Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Keep your bevel up--or down.

I wrote recently that I decided to take my Veritas low angle smoother as the only bench plane in my travelling tool kit.  The main reason for this was that I have a set of four blades from 25 to 50 degrees and a toothed blade.  I reasoned that I would be able to accomplish a wide variety of tasks with only this plane.

In fact, the plan worked.  I was making drawers and preparing the stock by hand.  I could use a 25 degree blade for the end grain and a 50 degree blade for the face of the douglas-fir I was using for sides to avoid tearout.  Look at the tight shavings that it produced:

I could readily adjust the mouth in only a second.  The major downside was that I had to keep changing blades, which was kind of annoying.  You can in fact do woodworking with this as your only plane.

Based on this, you may expect I will now argue that bevel-up planes are the way to go, but that isn't the case.  Because of all the tearout I experienced with the slabs I was working on recently, I became a lot more sophisticated than I was with adjusting the mouth and chipbreaker on my vintage bevel-down planes and I am reasonably sure I could have accomplished equivalent results with them.  I'm not certain, but I suspect you can get a higher effective angle with a chipbreaker than the 62 degrees you can get with the Veritas plane.  The fact that it takes more time to adjust them isn't really an issue in a shop because you can have several set up differently.  You can have ten for the price of the Veritas plane and extra blades.

The one area where I think the Veritas plane is superior is end grain.  Lee Valley says, "(i)ts low cutting angle of 37° minimizes fiber tearing, making it ideal for end-grain work."  I think that's true.  I was actually getting full width shavings on end grain, something I haven't figured out how to do with a bevel-down plane.  I have also found that it is much more comfortable to use on a shooting board than a bevel-down plane.  This isn't to say that you can't do great endgrain work with a bevel-down plane because obviously you can.

My bottom line is this.  You can get great results with either type of plane if you have the necessary skills.  I think the bevel-up planes may be slightly easier to learn to use.  When I am at home, I keep the Veritas plane set up for end grain work and use my bevel-down planes for most other purposes save for occasionally dealing with tough tearout.

I feel very fortunate to have these vintage planes:  #3,4,5,5 1/2, 6, 7, 10.  The only one I don't often use is the #6.  I wouldn't dream of parting with any of the others.  Same with the Veritas smoother.  I suspect that if I got into wooden planes I would feel the same way about them.


  1. Odd.... I found my LAS a poor choice for pine face grain; tons of tear out. It's not a comfortable plane to use, likely due to the tote angle. But, the most irksome is that it twists and flexes, easily, and one reason for all of the tear out. I've yet to try it in a shooting board, however, light weight means more 'grunt' work powering through grain.

  2. Andy,

    Having never used a bevel up plane I haven't a dog in this fight but what the heck that's never stopped me before :-). I have a LN 52 for shooting so I expect a bevel down would be a little redundant but I may get one to try. The one thing I do know is a correctly set up bevel down can handle almost any wood I've used and a couple of Stanley #5's sure are cheap.

    It's good to hear your travel kit worked.

    BTW, we just booked our camp sites for the Fall Oregon trip. There are three of 'em, starting in Brookings, then Salem and ending at Cape Lookout. I hope to have my travel kit with me.