Tool Review: Lie-Nielsen Small Router Plane

When I need to work any recessed area , from a hinge mortise to a stopped groove to a dado , with precision, I like to use router planes. These joinery planes allow you to easily create or clean up recesses to a repeatable and fixed depth.

Unlike bench planes or block planes, the learning curve for a router plane is mercifully short. It goes something like this: Sharpen the cutter as best you can (it doesn’t have to be able to split an atom), place it in the tool to take a thin cut. Work the recess until the plane won’t cut anymore. Set the tool to your final depth and repeat.

Router planes are simple tools with few adjustments; there’s little that can go wrong and they have many uses. Until recently, however, router planes were available mostly on the vintage tool circuit. But that’s changing. Veritas introduced its full-size router in 2005 (I reviewed it in the February 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking). St. James Bay Tool Co. recently started offering two small router planes and a larger one (all loosely based on the Stanley No. 71). And now Lie-Nielsen Toolworks has introduced a small $75 router plane that I have been using since the summer and am ready to talk about.

The Lie-Nielsen Small Router plane has some nice curves to it and a wider footprint than the now-defunct Stanley No. 271 small router plane , which looks like a metal Triscuit with a cutter. The Lie-Nielsen looks a lot more like a vintage Phelps Manufacturing Co. router I saw at a Mid-West Tool Collectors Association meeting a few years back.

The Lie-Nielsen is 4-1/8″ long, 2-3/16″ wide and weighs 7-1/2 ounces. The cutter is Ã?¼” wide, and two additional 3/32″-wide cutters are in the works.

The shape of the body is key because the cutter can be used in two positions. The cutter shown above is good for general all-purpose work, with decent visibility and considerable bearing surface all around the cutter. Turn the cutter around and you are set up for jobs where you need lots of visibility, such as when cleaning up a tricky patch for inlay or when cleaning up a stopped groove or dado. The two squarish wings projecting in front of the cutter are perfect for riding on the edge of a Ã?¾”-wide door stile or rail.

Setting up this router plane for the first time is easier than setting up a bench chisel. The back of the iron was dead flat from the factory and polished up with only five minutes work. When I sharpen the bevel, I don’t use a micro-bevel. I sharpen the entire bevel. There’s not a lot of metal to remove and sharpening the entire bevel makes it easy to keep the angle consistent. Re-sharpening the cutter is easier as a result.

The tool is pleasant to hold. The curved thumb grips allow you to pivot the tool into the cut, which is how I use it when cleaning out hinge mortises. The wide footprint of the tool is nice (compared to the smaller Stanley version) because you can reach into places with the confidence that your tool is indeed sitting flat on a reference surface. The downside to the big footprint, of course, is that there might be places where you cannot sneak the tool into because the base will get in the way. I haven’t had this problem in six months. Get back to me in a few years and I’ll have an answer.

The cutter depth is set by a knurled thumbscrew. The thumbscrew has a slot for a screwdriver, which is not necessary to use to lock the cutter in place. The knurling is enough.

If you own a powered router, why would you want this cordless version? Easy. The downside to using an electric router is the round cutter. Inside corners are going to have rounded corners that you’ll need to square out with a chisel or (irony ahead) a router plane. Plus, the router plane is easier to balance on the edge of a door or face frame to cut hinge mortises. Electric routers can be tippy when balanced on a thin Ã?¾” edge.

– Christopher Schwarz

6 thoughts on “Tool Review: Lie-Nielsen Small Router Plane

  1. Mike Wenzloff

    Depending on what the work is, you can also clamp two support boards on either side of the work to rest the wings on so that the open throat isn’t an issue.

    I have done that with a large MF router plane I had a few times. I like this method when possible as it gives added outer support anyway–less likely to be tippy.

    Take care, Mike

  2. dave brown

    Chris Q,

    I know you didn’t ask me but I’ll give you my opinion. I’ve got the LN and an old Stanley 71.5 — the one w/ the closed throat. In a few instances, I wanted to use the little LN but had to use the Stanley because it has a closed throat. The open throat on the LN wouldn’t allow it to steady on the work piece. Had the LN been my only router plane, I would have to stabilize it freehand — I’d just grab a chisel at that point. Because of that, I’m glad that the LN isn’t my only router plane. 😉

    regards,
    Dave

  3. Christopher Schwarz

    A couple comments on the comments above:

    On the two open throats of the tool: I don’t know why they designed it that way. After several months of use I agree with you that I’d rather have it closed, though I don’t consider it a fatal flaw, just a matter of convenience. I might close it up my epoxying a dowel in there….

    On which of the two routers I prefer, it depends more on the scale of your work. Do you do lots of case dados and rabbets? Adjust large tenons? Pick the Veritas.

    Do you do inlay? Hinge mortises? Small dados and grooves? Pick the Lie-Nielsen.

    Both tools are exceptionally well made. Both are finished to a very high degree all around.

    Chris

  4. Chris Quinn

    Chris,

    If you had to pick between the Lie Nielsen and the Veritas full-size model, which would you favor?

  5. dave brown

    I’ve had the LN small router plane for a few months. After using it on a few projects I can say that I like it and it is useful.

    One thing that I don’t understand — why did they design it with an open throat? It makes it hard to use on narrow pieces of stock.

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