no. 41⁄2 , $325
For heavy use and then to pass on to future generations
Sharp smoothing planes create glassy-smooth surfaces on panels and smaller workpieces. Their short soles allow for working smaller areas, and smoothing surfaces that aren't truly flat (and perhaps don't need to be), such as a tabletop that may have moved slightly since being glued up. These planes, designated by no. 4 (2"-wide blade), and no. 4 1⁄2 (2 3⁄8 " blade) will help you when it's time for smooth moves.
These planes share DNA from the Stanley Bedrock line of a century ago, so they feel similar in hand, and the adjustments work similarly. Their 6-lb mass helps the blade slice through material once you get the tool moving, but can be tiring after extended use. The softer steel of the Wood River blade required honing (and will need more frequent sharpening) to bring it to the out-of-the-box sharpness of the Lie-Nielsen blade, but that's a small investment of elbow grease to get near-equal performance.
Wood River no. 41⁄2 , $175
Tighter tolerances on the Lie-Nielsen make fine blade adjustments easy. On both models, closing up the blade in the mouth requires a screwdriver to move the frog forward. The Lie-Nielsen provides easy access to the frog screws; the tote on the Wood River partially obstructs one.
Veritas no. 4, $289
Customize it to fit you and the work you do.
no. 06P04.71A, 800-871-8158, leevalley.com
Veritas lets you choose the frog angle, type of blade steel, and tote and knob shapes, so you can put together a tool that fits your hands and style of working. The one shown has a 45° bed, a wear-resistant PM-V11 blade, traditional tote (which we found quite comfortable), and standard knob, better suited to larger hands. The knurled-knob Norris-style blade adjuster turns easily with negligible backlash. The easily adjustable mouth accommodates heavy or paper-thin cuts.
Veritas Low-angle Smooth Plane, $217
Lightweight favorite for smoothing panels or shooting miters.
For lighter work, when you don't want to muscle a heavy plane, this 31⁄2 -lb bevel-up tool works beautifully. (Bevel-up planes don't require chipbreakers so you can quickly swap blades to change the cutting angle.) The lower cutting angle—37° vs. 45° in smoothing planes—often cuts cleaner, especially across end grain. Toolless blade and mouth adjustments make fine-tuning cutting depth a snap. Choose a blade from one of three steel hardnesses.