If I could have just one bench plane…….
On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked by fledgling hand plane afficionados, what type of bench plane would I choose, if I could have only one? The answer is really very simple, a Bedrock style 605 1/2. The 605 1/2 is not an easy plane to find, if you’re looking for a good original Stanley. But they’re well worth the high dollar that you’ll likely have to pay to take it home. If a 605 1/2 isn’t available, a 605 (or one of the new planes that emulate the Bedrock) is a decent alternative.
So what is it about this plane that makes it so useful? First is the frog design. It allows the user to adjust the mouth opening while the iron is in place on the frog. The Bailey pattern requires the removal of the iron before the frog can be loosened to allow for adjustment. This makes for a lot of fettling to get the mouth opening “just right”. The second is it’s length and width. It is 1″ longer and 1/4″ wider than the standard 605 (60 indicates the Bedrock type frog, 5 indicates jack plane). It could correctly be classed as a panel plane by English standards. But how does this extra size translate into performance? The extra length allows the user to do smaller joining tasks and surface truing (i.e. panel leveling, hence the term panel plane). The extra width clearly puts it in the class of a large smoother.
Different irons for different tasks. To fully exploit the potential of any jackplane, several different irons are required. For dimensioning/thicknessing, an iron with a 1/16″ to 3/32″ crown is appropriate. This is the crown that would be commonly used on a “foreplane”.
For general smoothing, an iron that is “gently” crowned (think .003″ to .005″) is the order of the day. When this iron is properly sharpened and honed, it will produce a glass-like surface. For highly figured work, an iron that is “gently” crowned and back beveled to create a cutting angle of 60 to 65 degrees will produce a surface that is free of tearout, i.e. curly maple. (Lie-Nielsen offers several different frogs with bedding angles ranging from 50 degrees, “York” pitch, to 55 degrees “Middle” pitch)
For really gnarly wood such as burl or crotch, the handplane user might consider a toothing iron. While not commonly available for bench planes, one could be made by simply filing or chiseling teeth (grooves) on the bevel side of the iron. The iron is then reversed. This reversal creates a cutting angle of 70-75 degrees, which is the traditional standard for toothing planes. Just a caveat – not all bench plane designs will allow for running the iron reversed. The relationship of the chip breaker to the depth control pawl will be the dictating factor. So try it before you go to the bother of making a toothing iron.
So, one plane, three or four irons and you’ve covered 95 percent of your benchplane chores. Plus, you’ll save space and, very likely, a fair amount of money.