a task and a hand more than another. I still love my smoother of course, but with a light weight jointer in the mix I really feel like I can progress with some real prepping of boards and getting things made, rather than simply making lots of lovely shavings.

Whilst Richard’s new jointer is barely finished, it now lives on my bench.

32 Responses

  1. Joe Freeman

    There definitely seems to be two camps as regards plane weight. Some people find light ones less tiring but I prefer a heavy one as you don’t need to press down as firmly and the mass helps it go through patches of nasty grain.

    When I saw Richard’s plane-making video I thought that I’d be tempted to leave voids in the inner core and fill them with lead shot.

    All that said, my favourite plane remains my Stanley 220.

    Cheers

    Joe

    Reply
    • Helen

      Hi Joe, I certainly noticed the ease of cutting with the Lie Nielsen since the weight held it down so well, I just couldn’t hold the thing up steady! I know Richard’s thinking of oil filling his final wooden planes as it adds weight and also stabilises them.
      Thanks.

      Reply
  2. Steve Tripp

    Quite often it is not about blaming the tools, but about finding the tools that work for you. If certain tools do not work for you, or you cannot efficiently get the tool to work the way you want, you try the next, and the next until you find the one that does. That isn’t blaming the tool. It’s finding your go-to.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Steve, I do feel very fortunate to have such a lot of different tools lying around to try, I imagine this being a great frustration to somebody new, getting in to woodworking.

      Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Swanz, they’ll be out just as soon as Richard makes up his mind on how to go about the build!

      Reply
  3. thekiltedwoodworker

    You shouldn’t maybe blame the tool if you’re struggling with learning the concept of a task, but there most certainly are tools out there more suited to one person than another. And there absolutely are tools out there that do not work as well as they should or do not work as well as other tools designed for the same task.

    Woodworking is a very personal journey. Often, the tools you use on that journey need to be very personal to you. That means finding tools that “fit” you, in how they work and how they feel and even in how they look, to be honest with you. At least that’s how I approach the subject.

    I always seem to have more fun in the shop (which is often times equated to “more success”) when I’m using the tools I’ve selected for the above reasons. These are the tools I have a connection with. To me, having that connection matters.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Ethan, you share your thoughts on that closely with Richard. You should see the looks he gets towards his Jack plane when that goes to a show, but he would never part with it. As I’ve said to another comment I am absolutely privileged to have an arsenal of tools at my disposal while learning, and I’ve also found once I’ve made a connection with a tool I like to stick with it… in other words I tend to steal it 😉

      Reply
  4. Siavosh

    I know exactly how you feel: ” Generally I’ll shrink the board right down to nothing before the edge is anything close to square and then one ‘final’ stroke puts it way off again”. I’m a novice too, and for the last weeks I’ve been milling a bunch of stock by hand, and even though I got it done, it was a struggle (I wrote about my frustrations and philosophical angst with milling by hand here siavoshb.tumblr.com/post/119806976217/after-milling-a-few-pieces-of-wood-by-hand-tedium ).

    I heard somewhere that good tools are your teachers, so definitely agree with the sentiment.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Siavosh, I’ve found that it’s mostly the seemingly simple and most fundamental tasks such as prepping boards accurately that have been the biggest struggle. Keep it up.

      Reply
  5. Rick

    A plane that works with you and not against you! It is a beautiful thing!

    Reply
  6. Joe Laviolette

    I’m with you on the weight! I prefer a lighter wooden plane to a heavy iron one. I find I only need more mass when I’m using an iron I should have sharpened a few weeks ago 🙂 I can’t wait to get my wooden jointer done so I can put the cast iron Stanley’s on the in-case-of-emergency shelf.

    Also don’t feel like you need to master the cast iron jointers at some point. Fine what works and stick with it

    Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Joe, I’m becoming used to the wooden planes now so picking up a metal one does start to feel odd. Best of luck with your jointer build, at this size of plane the difference in weight is pretty noticeable, so I think I’ll be sticking with the one I can actually lift!

      Reply
  7. Ian M. Stewart

    Thank you Helen for your description; “I’ll shrink the board right down to nothing before the edge is anything close to square and then one ‘final’ stroke puts it way off again.” I’ve done that so often, using my Stanley No4. That’s a smoothing plane, and shouldn’t be used for jointing . . .
    Having said that, with lots of practice it can be done, and I’ve jointed pine many a time when that was the only plane I owned. I’m now on the lookout for a suitable wooden jointer, but meanwhile my No6 will have to do. That works for me.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Cheers Ian, I’m pleased I’m not alone in my experience! Starting out with just one plane must make it considerably more difficult to joint but the practice can’t hurt and there’s something nice about having minimal tools to look after. There’s no denying that having a good long plane for this task helps you along.

