When Derek Jones was planning for his summer trip to teach at Lost Art Press, he asked if we had a No. 6 he could borrow. A No. 6? Really? I thought it was a typo. I’ve been fully inculcated into using a No. 7 (or No. 8, if I must – and I’ve eaten my Wheaties) as my jointer, but Derek has good arguments for using a shorter plane. I was working at the computer and heard snippets of his teaching his class why (as he instead used a No. 5 – of which we have several), but I didn’t pay close attention.
Now, as I edit his forthcoming book on cricket tables (which we hope to have out in the first quarter of next year), I’ve came across the No. 6 lesson in writing. In Chapter 5, he’s writing about the tools and techniques he uses, and shares his history with struggling to get a good edge joint in panel glue-ups (a decent-sized cricket table will need a panel glue up for the top).
The No. 6 was not a typo; it is Derek’s answer to how he achieves panel-prep success.
Two things come into play when you “go large” in the plane aisle. The first is linked to the size of the user and the second is more to do with the scale of work. I’ve read hundreds of how-to texts on planing and I don’t think I’ve ever come across a specific mention of the suitability of a tool in respect of it’s size in relation to the size of the user (notwithstanding advise for children). As far as I could make out, it was a given that larger planes are better for leveling larger boards and the science was often quoted to back the theory up. I like science, I like maths and I like it when they come together, but unless they take into account the human factor, they’re not really much help.
So in context let’s say for example I buy a No. 7 jointer for truing the edges of long boards. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary; after all that’s what is generally recommended and therefore accepted as good practise. If we accept that advise (the science) but now ask “how long is a long board?” (the maths) we’re starting to get close to what an appropriate size plane might look like. My vital statistics (the human factor) are height 5′ 5-3/4″, weight 140 lbs. Do you honestly think I’m going to be in complete control of a lump of cast iron weighing in at around 8-1/4 lbs. when I’m trying to remove a sliver of wood 0.001″ thick from an edge measuring 3/4″ across? The short answer to that is no, but you’d be surprised how long I persisted with that set-up before finally addressing the problem.
The secret to many things in life is good communication. I learned this lesson on a visit to a well-established tool auction to meet up with a friend who had a sideline in trading old tools. Always willing to share his expertise, he singled out a Stanley Tape and Rule Co. No. 6 bench plane with rosewood handles as being good value. I hadn’t come to the auction to buy a plane but made a note of it anyway.
After sitting through dozens of lots and being outbid on everything on my list, the No. 6 came up. I figured I’d either been too cautious so far to win anything or the room had become stale. I left my seat in the second row and relocated to the back of the hall, acknowledging my friend on the way. My tactics paid off and I came home with a new-to-me No. 6.
Some time later while I was demonstrating at a woodworking show, my friend dropped by my booth and picked up the No. 6, now tuned and performing like new. I told him where it came from and what I’d paid for it. “You’re joking” he said. “I was bidding on that, you should have said.” That No. 6 has become my go-to jointer for boards of any length and my two (yes two) No. 7s are now part of someone else’s collection. The No. 6 is shorter than a No. 7 by 4″ and about 3/4 lbs lighter, making it something I have complete control over – and that’s the key.
44 thoughts on “An Argument for the No. 6”
I’m a lightweight too, 5’9″ and about 135lb in your measures. My No 6. is my go-to for jointing for the same reason. If I do need something in the No. 8 length I have an old wooden Mathieson, but it hardly ever gets out of the box.
This seems like a good reason for using wood planes too
I have a #6 I got when I had to commute to a shared workspace and a #7 would have made for an impractically large Japanese toolbox. I use it for jointing things up to about 3 ft long. I found a nice wooden Ulmia rauhbank for €35 which is lighter still, which I’ll use for longer stuff. Haven’t felt the itch to pick up a #7.
My first plane was a LN no.6 purchased at a tool show hosted by none other than Mr Vesper here in Aus. I love that plane! I’ve set it up as a jointer and have a spare blade and chip breaker setup as a Jack that I swap in as needed. It’s truly a very versatile plane and, contrary to Patrick’s Blood & Gore website, is not only for Satan worshippers.
I use the #6 for absolutely everything. I probably got lucky with a particularly good Stanley from the 1940s. Just feels good, with a lever cap that operates as smooth as butter.
Using a 6, 7, or 8 as a jointer is a bit of a toss up for me. If you are working on the edge of a 3/4″ board, it’s all about control.
