Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Near Boston, Massachusetts
I have a marginally heretical suggestion: Start with a jack plane, and use a single, simple set up. Let's be honest, here: a smoothing plane is a precision instrument, and if you don't know how to set one up you're likely to get frustrated when it doesn't work. Start with a #5 or so, and sharpen it straight across with some curve at the corners, to keep them from digging in.
With a reasonably set up #5, you should be able to get things smooth enough that sandpaper can finish it off, and learning to sand is a lot easier than learning to use a smoothing plane. Once you've got the #5 working and you're happy with it, THEN think about a smoothing plane. If, while you're working on the #5, you find a nice jointer plane selling for a song, pick it up. A jointer is hard to use on long boards, but (relatively) simple to learn to use on shorter pieces, and it's a nice thing to have if you don't have an electric jointer.
Also, while I can't argue with them, don't get too hung up on the thickness of your shavings: I've never gotten within arm's reach of .001 with my smoothing plane, but it still leaves a really nice surface. If you can get that thickness, great! That's a good thing, and it's something to aspire to. But in the end, what matters is the surface left behind, not what you've cut off it.