An Experiment: Changing Smoothing Planes for a Year
I’m the weirdo who counts the number of steps and hand motions it takes me to brew a cup of coffee. And I’m always looking for ways to shave away a few minutes here and there from my routine activities (for example, brushing my teeth while simultaneously fetching my clothes for the day).
So it’s no surprise that I also do this in the shop. During the last couple years I’ve noticed how much I use my block plane for smoothing large panels. Its small sole helps me get into the hollows on tabletops and case sides, shaving off lots of time to get a finished panel.
The only problem with using a block plane as a smoothing plane is you don’t have a cap iron (a handy thing to have when you face nasty grain), and getting the iron curved just right for the tool’s low bed is more difficult than it is on a traditional bench plane.
So last week I decided to switch to a No. 2 bench plane for a year and put my No. 4 on the shelf. So I purchased (at full retail) a bronze Lie-Nielsen No. 2.
The No. 2 is just a wee bit longer (7-1/2”) than my block plane (6-1/4”). And its blade is 1-5/8” wide, which is just 1/4” wider than my block plane’s. And the No. 2 has a few things my block plane doesn’t, including a cap iron, a lateral-adjust lever and a blade adjustment wheel that is easier to reach while my hands are pushing the tool.
When I mentioned this experiment to a few friends, they said I was going to hate the tool’s tote – I’d never get my fingers between the tote and the frog. And while it’s true I can’t use a four-fingered grip on the tote, I’m not worried for two reasons:
- If you hold the tool like a coffin smoothing plane it feels just like you are holding a wooden coffin smoothing plane. In other words, you wrap your hand around the tote and frog.
- My friend Carl Bilderback showed me a way to alter the tote so I could use it with a traditional grip. To demonstrate, he showed me his Millers Falls plane in the No. 2 size. My hand went right in. So I’m going to make a replacement tote for this Lie-Nielsen No. 2 using measurements from the Millers Falls tote.
This afternoon I set up the No. 2 by sharpening the iron and tuning up the cap iron so it could be used for the most difficult woods. Tomorrow I’ll post a video that shows how I go about tuning and setting the cap iron – I’ll also show the grip I’m using on the tool right now.
And then Wednesday I’ll show how smoothing planes have been increasing in size since the 17th century, and have perhaps become too bloated. So stay tuned.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. If you’d like to fix up a vintage plane, check out my DVD “Super-tune a Handplane,” which is available from ShopWoodworking.com.