Buying Jack Planes / Fore Planes / Scrub Planes
As I mentioned earlier, a Jack Plane or a fore plane or a scrub plane is the first handplane to touch your rough-sawn board. These handplanes are typically used across the grain for rough wood removal, or “scrubbing” with a highly cambered (i.e. “arched”) iron. I prefer a larger Jack plane or an even larger Fore plane over a dedicated scrub plane. Because it’s used for rough work, I typically don’t tune these planes up as much as I do with the other bench planes.
Precise features that may be desirable on a smoothing plane or a jointer plane, like a tight mouth for example, are usually not desirable on a jack plane. See (above) how the plane has such a wide open mouth to allow rough wood shavings to exit? This is great news for woodworkers who are on a budget, because I don’t recommend that they spend a lot of money on a jack plane. Spending hundreds of dollars on a jack plane just doesn’t make sense to me, no matter how big someone’s budget is.
In fact, some of my favorite jack planes are the most affordable planes on the market. The antique wooden plane pictured above is my favorite jack plane. Click here to see similar wooden jack planes on Ebay. Yes, wooden planes can take more time to adjust, but because I don’t use this plane for anything besides scrubbing, I rarely have to adjust it. This plane cost me around $15.
Another fantastic candidate for scrubbing are vintage transitional jack planes (pictured above), which I mentioned earlier. As I said, transitional planes work fantastic as a jack plane, because Jack planes don’t need to be highly tuned. Also, if used as a jack plane, they don’t require much rehab work at all. Just avoid buying a plane that has obvious major problems, like cracked metal parts, major cracks in the wooden body, badly broken totes or knobs, or missing parts, because buying replacement parts are often more expensive than buying the plane itself.
A transitional jack plane in good condition shouldn’t cost you more than $25 and is perfectly suitable for rough stock removal. It won’t likely give you gossamer shavings, but for making ugly wood chips fly, they work just as well as any expensive jack plane. Here are some of the models that I own and enjoy using:
If you’re on a tight budget, these wooden planes and transitional planes will save you a lot of money. And if you combine them with a good wooden smoothing plane and a good wooden jointer plane, you can keep your bench plane budget under a hundred dollars. Not bad considering some new metal bench planes cost over $400 for one plane!
I’ll talk more about finding a good, affordable wooden smoothing plane and jointer plane in the next sections. But let’s look at some other options for Jack planes:
What if you want a metal bench plane, but can only afford one to start with?
If you want to eventually acquire a set of metal bench planes, but can only afford one to start with, then I’d recommend buying a metal number 5 jack plane. These Jack planes are the most common planes available, and were manufactured in the millions. Stanley was the largest producers of metal bench planes, and this was their most common size. The prices range anywhere from $15 to $50 for jack planes that need rehab work. I personally wouldn’t pay more than $50 (no, I didn’t pay anywhere close to $56 for the No. 5 jack plane pictured below).
If this will be your only handplane at first, then you’ll need to spend extra time tuning it up to the level of a smoothing plane, because you’re going to use it for all three jobs: rough-scrubbing, flattening & jointing, and smoothing.
This option won’t work as well as having three dedicated bench planes, but it can work fairly well. This is how it can work: When you buy a metal number 5 jack plane, also buy a second iron. Sharpen one iron with an extreme camber for scrubbing a rough board:
And then sharpen the other blade with a barely noticeable camber for smoothing and jointing:
And then you can just swap the iron out depending on the work you’re doing.
A jack plane can actually work perfectly as a jointer plane, as long as your board is less than three times the length of the jack plane. For example, the number 5 jack plane pictured below is 14-inches long, so it would technically be a jointer plane for any board under 42 inches…give or take…so it’ll will work great for flattening and jointing along the length of the board. Many furniture parts are under this length, so a jack plane is quite flexible as a jointer plane.
And the jack plane can work somewhat well as a smoothing plane. However, it would be difficult to get into small areas of difficult grain to smooth it, with such a long plane. When you switch from the smoother or jointer setup to a scrubbing setup, you would just switch out the blade and adjust the frog mechanism to open the mouth to allow the big wood shavings to exit.
Here are some good Jack planes to search for on Ebay:
If you want to go the route of a single bench plane, but don’t feel confident with rehabbing a handplane, then I’ve got another option for you to consider, though it’s quite a bit more expensive than the previous options. A few companies make these low angle jack planes (pictured above and below).
As you can see, the design is different than the normal bench planes; the bevel of the iron faces upward rather than downward. I touched on this earlier. Also, the bed of the plane sits at a lower angle. The cool thing about this type of plane is that it can be used in multiple configurations in addition to the main use as a low angle plane. For those who don’t know, a low angle plane is best used for handplaning end grain, like if you’re making an end grain cutting board, for example. The iron comes sharpened from the factory at a 25 degree angle. Add that to the 12 degree milled bed, for an effective low angle of 37 degrees.
But you can also buy a second iron and sharpen it at around 35 degrees, and it’ll give you an effective planing angle of around 45 degrees, which is the same as a traditional bench plane. This is great for general purpose handplaning. And if you planned on handplaning figured wood, you could buy a third iron and sharpen it at around 50 degrees, which would give you an effective high angle of around 62 degrees.
And if that isn’t enough you can lastly buy a toothed iron dedicated for scrubbing. These toothed irons are especially designed for flattening difficult, figured wood.
The mouths on these planes are easily adjusted so you can open and close it for different planing purposes: a tight mouth for smoothing and a wide mouth for scrubbing. I also find that this type of handplane works great with a shooting board.
I personally own two different number 62 low angle jack planes (both inspired by the vintage Stanley No. 62 plane): one made by Lie-Nielsen (find it here) and one made by WoodRiver (find it here). Both of these planes work great. The Lie-Nielsen No. 62 has a bit more attention to detail, but is about $25 more expensive than the WoodRiver version.
I would recommend against buying the vintage No. 62 Stanley low angle jack plane; the plane that the above planes were modeled after, because the handle is very small, there are some weak parts that tended to break, and the price is higher than buying a new reproduction plane. Stanley has also made a reproduction Stanley Sweetheart No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane (see it here). I have not tried it out, so I can’t give my opinion on it. But from my experience with other modern Stanley reproduction tools, I haven’t been impressed compared with other brands (like Lie-Nielsen). Lee Valley also sells their Veritas Low-Angle Jack Plane, but I have not used it or heard anything about it, so I can’t share an opinion on it. And their handplanes are only sold on their website, so you won’t find any user reviews online.
If your budget allows for buying three separate bench planes (jack plane, jointer plane, and smoothing plane), then just buy an affordable vintage transitional jack plane or a wooden jack plane, and spend more money on a nice smoothing plane and jointer plane.
What about a Metal Scrub plane?
Recently the metal scrub plane has become popular with hobbyist woodworkers for flattening the faces of boards. However, these little planes weren’t traditionally used for flattening boards, and weren’t even manufactured until after power thickness planers & jointers started to emerge.
The traditional choice for scrubbing was a Fore plane, a Jack plane, or a smaller wooden scrub plane. The narrow metal scrub planes were apparently manufactured for house carpenters who needed a fast method for narrowing the width of a board (or door) when there wasn’t enough wood to be removed to require the use of a hand saw. I personally like using these scrub planes on the edges of thinner boards, but I find them too narrow for quickly flattening board faces or using on the edge of wider boards. So my recommendation would be to not purchase a metal scrub plane,