In Chris Schwarz Blog, Handplane Techniques, Handplanes, Woodworking Blogs

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The subject of skew block planes gets people’s bodily juices going.

When I announced at our weekly staff meeting that we had received a new skew block plane from Veritas, two of the editors who use primarily power tools sat up straight and said “Really!?” and “Cool!”

After many years of working here, I can reliably translate “power tool guy” language. (I also speak “drunk guy,” “baby talk” and “agitated feline.”) So here’s a quick translation of “Veritas Skew Block Plane.”

“Veritas” translates as “high quality” and “good value.”

“Skew” translates as “better and cooler than straight.”

“Block” translates as “a plane I already know how to use.”

And “plane” translates as “planer.”

But what is the skew block used for? I know lots of woodworkers who swear by the tool and use it as a day-to-day block plane, trimming tenon cheeks, fielding raised panels, assisting with dovetail joinery, plus creating and trimming small rabbets.

I bought a Stanley No. 140 in 1997 and tried like heck to love it. I tried using it as a regular block plane; but with the tool’s side plate removed, the toe of the tool was quite flexible. So I always had to make sure the side plate was on (and that I hadn’t lost the screws that secured it).

I used it for trimming tenon cheeks, at which it works quite well.

I tried using it for raising panels, but the tool didn’t have a cross-grain nicker, so I had to knife in the field on the top and bottom of the panel (or saw it in).

I tried using it make rabbets, but it didn’t have a fence or a depth stop. It did trim up an existing rabbet quite well.

So I wasn’t impressed with the tool. I sold it. Years later I bought a Lie-Nielsen version of the No. 140, which had some serious improvements compared to the original. The body casting is thicker, so I can use it as a block plane with the side plate removed. It has a fence, so I can use it in some joinery applications.

But my version doesn’t have a cross-grain nicker (new Lie-Nielsens come with a nicker) and it doesn’t have a depth stop. So the plane is more useful, but it still isn’t as useful as a moving fillister plane (which has a nicker, fence and depth stop). So that plane does more sitting than cutting.

Enter the Veritas
The Veritas Skew Block Plane makes some further improvements on the original No. 140 and the Lie-Nielsen version. The most significant difference is (collectors rejoice) that there is no more side plate and locking screws to lose. Instead, one sidewall is solid and the other sidewall simply has an opening near the sole for a corner of the blade to peek through. As a result, the tool is always solid, and the toe doesn’t flex during normal use.

The other significant difference is that this tool has an adjustable mouth, which is a serious bit of machining. As a result you can close up the mouth to pass only gnat keisters. This makes the tool even more suitable as a daily user.

The list of other improvements is impressive:

1. The tool has a Norris-style adjuster, which controls both blade depth and lateral position in the mouth.

2. The blade is guided by three setscrews, which assists in setting the skewed cutter. With most tools, I ignore setscrews such as these. In this tool, I found them helpful.

3. The fence is locked by the same robust collet-locking mechanism used on the company’s rabbeting and plow planes. (Be sure to rough up the fence post with #100-grit sandpaper for maximum locking power.)

4. The nicker adjusts up and down, plus in and out. This makes it easy to align the nicker and cutter. And you can easily swing the nicker out of the way.

But even with all these improvements, this tool still isn’t a replacement for a moving fillister plane. And that’s because it lacks a depth stop. A depth stop allows you to make miles of rabbets that are all the same size. Because of the depth stop, the tool simply stops cutting when you are at your final depth.

As a result, I wouldn’t put a skew block plane on the list of must-have tools for hand-tool woodworkers. Get a good moving fillister plane first. Or go old school and get a straight rabbet plane and use your fingers as a fence.

If, however, you do a lot of work with power tools and would like to have a high quality block plane that can also tune up tenons and clean up raised panels and rabbets, this tool is an excellent choice.

The plane is available from Lee Valley Tools for $189 (U.S.) until May 31. Then the price goes to $209. It’s available with O1 or A2 blades (I prefer O1 blades for low-angle tools, but that’s just me). And it’s available in right- and left-hand configurations.

– Christopher Schwarz

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