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Real need / necessity for a block plane

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bp122

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I have seen on a number of videos and articles where people use block planes a lot - be it on end grain or on the face of wood.
It looks very comfortable to hold and use.

I have a cheap one from Screwfix - magnusson or something. I have had this for over a year, but have used it very very few times.

I have sharpened the blade, set it up as per instructions on various videos. I can't get it to do anything except cut chamfers on edges.

Then I read a little deeper into the anatomy of it and how it has almost the same principle of cutting as a bench plane (the angle of the bevel and the bed, despite being a bevel up plane)

My question is, does one need one?
I mainly make chopping boards or small box projects out of oak, maple, beech and sapele. Planing end grain is very difficult for me as the bench planes just ride on the ridges and don't do a great deal, my cheapo block plane either just digs in and doesn't move or doesn't cut anything.

I have a No.4, a No.6 and a few wooden planes. Once sharpened and setup, they all give me really good results on any face of the timber except the end grain.

As the classic saying goes, am I blaming the (particular) tool or am i being one here?
 

samhay

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I use my 60 1/2 quite a lot, but there isn't much it can do that I can't do with something else. That said, if I lost it, I would replace it as for some jobs it is the best option (for me).
I can happily plane end grain with any of my planes. I couldn't until I learnt to sharpen effectively and set up my planes properly though...
 

ED65

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No, you don't need one. There's even a video from Rex Kruger which says exactly this: You don't need a block-plane (believe it or not!) It's worth listening to what he has to say on the subject since it isn't just don't get one as the title might imply.

There are experienced members here who, every time the subject comes up, post that they don't have one and have never felt the lack or they have one and it's gathered dust for X many years. Now that said, there are plenty of other woodworkers of equal or greater experience who, if they lost everything and had to buy their entire kit from scratch, would include a block plane of some description among their earliest purchases.

I have two (both with adjustable mouths, which I consider a must-have) and would prefer not to be without either of them. Although if I had to choose between them I'd keep the low-angle one since it's more versatile. Also slightly smaller and lighter, which doesn't hurt any when I try to use it one-handed.
 

ED65

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bp122":18ead6rd said:
Planing end grain is very difficult for me as the bench planes just ride on the ridges and don't do a great deal, my cheapo block plane either just digs in and doesn't move or doesn't cut anything.
This is a fairly common learner-woodworker issue. It's basically a sharpness thing.

Get better at sharpening and the first for sure will go away; as you probably know from seeing it done, plenty of guys plane end grain with their standard bench planes and they (the planes) do really well at it. Bottom line being a low approach angle isn't necessary for effective end-grain planing.

The second probably will too, but the kinks/idiosyncrasies of the cheapie block plane may still come to the fore. It might be made significantly better by being fully tuned up if you wanted to expend (or waste, depending on your perspective) the time to do so and I can point you to some resources on that if you like. But I think most here would side with getting a good vintage one or saving up until you can buy a nice modern one which will cost 10-20 times as much.
 

bp122

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In the interest of being fair, I will once again sharpen it and set it up - to see if it was really me and my incompetence that failed to yield results.

I had watched the Rex Kruger's video a while ago, that is when I sharpened it first time. I love his videos as he is quite articulated and gets things done with a minimalist approach - something some of us beginners fail to achieve because of our "see it, buy it" mentality.
 

heimlaga

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One of my friends had that problem. After lots of testing and thinking he found out that it was because the blade of his Indian made "Record" block plane pretender var way too soft and did not hold an edge past the beginning of the first stroke. He is a fairly accomplished hobby blacksmith so he hardened and tempered the blade and it got significantly better. He also filed and scraped various ill fitting parts to make them fit together at least within the millimetre and that also improved the performance of the plane.

I also have some of that problem with my modern day Stanley which I use for only rough work. It seems to be because the areas of the body where the blade seats aren't correctly machined so the blade either digs in or jumps out of the wood. I haven't bothered to remachine it as I only use it for knocking of corners.

Neither of my good block planes have that problem. Two are pre-war Stanley and one is pre-war Millers Falls.

