Our Favorite Block Planes
Often the first hand tool many woodworkers learn to use, a block plane helps you clean up an edge or trim a part to fit in no time flat. Learn which model belongs on your shopping list.
We recently tested 15 block planes in the WOOD® magazine shop, putting them through extensive use in many applications, as well as multiple resharpenings. Eight of the planes have blades bedded at a low angle, while the others have a steeper, or standard, angle. See the sidebar below to learn which of the two types best suits you.
Low-angle or standard-angle?
■ Cuts end grain better than standard-angle planes.
■ More comfortable to hold and use because of its lower profile.
■ Sharpening the blade to steeper angles gives you the same benefits as a standard-angle plane to avoid grain tear-out.
■ Steeper cutting angles work best on figured woods and dense hardwoods.
■ Taller body may be easier to grip and hold for larger or arthritic hands.
Note: Apron planes are essentially smaller versions of block planes. They have either low- or standard-angle configurations similar to larger block planes, but have fixed mouths.
Four critical block-plane traits
■ A flat sole. The body of a block plane must have a dead-flat sole to prevent it from rocking or conforming to subtle contours on a workpiece surface. All four Lie-Nielsen planes and all but one Veritas arrived with flat soles ready to go. Three planes needed only a few minutes of lapping on a diamond stone to get flat. But the Kunz, Shop Fox standard-angle, and Stanley Sweetheart planes each needed about 30 minutes of lapping to make them flat.
■ Easy blade adjustments. Two factors come into play here: how easily the blade travels forward and back, and how effectively the lever cap secures the blade. The plane’s depth adjuster should move the blade with smooth, reliable precision. And because the blades are slightly narrower than the body cavities, they can skew a little, resulting in the blade cutting more deeply on one side.
To remedy that, the Veritas and Stanley planes use a Norris-style adjuster (shown above), which swivels to square the blade to the mouth as well as front-to-back when you turn the screw. But the Stanley adjusters have nearly two full turns of backlash—a lack of blade movement when changing directions—that frustrated us when setting blade depth. The three larger Veritas planes have setscrews to guide the blade, as shown below.
The lever cap on each plane has a locking mechanism to hold the blade in place. We preferred the WoodRiver planes’ cam locks, shown below, similar to older Stanley No. 65s, to the thumb wheels on all others.
■ A sharp blade. Out of the box, all of the Lie-Nielsen, Stanley, and Veritas blades were sharp enough to go to work, and the Veritas blades had a nice microbevel (a slightly steeper secondary bevel on the cutting edge). The WoodRiver blades were not ground to a sharp point and needed to be sharpened before use. Blades that were not flat had to be lapped and made so, but once done, that was no longer an issue. The Stanley blades needed about 10 minutes to flatten, and the Kunz 220 and Shop Fox D3832 blades required more than 20 minutes.
Blades come in three types of steel alloys: O1 carbon, A2, and PM-V11. Carbon-steel blades sharpen quickly, but also dull quickly. A2 blades are hardest and take the longest to sharpen, but hold an edge for a long time. The PM-V11 blades (our favorites) hold a sharp edge longer and sharpen quicker than A2; only the Veritas planes have this type of blade.
■ A tight mouth. An adjustable front toe lets you close up the mouth in front of the blade to help prevent tear-out, and all but four of the tested planes have one. The Lie-Nielsen 102 apron plane is one of those four, but its mouth opening, with a blade installed, measured a mere 1⁄64 ", making it as good as an adjustable-mouth plane.
As with most tools, price and performance go
If we could buy only one block plane, or were buying our first, we’d get a low-angle model. And we’d choose either the Lie-Nielsen 601⁄2 or Veritas DX60. They share Top Tool honors. They both work great, with their primary differences being the depth adjuster and blade steel. If you prefer a standard-angle plane, the Lie-Nielsen 91⁄2 and Veritas 05P22.81 are our favorites.
Lie-Nielsen 601⁄2 , $165
Veritas apron plane, $94
Veritas DX60, $199
Lie-Nielsen 102 apron plane, $115