Small Planes Are The Best For Smoothing
When writing these articles I hope to provide an insight in to my ways of working. This is never to dictate, and if you read it as though what I do is the right, or the only way to go about things then you could end up confused. But through reading various opinions on the same subject with an open mind, you can take away something very valuable each time.
The basics of woodworking are very simple, don’t let anybody make out otherwise.
But it’s also a craft, an art, a means for self expression.
In our individual workshops we take the basics and often without realising, we come up with our own tweaks and quirks until we have our own unique set of rules, and to me this is the most fascinating aspect of it all.
My Preference For Small Smoothers –
When writing about smoothing planes previously, I made the point that if I was picking a dedicated tool for smoothing, then I’d always prefer a nice short one. In metal plane terms this would be the on a No. 3 or equivalent.
I’m not saying that the No. 3 is best, full stop, go and buy yourself one. I’m saying that I favour a smaller smoothing plane and here’s why. I know that I find it interesting to understand people’s choices so I’m going to write a little more about my thoughts on this.
Holding The Smaller Plane –
When I mentioned strangling your plane, this was because I can’t fit my hands in to the handle of most small metal ones.
I’m not squeezing around the neck by the way, just pinning him up against the wall.
Or perhaps it’s clearer to say that I’m grabbing the metal plane as though it were a wooden smoother.
Along with the smaller size, I want a smoother that can be comfortable, I need a good grip and feedback.
Overall, I’m a massive lover of wooden smoothers rather than metal for this reason (and many others but I’ll wine on about them another time ).
I find that the design of any standard metal plane, smaller than a number 5 is a struggle to hold, at least by the book. And the No. 4 is the most uncomfortable of them all.
The narrower body of the No. 3 at least allows me to pull off my straggling grip tactic quite well.
While none of the smaller standard metal planes seem to be designed for working hands, some of the snazzy infills are. If you have the cash to splash and are looking for the ultimate metal smoother, then that’s where I would start. (Note for Helen… this is the one I’ve had my eye on!)
Dedicated Plane For An Exceptional Job –
It’s important to note that the No.3 is probably not as versatile a size as the No. 4.
I’m recommending it as a dedicated smoother rather than an all-rounder.
I’ve already explained that I’d use my smoother as a companion to my Jack plane, and in my day to day making, I also have a try plane, not much longer than the jack but set relatively fine.
I reserve the smoother for when it really counts; I rarely work an entire panel with it, I find that pointless since I’ve already planed it once.
90% of the time the try plane leaves the finish that you touch on my work.
Only when a piece is being a sod do I get the smoother out; the assassin for small targeted jobs. A small size is ideal for this since it is less disruptive, more controlled and with experience you will read the timber ahead of time and come in at a particular direction and / or skewing the plane to deal with any localised challenges.
Also, the smaller plane is easier to perfect.
If you don’t work like this you may find benefit to a larger, wider smoothing plane, the 4 1/2 for example.
I’ve been asked why I don’t use a block plane for smoothing. If you are thinking about this, then we’re on the same page. I just don’t find the body shape to be optimised for this job. If it’s comfortable in your hand then go for it, but don’t forget the lack of a cap iron.
The No.3 is a dinky plane.
Is it really? I have a nice big coffin smoother which looks pretty huge alongside my group of standard sized coffins. If I put the large one up against the No. 3 it seems to shrink.
It’s my standard wooden smoothers which are dinky by comparison, so maybe smoothers have always been small. Just one of the many reasons that it’s my wooden planes that I prefer.