And....... you don't need a block plane. The cutting geometry of a standard angle block plane is the same as any bench plane. Wooden block planes all have the same bevel down configuration and 45 degree blade angle as wooden smoother.
A normal angle block plane saves some time and frustration as you can comfortably use it with one hand on small jobs and in tight spaces but you don't absolutely need it.
A low angle block plane cuts a lot better in end grain but it is pretty much useless along the grain. Agan it saves you some time and frustration but you don't need it as there are other ways of doing the job.
 

AndyT

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Some good advice here. I'll echo most of it - yes, a block plane is nice to have but (as with many tools) you can manage without one. Things might be a bit more difficult or take a bit longer.

I like a block plane if I am working on anything small and fiddly. It's easier to see what is happening to the wood if there's not a great big lump of iron in the way of it. My preferred one is an old one; I suspect that a new one from Screwfix is probably a bit crudely made and might need work before it gave good results. That's not to say that all old planes are good - there always were lots of options so as to cover all possible price points and cheaply made planes that look superficially similar to the best ones are nothing new.

I've not watched the particular Rex Kruger vid that ED65 mentioned, but the ones I have watched I rather like - he does seem to be sensible and good at explaining things, not selling things.

Sharpness really does matter, but let's not make this another sharpening thread!
 

D_W

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I do a lot of hand planing. I'm sure it's more than 6 figures in feet of planing every year, and relatively often build without power tools.

I can't remember the last time I needed to use a block plane for anything.

If you can't plane wood easily on the ends with a bench plane, you're not going to do it easily with a block plane.

Some harder woods with a lot of conviction in the "straws" (like harder purpleheart and some exotics, and hard maple included) will be difficult to plane across the end grain in any expanse no matter what plane you use (small boxes shouldn't be a real problem, but cutting boards will be plenty of surface area on something really hard to make the planing very physically involved).

Since I'm not using power tools most of the time, trimming panel ends to the mark (if it's necessary) is something I generally do with a #4. I don't often find a larger plane to work better because the tips of the straws grip the bottom of a plane solidly. The precisely machined bevel up premium planes are even worse for friction. They're solidly made, but they really have grip on the end of a wide board.

This kind of work is one of the few places where a very hard iron provides a very usable significant difference, and sharpness is critical, and there's a gigantic difference between something like cherry and purpleheart, more so than you'll feel in the long grain.

There's an american hand tool woodworker and restorer who often says that block planes are construction tools. The reason that I don't use mine is that I've gotten perfectly capable of one-handed use of a stanley 4 for anything small (breaking edges, etc), and it never really seems like it would be better to go through the motions of putting one plane down and getting another one in hand to do something that could just be done with the plane already in hand.
 

MikeG.

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heimlaga":w2jd3yjt said:
.....you don't need a block plane. The cutting geometry of a standard angle block plane is the same as any bench plane........
Hilariously, I've been lectured by someone here about how a block plane is better for planing end grain than any other bench plane. Good for a giggle, it was.

I don't have a shoulder plane, so when I am doing big tenons I use a router plane close to the shoulder and a block plane for the rest (if they need adjusting). They're also useful for planing external curves, for fiddly little jobs which can only be held in one hand (not a vice), and of course for chamfering/ rounding over arises. It's perfectly possible to get along nicely without one, but best to have it.
 

ED65

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BP, you can assure yourself that no matter how sharp you think your stuff is now you'll be doing better in six months. And your edges then should pale in comparison to what you're able to achieve in a few years; possibly faster too!

bp122":3a25teht said:
In the interest of being fair, I will once again sharpen it and set it up - to see if it was really me and my incompetence that failed to yield results.
Do bear in mind with the block plane that it could be partly the plane :) Also, if your edge angle has inadvertently crept up since the first honing (very easy to do) that won't be helping either.


AndyT":3a25teht said:
I like a block plane if I am working on anything small and fiddly. It's easier to see what is happening to the wood if there's not a great big lump of iron in the way of it.
My thoughts exactly when I was using one regularly for making tools handles.

