The Best Plane?

Over on the Logan Cabinet Shoppe Blog,  is a delightful article discussing the quality of current and 18th Century tools. Well worth the read.

This article strongly supports my own ideas on the quality of tools.  A plane, is two things really, a  jig to hold a blade perfectly for performing a task, and a handle for the user  to manage the movement of that blade.

I think that a fine craftsman, will by nature, not settle for sporadic work.  In days of old, just as lumber jacks would compete in showing off their mad log rolling and axe hurling skills, joiners would compete if only by trying to show up the quality of work around them.   Little changes in shape and reliefs and tricks that reduced tear out matter quite a bit, when you have to turn logs into cabinets.  To mess up at the final stages  was hardly a reward.

He did not mention Japanese Planes, so forgive my interjecting them here.  There are still competitions like log rolling, where tool prowess and design face off to high standards of challenge.  We may scoff at the usefulness of these thin, thin shavings, but it does show that they know, the craftsmen themselves, how to make and perfect a tool.   Why are Japanese Planes so good?  The craftsmen demand and  make them so,  If these craftsmen, who often make their own planes,  have a respect for a dai maker,  the odds are the dai maker has mad skills.

How many hours do we spend flattening, adjusting and tuning a plane before we are ready to use it?  I suspect we spend as much time on a Stanley from a flea market, as a Japanese craftsman does in some off time, making a plane from a block of wood.      Which plane is better?   To my hands, the Japanese plane.   I have a perfectly tuned to .0004″ bed to sole to side Stanley Jack and it works wonders.  I have a Japanese mass market plane I got from Schtoo, that after I tuned it just a hair, works the same wonders as the Stanley and tells me what the wood is doing underneath it.

It communicates better.  This simple Japanese Plane also allows for more ‘English.’  I can alter it’s behavior in quite a controlled manner by altering the pressue and position of the pressure.  For a shooting board, I prefer the Stanley Jack.  Since I am running it straight down a guide, I don’t need any ‘English.’  For free range planing, the Japanese plane pleases me more.

Planes that are used much have to be gone over every now and then.  The skills that allow you to fettle a plane correctly, also allow a woodworker to be able to make a functioning plane.  I suspect that the skilled jointers of old, expected to adjust a plane when they got it.

So the answer to what is the best plane?   Clearly the one that you have tuned to perfection.  I suspect even the Ancient Romans had top notch planes.


9 comments to The Best Plane?

  • patrick anderson

    I’ve been considering buying stuff from Schtoo but heard of anyone who had bought items from him. I take it you’re happy with him and I’ll probably give him a try.

    Which plane was it you bought btw?

  • Schtoo is the best of the best as far as I am concerned. I have four planes from him. I have a left and right skew rabbet, and the equivalent of a fine mouth jack and a smoother. I use them as much as any of my other planes and love them all.


  • patrick anderson

    That’s good to hear.I’ll give him a shot when I have some cash to spend.

  • Skip J.

    Hello Patrick;

    I have been talking to schtoo also about a large rip saw, which would cost a fortune here, but he can supply at a reasonable price to me. So far, the back-channel PM talk has been quite interesting, completely separate from any transaction, he’s cool guy…


  • Schtoo is a great resource and friend to have. He is a solid woodworker and has made quite a few of his own tools, so he has a strong understanding of what a tool needs. to be. He does not believe in the hype around expensive or exotic tools.
    He uses Western and Japanese tools. He speaks and reads Japanese and English. He enjoys his time as a teacher and is dedicated to that as well.
    As a result, a westerner could have no better guide to Japanese tools.


  • patrick anderson

    Skip / Bob

    Thanks for the info on Schtoo. My parents want to buy me some Japanese tools to help out with my apprenticeship so I’m compiling a list of things from his website.

    I’ll use his contact form and ask him some questions today

  • Skip J.

    You’re welcome Patrick;

    I had seen his stuff for quite awhile, and then Bob started buying from him, and reporting his success with the Japanese tools. Bob kinda gets out front and leads the way on handtools and tries out a lotta tools first…. then the rest of us can follow without putting in all that much effort.


  • patrick anderson

    I contacted Schtoo and got a nice response from him. I also got laid off the day after I emailed so my purchasing plans got changed somewhat. I will hopefully be ordering some stuff from him in the new year.

    Any idea how long stuff takes to get to the US from Japan?

  • patrick anderson

    I’ll keep that in mind when I go to order some things. I quite fancy one of the ryobas he has for sale.

    On the topic of saws, have you ever tried the Bridge City Japanese saws? I like the JS-7 but it isn’t cheap.

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