Jack planes are the most-used tool in my hands. Hands down, hands forward and hands back. I’m on my third jack plane iron since 1996. I’ve never even come close to wearing out a plane iron for a smoothing or jointer plane.
(I have eaten through some block plane blades, though I blame that on carpentry jobs and nails.)
When students ask for my recommendations for a jack plane, my first recommendation is a vintage Stanley No. 5. I have an old Type 11 from around the turn of the last century. Rosewood knob and tote. Beautiful lightweight casting. Just perfect.
But a lot of students are unwilling to take my advice. They have good reasons.
- They don’t have the skill or time to fix up an old plane.
- They are afraid that a vintage plane bought through the mail will be a POS.
- They don’t know enough to buy a vintage plane.
- They just want a tool that works without any fettling. Sharpen and go.
So here’s what I tell them: Get the Lie-Nielsen No. 62. What is sometimes called a low-angle jack or bevel-up jack. Here is my reasoning.
A jack plane should be fairly lightweight and simple to use. The Lie-Nielsen No. 62 fits that bill. It doesn’t have a frog, chipbreaker or lateral-adjustment lever. This keeps down its weight, its complexity and its price.
So what are we talking about when we discuss the weight of jack planes? Here are the ones we have in our shop, from lightest to heaviest.
Wooden jack plane: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
Stanley No. 5: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
Lie-Nielsen No. 62: 4 lbs. 10 oz.
Veritas No. 5: 5 lbs. 4 oz.
Lie-Nielsen No. 5: 5 lbs. 8 oz.
In use the wooden jack, the Stanley and the No. 62 all feel about the same. Once the tool tops 5 lbs., I notice the increased weight.
I know some experienced woodworkers don’t like the low-angle/bevel-up planes. But I have found that beginners really take to them. Likely because they are simple to set up. (There are other makers of the No. 62-style plane, including Veritas, Wood River and a variety of offshore white-label brands. I’ve used the Veritas and can recommend its quality, but it is heavy. The other brands I don’t have any experience with. Avoid the modern Stanley No. 62. I have yet to use one that didn’t have a fatal error in its bed machining.)
So why not a wooden jack? I love wooden jacks, and there are some great makers of new jacks out there. It’s difficult to recommend a vintage wooden jack for a greenhorn woodworker because the tool might need a lot of work. Heck, it might need something only a fire can offer.
So my recommendation is based on my desire to get a student going with the minimum amount of fussing with them before class, at lunch and at night.
And when three students show up with this plane, I know I have offended the woodworking gods somehow and must make a sacrifice to appease them.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Scrub planes are too short for the jointing operations I ask of a jack, and its iron has too much curve for my taste. I’m sure that if I started in the craft with a scrub I would love it. But I didn’t. And so I don’t.
52 thoughts on “A Game of Ounces”
Ah, the plane shaped object.
I have a similar one, removed the “adjusters”, which are a faff. If it is sharp it works, sort of. Enough to break the arris. And I care sweet FA should I hit a nail or something. I also used it bevel up, turning it into some sort of scraper. Makes a good paperweight, too! Oh, and you can chuck it at an opponent, as a sort of impromptu weapon.
But I really prefer any real plane I find in my shop.
I have a Kunz version ( I think) that I got in a random tool chest I bought off Kijiji. I’ve found it really good for removing thick layers of paint and other such tasks.
Having just flattened and thicknessed some boards with a L-N 5 1/2 I think I agree with your conclusions. It was a heavy thing to wield. I can see that a lighter plane would make it much easier.
Can you expand on the fatal machining error on modern Stanley 62?
I went through a couple of them. The bed is machined at an angle to the rest of the plane, making it impossible to get an even shaving unless you grind the blade with an angle at the edge. I contacted service and sent them measurements I took using a CMM at work. They seemed understanding and the next plane I received was good. That said, I understand Chris’ reservations. Blade seems to hold up well, too, for what that’s worth.