AndyT":3a25teht said:
Sharpness really does matter, but let's not make this another sharpening thread!
See this is a problem. Sharpness is very likely to be an issue here – I'd actually be surprised if it weren't – but we're reluctant to even bring it up.

Popcorn jokes are all well and good :D but there is an easy solution to that nervousness we all feel when the subject comes up naturally within a thread, or an unsuspecting new member asks a simple question about it *sigh*
 
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Surely it's mostly about size?

If you need to get into a small area, or you want very fine control, a smaller plane might be better than a bigger plane?
 

D_W

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MikeG.":nm7zowka said:
heimlaga":nm7zowka said:
.....you don't need a block plane. The cutting geometry of a standard angle block plane is the same as any bench plane........
Hilariously, I've been lectured by someone here about how a block plane is better for planing end grain than any other bench plane. Good for a giggle, it was.

I don't have a shoulder plane, so when I am doing big tenons I use a router plane close to the shoulder and a block plane for the rest (if they need adjusting). They're also useful for planing external curves, for fiddly little jobs which can only be held in one hand (not a vice), and of course for chamfering/ rounding over arises. It's perfectly possible to get along nicely without one, but best to have it.
Shoulder plane is another one that I rarely use. A wide chisel and a strong knife line makes for a wonderful large tenon shoulder.

Not to say I haven't had a bunch of shoulder planes (still have a norris infill shoulder - it's pretty), but a chisel and a cheap rabbet plane make shoulder planes hard to appreciate in actual work. Much like the block plane.

Somewhere, there is a woodworker who has a "bench" that's actually an assembly table, and hand tools are limited to claw hammers, maybe a scraper and sandpaper, and that's the type of person who may never feel invested enough to use a bench plane properly (and think of a block plane as an "edge breaker"), but there probably aren't many in here like that.

I do have a wonderful stanley #18 and a factory-made box of extra irons. It's really attractive - both the box of irons and the original plane. But it's no more usable than the "premium" block plane that I had before, and I'm sure the site-hardness irons wouldn't tolerate cutting hard maple end grain.
 

Bm101

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Bp. My perspective might help a bit because I'm a beginner too.
When I first started I bought a few new tools. Woodwork wasn't new to me, it had been creeping up on me my whole life so I knew it was something I wasn't going to give up so I didn't mind investing a bit. But I also bought a fair few bits I didn't need. I have more planes than I need. More tools .No great regrets. Nothing major.
I should sell a couple and in time.... I will.
But maybe I spent more time sorting tools than sorting wood for a good while there.
I have read advice given by genuine people like Custard that backs this up. Learn to use one or two planes well. It makes more sense the more I do. I reckon I work pretty well (for me ) now with a handful.
You know the threads that come up now and again? What tools do I need?
Now with my inca bandsaw, a couple of planes, a handsaw, drill . A mallet and 3 or 4 chisels and and a few measuring bits I reckon I could sell all the other bits. (Apart from my router)
I won't though. :D Maybe one day.
Save your money. That's my strictly non professional opinion. When you get good enough to realise you need a specific tool you can invest.
Until then, refrain from the abyss.
As your man Friedriche Nietzsche said: stare too long at nice tool websites and you will be poorer in money and space with no noticeable advancement in performance or output.
Summat similar at least.
You can always convince yourself to buy tools. That's the easy part.
:wink:
Good luck.
Chris.
 

Bm101

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Ohhhh. And a little hand held circular saw for mdf because. My house. And units. :wink:
 

samhay

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Don't agree with the MDF, but otherwise Bm101 is spot on. Buy a new tool only when you really need it.
If your need is to deal with end grain, you probably don't need a block plane yet.
 

