A smoothing plane is an essential tool for woodworkers, carpenters, and hobbyists alike. It is used to smooth and flatten wood surfaces, providing a refined finish to your projects. With a wide variety of smoothing planes available in the market, choosing the right one can be a daunting task. In this buying guide, we will discuss different types of smoothing planes, key features to consider, and our top recommendations in various price ranges.
Types of Smoothing Planes
There are three main types of smoothing planes: bench planes, block planes, and specialty planes.
Bench planes are the most common type of smoothing plane, named because they are typically used on a workbench. They have a long sole, allowing them to remove high spots and smooth longer surfaces efficiently. Bench planes can be further divided into three categories:
- Smoothing planes (No. 1-4): These are the smallest bench planes, designed for final finishing and removing fine shavings. A No. 4 plane is the most popular smoothing plane size.
- Jack planes (No. 5): Jack planes are slightly larger than smoothing planes and are considered versatile workhorses. They can be used for both rough and fine work.
- Jointer planes (No. 6-8): These are the largest bench planes, used for jointing and straightening edges of boards. They are not typically used for smoothing tasks.
Block planes are smaller and more compact than bench planes. They have a low angle blade, making them ideal for end grain work and trimming joinery. Block planes can be used for smoothing tasks, but their short soles limit their effectiveness on longer surfaces.
Specialty planes are designed for specific woodworking tasks, such as rabbet planes for cutting rabbets, shoulder planes for refining tenon shoulders, and scraper planes for removing thin shavings and producing a superior finish. While these planes can be used for smoothing, their primary purpose is to perform specialized tasks.
Key Features to Consider
When choosing a smoothing plane, consider the following features to find the best fit for your needs.
- Size: The size of the smoothing plane you choose will depend on the type of work you do. For general-purpose smoothing, a No. 4 bench plane is an excellent choice. If you need a plane for end-grain work or small-scale projects, consider a low-angle block plane.
- Materials: Smoothing planes are commonly made from cast iron, ductile iron, or bronze. Cast iron planes are the most affordable and widely available but may be less durable than their ductile iron counterparts. Ductile iron planes offer increased strength and durability at a slightly higher price point. Bronze planes are more expensive, but they are also corrosion-resistant and provide a smooth glide on wood surfaces.
- Sole Flatness: The flatness of the sole is crucial for a smoothing plane's performance. A flat sole ensures even contact with the wood surface, producing consistent results. High-quality planes have precision-machined soles, while lower-priced options may requireadditional flattening and tuning before use.
- Blade Quality: The quality of the blade, or iron, is essential for achieving a smooth finish. Look for planes with thick, high-quality steel blades that hold a sharp edge for a longer time. Premium planes often come with A2 or O1 tool steel blades, while budget options may have lower-quality steel.
- Adjustment Mechanisms: A good smoothing plane should have precise and easy-to-use adjustment mechanisms for blade depth and lateral alignment. Look for planes with a smooth, fine-adjustment wheel for depth control and a lateral adjustment lever that's easy to access and manipulate.
- Handles: Ergonomics play a significant role in the comfort and ease of use of a smoothing plane. Look for planes with comfortable, well-shaped handles made from durable materials like wood or composite. Ensure that the handles fit your hand well and provide a secure grip during use.
Top Smoothing Plane Recommendations
We have provided recommendations for smoothing planes in three price categories: budget-friendly, mid-range, and high-end.
1. Budget-friendly: Stanley No. 4
The Stanley No. 4 is a classic, affordable option that is suitable for beginners and hobbyists. While it may require some initial tuning and flattening, this plane offers decent performance at a low price point. Keep in mind that the blade quality may not be on par with more expensive options.
2. Mid-range: WoodRiver No. 4
The WoodRiver No. 4 is a mid-range option that offers a good balance between price and quality. It features a ductile iron body, a thick A2 steel blade, and precise adjustment mechanisms. This plane comes well-machined and is an excellent choice for woodworkers looking for a reliable, quality tool without breaking the bank.
3. High-end: Lie-Nielsen No. 4
The Lie-Nielsen No. 4 is a premium smoothing plane made from ductile iron or bronze, with a choice of A2 or O1 tool steel blades. This plane is renowned for its exceptional build quality, precision-machined sole, and comfortable handles. It is an investment piece that will provide outstanding performance and last a lifetime.
Selecting the right smoothing plane depends on your woodworking needs, budget, and personal preferences. Consider the key features and our recommendations to make an informed decision. Remember that a well-tuned and maintained smoothing plane can significantly improve the quality of your woodworking projects. Happy woodworking!