My first plane ever was a new Stanley 62. The bed was so far out of square with the mouth and sole that even a rank beginner like me could tell pretty quickly that something was wrong. So I returned it for another. The second was acceptable but still not perfect. That one I hand-me-downed to my brother after I got a Lie-Nielsen 62, which is another league entirely.
Like you, my first plane was a new Stanley 62. I guess I got lucky, because it works like a champ. I have several pre-WWII Stanleys and even a few Grizzlys, and while all of them required some fettling, I figured that was an acceptable trade-off. I also learned a lot about cars from working on my VW Beetle, back in the pre-disco era. Just recently acquired a Shopsmith 510, and I can still pull my truck into the garage in the evening—try that with a Sawstop, lathe, etc. Learning is more than half the fun, if you’re not doing it for mortgage payments.
I’d reckon that’s not where the Veritas link should be pointing.
Your link “Veritas and can recommend its quality” goes to Harbor Freight
The blade bed is tipped sideways to the sole… unless you sharpen the blade with a skew, you can’t get an even cut, basically.
There are somewhat more affordable, good quality wooden planes available new, in Europe at least. ECE and Ulmia seem to be widely stocked. I’m no expert but I have several ECE planes that I’m very happy with and they do a jack with or without their “Primus” design.
The reviews of the new Stanley, on Amazon, are instructive. Click on the stars, then select the one-star reviews. I just read two of them, which were written by folks who seem to know their way around a plane. Their comments are instructive as to why “new Stanley” has a poor reputation.
Interestingly, for a new woodworker – reading criticism like this will be educational. Learn the names of various parts of a plane, common problems with a plane, and thereby learn (in the negative) a description of a plane which is “really nice”. Chris didn’t have time to say much other than “fatal errors” – but these Amazon commenters have time to recount all that they observed.
The single most amazing plane maintenance talk/demonstration I have witnessed was given last year to the WIL (Women In Lutherie) by Shirley White. Watching her take apart an antique plane and discuss every part, especially the parts that need be smoothed out after casting, really helped to clarify some things I had guessed but was too afraid to attempt on my late 1800’s Stanley. The WIL is planning on making this (or a similar remake) available on Youtube, but perhaps you can encourage her to write a book. Separately though, I agree with your advice to get a new woodworker using tools to get them to the wood faster without wasting money on poorly made tools.
I learned to fettle old Stanley planes from the internet, once you learn how to do it it’s stays with you just like sharpening. There is a lot of instruction out there on the net if you can’t get it in a classroom. I hope these up and coming woodworkers learn how to sharpen up and refine a plane some day it’s part of building basic skills in the craft. At some point shortly after buying a new plane you need to take it apart and sharpen it so that lesson is going to come fairly quickly.
A reinforcing tip o’ the hat to the L-N No. 62. I’m still on the steepish part of the learning curve, so I won’t claim to be a master, but when I use this plane, I get the results I want, and I feel confident and comfortable doing the work. And being neither big nor young, the weight difference is, for me, at least, key to all this enjoyment. But more important is that the L-N 62 (like all of their tools I’ve used) comes with no significant fettling required. I simply honed the blade a wee bit and went to work.
I try not to get caught up in arguments about “the best” [plane/saw/chisel/mallet/brace/clamp/widget/etc.]. For most every job in the shop, there are tools made by at least a few different makers that are more than up to the task. It’s kind of like my favorite fly-fishing rod, a gift from my family, which is a way better rod than I am a fly fisherman. If I ever find myself blaming the tool, the truth is that I’m the problem.
And I try not to forget one of my favorite adages: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” An idea I sometimes express as “The key to success and happiness is knowing when good enough really is good enough.” Sometimes it takes a fair bit of trial and error to find that good enough, and at other times we might find that our skills, knowledge, and design/creative demands require re-calibration of “good enough”, but the principle remains. Oh, and I should say, a good enough tool also allows for significant growth in skill of the user.
