Chris Schwarz's Blog

Understanding Bench Planes

Almost every day I get an e-mail or a phone call that goes something like this: “I’m a beginner. I want to buy some handplanes. But I have no idea where to start or what to buy. Help.”

I’m happy to answer these questions (it’s my job), but I noticed after 12 years of answering these pleas that I was saying many of the same things over and over again. So last night I did a mid-sized brain dump on the bench planes , both bevel-up and bevel-down.

It explains my rationale (and the historical rationales) for each plane size, from the No. 1 up to the No. 8. I fully admit that this article has a lot of opinions in it, but they are opinions based on a lot of work and experimenting with many different methods of work (there’s a good reason I grew a beard like David Charlesworth’s….)

In any case, you might find this article useful, infuriating or amusing. It might also help you if are ever asked: “Hey, I’m a beginner….”

Read the Full Article: “Understanding Bench Planes”

– Christopher Schwarz

8 thoughts on “Understanding Bench Planes

  1. Dave Brown

    re, the 5-1/4:

    I don’t think that the 5-1/4 should be dismissed anymore than the no6. It’s not one of the first three planes to own but I like to use it between a scrub and my no5. My scrub is set up to take heavy shavings from the edge of boards or really rough stock. I use my no5-1/4 to remove the rough edges of boards that are coming off the lumber stack. Being a narrower width than the no5 it’s perfect for the edge of boards — you can almost tell it where you want to cut via telepathy. It’s just easier to grab the 5-1/4 than try to dial back the scrub.

    I probably favor the 5-1/4 this way because it stood in as a scrub for so many years. The 5-1/4 is definitely not a scrub nor is it a suitable foreplane.

  2. Doug Brummett

    Nice writeup. I enjoyed your comments about the no.6. I don’t have one, but I have my eye out. I am thinking that something between my 5 and my 7 would be useful. And I wholeheartedly agree on the no.3. I debated a bit before picking one up. Once in hand I fell in love with the size. I find that I like the grip much more than a block, but it can accomplish most of the same tasks. As always, an interesting read. Thanks.

  3. Tom Holloway

    Great article for those we want to bring into the hand tool fold. I especially appreciate that you provide a lot of information and share your considerable expertise, without making definitive pronouncements based on doctrine and dogma, as some experts are prone to do.
    I just have one quibble, or comment: I don’t think the #2 small smoother deserves to be relegated to the category of "unusable toy" (along with the #1) or maybe a plane for children. I acquired a late-1940s era #2 some years back, changed the iron with a replacement from Lie Nielsen (the only source for that size, I think), and it has become my go-to tool for all sorts of small jobs, including final smoothing, working small problems spots in larger surfaces, and many of the tasks that block planes are recommended for. I like the two-handed control. Don’t get me wrong–I have and use block planes, and I use the rest of the bench plane lineup, from #3 to #8, for their intended purposes. It’s probably also true that a #2 can’t do anything you couldn’t accomplish with a #3, or with a block plane, so it’s probably not necessary to seek one out for its own sake (unless you’re a collector). But neither should it be neglected or relegated to the trophy shelf.

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    David,

    It’s impossible to say because both companies make planes that exceed the manufacturing tolerances needed for woodworking.

    So the differences between the brands are aesthetics and personal ergonomics. And you can’t really rate those things for the entire population.

    I own both.

    Chris

  5. David J Ulschmid

    Thanks for the fantastic article, Chris. Now that you have remarked that my two planes are the best choices out there, it will be easier to justify buying new ones.

    Just one question, considering their entire line of planes, who brings home the gold (maybe it should be bronze for first place) medal, Veritas or Lie Nielsen?

  6. Larry Eiss

    First: Chris, thanks a lot for this excellent article. I plan to spend some time with it. It’s difficult to find things like this these days.

    Ed, Use your mouse to highlight the text of Mr. Schwarz’ article. Then Copy the selected text, open your word processor, and paste it there. It should come out to around 14 pages (assuming you live in the U.S.) and will print perfectly.

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    Ed,

    This is the only format the article exists in, I’m afraid. It’s a web-only story.

    Did you try using the "print" tool on the right side of the page? That made a nice 10-page printout for me that looked pretty good.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

    Chris

  8. Ed Everett

    What do I need to do to get a decent printout of this article (I’m old fashioned and would like to hold paper in my hands when I read it)? The printout I’ve gotten has parts cutoff, etc and is miserable to read. Is there a PDF available?

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