The Only Handplane You Need?
Editor’s note – This post and video originally appeared in The Wood Whisperer Guild, an innovative and high-quality website with tons of woodworking information. Many thanks to Marc Spagnuolo for making this paid content available for free on the Popular Woodworking site!
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The Only Handplane You Need?
by Marc Spagnuolo
When I first ventured into the world of hand tools, I assumed I would eventually need every bench plane available. Chris Schwarz taught me that all I really needed were planes that satisfied the three basic classifications of coarse, medium and fine. Over time, I came to realize that a well-tuned low-angle jack plane might actually be the only bench plane I need, given the fact that my work does involve a hefty dose of power tools. So if you’re a new woodworker just entering the craft or perhaps you’re a power tool woodworker just dipping your toes into the hand tool world, a low-angle jack plane just might be the only plane you need.
The Low-angle Jack Plane
The plane I’m using for demonstration is the Lie-Nielsen low-angle jack plane. It’s modeled after the Stanley #62 and features a 14″ body and a bevel-up design. It currently retails for $245.
The jack plane, as the name implies, is a “jack of all trades.” That means it should be able to tackle most of the coarse, medium and fine planing tasks we’ll require of it in the wood shop.
As with any “all-in-one” solution, there will be compromises. Because the plane body is somewhere between a smoother and a jointer, it may not be as perfectly suited for those tasks as the specific individual tools might be. Perhaps the 14″ body is too long to smooth a surface with minor hills and valleys. Maybe it’s too short to easily joint an extremely long edge. So if you are looking to be an exclusive hand-tool user, you may not be able to get away with using this plane as your only bench plane. But in my work, the low-angle jack is more than capable of handling just about anything I throw at it.
What Makes it Special?
This particular tool goes above and beyond even a standard jack plane thanks to a very important feature: the bevel-up design. By orienting the bevel up, we can use multiple blades with different bevel angles to change the behavior of the plane. There are also some other unique blades available that increase the functionality of the tool. Here’s a quick rundown.
Blade #1. 25-degree bevel with a 30-degree microbevel. With the bed angle of 12 degrees, this gives us an effective working angle of 42 degrees, which is very close to a standard bevel-down plane (45 degrees). I use this blade for general planing of easy-to-plane woods as well as end grain.
Blade #2. 25-degree bevel with a 50-degree microbevel. With the bed angle of 12 degrees, this gives us an effective working angle of 62 degrees. This high angle makes it possible to get clean cuts on gnarly, unforgiving and figured woods. The cutting action itself is close to scraping so there will be little chance of tearout.
Blade #3. A toothed blade is good for roughing. The teeth allow you to take deep cuts without getting tearout. A great blade for those who want to mill rough boards by hand, or when you have a wide board with excessive twist. You can knock down the high corners and then send the board through a planer to get it nice and flat.
In the video at the top of this post, I show you the results planing long-grain and end-grain cherry with the 30-degree blade. I then plane some highly figured maple with the 30-degree blade to show that there’s a good deal of tearout. With the 50-degree blade installed I plane the same figured board with glass-smooth results. I then use the toothed blade to flatten the face of a rough mahogany board. Later, by request, I show how the #7 jointer plane, with its standard 45 degree angle, also produces a fairly rough result on the figured maple board.
To help put things in perspective, I am using brand new retail values from Lie-Nielsen.com. Let’s assume this plane replaces all the following items:
#5 jack plane – $325
#7 jointer plane – $425
Smoothing plane – $325
Scraper plane – $215
High-angle frog – $75
Grand Total: $1365
To get comparable functionality with the low-angle jack plane, the breakdown looks like this:
Low-angle jack plane – $245
50-degree blade – $40
Toothed blade – $65
90-degree blade – $45
Grand Total: $395
Obviously, we have to make a number of assumptions here and this plane will not be right for everyone in all situations. It’s a compromise solution and it could very well fall short depending on how you work in your shop. Also keep in mind these prices are for reference only and you could find much better prices in the used market or with other brands.