Find the tools that are good enough, and get to work. Speaking of which, I’ve got some things to do.
according to the Chip Carver’s Guide to the Workshop (a forgotten attempt by Megadodo Publications’ rivals on Ursa Major to dethrone the most famous book in the galaxy) “A scrub plane is in fact a fore plane and was invented when Stanley’s marketing division ordered its engineers castrate the flattening ability of the No5 inorder to sell to the unsuspecting woodworker, the same plane twice.”
Chris, where does this fit in with the system of three? You’ve mentioned that you sharpen your Jack blade to an 8” radius… do you suggest separate blades for end grain/shooting and heavy stock removal?
It’s the “coarse” tool. An 8″-radius curve will do fine for a bevel-up jack.
You can use the plane like a multi-tool and have different blades. I just stick with a heavy curve for the jack. The jointer and smoother have dedicated irons that are suited for their jobs.
Mark me down as one of those beginners who was intimidated shopping for a bevel down plane. I ended up with the Veritas low angle jack and it worked great for me. However, as I progressed and started to build larger items, I eventually tried out a common bevel down No. 5 (Stanley type 11) and it instantly relegated my low angle jack to the ‘nice to have’ category. The narrow width and lighter weight make it so much more efficient for quickly getting boards into shape.
The reason I went with an old Stanley vs a modern premium plane was purely because of the feel. I wanted (badly) to love the Lie Nielsen No 5, but it was too heavy / tall / oddly balanced for me. It’s the only Lie Nielsen tool that I haven’t immediately fallen in love with.
In my opinion, you shouldn’t get too picky about finding a ‘steal’ on an old jack plane. It’s fine paying a premium to get the one that you want in decent condition from a reputable seller. Collectors have made it difficult to find that <$50 user that you read so much about online. If you have no experience restoring old tools and none of the materials needed to do so, then you’ll end up spending more time and money fixing up a cheap piece of rust than you would by just buying one ready to go.
I tried to make a scrub plane out of the HF hand plane. It even sucked at that…
Getting a different blade helps a tiny bit. It makes many of their other tools look good.
My Krenov style 15″ plane weighs 34-1/2 oz. And it’s a lot easier to one-hand than my old Record jack.
I have a cheap Stanley No. 4 that I use all the time. It didn’t take much tweaking to make it good. And I haven’t used a block plane since I bought a Wood River No. 1. I love that little sucker. I use that instead of my Stanley No. 1 type 5 (I have a complete set of type 5s!)
I’ve heard many people say they prefer the lighter Stanley planes over the heavier modern premium brands. My main use for planes is to flatten a rough board too wide for the jointer sufficiently to run it the planer. A heavier plane is better to break through catches and uneveness in rough sawn stock. I like an LN 5 1/2. My secondary use is to make long, fine, tightly curled shavings as fire starters for the fireplace. Sharp is the only requirement.
Do you think Lie-Nielsen upped the weight of their design to be sure they would survive the drop test from 12 ft onto a concrete floor that Thomas Lie-Nielsen did to show the superiority of ductile iron?
I’ve bought a fair bit of vintage tools via the internet. I have been very happy with all purchases but one (vintage square wasn’t square – out a fat 64th over 3 inches) which I easily sent back. Companies such as Jim Bode’s, HyperKitten, and Timeless Tools and Treasures, place above Woodwright’s School, all have “if you aren’t happy, send it back policies.” It’s not a flea market find in terms of pricing with them. That said, the prices are very reasonable. The tools won’t be junk and they have been transparent in terms of what the quality is before you purchase.
Are there any modern makers of replacement blades that suit old planes? They often seem quite a bit thicker and don’t fit the narrower throats on old planes that well.
The Veritas ones are great.
If they are too thick you can file open the mouth.
Stanley still sells two inch irons, I have one in my type ten number 5 at the moment. They are not the junk purist would lead you to believe. The only thing I don’t get is how one can recommend a 62 to replace a Stanley number five. The five has to advantage of a radius-ed iron which is not practical in my understanding, in the low angle bevel up 62. Which seems to defeat the purpose of a jack in the first place.
