Who likes a 5-1/2 plane?


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  • #691146

    I picked up a Stanley 5-1/2 plane out of curiosity and I’m not feeling any love for it. I have a 4-1/2 which I think is a great smoother but find the 5-1/2 size odd.

    Does anyone use a 5-1/2 regularly and for what purpose?

    • This topic was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by Cunha. Reason: added topic tags

    I have two. One has the narrow blade
    Not that that matters.
    I use a lot of firewood type lumber and like the extra weight when hogging off a lot of stuff quickly.
    I also seem to be able to level the edge of boards a lot mor squarely with the 5&1/2 over the five. For some reason i like to tip the narrower plane

    Thomas Brown

    I use a 5 1/2 when I’m straightening edges as I find it easier than using a shorter bodied plane. I really don’t notice the extra weight.

    Austin Conner

    I love my 5 1/2.

    It’s regularly the first plane that touches the surface of my stock. The extra mass is good for rough work, but I can still set it fine enough that is only needs a smoother to finish off the surface.

    It’s also my go-to plane to use on a shooting board. The extra width and heft, make it perfect for shooting.


    I have one also, I really like it.

    It’s tuned up well, and is good for rough stock and close to smooth.

    Larry Geib

    There is another alternative.
    I have a type 12 #5/12 , which is the older 2 1/4” width
    ( as opposed the the 2 3/8” width of a #4 1/2 and the post 1939 #5 1/2, # 6, and #7 planes )

    I have it set up with an iron with almost no crown and use it as a panel smoother and as a small jointer when I don’t want to horse around a #6 or #7.
    I think it hits a sweet spot and seems less klutzy to me that either the new ones or a# 4 1/4. In fact I sold off my #4 1/2.
    You need a really flat sole to use it as a panel smoother, IMO,
    The attached picture shows it next to my #605, which is the bedrock version of the #5 jack.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by Larry Geib.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by Larry Geib.
    Larry Geib

    Here is the old style # 5 1/2 sandwiched between a 2” #605 and a 2 3/8” #6.

    The one downside of the narrower version is the availability of replacement irons and cap irons. The stores don’t stock them around me, and selection seems limited to irons by Ron Hock. I looked into a PMV 11 replacement from Veritas, but they don’t offer them in that width.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by Larry Geib.

    Thanks for the replies.

    My 5-1/2 needs quite a bit of work and I couldn’t see a role for it as a slightly larger 5. If I could visualize its advantage I’d be more excited about doing the work. Primary problem is a fairly convex sole, the worst I’ve seen. Somehow despite its heavy and rough use it has an unpitted laminated iron at 2-1/4 wide.

    I like the fact that my 5 is narrower for roughing. Scrub planes are much narrower so I expected a wider plane to perform not as well. The panel plane use makes sense but I have a 6 and a couple of 7s that I would grab first. These are just my instincts and habits, I have no formal training.

    Larry, I think I may have seen a 2-1/4 iron from Ray Iles. Nothing wrong with Hock irons if that’s the only option.

    Larry Geib

    I have Hock irons and like them a lot, especially on my good smoother.

    I just wanted to try a PMV-11 blade. I’m not fond of A2. The original blade is getting short and has the 1920 SW logo, so I thought I’d put it away for if I ever pass it on.

    I think importing a Ray Iles would be spendy for me. The only US vendor I know is Tools for Working Wood, and they don’t offer the 2 1/4 width. The do offer it in D2, but I’ve never pushed a plane with that iron, and besides they seem to be out when I look. I’m not sure I would like the chromium to sharpen. And whenever I buy from the UK I have to take out a second mortgage for the shipping.

    I sympathise about the convex sole. Mine sat until I took the time to rehab and flatten it years ago. When I did finally fettle it and made a new tote and knob to my taste it transformed the feel of the plane. I also keep it really sharp so it’s easier to push -Sharper than I tolerate on my jointers.
    I have no cartilage left in the elbow, so I notice the difference with wider shavings.

    Stewart Perry

    Apologies for straying off-topic – the Japanning on your planes looks really good Larry. Did you do it yourself, and if so would you mind sharing your technique?

    Stu - Surrey, UK

    Larry Geib


    You are looking at different things I tried over maybe 40 years..There are actually three different treatments you are looking at which I have tried over the years. If I brought out a couple more planes you’d probably see a couple more. They all work after a fashion, but give different effects depending on what you are looking for.

    The 605 Bedrock ( 1910-1911) is a plane I bought at and estate sale in about 1972. It had been sitting in a Studebaker barn for maybe 40 years and was a pile of rust. IMy first “restoration” , i t got stripped down and painted with a rattle can of “ Ford Engine Black” by Dupli-color, which has held up pretty well over the years. That plane was in my day box and went in the field with me every day , so it got a lot of abuse. It gets waxed or oiled once I a while. If you go that route, spray as thick as you dare without runs to make it more like Japan finish. Maybe only spray on surfaces laying flat. Some people use one of the so-called high temperature paints, but they give a glossier finish.