      Reply
  8. Micheal Kingsley

    I too, can’t wait to see something of the build videos. I’ve made quite a few planes myself, but they were mostly very small planes that I use to carve bracing for guitars and such. That jointer just might be what I need for joining two plate halves together for my future guitars.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Hi Micheal, I’ve found it fascinating how quickly and easily these planes have gone together, so if you can build a guitar these will be a doddle!

      Reply
  9. pierre rousseau

    Hello Helen
    It is nice to see that you are trying and experimenting with different types of planes. Looking at the picture in this post and the previous posts, I have noticed that on Richard’s jointer, the one he just made, the tote is not centred , it is way off to the right side ( this is not a criticism ) but could you tell me why it is like that, i have always seen totes fixed in the center of the plane body.. i am sure there is a very good reason

    thanks

    Reply
    • Helen

      Hi Pierre, Richard has always favoured the offset tote on longer planes, it’s something that you see sometimes on old one. It allows for various holding options and is quite interesting really, I think Richard’s got a rant planned.

      Reply
      • pierre rousseau

        Thanks very much for the reply…I knew there was a good reason!! I really enjoy watching Richard’s rants and reading your posts. You guys have a very interesting and entertaining site.I very much look forward to the next video

        Cheers
        Pierre

        Reply
  10. mike murray

    I have experienced the same thing where a certain tool just feels right in the hand and likewise works easier for me than other tools that were designed to do the same task. I am a firm believer that it is not about bells and whistles, looks, or cost that make a tool fit the hand and become your favorite. It’s a connection thing. Hard to explain but it is a real thing.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Mike, I have to completely agree. Sometimes something just clicks.

      Reply
  11. Mitchell

    I think the balance issue has a lot to do with the angle of the tote, but I may be wrong. I have looked at a lot of old wooden jointers and found that all of them have the tote set to a slightly less angle to the sole than a metal plane’s tote. The result is a more natural wrist angle while guiding it. Check the angle of Richard’s tote compared to the Lie Nielsen’s. I bet it has a shallower angle.

    Reply
    • Helen

      Thanks Mitchell, You’re absolutely right about the tote angle, I’ve just had a check and there’s quite a bit of difference there. That’s a very interesting point you make, I wonder how these angles are also affected by working height?

      Reply
  12. Michael O'Brien

    Helen.
    Good job. I know that feeling well with heavy metal 7&8s. One tiny degree of canting off of parallel gets successively more off of square with each successive stroke of the plane and instead one ends up with half of a French cleat rather than square jointed surface.:-) With a metal #5 seems it to be less of an issue for me, but I can see how the longer and lighter wooden jointer would be less inclined to go astray and leave one’s wrist with more control.
    Cheers,
    Mike

    Mike

    Reply
    • Richard

      Hi Ben, I’ve just used a Stanley iron and cap iron is this one, it’s from a No. 4 / 5. The planes can be made around pretty much any iron though. Cheers.

      Reply
  13. John

    Hi Helen. Isn’t it great when you just bond with a tool like that? Personally I’ve changed “a bad workman blames his tools” to “a bad workman has the wrong tools” as I think there’s much more truth in that. Oh and it should be “workperson” of course! Good luck with the woodwork

    Cheers

    John

    Reply
  14. Ian M. Stewart

    Hi Helen.

    As an (almost) direct response to your good experience with Richard’s new jointer, I decided that I had to one try one out for myself. Looking on the usual auction site, I spotted a 22″ one that seemed to have a narrow mouth, judging from the photo, and to be in acceptable condition although the blade is short enough to be hidden behind the wedge. I managed to buy it for £11 including postage. 🙂
    On receipt, it turned out that the apparently narrow mouth was due to a piece of hardboard packed down behind the iron to bring it forward. The mouth actually measures 7/16″ – nearly half an inch!
    I spent this morning fettling the plane, flattening the back of the iron, and the sole, and then tried it out. The mouth ahead of the blade (without any packing) is now a full-fat 3/16″. It cuts beautifully, giving me long straight shavings from some old redwood I had, sawn from an old pine table top. I haven’t yet tried it on any hardwood, not having any long enough to try it on.

    I wonder if you could ask Richard a question for me? He is the only person I know of with experience of using a wooden jointer plane. As a very occasional hobbyist woodworker, should I be worried about the open mouth? I could attempt a graving piece in the sole ahead of the mouth, to narrow it down, or even shim with veneer the bed of the iron to bring it forward – not using hardboard! Any advice from Richard would be gratefully received. I’m still agog waiting for the tutorial on making wooden planes.

    The first major job I have for a jointer plane is in making my new workbench, and I don’t know how much I’ll use it after that. Thanks for your time.
    Ian

    Reply

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