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?Â¼” 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?Â¾”-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?Â¾” edge.
– Christopher Schwarz