    Compare that to the #5 1/2 ( a 1920 type 12) which has the original japanning, enhanced only by a soak in citric acid for derusting, a neutralizing borax bath, a wipe down with GOOP brand hand cleaner to bring out a bit of shine and an occasional waxing or oiling to prevent any rust or pitch buildup. You can’t leave the GOOP on very long or it will strip the japanning. No more than 5 minutes. Check as you go. The goal is to even out the surface a little amd remove grime.
    The main changes to that plane were a American black walnut knob I found and a matching tote I made from a scrap of walnut. The originals were broken.

    If you look in the first picture carefully, you will see the 605 is shinier than the real japanning on the #5 1/2, though it compares well to the japanning on a WWII smoother I own, so I guess I depends with plane you use as the benchmark.

    The upside is it will take more abuse than real japanning. I think lie Neilsen uses powder coating. They go for a flat finish on their iron planes.

    The Stanley #6 (late 30’s) is mostly original japanning, but enhanced with a single light coat of a home concoction of 2 parts spar varnish and 1 part asphaltum thinned out with mineral spirits and a touch of turps put on REALLY thin, almost as a wipe on varnish would be. this was after the standard cleanup. I think I used that concoction on hearing about it in the 1980’s sometime. I t seems fairly durable, but probably not as much as the paint.
    it takes a couple weeks to firm up enough to use the plane. Stick it in the sun. . That plane also went on the road when I was hanging new doors in old houses. While doing historic restorations.

    I did strip a plane completely and use the asphaltum mix, and it does allow you to make a plane look more like original. It has to be put on in light coats and by thinly or it will run, it was a bit tedious. If you try a thick coat over existing japanning it will pucker.
    The asphaltum in this country is from a single mine in the Utah and sold as powdered Gilsonite. It’s on eBay or Amazon, I forget which. Some people have had success by using roof cement as the asphaltum base. I haven’t tried. If you try that, filter it through some linen cloth. Some roof cement has chopped glass as a reinforcement in it. Don’t use that.

    There is now a commercially made version of that mix that is sold by A company here called Liberty on the Hudson here in the USA. http://libertyonthehudson.com/pontypool.html I have no idea if they ship to the UK, but that’s what I’d recommend now.

    It is a bit thicker and seems better mixed. Expensive, but a quart will do several planes. You can thin it to taste ( thin coats are a must) I know a dealer who uses a very thin wash of it to brighten up user grade tools sells. ( and tells you he does it) He doesn’t mess with tools that go to the collectible market.
    99% of tools don’t qualify as collector material,, despite what we would like to think. They are picky folks.

    Stewart Perry

    Great information Larry, thanks for sharing.

    The engine paint method seems to hit the sweet spot for me between durability, ease of application and looks. 18 months ago I painted a couple of planes which I had stripped back to bare metal. I used some rattle cans of primer and black paint which I had kicking around. The results were quite poor – it didn’t look at all right and began to chip off after a few months. I’m sure engine paint will perform a lot better. The Dupli-color paint you mention is still available but shipping it across the pond doubles the price, so I’ll look for a similar UK product.

    My #4 (attached) has quite a glossy finish which I was using as my reference for how a plane “should” look. I thought this might be the original japanning, although it could well have been painted by a previous owner. In any case I’m a user not a collector so I’d be more than happy if all of my planes looked like that one.


    Stu - Surrey, UK

    Larry Geib

    Your #4 is probably original the iron dates it as postwar, and they goofed the stuff on thicker. My WWII plane looks similar. It looks pretty nice. Just keep it oiled and waxed.

    Krylon makes a paint similar to the dupli-color. Maybe you can find that. Look for high heat or high heat Max. And a company called Rutland makes a paint especially for cast iron stoves that is close.. . The paints don’t quite match japanning in that they are shinier and the don’t have the brownish cast real japanning has.

    Some people add a brown cast with a thin wash coat of Amber or garnet shellac or a burnt Umber wash with artist colors. I didn’t bother. The shellac seems temporary, especially as I sometimes use alcohol to clean up planes, and the Artist color seems like a bother that just wasn’t worth it. And some people overspray with a matte lacquer.

    I really don’t have much desire to try to mimic the original look. When I bought the planes I was just a poor young carpenter/joiner trying to put a kit together. ( at one point I set aside 10% of my income for tools). I didn’t have money for new planes but wanted decent looking tools that weren’t just piles of rust.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by Larry Geib.

    I have some paint made by Coronado, which is a Benjamin Moore brand and is sold through BM stores. It’s called Rust Scat and is well beyond the performance of Rustoleum. There is an acrylic version and oil based urethane. I used the oil based version.

    The paint is Direct to Metal (DTM) and will dry extremely hard over time. No primer required on cast iron. For real.

    I bought the satin since I like the look of LN planes but the gloss would be better in retrospect. It’s a cooler black than typical Stanley japanning but not overly so. You could probably throw some tint in it to warm it up.

    Since a quart is a lifetime supply for plane refurbs I’ve used it on outside projects. I painted a rusty umbrella base and I’m super impressed on how it looks after 4 years outside. Also refinished an old square that was paintless from abuse.

    Austin Conner


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