A great value in premium hand tools
by Tom Caspar
“I’m really getting the itch to use good hand tools, so what kind of plane should I buy?” I’ve answered that question for years by urging students in my Unplugged Woodshop class to find a vintage Stanley, tune it up and buy a new high-quality blade. Now I’ve got a better answer: simply pick up the phone or go online and order a new Veritas hand plane from Lee Valley Tools (see Sources, below).
Feature for feature, Veritas planes are the equal of other premium planes, but they’re significantly less expensive. Considering what you get, and the hours of tune-up labor you’ll save, they’re very reasonably priced.
The latest entry in the Veritas series is a #6 fore plane ($220) for jointing edges and flattening large surfaces. Veritas also makes #4 ($175) and #4-1/2 ($180) smooth planes, and a #5-1/4 jack plane, ($190). All of these planes share the same innovative features, unique to Veritas. A low-angle smooth plane ($160) and a low-angle block plane ($100) are also available.
– Premium Blade
A great blade can make all the difference in the world, and Veritas blades are among the best. Standard plane blades generally perform well only when freshly sharpened. Premium blades hold a keen edge far longer.
Premium blades are stiffer than standard blades. Veritas blades are made from 1/8-in.-thick A2 steel, a very durable alloy new to plane making. These blades are about 50-percent thicker than standard blades, and that makes them less prone to skip and jump, or “chatter.”
Veritas planes use a screw rather than the standard cam lever to lock down the blade. A screw is a little less convenient than a lever, but it’s not a big deal.
– Rock-Solid Frog
Take a Veritas plane apart and it’s full of surprises. The frog (the part that supports the blade) has extra-large machined surfaces. It actually extends through the sole of the plane in order to support the blade as close to the cutting edge as possible. The frog’s large face and solid bedding further reduce blade chatter.
The blade adjustment mechanism is quite unusual. You swing a knob side to side to level the blade, and turn the same knob to adjust the blade’s depth of cut. One quarter turn of the knob moves the blade up or down by 0.003 in. (the thickness of a piece of paper), about the same as other planes. It’s too bad that the knob is so small in diameter, though. Larger knobs are easier to fine-tune.
Veritas planes have a generous amount of room in front of the rear handle. This is particularly welcome on smooth planes, where space is often cramped. The handle is supported on top to prevent it from breaking, a common problem with old Stanley planes.
– Stable and Tough Body
Flattening the bottom of a plane is hard work. It’s a thankless task that’s got to be done for a plane to work well. Veritas planes require little or no flattening because their bodies are made from stress-relieved iron.
Other features of the Veritas body include: a screw for adjusting the frog without removing the blade, adjustable set screws on either side of the blade (they further reduce chatter by locking in the blade), and sides that are ground square to the bottom (so you can turn the plane on its side to joint the edges of thin stock in a shooting board).
You Should Also Know About Clifton Planes
You may have heard of the classic Stanley Bedrock, the granddaddy of all American premium planes. Today, they’re rare and expensive. A Clifton plane brings you the same outstanding design with an extra-thick blade. One advantage of a Bedrock-style plane is that you can adjust the mouth opening without removing the blade, but it’s the Rock of Gibraltar frog that really makes it such a desirable tool. Cliftons are available in #3 through #7 sizes. The #4 smooth plane costs about $200 (see Sources, below).
These premium planes are the standard by which all of today’s premium planes are measured. They’re simply superb and a joy to use.
Lie-Nielsen specializes in reviving and improving classic hand tools. Their line of bench planes are made in the Bedrock style, have extra-thick blades and virtually indestructible bronze or ductile iron bodies. An iron body #4 goes for $250; a bronze body costs $300.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2004, issue #105.
Veritas planes Lee Valley Tools (800) 871-8158, www.leevalley.com #4 Smooth Plane, #05P26.01; $175 #4-1/2 Smooth Plane, #05P23.01; $180 #5-1/4W Bench Plane, #05P24.01; $190 #6 Fore Plane, #05P28.01; $220 Low-angle Smooth Plane, #05P25.01; $160 Low-angle Block Plane, #05P22.01; $100. Clifton planes Highland Hardware (800) 241-674 Lie-Nielsen planes Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (800) 327-2520 www.lie-nielsen.com