HAND PLANER BUYER’S GUIDE (CONTINUED)
Buy a Block Plane
Often called the workhorse of planes, the block plane is used for truing up end grain on boards ends, creating chamfers on edges, trimming tenons, etc. It’s not a collector’s favorite tool, but most traditional woodworkers use a block plane more than most other planes. Low angle block planes are the most popular, because they excel at trimming end grain, and a normal angle block plane would be suitable for most other work.
Some of the most popular vintage block plane models are the Stanley No. 65, Stanley No. 60-1/2, and Stanley No. 9-1/2. The Lie-Nielsen No. 60-1/2 low angle block plane and the Lie-Nielsen No. 102 low angle block plane are new block planes that are very popular with traditional woodworkers. The cost is higher, but they do come perfectly tuned and sharpened, which the vintage block planes usually will not.
One of my favorite block plane is the Lie-Nielsen low-angle Rabbet Block Plane. Years ago when I attended a Woodwright’s School class I was shocked that instructor Bill Anderson would spend $175 for such a little handplane. But he explained that he uses it more than any other plane, which I quickly discovered was true when he let me use it over the course of a week. Needless to say, I bought one within a few days, and I really do use it constantly. It gets into tight spaces, and unlike other block planes, the blade extends from side to side, allowing you to use the plane for many more purposes, such as making rabbet joints and trimming tenons.
The only drawback is that the mouth isn’t adjustable (for getting a tight mouth) like some of the other models.
However, a very sharp iron is a more important factor than a tight mouth on a hand plane. But if all the low angle block planes are beyond your budget, then a normal angle block plane (like the below Stanley No. 9 1/4) will work just fine for you. Just get it really sharp.
Buy a Combination Plane
Cutting rabbets, tongues, grooves, dadoes, beads, & moldings is such a huge part of traditional woodworking and joinery. Think drawers, boxes, frame & panel doors, etc.
So should you buy a dedicated rabbet plane (rabbet joint down the grain), a plow plane, a tongue & groove plane set, a dado plane, a moving fillister plane (across grain for shoulders), beading planes, and molding planes? Or should you buy the Swiss Army Knife of planes: The Combination plane? A Combination plane is a joinery plane that uses a multitude of interchangeable cutters, or blades with different shapes.
In this episode of The Woodwright’s Shop, Roy Underhill runs a combination plane side-by-side with each type of dedicated plane to see how good a job a combination plane can do at replacing the other planes:
He concludes that even though the combination plane isn’t always a perfect substitute for all of the above-mentioned planes, it is certainly suitable for many of them…a good solution for beginner woodworkers.
***If you can afford multiple dedicated planes, then I recommend that you actually purchase the dedicated planes over a combination plane (especially a plow plane, rabbet plane, & matched planes/tongue & groove plane). They do a better job. But if you don’t have a ton of extra cash, then you can learn how to make the combination plane work.
The quintessential combination planes are the Stanley 45 and the Stanley 55. I own several Stanley 45 combination planes and I like them. The Stanley 45 combination plane can be used for cutting grooves, rabbets, shoulders, and other tasks, but I still recommend to start off purchasing a dedicated tongue & groove plane, molding planes, & beading planes (all mentioned below) in addition to a Stanley 45 combination plane.
- View vintage Stanley 45 combination planes on ebay
- View vintage Stanley 55 combination planes on ebay
If you want to learn how to choose, refurbish, and use combination planes and many other joinery planes, then purchase the DVD that I released with Popular Woodworking Magazine called “Choosing, Refurbishing & Using Joinery Handplanes with Bill Anderson” (click here to purchase):
Here’s a preview of the video:
Buy a Dedicated Plow Plane
The primary task of the above-mentioned Combination Plane (like the Stanley No. 45) is to plow grooves. It plows grooves really well, and is essentially a plow plane when all the attachments aren’t added on. Grooves are one of the most common joints that you will cut on many furniture projects (drawer & box bottoms, cabinet backs, etc.) so I recommend buying some sort of plow plane. If you can’t find a combination plane, or you’ve decided that you prefer having dedicated joinery planes rather than a “Swiss Army” plane, then skip the combination plane and buy a dedicated plow plane. In my opinion, some dedicated plow planes work better for plowing grooves than a combination plane does.
