Your First Handplane
With a decent set of chisels under our belts let's give some thought to hand planes. Now for me I'm happy with humble chisels and I find they yield very pleasing results. Planes however are a different animal. Until around the 1970's you were able to buy decent planes in the Bailey style by makers such as Record, Stanley, Marples etc. Sadly this soon changed and quality took a real nose dive for some time until makers like Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Clifton etc took up the mantle to start making high quality tools again. You can buy a cheap new hand plane as long as you stick to the smaller sizes and only want an occasional user, a site box tool or DIY plane. However, if you want a decent long term user for work at the bench you will need to look at other options. I and the people I work with in our shop all own and use a No 4 Bailey style plane like the ones shown above and below. One of them also has a No 5. I feel so familiar with this layout that I will be steering you in this very direction. Simply put buy a new quality No 4 for smoothing and a good Vintage No 5 for shooting edges (longer trying planes can come later), if you have more funds feel free to buy two new quality planes. I would personally suggest you buy your one new quality plane from a reputable seller. Vintage offering can be snapped up on ebay, car boot sales and dealers. The reason for this recommendation is that a quality No 4 plane will show you how a plane should work. 90% of my planes are quality vintage offerings and jolly nice they are too. However, I know how to correct and refine any problems that I find when they arrive and I know how I like and expect them to work. There is no mystery to that process, it's easy, but if this is your first plane and you have no reference point how are you to know if the vintage offering you bought is any good? Is it working correctly? The new tool will be your benchmark, a tool your other offerings can be compared and contrasted against. If you decide to sell that quality No 4 because you love the vintage planes then you will easily make the money back on the secondhand market. The real surprise is it's very rare to see them for sale, they are that good!
At the beginning of the year I purchased a Quangsheng No 4 from Workshop Heaven which you can see above next to a vintage Record No 5 1/2. The Quangsheng is made in the Bedrock style and cost about £120.00. I have been using it for about three weeks and it is quite interesting to see what buying a quality hand plane is all about. The fit and finish is excellent with neat well finished castings. The blade was the star of the show, a flat back, nice thickness and was honed and ready in moments and shavings were raised in short order. All told it was about 10 to 15 minutes from starting to open the parcel and having it working at the bench. The only fault I had was the cap iron was not perfectly flat and allowed shavings to jamb when set very close (0.4mm). This required 5 minutes work on the stone to resolve. If I compare that experience with vintage purchases that's a great deal less work. When buying vintage I like to sniff out something that looks like it has been cared for and used, seeing a short blade is reassuring as you know it was a user. Any plane suffering with rust, anything missing, with no sign of love I would recommend ignoring unless you like restoring tools. When buying vintage budget around £25 to £40 and look for brands such as Record, Woden, Stanley, Marples and Millers Falls. Avoid plastic handles, I have nothing against plastic for tool handles, it's just an indicator on planes that the standards have lowered.
If you fancy it you can go for a quality No 5 and a vintage No4 but I were you I would stick with a nice new smoother. In the next article we will review the parts of the plane, honing the iron and putting it to use and how to make sure the vintage plane is working as it should. All these articles will be in the "Basics" section of the blog as a reference fro those wanting some advice of those initial purchases and methods.