bp122

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Bm101":173ptavs said:
Bp. My perspective might help a bit because I'm a beginner too.
When I first started I bought a few new tools. Woodwork wasn't new to me, it had been creeping up on me my whole life so I knew it was something I wasn't going to give up so I didn't mind investing a bit. But I also bought a fair few bits I didn't need. I have more planes than I need. More tools .No great regrets. Nothing major.
I should sell a couple and in time.... I will.
But maybe I spent more time sorting tools than sorting wood for a good while there.
I have read advice given by genuine people like Custard that backs this up. Learn to use one or two planes well. It makes more sense the more I do. I reckon I work pretty well (for me ) now with a handful.
You know the threads that come up now and again? What tools do I need?
Now with my inca bandsaw, a couple of planes, a handsaw, drill . A mallet and 3 or 4 chisels and and a few measuring bits I reckon I could sell all the other bits. (Apart from my router)
I won't though. :D Maybe one day.
Save your money. That's my strictly non professional opinion. When you get good enough to realise you need a specific tool you can invest.
Until then, refrain from the abyss.
As your man Friedriche Nietzsche said: stare too long at nice tool websites and you will be poorer in money and space with no noticeable advancement in performance or output.
Summat similar at least.
You can always convince yourself to buy tools. That's the easy part.
:wink:
Good luck.
Chris.
Well said, Chris. I have been doing the same. But with this I was only wondering if ultimately it was worth me investing time in making mine work or just put it aside. I have learnt a lot from doing the projects than reading tool reviews :D

That would work":173ptavs said:
Have you ever put a block plane blade in upside down?
No, mine can't be put that way.

D_W":173ptavs said:
MikeG.":173ptavs said:
heimlaga":173ptavs said:
.....you don't need a block plane. The cutting geometry of a standard angle block plane is the same as any bench plane........
Hilariously, I've been lectured by someone here about how a block plane is better for planing end grain than any other bench plane. Good for a giggle, it was.

I don't have a shoulder plane, so when I am doing big tenons I use a router plane close to the shoulder and a block plane for the rest (if they need adjusting). They're also useful for planing external curves, for fiddly little jobs which can only be held in one hand (not a vice), and of course for chamfering/ rounding over arises. It's perfectly possible to get along nicely without one, but best to have it.
Shoulder plane is another one that I rarely use. A wide chisel and a strong knife line makes for a wonderful large tenon shoulder.

Not to say I haven't had a bunch of shoulder planes (still have a norris infill shoulder - it's pretty), but a chisel and a cheap rabbet plane make shoulder planes hard to appreciate in actual work. Much like the block plane.

Somewhere, there is a woodworker who has a "bench" that's actually an assembly table, and hand tools are limited to claw hammers, maybe a scraper and sandpaper, and that's the type of person who may never feel invested enough to use a bench plane properly (and think of a block plane as an "edge breaker"), but there probably aren't many in here like that.

I do have a wonderful stanley #18 and a factory-made box of extra irons. It's really attractive - both the box of irons and the original plane. But it's no more usable than the "premium" block plane that I had before, and I'm sure the site-hardness irons wouldn't tolerate cutting hard maple end grain.
This does makes sense.

ED65":173ptavs said:
BP, you can assure yourself that no matter how sharp you think your stuff is now you'll be doing better in six months. And your edges then should pale in comparison to what you're able to achieve in a few years; possibly faster too!

bp122":173ptavs said:
In the interest of being fair, I will once again sharpen it and set it up - to see if it was really me and my incompetence that failed to yield results.
Do bear in mind with the block plane that it could be partly the plane :) Also, if your edge angle has inadvertently crept up since the first honing (very easy to do) that won't be helping either.


AndyT":173ptavs said:
I like a block plane if I am working on anything small and fiddly. It's easier to see what is happening to the wood if there's not a great big lump of iron in the way of it.
My thoughts exactly when I was using one regularly for making tools handles.

AndyT":173ptavs said:
Sharpness really does matter, but let's not make this another sharpening thread!
See this is a problem. Sharpness is very likely to be an issue here – I'd actually be surprised if it weren't – but we're reluctant to even bring it up.

Popcorn jokes are all well and good :D but there is an easy solution to that nervousness we all feel when the subject comes up naturally within a thread, or an unsuspecting new member asks a simple question about it *sigh*
Completely agree, especially about this being a continuous learning curve.
 
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