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Veritas Plane Review - Part Four. The Bench Planes - long

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Alf

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We now go fourth (ho, ho) into the world of smoothers, jacks and jointers. Be warned, this is a long one (so what's new... :roll: ).


From left to right: 6, 5 ¼W, 4 ½ and 4 on its side at the front. They don't look too bad in a herd

Lee Valley Veritas currently have four different models of bevel down bench planes in their range; designated numbers 4, 4 ½, 5 ¼W and 6. Don’t rush to your Stanley plane references just yet though; they aren’t exactly direct copies, and I’m not just referring to the design of frog. It’s just beginning to dawn on me that all the L-V planes are ductile iron :oops: , but just in case you were wondering, yep, these are too. And no, I still haven’t checked to see if they really will bounce, or if they genuinely are stressed relieved (they look pretty relaxed though...). 1/8” thick, A2 steel irons, “Norris” style adjustment and “rosewood” (but again I believe Bubinga in actual fact) totes complete the important bits. Packing is brown cardboard boxes, rust inhibitor paper and some packing paper where required. At least I assume they’re all the same, the packing material was a bit hit and miss by the time I got them. The instruction booklet, once again to be perused at your leisure on the Lee Valley website, runs to 8 pages and not only explains the basic workings of the plane, but also the mysteries of back bevels and the like. The only thing missing was some info on shooting boards, which would have made it very nearly perfect.

So let’s take a look at these planes then. A bit different, no? The first thing that struck me is the lever caps. In a sensible move to cut production costs it’s a one-size-fits-all, the sides ground down to fit on the two narrower planes. But even Rob Lee has been heard to describe them as the “East German swimmer of the woodworking pool”, so you could claim even their mother doesn’t love them - so to speak. :wink:


Left: Hello there, Frau Lever Cap. Right: Veritas and Lie Nielsen 4 ½s side by side

The next thing that struck me was the all-in-one rear tote and adjustable frog assembly. This has some precedence in plane history; viz the Marples X4, still sought-after by the cognoscenti, and the rather less successful Narex. The Veritas also borrows a lot from the Narex’s frog adjustment, except it works rather well… :roll: The two bolts through the rear handle make for a very secure fixing, and possibly less prone to the sort of damage suffered by the more traditional style. At the risk of repeating myself, all the grinding, milling and machining is fine and dandy, no nasty sharp edges, the finish on the wood is what I call “sensitive” lacquering, rather than gloop and all the various areas that bed on something else are bedding where they should. I’m was mildly surprised at how small the areas where the frog meets the body are, but on reflection I don't think they're that much different from a Bailey.


Not large, but perfectly formed

That small scale pebbledash effect is again in evidence on the all the non-functional surfaces of the castings, but you do get used to it after a bit. So much for the appearance, or rather as much as I‘m going to say, otherwise this gets way too personal a review... :wink:

In a bid to make my life more difficult, I ran a straight edge over the soles and a square to check the sides were square. Only by dint of holding everything up to the light and squinting could I claim I could see daylight, so well within requirements as far as I'm concerned. I decided to check the claim for the “extra large side wings” while I was at it, comparing them with a standard Bailey or three and a flat top Bedrock. Erm… slightly less surface area it seemed to me… Not that it made any difference, but I can’t help wondering just how small the sides must have got at some point in the design process. :lol:


4 ½ in front, Marples 4 ½ behind. You can just about make out the difference in the sides, and the rear tote differences are very noticable. (Sorry for the glare; t'was the only way to get the detail I wanted)

The blade and cap iron assembly will be immediately familiar, the only difference being the round hole in the cap iron (okay, chip breaker if you must :roll: ) for the adjuster rather than a slot. The lever cap will also be nothing new to anyone with one of the more recent Records. I know having a screw to tighten it is another way to cut production costs, but I can’t say that I like it much. Not least because the ruddy thing squirms about as you tighten it up, necessitating two hands for this simple task. A small moan, but mine own. :wink: The blade and cap iron themselves are finely machined, the meeting of the edge of the cap iron and back of the blade which can be a problem, was above reproach. I admit, I cheated and only sharpened two irons, one of each size, and swapped them into the other plane to test. After eight edges the thrill is starting to wear off, and I‘m not done yet… Anyway, they were once again no trouble to sharpen, despite the secondary bevel which is rapidly turning into my pet hate. :roll:

Putting the blade back on the frog and tightening the lever cap was reasonably straightforward, but subsequently I felt the need to turn to the instructions. Depth and lateral adjustment were smooth and precise, the grub screws either side of the blade near the sole keeping lateral movement from becoming sideways slippage. There is a little bit of backlash, but once again the instructions fess up and tell you how to deal with it rather than just pretending it doesn’t exist. The more exposure I have to this style of adjustment, the more I like it. True, you can’t adjust the depth “on the fly” like you can with a Stanley-a-like, but the whole system gells together with the blade so well it’s worth that small inconvenience.