But working on a board’s face, I really dislike the wide blades. 4-1/2, 5-1/2, 6, 7, 8. The blades are just too wide. And I’m not a small person. Or even medium. Or large. I’m 6-3 and 230 or so, and I’d rather have a narrower blade. I actually like a 5-1/4, a lot.
But jointing is just a very specialized task, and if you aren’t in control, you’ll never get a good joint.
I always had a hard time with wide blades, for a number of reasons. Set screws next to the mouth of the plane certainly tamed the lateral adjustment issues that popped up occasionally, (no more protruding corners) but wider shavings are a lot more work, for sure. Thinner shavings help. But only so much.
I have an older Stanley 5-1/2C that had a 2-1/4” blade, instead of the 2-3/8” that Stanley eventually switched to. The old cast iron is lighter than the stuff from L-N, and the blade width seems to hit the sweet spot for me.
HNT Gordon has an 18” wooden trying plane with a 1/4” thick slab of high carbon steel for an iron… that blade just happens to be 2” wide. They also offer a 24-27” (your spec) jointer, with a similar blade, I think. And, an option for a HSS replacement iron.
I did NOT like the wooden lever cap, (don’t tighten too hard or it splits) but making a new cap out of brass wasn’t particularly challenging. It also marks the plane as definitively mine. The brass throat plate’s great, though. And flattening the wooden sole is much nicer than dealing with iron.
The handle is delightful, and the plane itself is SO LIGHT.
It’s only a grubby smidge less than a #6 from Lie-Nielsen. But it might suit your hankering for something narrower.
No cap iron, but the 55 degree pitch seems to minimize tear out just fine.
Finally, some love for the #6! the #6 has been the mainstay in my shop for years, and I finally got a 2nd one a couple of years ago. One has a more pronounced camber, the other just a tiny bit on the corners. I use them for:
– jointing anything under about 3′ long, and fixing wonky edges(below)
– final surface prep on most softwood stock
Where they really shine is when you are hand jointing and you might end up with a small section – usually the far end – where it isn’t quite square like the rest of the edge. Using the camber of the blade, you can start out your pass in the center of blade, where no correction of the edge is needed, and then shift as you make your pass to the right or left of the blade to hit the high side of the edge. The control allowed by a smaller-than-#7 or 8 makes this much easier to do.
I’m 6′-3″ and find the #6 much more maneuverable than a larger plane. The #6 is one of the more precision planes in my shop.
First, small typo in the text auction to meet up with ? friend who
Second, I found David Charlesworth early in my woodworking journey. David was a maestro with the number 7. Maybe it is a case of nostalgic first love, but I like the 7. For me, the trick is to let the mass do the work most of the time. The number 5 plane fills the role of the 6 in my toolbox, but no shade to anyone who works differently, though.
I also like using the wider plane blades on soft (literal, not classification) and most hard (again, literal) air dried U.S. domestic woods. Unfortunately, most of the time I have to deal with kiln dried stuff; the wider blades make for quite a workout on this type of stock. I still suck at all of this though, so don’t use me as a guide. 🙂
Since this isn’t at press yet, in the article above, advise should have a C, not an S.
Practice is ditto, unless it’s a Brit spelling for a Brit book. But I think it’s a US publication.
We’re keeping the (English) author’s spellings on most words.
Are you sure? I’m a Brit and pretty sure it “practice” for a noun and “practise” for a verb. Oh the joys of two nations separated by one language 🙂
Hmmm…I’ll ask the author, who is an editor
really like his point about person’s size. another option is to use a wooden jointer. you save a lot of weight without giving up length. i find myself reaching for wooden planes more and more. they’re so much easier to manage, even for smoothing.
I duked it out for a few years with a No. 7 before coming to the same conclusion that maybe it was a bit balky for me. I ended up getting the Veritas Bevel-Up Jointer with the fence, which weighs about the same as a No. 6. I also got a wooden jointer, which I set for a deeper cut for initial work, though this is admittedly unnecessary because sometimes I just use my jack plane if it’s handy.
I think maybe if I had thought about using a fence on a No. 6, I would have gone with that route. I use a No. 6 on my long grain shooting board (and my normal one, for that matter).
