Chris Schwarz's Blog

A New Golden Age? A Polished One at the Least

I sometimes shudder to think about all of the chisels and plane irons I’ve set up in the last 10 years. Every review has involved hours and hours of setup time, most of that flattening the back, unbeveled side of the tools. I’ve worn out a half-dozen diamond stones, several coarse waterstones and even a fine polishing stone (it was a very thin King stone, by the way).

But this weekend marked a new milestone. I brought home three Veritas bevel-up planes to set up for a forthcoming review , the jack and the new smoother and jointer. Normally, this would be five hours of work to flatten the backs, polish the backs and hone the cutting edge. But I was planning on using David Charlesworth’s “ruler trick” to slash that time considerably. The trick, in a nutshell, is to position a steel ruler on your polishing stone that elevates the iron. This polishes a small back bevel right at the cutting edge, saving time.

So I got out an old steel ruler. But before I began in earnest, I took a couple swipes with the iron on my 1,000-grit stone. The unbeveled side of the iron was dead flat. Most of the machining marks on that unbeveled side were gone with that little bit of effort. I took a few more swipes for good measure and then went to the 4,000-grit stone, anticipating trouble. No trouble found. Ten swipes and I was done there. Same with the 8,000-grit stone.

I thought I had gotten lucky with the first iron. So I did the other two irons. They were all perfect. I set up all three irons (and the planes, too) in less than an hour. This is a far cry from the effort involved in setting up an iron from Vertias or Lie-Nielsen in earlier days , and don’t even get me started on Stanley, Record or other imported tools (A test of jack planes a few years ago required more than 50 hours of setup time on my part). Both of these premium plane-making companies have made steady progress on improving their irons, and both are now making tools that are virtually ready to go when you open the box, which is how it should be.

Some fans of vintage tools often chide me as an apologist for the modern plane makers. But you know what? I’ve served my time (and it was hard time) setting up a lot of messed-up old tools. It taught me a lot about plane mechanics, but it also took me away from my true love, woodworking. If you enjoy the metal filings, the drudgery of hours of lapping soles and the Lazarus-like satisfaction of resurrecting an old tool, I won’t stand in your way when we reach for the same tool at the flea market. But if you like the smell of freshly cut wood, luminous planed surfaces and building furniture, there are new tools out there just for you. They work perfectly, precisely and predictably from the get-go. They are worth every cent.

As of Saturday, my friends, we are officially in a new golden age of hand tools.

Christopher Schwarz

5 thoughts on “A New Golden Age? A Polished One at the Least

  1. Geert van der Donk

    Charlesworth’s ideas are so simple you get ill-tempered by the thought you didn’t think of these simple solutions yourself. I use the ruler trick since I bought David’s books. These books are like Woodworking Magazine: They do not contain one single syllable of rubbish. If you read the two volumes, you actualy don’t have to buy the DVD’s.

    I have to dissagree on the quality of the Lee Valley (i.e. Veritas) planes, because of the pour flatness of their soles. It will take you hours and hours to get them flat, if possible. The Lie-Nielsen planse on the other hand do not have these disadvanteges. You can really spend your time on woodworking.

    Geert van der Donk
    The Netherlands

  2. Timothy Renick

    I am always impressed with the quality of LV tools and really appreciate their price point. However, I have a problem with their planes. I purchased the LA Jack plane before the smoother and jointer were release. I used it for a week and promptly returned it (also, their customer service is the tops). The angle of their tote design left me with a bruised hand. Their totes sit more upright and, for my hand, centered all the pushing force on the joint where my thumb meets the palm. I’ve never had this problem with any of my LN or older Stanley planes. I don’t know if this is a problem for others, but as a result, I won’t be owning any of their planes until an alternate tote design is produced.

  3. Roger Nixon

    I am a vintage tool fan and I share your experience in setting up many old tools. I love my old tools but I hate flattening backs of plane blades and chisels. A flat blade (especially in steels like A2) is certainly an added value. In the case of the bevel up LV planes, it is amazing they can deliver so much performance and outstanding customer service in a very reasonably priced tool.

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    Yes, we borrowed the planes from the company, and they will be returned after our review is complete. I think you’re perhaps suggesting that they chose some "ringer" irons for the test. I honestly don’t think that’s the case.

    First, it would be something almost impossible to measure. And second, I’ve observed this on Veritas and Lie-Nielsen products that we have purchased outright and anonymously. My entry isn’t simply a reaction to this one afternoon of work. Rather, it’s the culmination of many years of observations and hundreds (yes, hundreds) of tool set-ups.

    Chris

Comments are closed.