The frog itself is another kettle of fish, er, tadpoles. I kept putting off this review simply because I feared this frog, and my inability to get to grips with something so different from the Bailey and Bedrock styles I’m used to. I spent a solid hour pottering about with the #4 ½, trying different stuff and changing the frog setting repeatedly , and by the end I was adjusting it virtually without a thought. There are two locking screws, just like a traditional frog, but rather than side by side, they’re front and back. The rear one is easily seen and adjusted; a brass knob readily turned by hand.


The upright knob loosens the frog, the one in front of it provides the adjustment

The front one needs a screwdriver, but the clever bit is the hole through the lever cap, cap iron and blade allow you to do this while the whole lot remains assembled. You’ll probably have to invest in a parallel tip screwdriver, mind you.


Lucky for me I have a wide range of screwdrivers to choose from, eh? :wink:

The one thing I did have to concentrate to remember was to close the mouth tighter than I wanted, and then back it off slightly to deal with our old friend, backlash. It’s kind of the opposite to dealing with the backlash in depth adjusters, so I had to think about it every time. I imagine someone not steeped in more old fashioned methods of frog adjustment wouldn’t even find this a problem. The fact the frog goes down all the way to the sole, actually forming some of it, did make me wonder about having this additional “mouth” open to damage and the hurly burly of plane use. But once I was making shavings I soon forgot it was even there, just proving you shouldn’t try to pre-judge a tool before trying it.

So how comfortable are they to use? Let me say first of all I have no problem with the front knob. That knob I like, even if I prefer a low knob type as a rule. I have nothing against the front knob. Can you tell what’s coming? Yep, ‘fraid so. The rear handle and I did not get on. I’ve never before felt the urge to take calipers to a commercially made plane tote to see how thin it was, but it happened here. Not after a strenuous hour or so, mind you; within seconds of using it. As if to confirm my suspicions the tote of the #4 ½ I was using turned out to be a mere 20.5mm thick. But that turned out to be a red herring. When I tried the low angle smoother (review to come) which had a tote a full 24mm thick, just like a Clifton, and still had trouble, I realised I had to look elsewhere. Yes, the handle is more or less an oblong with the corners knocked off, but that‘s liveable with, although it could be lots better. What I did notice was the angle of the handle; I compared an ordinary Stanley and an L-N with it, and the Veritas is noticeably more upright. Now my workbench height is a traditional one, optimised for using planes, and is thus is set up for a pushing along and down movement, just as most planes are. The L-V seems to be geared to just a pushing along movement, and on a higher workbench too. Perhaps a bit friendlier for the more power-orientated woodworker with higher work surfaces? So I’m pretty sure a lot of my discomfort can be put down to the angle, although by no means all. Perhaps I was compensating for that lack of downwards angle by only pushing with the top area of my grip around the “web” between finger and thumb? I consciously tried to avoid doing that, and it did help. I got an aching wrist instead… :| Ho hum. What with the oblong, blocky shape, the pretty rudimentary rounding of the edges and the less-than-ideal angle, these handles are really very disappointing. The phrase spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar keeps springing to mind, I’m sorry to say. :(

So what are the differences between these models and their nearest equivalent by other manufacturers? As far as the #4 and #4 ½ goes, not a lot. The #4 has a marginally longer toe, while the #4 ½ has a marginally smaller one, but really they’re in direct competition with planes of the same number. The 5 ¼W is more of an oddity. The 5 ¼ was Stanley’s shorter jack with a narrower blade. L-V have kept the same 12” length, but beefed up the iron width to a normal jack’s 2”, which makes for quite a differently proportioned plane. They’ve also dropped the “jack” name too. I’ve always like the proportions of the #5 ½ jack, but sometimes it can get a bit big to be hauling around. The #5 ¼W has the same sort of feel to it, but on a smaller, handier scale. The mouth is also set back a further inch, making for a better “run up” to the work piece, which is great for a beginner. Despite myself, I started to warm to the idea of tweaking existing models and turned to the #6. Okay, so it’s the same length as a standard #6, but the mouth is so far back as to be nearer a #7, giving a subtly different feel. I have to say I was confidently expecting to hate this plane. I’ve never liked the #6 much anyway, and one with a mucked about mouth placing? Urgh. To my horror, I liked it rather a lot; the balance seemed just right. Despite the discomfort from the rear handle what’s more. :shock:


Yep, I disliked the rear handle so much I couldn't even bear to hold onto it for the piccy... :wink:

Just one thing puzzles me. Why do L-V promote the shorter jack as a jointer and the longer #6 as an oversized smoother? Is it a ploy to convince Normites that they really do need a jack even if they already have a planer, and a jointer has it’s uses despite the 6” power jointer in the corner of the workshop? Maybe. If it gets them on The Slope, who am I to argue? :D

As for their performance, they all did exactly as expected. They confidently performed on oak, ash, beech, cherry, poplar etc, making both thick and thin shavings as asked.


