Chris Schwarz's Blog

New Handplanes From Lee Valley

Some manufacturers require a thousand square feet of booth space to show you the new tools they are going to introduce before the end of the year. Others require you to simply push the water glasses aside on the dinner table to see the new line.

This evening the editors of Popular Woodworking had dinner with Robin Lee, president of Lee Valley Tools, and his spouse, Lucie. We brought our appetites. Robin brought a bag of new handplanes and tools that he pulled out one after another. First there was a round of beer. Then came the new router plane and some new rulers. Salads. Squirrel-tail planes. Bread. The long-awaited plow plane. (While I had salmon for dinner, this tool was the main course for me.)

Plus, Robin shared lots of information about the products you are going to see appearing in the catalogs in the coming months. Just remember this: You are among the first to see some of these tools, so the photographs aren’t my best (a bedspread is a poor photographic sweep). And that you should be patient when trying to get your hands on them. With that in mind, here’s some of the really cool stuff.

Veritas Small Router Plane
The Veritas Router Plane is one of the company’s most finely made tools, in my opinion. So I’m pleased to report that the Veritas Small Router plane is another winner. This is a closed-throat router, and it reminds me more of the routers built by pattermakers than it does of any historical model.

Here are some details: The small-scale router is ideal for cleaning out shallow grooves or recesses, such as hinge mortises. The 1/4″-wide blade is simple to adjust up and down using a knurled brass knob threaded through the body. Loosen the knob to adjust the blade and nothing happens. Yup. Nothing. That’s because of a wave washer that keeps the blade in position quite well, even with the blade’s locking mechanism loosened.

Nudge the blade and it shifts in position. Then lock the sucker back up. The router is quite comfortable to hold with the tips of your fingers. And the 3-1/4″-wide and 2-1/4″-deep body is made from ductile iron; the sole is flattened with a special lapping process that makes it dead flat. In addition to the standard position in the mouth of the tool, the blade also can be adjusted for use in bullnose work. The price is $45 (U.S.). Lee said this tool should be ready by Sept. 1.

Other cool planes and accessories in the works:

– Two Squirrel-handled Planes: Based on the “Little Victor” handplane released recently, the company is expanding the line of tools with these two new palm-sized planes. One is quite similar to the Little Victor except it has a nice palm-rest that looks much like the curled tail of a squirrel. The sole is flat and the blade-clamping mechanism is the same as on the “Little Victor.” (Read a review of this plane on our blog.)

The second plane has the same body style but the sole is curved, like that on the Stanley Model-Makers Plane. However, the curvature on the sole of the Lee Valley version is not as extreme. The side-to-side radius is 1-1/2″. Front-to-back radius: 12″.

Both planes measure 3-3/8″ long at the sole, 4-7/8″ long overall and 1-3/8″ wide. Pricing: The pair will be sold for an introductory price of $65. After that, the planes will be $36 for the flat-soled tool and $42 for the curved one.

– A set of Phi Rulers: These cool rulers allow you to draw Golden Rectangles using the Golden Section (a proportion of 1 to 1.618). The rulers work like a CenterPoint ruler with a direct-reading scale. Translation: No math! You use one edge of the ruler to draw the longer dimension of the project, then you use the Phi ruler to generate the shorter one. You also can start with the smaller dimension of the rectangle and determine the longer side. A fair number of woodworkers use the Golden Section in designing furniture as this ration of 1 to 1.618 is pleasing to our eyes.

Also, Lee says that his staff prepared a 16-page instruction manual for the rulers that covered the history of the Golden Section and explored its application. Lee said, with a laugh, that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to send a 16-page instruction sheet with a ruler, so they’re going to post that on the web site.

The price of the rulers is right: A set of 6″, 12″ 18″ and 24″ is $15.95. (Available soon, if not now.)

– Veritas Small Plow Plane: The highlight was getting to see the much-anticipated Veritas plow plane, which is based loosely on the Record #044 plow plane. The plow plane is still a useful plane today for making the grooves for drawers bottoms and for small-scale box and door work , grooves for panels in rails and stiles. This plane (which was not ready for me to photograph) has a streamlined design.

Unlike other plow planes, the rear tote is wood instead of metal, which feels nice to the hand. The fence is designed to encourage the proper grip of the tool. And the way that the fence is held fast has more to do with the technology surrounding router bits than with historic tools. Think: router collet. Then think: very cool.

The Veritas Small Plow Plane should be available by the end of September. It will come standard with an A2 1/4″-wide blade and sell for $199. You also will be able to purchase the plane with four additional blades (1/8″ up to 3/8″) for $245, or purchase individual blades.

I didn’t get to use the plow plane (a couple key parts were plastic, plus we were in a restaurant), but the overall profile of the plow is curvier and more fluid than I expected. It was a bit hard to hand back over the table.

– A 30th Anniversary Plane:
To celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary, Lee Valley is going to make a limited edition stainless steel edge plane. Lee says they are going to make 300 of them (using the lost wax process) and then destroy the molds. The plane looks like a cross between the company’s bronze version of the edge-trimming plane and they company’s more recent ductile iron version. No word on pricing or availability (and that’s my fault , I forgot to ask).

– The Veritas Hold-Down is getting an accessory , an optional shorter post. This will be a boon for people who don’t have a lot of extra space below their benchtops but still want to use a hold-down. The post is 5-1/2″ long and will cost $7.20.

– Christopher Schwarz