Fortunately, in the olden days everyone used plow planes, so antique plow planes are super common and can be found for very low prices (as well as very high prices for collectible plow planes).
You can look into buying a simple metal plow plane, like the Stanley No. 248, Stanley No. 46, or Stanley No. 50, or a beautiful antique wooden screw arm plow plane. Wooden screw arm plow planes my favorite because the fence stays rigidly in place after you set it. I also prefer the look of such a lovely wooden plane.
Just make sure the wooden screw threads aren’t overly damaged. If there are a couple dings in the threads, then it’ll work fine. But if 3 or more consecutive rows of threads are damaged, then it will not tighten and will be too difficult (for most people) to repair. Before buying a screw arm plow plane, make sure you inspect the threads that are hidden under the screw knob. Often broken threads are hidden close to the plane. So if you buy online, ask for photos of all the threads. I also prefer a wooden screw arm plow plane that has a handle, as opposed to one where the user just holds onto the body of the plane. Again, Bill goes into more depth on what to look for in antique plow planes in the DVD “Choosing, Refurbishing, & Using Joinery Handplanes with Bill Anderson”
If you’re on a tight budget, then go with one of the simple antique Stanley metal plow planes (No. 248, No. 46, No. 50, etc.), or the comparable antique Record brand plow planes. Both Antique Stanley planes and Record planes are of very high quality. Most vintage plow planes will do a great job plowing grooves. But if you want a fantastic plow plane, go for a wooden screw arm plow plane with a variety of cutter sizes. Just make sure the cutters fit the particular wooden plow plane. If they don’t fit, then all you need to do is make a new wedge. A wood plane like this shouldn’t cost you more than $150, unless it’s made of some exotic wood. But I’ve found them for around $50 in good condition.
Buy a Tongue & Groove Plane
Above I mentioned that a Stanley 45 combination plane can certainly cut tongue & groove joinery, but a dedicated tongue & groove plane, like the Stanley No. 48 Tongue & Groove Hand Plane, saves a lot of time and frustration. I love my Stanley No. 48, especially because the fence flips when you’re finished with cutting the groove on 3/4″ boards and allows you to then easily cut the tongues. I also own a Stanley No. 148 “Come & Go” Tongue & Groove Plane.
While the Stanley No. 148 plane works well, I don’t like it quite as much as the Stanley No. 48. That’s a good thing for you, because the Stanley No. 148 Plane is more rare and a bit more expensive. You can also checkout the antique Stanley No. 49 planes if you’re planning on using 1/2″ thick boards.
The Lie-Nielsen Tongue & Groove Planes are based off the Stanley No. 48 and No. 49 planes. But the Lie-Nielsen planes are $195 each and a vintage Stanley No. 48 or 49 plane will sell for around $20-$100. Besides, it’s super easy to restore a Stanley No. 48 or 49. Also, the Lie-Nielsen planes are strictly for the size specified, whereas the Antique Stanley Tongue & Groove planes can cut wood a little thicker or thinner than specified.
You can also look into the wooden matched tongue and groove planes (below right) and the wooden Come-and-Go planes (below left), which I also really like.
- View vintage Stanley No. 48 Tongue & Groove planes on ebay (for 3/4″ – 7/8″ thick boards)
- View new Lie-Nielsen No. 48 Tongue & Groove planes (for 3/4″ thick boards)
- View vintage Stanley No. 49 Tongue & Groove planes on ebay (for 1/2″ thick boards)
- View new Lie-Nielsen No. 49 Tongue & Groove planes (for 1/2″ thick boards)
- View Stanley No. 148 “Come & Go” Tongue & Groove Planes on ebay