I've read that block planes, which are smaller and have a lower blade
angle than smoothing planes, are meant primarily for cutting end grain.
Is there any reason why a block plane with a 12 degree blade angle is
unsuitable for planing a face or edge? Is it simply a matter of taking
longer to remove the same material, or that the smaller sole is more
difficult to obtain square faces with? Is there another reason why a block
plane shouldn't be used to cut with the grain?
I use my block plane for all kinds of planing, subject to certain
If you have squirrely grain, the low angle of the blade is more likely to
The utility of a small plane for squaring up surfaces is limited to small
planed surfaces. One cannot reliably square up a long board with a short
Trying to smooth plane a large surface with a little plane would take a
Many times I use my block plane to clean up board edges fresh from the
table saw prior to gluing. I take a very fine cut, just enough to remove
the saw marks, but not enough to risk making the edges unsquare or
"If I knew what I was doing, I wouldn't be here"
There are two separate factors in play: the size of the plane and the
cutting angle of the blade (and maybe the amount of blade support close
to the cutting edge).
A block plane (called because they were used to trim end grain on
butcher blocks) will have a bed angle of 12 degrees, but because the
blade is held bevel-up, you will need to add your bevel angle to get the
total cutting angle, close to 35-38 degrees. That angle is ideal for
slicing end grain.
When cutting face grain, you have a chance of tearout, and in general, a
higher cutting angle (> 45 degrees) reduces chances of tearout but
increases the difficulty of pushing the plane through your material.
See http://www.leevalley.com/shopping/Instructions.asp?pageI520 for
some pictures of tearout. You could put a higher angle onto another
blade and use your block plane on face grain. (With traditional
bevel-down planes, your bed angle is your cutting angle unless you play
with back bevels on your blade...)
As for the size of the sole, it may affect your accuracy over large
surfaces but it is sure nicer to use a small plane where finer control
Jacobe Hazzard wrote:
Thanks Hitch and Daniel, for the prompt and informative replies. I think
I'm going to like this group :-)
Based this new intelligence, I think I probably need a low angle block
plane in addition to a smaller higher angle plane for those times when a
smooth plane is too large.
On Tue, 26 Oct 2004 19:13:10 -0400, "Jacobe Hazzard"
there are better tools for that, but often for a quick lick a block
plane is fine. better for edges than faces, for sure, but if what you
need is to work a lump off of a face before running through the
thickness sander or as prep for paint you can open the throat and use
it as a scrub. a dedicated scrub plane will work better, sure, but if
what you have is a block, use it.
the block plane is _versatile_. it should probably be the first plane
you buy for that reason. soon after though you should probably be
shopping for a smoother, a jointer and a card scraper.
bottom line is get your block plane nice and sharp and tuned up and
see how far you can take it. it's fun....
A new block plane will be my second plane, after the ancient stanley
smooth plane I've been resurrecting.
As a follow-up question, which of 12 and 21 degree blade angle block
planes are more versatile? I'm thinking it's best if I go for the low
angle, because I may eventually buy a smaller plane with a steeper angle,
and then I would have more options.
Note that if you buy a separate blade and hone a bevel with a steep
angle on it, you can use it to achieve a high cutting angle, and
mitigate your tearout ("photo 4" in the link I posted earlier).
If you are getting multiple planes, it's nice to leave each one set up,
ready to use when you grab it. If cost is an issue, you can buy one
low-angle plane and swap in blades of varying bevel angles to get the
cutting angle you need.
When I bought my block plane, I spoke with Rob Cosman who is the
Lie-Nielsen rep in Canada. He suggested I buy the adjustable-mouth
low-angle block plane. He was right. This plane has done everything I
asked of it and is a joy to use. I cut figured woods and exotics as well as
the usual North American species with never a problem. I'm not suggesting
you buy Lie-Niesen as I know Veritas is also a very good product, but I am
saying that for a plane you'll find you use constantly, you should buy a
good quality one. Another poster here once wrote, "Buy quality once, cry
once. Buy poor quality, cry constantly" or something like that.
You have described the concept behind a low angle smoothing plane.
Think of a block plane as you know it, made larger.
There are many discussions of these, on the hand tools forum at
www.woodcentral.com Beware that some of these CAN get a bit esoteric.
Some folks there take there hand planes very seriously.
By the way, these planes work very well, particularly on heavily figured
Yep. Despite some folks reporting problems with planing figured
grain, there are a few of us who rely heavily on our low-angle smoothers
for all kinds of work. The keys to having them work succesfully on
tricky grain are: Keep the iron *very* sharp (no, sharper than that);
set the mouth for an opening that's *just* large enough to pass the
shaving; and extend the iron just *barely* below the sole.
Bevel-up planes with sensitive depth-adjustment and adjustable
mouths make all the these conditions (except the sharpening, obviously)
easy to achieve (and repeat). Plus they offer extremely solid bedding
that's closer to the end of the iron than a standard bevel-down plane.
Finally, if you want to vary the effective cutting angle, all you have
to do is buy an extra iron and sharpen it to whatever angle you want;
the bedding angle plus the sharpening angle will be your cutting angle.
So given a bevel-up plane with a 12 degree bedding angle, you can
easily achieve an effective angle of over the standard 45 of bevel-down
planes by simply sharpening your iron at above 33 degrees.
FWIW, Lee Valley's design that incorporates side set-screws is a
very handy improvement, IMHO. Since it basically eliminates any worries
about lateral adjustment, it actually encourages you to be quicker to
re-hone your irons, which is a Good Thing, especially when working with
Chuck Vance (no affilliation, blah, blah, blah)
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