My 62 has an iron with a 10” radius curve. Works great. Someone spouted that misinformation without trying it in the real world.
Have you found an effective radius for the iron to hog off material for the bevel up?
Very interested in this question. I started my journey with a 62 and became frustrated by the inability to take thick shavings with the straight blade. I tried the toothing blade in thr 62 and wasn’t impressed. I eventually switched to an old Stanley no 5 with a cambered blade and it was so much better at taking thick cuts. Now I barely touch the 62.
Try an 8″ radius. That is what we have on our 62. Works great.
Thanks much for the link, Chris. For reference, the jack that I spent most of the afternoon using (until I took a break to click on your post!) is 3 lbs 4 oz.
I prefer bevel down planes hands down. For my “block plane activities” I grab my #3 Stanley although I do have an actual Veritas and an LN block plane if needed. I really like separate adjustments for the blade. ps: for jacks I use a #5 or 5 1/2 depending on the task.
I have an old Stanley no.5 with a corrugated sole. Any thoughts on advantages/disadvantages?
Corrugations are fine. The only real advantage is that the sole is easier to flatten (less metal). My Stanley No. 5 has a corrugated sole.
It also creates less friction, which I believe is it’s primary purpose. Cheers!
Surface area is not a coefficient of friction. So the corrugations do not reduce friction, according to my science-y friends.
I dunno about this article. Scrub planes are sweet. All planes are sweet. If you’re into building things by hand (or mixed) I find it strange that you’d make a big deal about ounces. Jointing or flattening boards by hand isn’t a desk job. Lie-Nielsen is, however, a company I trust. Cheers and just make something!
I see many authors argue for the length of the jack plane over the scrub plane; however, I’m also constantly reading that a plane can comfortably straighten something 3 times the length of its sole. Therefore, couldn’t a 10”-11” plane easily flatten a board up to 3’. If this is the case, is the only real downside of the scrub to the jack in this dimensioning procedure the radius of the camber? If so could one just smooth out the radius so their scrub would be a little less aggressive and in the end have a “lite Jack plane”?
I found the problem with the modern Stanley 62. It requires lithium ion batteries – according to the info on Amazon. All modern tools require lithium ion batteries. Change the batteries.
Yeah, I regret buying a Lie Nielsen 5 1/2. I need to get back to Olympic weightlifting to wield that comfortably. I don’t see any benefit. It sits in the box never used. What is their design philosophy with thick castings combined with anvil-heavy Bedrock pattern frogs? I just got a pretty nice Stanley #5 Type 13 from Jim Bode. Nice and light. What a pleasure. Kind of reminds me of the difference between new “high-end” (i.e. expensive) cast iron skillets that you have to lift with both hands to cook an egg on them and the century old Griswold skillets that are super light and are as slick as Teflon. I think perhaps the problem is the same with modern plane manufacturers. Lie Nielsen’s workmanship is superb (I also have their bronze #4 which is a work of art), but the foundry they use to make the castings for the iron planes obviously can’t, or won’t, make the thin superbly milled castings that the old Stanleys had.
One problem I find is that the Internet has greatly exaggerated how much fettling is needed to make any reasonable bailey type plane work. What needs to be done is usually cleaning, lubricating, sharpening and fitting the cap iron. If it is a smoother (or jointer, and that is probably a lot of work) the sole needs to be flat There is a load of videos showing work being done to the frog and such which is not needed.
think you got the Veritas link confused with the HF:)
Suggestions for newbies who want to build the AWB and live on the metric side of the planet? Would it be okay simply convert the measurements and go for the thicker /wider wood?
The lumber system in other countries is quite different than in the U.S. The bench is designed around standard softwood sizes that are available at any home center here. I would begin by investigating the construction lumber industry in your area. What are the standard sizes? Then adjust the design to use wood efficiently and easily. Changing things by a centimeter here or there won’t make a functional difference.
I have two Stanley 62s. One I love and the other is unloved and gathering dust. I must dig out the unloved one and check it over. Maybe I can fettle it.
Thank you for sharing
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