Chris Schwarz's Blog

Wood River and Stanley: The Next Generation

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I don’t relish handing out bad reviews of tools. But as someone who gets stoned occasionally by an angry mob, I know that a critical review can help improve the quality of my work in the future.

During the last year I reviewed new premium planes by both Wood River (Woodcraft’s line) and Stanley. I had problems with both brands. The Wood River planes had irons that were too soft, the lateral-adjust levers were flimsy and some of the block planes had fatal bed errors.

Stanley’s new Sweet Heart line of planes also had some rough patches. Both versions of the No. 62 low-angle jack plane had fatal bed errors, rendering the planes worthless. Some of the adjustable mouths wouldn’t close up. And the overall fit and finish of the tools was lacking.

During the last month, both companies have released new or improved versions of their tools and I am in the beginning stages of testing them here for a follow-up review.

It’s obvious that both companies listened to complaints from customers.

The Stanley planes look about 100 times better. The wood is nicely finished. The paint on the base casting has changed and , most of all , there are no bed errors in the examples I’ve examined. I still have one quibble with the line as a whole: The lever caps are too lightweight.

wood river block plane reviews

The Wood River planes also made a big leap forward. The lateral-adjust levers are now robust and made using two pieces, like the old Bed Rocks. The depth-adjustment knob is bigger and easier to turn. And the overall fit and finish of the tools has improved.

I’m going to set these tools up and send the irons out for testing in the coming weeks. So I haven’t drawn any conclusions other than it looks like the quality is improving.

Stay tuned for a review in the next few weeks. I really am focused on building stuff right now. So the prospect of setting up nine more plane irons isn’t appealing.

– Christopher Schwarz

Other Stanley & Wood River Reviews and News

– My original review of the Stanley No. 62

– News on the new line of Stanley chisels (I still need to get a set).

– Read other reviews of premium planes in my book “Handplane Essentials.” It’s big (312 pages), printed in the United States and chock-full of the drivel you’ve come to begrudgingly endure on this blog. You can order it directly from our store.

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20 thoughts on “Wood River and Stanley: The Next Generation

  1. Bill Siegl

    I’ll second Chuck Brewer’s recommendation on the Harbor Freight plane. A friend bought one to strip the bark off trees to make rustic furniture and I liked the way it felt. I bought one for myself and after a small amount of tuning I couldn’t believe how well it handled and cut. I would love to see Ron Hock make a blade for this but Some how a $60 dollar blade in a $10 dollar plane sounds ridiculous.

    Bill Siegl

  2. Capt Barnacle

    Chuck, I like your post with the harbor freight plane. As you know, you can use whatever tool you feel fits the bill. After everything is said and done, it doesn’t matter what tool you use, just what you produced with it.

  3. Eric R

    Good post Dean. It sums it up for a lot of guys.
    I too value Chris’s reviews because I know he shoots straight.
    I think the manufacturers are getting the hint that you can’t fool a savy consumer when it comes to tools in our field.
    Thanks Chris for your honesty.

  4. Vaclav Benedikt

    For those looking for used tools – check out http://www.sydnassloot.com – mr. Moss was mentioned on this blog earlier. He has a nice offer of fair priced, used and vintage planes and other tools. Ihave just bought 4 planes (No 3. No 5 and two block) for $ 180 and he has sent it to Czech Republic where I live with no problem and very quickly.
    V. Benedikt

  5. Dean

    Thanks greatly for the insight Len! I think that I can say safely that there is a market for a decent hand plane at a decent price. I believe I’m not the only one who has a very tight budget and wants to get into working with hand tools. I think most of us “beginners on a tight budget” want to make as small expenditure as possible to have a plane to practice with and learn how to sharpen, tune and develop good planing habits with. Used planes are certainly an option. However, as a beginner I don’t have the expertise that others have. I need to be taught or have a fellow woodworker share their expertise on which planes are marginal and which planes have value.

    I don’t need an uber plane to start with. I have nothing against investing in a high end plane such as a Lie Nielsen or a Veritas. But there is no initial budget for that. Charge it on my credit card? I think not! In this economy the last thing I want to do is keep adding to my credit card. I’m trying to go the other way and get it paid off. So cash up front is the only way I want to go. Beside, it’s not just one plane. I would like to get not only a No. 4 1/2 or a No. 5, but also a block plane, and a Jointer plane. Did I mention I need a few chisels as well? I could set up a piggy bank for a high end plane but how long would I have to wait before purchasing one? I could be a long way down the road of experience and productivity by the time that happens. And the cycle would repeat for the next plane I need.

    I live in the Pacific NW, and for whatever reason, the used hand tool market is pretty sparse. I have yet to find something that isn’t hiding under a pound of rust. The few decent ones? Collectors seem to beat me to those. Yeah, I know, one could say just give it up, and forget woodworking with hand tools. That is one reason I’m hoping that the soon to be released Stanley’s and Wood River planes will get a decent report card from Chris and others. Even at their prices I can’t afford to buy all the planes I want, but I can at least get started with one, and getting started is the big disconnect at this point in time.

  6. Len

    The Wood River will not have any serial numbers to check, but the newer plane will be easy to distinguish. The lever lever will have three parts with a brass tip, and the adjustment knob is larger. Additionally, Woodcraft will be releasing an upgrade to the one shown in the photographs later this year. It will have Walnut tote/handle and a Pinicale cryo blade.

  7. Kirk

    I agree with Gary. Never have been disappointed with Mr. Lie-Nielsen’s tools. Always surpasses my expectations when I’ve opened the box and put it to the wood. Can’t beat genuine USA quality craftsmanship.

  8. richardmagbanua.blogspot.com

    I think one of the reasons the release of these tools caused a lot of discussion was for just that reason. They DO make it hard to tell the difference between quality and junk. Who has the time or ability to perform an in-depth review of a hand plane in the aisle of a Woodcraft? I don’t. I, too would like to know how to distinguish the new, improved models from the older, flawed ones.
    Thanks for the information Chris. I’m looking forward to the upcoming reviews!

  9. Gary

    Walter & Dean

    Perhaps the best way to try and avoid ‘a lemon’ is to buy a Lie-Nielsen or a Lee Valley in the first place. Buying quality is always the cheapest route as you never end up with a ‘boat load of anchors.’

  10. Michael

    I guess if you can’t tell the difference between a quality tool and a piece of junk it really doesn’t msatter, does it?

  11. Dean

    I’m hoping Chris will include information in his review (when he posts them) that will let us know how to distinguish between the new versions of the Stanley and Wood River planes and the previously manufactured planes. Does anyone know if serial numbers are stamped on the Stanley Sweetheart & Wood River planes? If so, we would then need to know what serial number the new planes start at.

  12. Walter Lees

    As a consumer who has been burned by purchasing enough boats full of boat anchors to sink a boat, thank you for your reviews. Now, how do I as a consumer with no skills as a consumer tell the new versions of these improved tools from the old stocks of defective tools waiting to be sold?

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