Reply To: What 2 hand planes to start with.

Tom Wright

Congrats on the purchase of some good tools, very awesome. At the moment I also mostly use the LN 4 and 5 which I think matches your choice.

Here are some extra thoughts based on some experience with Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Stanley Bailey and others:
– If you’re starting with rough-sawn lumber needing significant truing, a true scrub plan is hard to do without. I use the Veritas Scrub Plane with PMV-11 blade, which holds its edge for a long time in harsh use. As you may know, Scrub planes are small and typically come with a very tight-radius camber. Try turning rough hardwood lumber into trued, refined boards, and you’ll know why. A wider blade with more shallow camber struggles where the true scrub thrives.

-If on the other hand you are starting with machine-dimensioned lumber off of your jointer and planer, I’d go straight to the Lie-Nielsen #4 plane without hesitation. It will bring back the nicer sheen of hand-planed wood very successfully.

If I had to get only two planes, I’d probably get the Lie-Nielsen 4 and 5. Or, the 4 or 5 and a Router Plane. I reach for the 5 constantly to true boards and planks of different lengths prior to joinery. The 4 on the other hand is an absolute gem for smoothing. I put a mild camber on both of these blades for these purposes. Without camber, these planes don’t work well for anything except running down the edge of a board. However, camber is good for edge joining too. Camber is good for almost everything and it takes time and practice to put this correctly into a new Lie-Nielsen blade since its a thick blade. But it must be done for most work…

As far as other planes I have worked with a lot, here are are a few:
– The Lie-Nielsen #62 Jack plane. I used this a lot before using the LN 4 and 5. It is good, however, I’ve always found that compared to the LN 4 or 5, it cannot work as long, and without tear-out, through gnarly hardwoods. It is totally appropriate for end-grain, however.
– The Veritas #4 with PMV-11 blade: I like the concept in theory, but it practice it is so difficult in the Norris fine-adjustment compared to the ease of the LN yoke adjusters, that I don’t gravitate toward it. The pros are that it is a rugged plane and has comfortable handles for bigger hands. And it has set screws to capture the blade. However, I never find this much of an issue with the LN planes that don’t have this…
– Small block planes: its sure nice to have one around for a multitude of tasks. Get a Lie-Nielsen and you won’t regret it. Its simple, well-designed, refined and will hold up forever without issue. This was my first plane many years ago and it still gets constant use in my shop. Mine is a high-angle block plane but if you have a smoothing plane, I recommend the low angle that they now sell.
– Router Plane. I have the LN. This tool is interesting. Actually, properly speaking, if I had to live with only two planes, again I might have to go with a 4 or 5 and a router plane. Its virtually indispensable for so many joinery processes. Paul Sellers really brings this to light in his work.
– #7 jointer plane: great, if one can afford it eventually. Useful for flattening very large surfaces such as a bench top, jointing long, wider boards and the like. Due to its length and weight. At the same time, I think that I can do almost the same with a #5 as long as I pay more attention to where I’m going with a surface, using straight edges. But those straight edges then have to be pretty long and accurate. I think of a #7 or 8 as a luxury for someone who either has the money, the strong desire to own one, or makes larger pieces for a living. Or all of the above lol.

With respect to high-angle frogs and low angle planes for shooting boards. I approve of both things since they will expand your range of capability, your options. But bear in mind that you’ll eventually likely covet a true shooting board plane with a skewed blade. So, I can advise waiting and saving up for that tool if you want to, rather than buying for example, a large low-angle jack-plane such as the LN 62.

As far as plane quality and types in general. I found that buying the nicest standard cast-design plane I could afford lowered the learning curve and helped me learn how to really sharpen and use hand planes. The Lie-Nielsen #4 in particular is just a very user-friendly plane to set up and use. As far as usability, I haven’t found anything that gives such easy on-the-fly adjustability as the Lie-Nielsen yoke adjuster system. This really speeds up planing compared to anything else I’ve used. I do have a Bailey plane but I think it needs a better blade, and I also think that it is not as precisely-manufactured as the LN planes. I’m pretty sure that there are little inconsistencies throughout that keep it from performing at the level of its LN counterpart. That said, it is far, far lighter. One thing I have learned from dimensioning hard chestnut oak for hours at a time is this – Lie-Nielsen planes work well in terms of their weight when working hardwoods. However, that said, I have to be really careful with how I handle them. I can handle a LN 5 for 4-6 hours almost non-stop planing – but – if I try to lift, hold or turn the plane with only one hand holding the main handle, my wrist tires and can even develop strain injuries. So basically, planing with two hands is fine, but any motion to lubricate the sole, brush dust out of the interior of the plane during work, etc, has to be done carefully so I don’t strain my wrists. Thats where the issue arises when using heavy planes, I find. In general, I find that slowing down and thinking about what I’m doing and how I’m working reduces injury from strain. Some of my joints are already getting worn down from manual labor so I’m being more and more careful to work smart rather than bulldoze my way through things. I suppose that’s all part of the natural process of learning to master something.

