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Advice on Hand Planes

6196 Views 6 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Terry Q
I have a new Stanley 12-404 No. 4 Adjustable Bench Plane with 2-Inch Cutter. The economy model. If I put enough effort into it, can this plane perform how it should without upgrades? I just want to know before I undertake the project. If you were new to the hand planing world and wanted about 3 economical planes to start with, which 3 would it be? I really want to fill out my set. I'm mainly talking if I buy them new. I mainly want them for furniture construction (like coffee tables) and other assorted wood working projects.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. I know this topic could probably be found in other threads, but I don't know about my individual needs.

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To me the newer planes that aren't real expensive may not have the better metal in their irons like the high dollar planes and the old Stanley planes. The good part is you can buy an old Stanley for about the same price as the cheaper planes.

The planes I have and don't really need any others are Stanley #12-101 trim plane #110 low angle block plane #3, #4c, #5 and #8c. I have a couple others. I also have a #46 and several really small planes.
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Planes are really simple tools, as long as the blade is sharp and the sole is flat they all work the same. The only things that separate the high and low end are fit and finish. Something like a Veritas plane will have a beautiful finish on the metal, buttery smooth adjustment mechanics and be ergonomically fantastic, whereas a Harbor Freight special will look like crap, be a touch more of a pain to adjust and might require a bit of TLC to clean up the metal and flatten the sole. Still though, a bit of work and the HF plane will preform just as well as the Veritas.

One thing to note, thats the plane itself, NOT the blade. The higher cost planes are more likely to come with a quality blade, a lower cost plane is more likely to have a crappy blade. Not really something to stress over though, a place like Hock Tools can get you set up for ~$40. So you figure, $20 for a cheap plane, $40 for a blade, $10 for some sandpaper to flatten the sole and you only come in at $70, bout $130 cheaper than a fancy one, and itll work just the same.

If you really want to have some fun, try making one:
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I bought an American made smoothing plane from ace hardware back in the early 80’s for $19.49. Never had much success using it, figured I was an idiot.

35 years later I pull it out, sharpen the plane, lap the bottom flat, and it still works like crap. Knowing what I now know the frog was machined improperly, and the mating surface between the frog and the body was never machined flat. It’s not worth the effort making it work properly. So yes, you can get worthless junk if you’re not careful.

In woodworking there is always more then one way to accomplish something.
Once you get your plane flat, and your iron sharp, it should work pretty well. Fettling a plane takes some getting used to so practice on some scrap wood. I have several planes by Stanley, a #4 and #7, a Stanley Defiance #4 and #5, as well as a Stanley 12½ veneer scraper and a 12-151 spokeshave. I converted the Defiance #4 into a scrub plane. Having said all that, there's pretty much nothing the #5 and #7 can do that the #4 can't also do. The #4 is pretty much a shorter Jack and is so versatile that its what I do 95-99% of everything I do, which is also furniture making.

Mainly I would ask myself, does it do what you need it to do, and are you happy using it? If yes, then great! When I started out a few years ago, my first plane was the Defiance #4. It wasnt as easy to adjust as non-Defiance but it was $20 at an antique shop. The plane iron has to be adjusted with the tap of a hammer but when adjusted, it worked as well as my (newer to me but about 35 years older) other #4. For furniture making, rather than shell out for other planes, I'd suggest getting your hands on a new Stanley spokeshave like mine the 12-151. It'll run around $15-20 on Amazon and then keep an eye out for a router plane.

Just to add, I'd also suggest you check out Paul Sellers on YouTube. He does almost everything with just a #4.

All the best,

Sent from my XT1635-01 using Tapatalk
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Thanks for all the information fellas. I think my knife snobbery may come in handy as sharpening won’t frustrate me. I’ll true this one up to start with and keep my eyes open as my needs expand. Many thanks.
If you are looking at getting something new at a relatively inexpensive price, Rockler has a Bench Dog (in-house brand) set on sale for $200. Includes a smoother and low angle block plane.


In woodworking there is always more then one way to accomplish something.
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