Lovely job, and all I had to do was sharpen the blade

I had the feeling they felt more comfortable taking thin shavings, and somehow I didn’t get that sitting down on the timber feeling that I get from my Baileys etc. There was definitely a different sound to the cut too, possibly due to the force going straight through the frog, rather than via the whole body of the plane? I don’t know, but it did feel different. Although I was being extra sensitive about it all because of this review, of course. They did a good job with no tuning or TLC, and that’s really all that matters. Shooting was also as expected; I found the adjuster-free rear of the frog made rather a good resting place for my thumb, which was a bonus.


5 ¼W working well on the shooting board

So, what are my conclusions? The bench plane market is heaving with different options at the moment; all prices, old and new. So what do the Veritas planes bring to the table? “Out of the box” usability and excellent adjustments for less than a similar tool from Maine for a start. Good news then. Bad news though; for my money, those rear handles let everything else down. On the basis of performance these planes have a lot to offer; the adjuster has really won me over, and I could even live with such a different frog amongst all my Baileys. In fact I’d be seriously tempted by the #6, but for that rear tote. You can be perfectly confident of a good planing performance, but if comfortable tool handles are remotely important to you then I think trying before buying is essential.

#4 Smoothing Plane £146.75
#4 ½ Smoothing Plane £151.75
#5 ¼W Bench Plane £158.75
#6 Fore Plane £175.00

<Edit> As of 1st October there's been a review of prices, viz:
#4 Smoothing Plane £135.13
#4 ½ Smoothing Plane £142.18
#5 ¼W Bench Plane £142.18
#6 Fore Plane £155.10
 

Chris Knight

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Alf,

Another absolutely brilliant job! Your review has answered a number of questions I had in mind, especially about the upright rear tote. Our friend DC prefers a very high bench to work on, claiming a well- tuned plane does not need a lot of force and the tote may therefore suit him - I wonder if he's reviewed these planes?

I can't quite work out the frog adjustment from your description. What is the knurling on the knob for (or for that matter, the knob itself) if it is adjusted at the front through the cap iron?

Super job! Thank you very much.
 
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Wow Alf, nice review :wink:

I have the screw type adjuster on the lever cap of my Record #4 and completely see where your coming from there.

Do you think a new handle could be made and fitted to the planes by a user to get a more comfortable angle? I ask because I thought I could see a support bar on the top of the #6 handle which might preclude this mod.

Seems to me that Cliftons are probably in the same league as the planes reviewed here and comparably priced, thus the handles may well be the deciding factor.

Looking forward to review #5

Cheers

Tony
 

Midnight

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I had a feeling that was why the request for tote dimensions went out.. OK so I'm slow on the uptake, that's why I'm paid from the neck down ;P~

I've been having an ongoing exchange of e-mails with Konrad Sauer recently, and the differences between open / closed totes came up; he mentioned that LV had adopted a closed tote approach, hinting that the connection between the handle and frog should give far greater feedback. Looking at the LV version I'd guess that the mechanical joint would generate less feeback than the intigral tote / frog preferred by infill makers, but how does it compair to conventional Bailey pattern open totes?
Again, looking at the angle of the tote, the thought struck me that if the tote was pitched slightly more conventionally (the frog / tote screw placed closer to the centre line of the tote) would that help overcome the ergonomic probs you had..???

Congrats on another standard making review... you're getting good at these huh...?? Surely that alone should earn you "first crack at the whip" rights..????
 

Philly

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Alf,
Cheers for the review-to your usual high standard of course :D
At last the "how wide is your handle" mystery is solved! :wink:
keep up the good work,
Philly :D
 

Alf

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Chris, last I heard DC still didn't know they were available over here. I'd forgotten he likes a high bench; not something I agree with him on, but it'll make his opinion of these planes interesting reading. The frog is adjusted from the rear, but the frog locking is dealt with at the front and the back. The rear one can be altered by hand, the front one needs a screwdriver. Sorry, I was hoping the description and whathaveyou on the L-V site would fill in the gaps. :oops:

Tony, I did wonder about a user modification, but I'm doubtful. Not just because the handle is part of the frog, but also you need to accommodate two bolts through it which doesn't leave a lot of leeway.

Mike, an interesting question. (That's code for "I don't know" btw... :roll: ) I wasn't conscious of greater feedback, if there was, but I was rather distracted by other things.

Cheers, Alf
 

Bean

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Nice one Alf, I saw these at the midlands show. I must admit that I was curious about the handles, and now you have answered my curiosity, Ta Alf.

Bean
 

Alf

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Philly":g6ivk9ab said:
Funny old world, isn't it!
Ain't that the truth. :roll: Wonder what height the bench was... :wink: Sounds like Rob Cosman's patter out him off too. It's a shame 'cos Rob's an enthusiast, but somtimes you just have to temper that a bit or it frightens people! :lol:

Cheers, Alf
 
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