Buy a Block Plane

Stanley block planes lined up on an oak woodworking workbench

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. I recommend a low angle block plane so you can work difficult end grain more easily. 

Lie-Nielsen brass low angle rabbet block plane sitting on a dovetail box

I really, really love my 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 can work as a rabbet plane…I love it!

Rear of a Lie-Nielsen brass low angle rabbet block plane sitting on a dovetail box

Unlike other block planes, the blade extends from side to side, allowing you to use the plane for many more purposes, such as trimming tenons.

stanley planes: Stanley 9 1/4 block plane

I also like the Stanley No. 65, No. 60-1/2, & No. 9-1/2 block planes (though not as much as my Lie-Nielsen). The Lie-Nielsen No. 60-1/2 low angle block plane and the  Lie-Nielsen No. 102 low angle block plane are very popular with traditional woodworkers, although they don’t have as many uses as my rabbet block plane.

 Buy a Combination Plane

stanley planes: stanley 45 combination plane sitting on a woodworking workbench

Cutting rabbets, tongues, grooves, shoulders, dados, beads, & moldings is such a huge part of traditional woodworking and joinery. Think drawers, boxes, frame & panel doors, etc.

stanley planes: alternate side of a stanley 45 combination plane sitting on a woodworking workbench

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:

Video player: Roy Underhill on the set of the Woodwright's Shop holding a stanley combination plane

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.

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):

DVD cover for Choosing, Refurbishing & Using Joinery Handplanes with Bill Anderson in Roy Underhill's Woodwright's School

Here’s a preview of the video:

Buy a Tongue & Groove Plane

Stanley No. 48 Tongue & Groove Hand Planer or Hand Plane cutting a joint

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’ve also used the Stanley No. 148 “Come & Go” Tongue & Groove Plane, but don’t like it quite as much as the Stanley No. 48. Good thing too, 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.

Stanley No. 48 Tongue & Groove Hand Planer on a woodworking workbench showing engravings

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. You can also look into the wooden matched tongue and groove planes, but you have to use two planes rather than just one.

Buy a Large and Small Router Plane

Stanley Planes: Stanley No. 71 Router Plane sitting on a board and on a woodworking workbench

I use router hand planes all the time to cut dado joints (see my tutorial here) and clean up tenon cheeks. In fact, this plane could easily be placed in the “urgent” section. A router plane is not very similar to a power router. Router planes are very useful and necessary for cleaning out dado joints (for shelves) and mortise bottoms, for creating a level base for decorative inlays, leveling tenon cheeks, cutting out mortises for hinges, etc. I use a beautiful Stanley No. 71 Router Plane that was manufactured in 1901, and have enjoyed it. It was also simple and enjoyable to restore. There isn’t a lot that can go wrong with a router plane. But it has shown some limitations. The blade wouldn’t reach to the bottom of my 1 inch deep mortise that I’d chiseled on a 17th century jointer plane I was building. So I used a friend’s Lie-Nielsen large router plane and it reached just fine. I’m not sure if a longer blade is available for my Stanley No. 71 because all Stanley router plane blades are somewhat difficult to find. A lot of people struggle to find different size blades. But the price may be worth the limitation. Here’s a little tip: if you own a Stanley No. 71 router plane and it’s collar and iron keep coming loose, just flip the collar over, because it’s likely upside down!

Stanley Planes: Stanley No. 71 Router Plane sitting on a woodworking workbench in Roy Underhill's Woodwright's School

But fortunately the new Lie-Nielsen Large Router Plane is fairly affordable at $140 (at least compared with their bench planes). Just make sure you buy the closed throat version so you can use the router plane on board edges. Many of the Stanley No. 71 router planes are selling for not much less than that. I have yet to test out the Veritas router plane, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it has a better selection of blades than Lie-Nielsen. The Veritas blades are also less expensive than Lie-Nielsen’s router plane blades.

**Update: I have since purchased the Veritas router plane and have found it to be an excellent joinery hand plane.

Stanley No. 271 Small Router Plane sitting on a piece of wood

I also use a small Stanley No. 271 small router plane. It’s perfect for routing out shallow mortises for hinges and inlay. You can buy them on eBay here (for around $30-$50). Another new option is the Lie-Nielsen No. 271 small router plane. You can buy it here (for around $80). You can also buy vintage wooden router planes (called “Old Woman’s tooth” or “Grandma’s tooth”) here on eBay or at a flea market.

Wood Plane: Top view of an antique wood router plane called an old woman's tooth router

If your skill level permits, then you can always try to build a wooden router plane with this tutorial. A wood plane is always great to see in a workshop.

Wood Plane: Bottom view of an antique wood router plane called an old woman's tooth router with cutting iron

Here are the best prices that I’ve found on router planes:

This handplane buying guide continues on the next page….