I have a Stanley No 28, dimensionally similar to a No 6 and is also referred to as a fore plane, but because it is made of wood is much lighter. I use it as a fore plane with a good camber on the iron, and a start all my jointing with this plane. Effectively getting the surface close before I get out my Sargent No 8 beast and go for the final joint. This size plane is an often overlooked stop on the plane journey, and the more I experiment with the effects of iron camber on plane performance the more I like this size plane for quick but precise material removal. Allowing me to leave my Jack plane tuned with a less significant camber more suitable to a Jack plane.
Agree. I like my No. 6. Found it in wad of rust that made it very affordable ($25) at an antique store. Couple of very cathartic hours of cleaning and tuning…and it is a beautiful ‘go to’ for me.
I use a No. 7 for jointing edges over 3 feet or so. For shorter edges I use a No. 6.
I always wanted a Long nose plane but without the weight, I wish someone would make a 7 1/4 Stanley based plane, #6 length with #7 nose.
I use my No. 6 as a good, affordable shooting plane.
(Sorry, Gary, my comment above was intended to be a general comment, not necessarily a reply to yours.)
I have one. I found a broken tail #7 at a scrap yard that I picked up for $5. A few minutes on the grinder yielded a great chute plane.
Before I finding a cheap #5½—my desert island plane—a #6 was my most used jointer/try plane. Now, I only bring out the #8 for jointing long edges.
I agree… I’m 5’6″ 140 lbs and appreciate my #6. I have an old #8 that belonged to my grandfather which I have used in the past but looking at the #8 now scares me.
My favorite jointer is my Lie Nielsen #62. When it’s nice and sharp that thing is a work horse and it’s just the right heft and length for my size. I’ve got a friend (who’s trashed and heavier) who uses a #4 for jointing so it’s just a matter of what you’re comfortable with! My poor #7 doesn’t get to come out and play unless it’s a pretty long joint.
Thanks for your great writing and intro to the #6 plane. I don’t have either. Interesting discussion
This is very true. My #7 and #8 are rarely if ever used for truing an edge for all the reasons stated in this article. I have watched Paul Sellers for years and have never seen him true up an edge for jointing with anything other than a #4 or a #5 Stanley/ Record etc, and he makes a point of saying that a longer plane is not needed. I never have never seen him use a #7 despite watching scores of his videos. With the superb level of his craftsmanship, this says something to me about longer planes’ necessity. Thank you.
Thanks loads. Now I have to go searching for a #6, or buy a new one from Lie Nielsen.
A long time ago Patrick Leach declared the 6 to be a work of the devil and thousands of new woodworkers took it as gospel. I found one in the wild early on in my journey, tuned it up, and have loved it every since. Get’s almost as much use as my number 5 and loads more than my number 7. Mr. Leach saves his biggest scorn for transitionals.
I think he just declared that three of them next to each other would function as some sort of accessory for ol’ scratch. But the main thing about the description that a lot of people latched on to is that he said he never really found that size useful.
Same experience here, one mans disdain is anthers pleasure, so call me a devil worshiper (not really into worshiping). The added weigh makes it excel at shooting and lighter weight makes edge work more controlled. But then again my number three sees as much action as the fours.
I love my two No. 6’s…I have a Type 11 and a Bedrock I bought at an antique shop for $75 for both of them. The size of the project is definitely a factor. I had set one up as a fore plane to flatten boards (until I acquired a Stanley 26 transitional plane that does the same thing and is MUCH lighter,) and now use one as a jack plane for larger boards, and the other as a jointer for shorter boards. They seem to be the red-headed stepchild of Stanley planes…that’s good news for anyone wanting to try one out in their own shop. They are relatively plentiful and inexpensive.
Year’s ago I traded a Craftsman miter box for an old Stanley Bailey No. 6. For over twenty years it sat in a drawer until I finally started learning how to true planes.
After putting several hours servicing it, this is a go to plane. Working with it is a joy!
Wish there were auctions like these in AZ. Ive recently moved into the hand tool realm for “cleanup” from my power tools. The 5 1/2 i have is astounding but being that im building a bed frame next month I may look into a longer jointer. The question is, do I go wood or iron? Im 6’4″ 250lbs and curl 55lb dumbbells at the gym, and yet my 5 1/2 still takes a toll on my low back after running it for 20 minutes. So many decisions; any insight would be helpful!
Rock your body. The mass of you + plane should make it cut well. A lot of folks start planing as if they are a human Cuisinart trying to break speed records. The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to use your body, tools and materials to do your best work by Jeff Miller is my go to source on the matter. Guess I’m showing a little cheek since it is not an LAP title.
