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Bevel Up Vs Bevel Down Bench Planes - The Basics

Bevel Down

I want this post to be quick and to the point. Both types work well creating near flawless surfaces when set right and both types have advantages and disadvantages. Bevel Down bench planes are in the image above.

The archetypal plane we all recognise in it's Bailey and Wooden guise shown above. The grinding & sharpening bevel faces down and is mounted on a frog or bed holding the iron at a fixed angle. Surface finish of the wood is controlled primarily by the cap iron (looking forward to discussing this more). In addition secondary bevels can be applied to the back of the blade to raise the pitch beyond the standard(ish) 45deg and in some newer metal planes different frogs can fitted to change the pitch. And lastly a tight mouth. On wooden planes and infills the mouth would normally be a fixed size but on most modern style metal planes this can be adjusted. The bevel down planes are tried, tested and proved over hundreds of years and the work completed in their wake is breathtaking.

Stanley Bevel Up Planes
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Bevel Up. A relative new kid on the block in the form we see above in terms of the ancient craft of woodworking but very good nevertheless. Yes, you guessed it the grinding and sharpening bevel faces up! Surface finish is controlled primarily by the application of honing bevels to the blade that raise or lower the pitch. Lower pitches work best for end grain and higher pitches work best when working fussy timbers with the grain. In addition the mouth can be easily changed and made ultra fine more easily than most bevel down planes, as the adjustment mechanism requires no tools. The bevel up planes have become popular in recent times and have been used by skilled woodworkers to great effect.

Most users who like to change the pitch with back bevelled irons in a bevel down or with various honing angles in a bevel up carry an extra one or two blades to save grinding or re-honing.

Stanley Sweetheart Planes
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Both have a distinct “feel” in use and what someone prefers will be down to personal preference. I have enjoyed using the Stanley 62 bevel up (after curing it’s problem). It’s comfortable and simple enough to use. The thing I like least about it is adjusting as I go takes a little longer as I have to remove my hands from the tote.

I personally tend to move towards bevel down, as there is access to many examples in wood and metal available from days of yore that are smashing to own and use. From 20th century baileys or 19th century woodies. For me the trump card for the Bailey style is that you can adjust as you go very quickly indeed.

Wooden Smoothing Plane
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The best advice if you’re wondering what’s best is to go and try some at a show, store or friends workshop. Failing that you can’t go far wrong using any version. Both versions are truly able to resist tear out, work end grain and create near flawless surfaces. Get one, try it, get the best from it and move on. Just don’t expect night and day surface finish difference between the two or faster project times, your skills at sharpening and using a plane effectively are I would think more important than you bevel orientation.