What about wooden-body planes a-la James Krenov? I don’t have much experience with them. I did however get to try them at Colonial Williamsburg, VA. I liked what I felt. Honestly, I think my future lies towards wooden planes. Less oxidation of iron bodies, and lighter so less physical strain. They require more skill, experience and attention to run well. But for the master, they are to be preferred because they are a delight to use. And you can make them for specific tasks, to fit your personal ergonomics. You should always use the lightest tool that will get the job done for you… Which is partly why Paul uses the #4 Stanley Bailey so much. He can go all day on that.

As far as care: Heavy planing can be hard work and make your fingers and hands perspire enough to mess with iron-body planes. It may not be so much that one person has acidic hands more than another, if you’re perspiring while doing hard work! My LN planes tend to get very minor rust areas at the front near the knob, but on the raw iron sides where my hand contacts that area. No amount of faithful waxing or oiling has prevented this rust from accumulating albeit very lightly. But I’m getting ready to put a heavy duty clear finish on my plane sides to more permanently keep rust from happening. This will be a metal-adhering clear Polyurethane which is super hard and tough.
For the sole, rust has never proven to be a problem. I use candlewax or Jojoba oil while planing. For the area of tight contact between the chip-breaker and the blade where they are clamped together by the screw, I do find that some kind of oxidation can build up there if one doesn’t stay on it. I can recommend higher quality industrial metal protectants here rather than something like Jojoba Oil. I like Jojoba Oil but I would rank it low on being a rust preventative compared to high-quality industrial products designed to protect steel from rust.

Sharpening; I use a big Tormek stone wheel-in-water maching, leather stropping wheel as desired, plus water stones. The Tormek primarily keeps the main bevel angle of a blade under control, particularly the upper, obtuse-angled edge up from the cutting edge of a plane blade. I’d call this the back edge of the main bevel. Doing this then allows me to spend minimal time on the water stones setting the main bevel in 1,000 grit followed by a tiny secondary bevel in 3/6k, 4/8k and 10k if desired / (not necessary). I do use the “ruler trick” for plane blades, using a very, very thin steel 6″ ruler. This works very well. I use honing guides and again, the LN guide is excellent. Using guides speeds accurate sharpening and reduces premature waste on both chisel and plane blade lengths over the years. Believe me… Some folks love sharpening free-hand but its not for everyone. Don’t be ashamed to use honing guides and reduce the variables around your efforts to run a plane really, really well. Figuring out super-accurate free-hand sharpening at the same time as figuring out really, really good planing work is a tough go. Get good sharpening down to where it is very reliable and repeatable, and you are pretty much on your way to highly successful planing. At least this is how I go about it in the Lie-Nielsen oriented fashion my shop operates. These extremely-accurately sharpened, relatively heavy planes will perform at truly fine levels along the lines of what David Charlesworth looks for in plane performance. Oh, and if you are using a Lie-Nielsen, don’t hesitate to follow their sharpening videos on youtube. Their approach is very minimal and very, very refined… Do it and your blades will last a lifetime and be a joy to use. If you start to think of the “why” the way they sharpen, you’ll see that it makes sense on a smart level that is more complex than some of us think about sharpening. Learn that information. Speaking of which, the sharpening book by the founder of Veritas is pretty useful.

Finally, I don’t write here often. But I can share that Paul has really been a great teacher. He has played a huge role in making hand-tool woodworking more accessible to me. I haven’t found anyone better for this anywhere. I haven’t found that my experiences matches his exactly in the the shop, but his wisdom is a great base-line to work from as you learn about your tools and the material you’re working with. For example, I do like a big thick Roubo bench, no apron, with acres of trued, flat surface to work on for flattening boards. But then again, Paul’s approach with his bench and vice work very well for a lot of things and he does fine with it. And, for example, his approach of having a higher bench is a back-saver. My bench is very high and my back doesn’t hurt. Just like Paul. There’s no one way for everybody. Stanley, Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, wooden planes, and a host of others may all be a part of one’s journey along the way to what they prefer and enjoy using. The same as workbenches. Paul’s approach is enlightening, and his life inspiring, for anyone on that journey.

I named my son Paul Thomas due to both Paul Sellers and another Paul. He has been more than a teacher of woodworking to me. He is also an exemplary person in many ways although I’ve never met him personally.
Best wishes with the hand-tool working and new hand planes!