Ron Herman is also a great resource on body mechanics. You will have to do some digging to find Ron’s various articles and seminars.
Big disclaimer that I’m definitely an amateur woodworker.
Thanks for the information about the body mechanics! I tend to remember my old physical therapy routines for low back issues but that only goes so far. Ill look into Rons info this week. Much obliged.
Excellent points. The #6 is a sleeper. Costs marginally more than a #5 and is long my favorite for jointing edges. It costs substantially less than #7 or #8 because people pooh-pooh it as being a deadbeat. My edge jointing 606 ( Bedrock) is equipped with an aftermarket blade ( thick!!!) and I am experimenting with a Millers Falls articulated lever cap. Should be about the pinnacle of what an edge plane is capable of.
OTOH, pay no attention to me. DO NOT BUY #6 PLANES. THEY ARE USELESS!! ( Trying to keep away the competition!)
Not to make you itchy. In 1980 my Stanley Bailey was thrown in a long with $25 cash in trade for my Craftsman hand miter saw.
I started woodworking with no money and no mentor. After not having any good results with my Stanley Handyman #4 (I didn’t buy it, I think it was in a garage I helped a guy clean out) and an ebay plane that turned out to be a mismatch of parts, I bought a #6 at an antique shop. Having had zero luck with the other planes, I didn’t have much hope, but I oiled it up, sharpened the blade and it… worked. Beautifully. Really beautifully. I have since purchased a Stanley-made Keen Kutter bedrock jack plane so I don’t use my #6 as much, but it still sees use and I still love it.
Is it a useful size? I don’t know, as a mediocre amateur and emaciated scrawny guy, I like it a lot. Maybe if I was a linebacker and a professional I’d not find it useful. I have a transitional jointer plane waiting for me to fix it up so I’ll have a longer plane that still shouldn’t tax my spaghetti arms too much.
I recently bought a Stanley Bailey #6, Type 11, on ebay (for about 100 bucks, incl. shipping). The largest work I’m bound to do anymore would be a middle-size-ish picture frame, and I can’t imagine needing anything longer than a Six. I also plan to use it for shooting. Thanks for this post which makes me feel validated and proud. Six is enough, if you know how to use it. (That’s what HE said.)
I love using my No 6! I use it for jointing but also I use it when flatting largish boards (after scrubbing). I find the wide blade and the extra heft make it perfect for that kind of work. The trick to using a No 6 is to let the plane do the work and not to bulldog it (and of course, keep the blade sharp, it is far less forgiving in that regard than a smaller plane).
I picked up a No 6 and started using it before reading all the negative hype. I was surprised to discover that one of my favorite planes is the pariah of the hand tool community!
I bought my #6 as a jointer. I didn’t find it too much better than my #5 tbh. Then I was given a #7 which is better for me. I put a large camber on the #6 and use it as a fore plane. I like it better than a #4 with a camber.
I just checked: my Stanley No 6 (type 11) weighs only 0.9 oz less than my Craftsman (by Millers Falls) No 7-sized jointer. No wonder I rarely reach for it. The 6 is my go-to for heavy shooting board jobs, however. The beefiness comes in handy there.
For a dissenting opinion, I am a small guy (5’6″, 155lbs) and love my #7. I would absolutely love to own a Lie-Nielsen or Bedrock #8, but they are hardly ever made (Lie-Nielsen) or hard to find (Stanley) or ridiculously expensive (#8 Stanley Bedrock). Also, I detest the way the handles and other parts of Veritas bench planes feel/work (I do own other Veritas planes, just not their bench planes).
For me, I feel I have more control with a heavier plane. I also feel like the heft helps to get me through a cut via inertia. I also frequently plane large rough cut white oak, walnut and cherry over 6′ long. I really paid attention to David Charlesworth’s lessons on setting up and using a plane, which is to say that when I am edge planing to find square, or that final clean up and über flattening stage of face planing, I’m usually planing very, very slow and controlled. When I’m truing up rough stock and really going at it and sweating and panting, and moving the plane quickly, the weight really works for me.
But what’s really great here about post is that it really is all down to personal preference, body mechanics, and build. I’m short but stocky, and have learned to use my legs and hips considerably in planing. I’ve learned to use my tools the way that works best for me, as has Derek Jones. And far from digging on his findings and preferences, I applaud his search for a better personal way of working.
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