A Game of Ounces

Jack planes are the most-used tool in my hands. Hands down, hands forward and hands back. I’m on my third jack plane iron since 1996. I’ve never even come close to wearing out a plane iron for a smoothing or jointer plane.

(I have eaten through some block plane blades, though I blame that on carpentry jobs and nails.)

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When students ask for my recommendations for a jack plane, my first recommendation is a vintage Stanley No. 5. I have an old Type 11 from around the turn of the last century. Rosewood knob and tote. Beautiful lightweight casting. Just perfect.

But a lot of students are unwilling to take my advice. They have good reasons.

  1. They don’t have the skill or time to fix up an old plane.
  2. They are afraid that a vintage plane bought through the mail will be a POS.
  3. They don’t know enough to buy a vintage plane.
  4. They just want a tool that works without any fettling. Sharpen and go.

So here’s what I tell them: Get the Lie-Nielsen No. 62. What is sometimes called a low-angle jack or bevel-up jack. Here is my reasoning.

A jack plane should be fairly lightweight and simple to use. The Lie-Nielsen No. 62 fits that bill. It doesn’t have a frog, chipbreaker or lateral-adjustment lever. This keeps down its weight, its complexity and its price. 

So what are we talking about when we discuss the weight of jack planes? Here are the ones we have in our shop, from lightest to heaviest.

Wooden jack plane: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
Stanley No. 5: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
Lie-Nielsen No. 62: 4 lbs. 10 oz.
Veritas No. 5: 5 lbs. 4 oz.
Lie-Nielsen No. 5: 5 lbs. 8 oz.

In use the wooden jack, the Stanley and the No. 62 all feel about the same. Once the tool tops 5 lbs., I notice the increased weight.

I know some experienced woodworkers don’t like the low-angle/bevel-up planes. But I have found that beginners really take to them. Likely because they are simple to set up. (There are other makers of the No. 62-style plane, including Veritas, Wood River and a variety of offshore white-label brands. I’ve used the Veritas and can recommend its quality, but it is heavy. The other brands I don’t have any experience with. Avoid the modern Stanley No. 62. I have yet to use one that didn’t have a fatal error in its bed machining.)

So why not a wooden jack? I love wooden jacks, and there are some great makers of new jacks out there. It’s difficult to recommend a vintage wooden jack for a greenhorn woodworker because the tool might need a lot of work. Heck, it might need something only a fire can offer.

So my recommendation is based on my desire to get a student going with the minimum amount of fussing with them before class, at lunch and at night. 

And when three students show up with this plane, I know I have offended the woodworking gods somehow and must make a sacrifice to appease them.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Scrub planes are too short for the jointing operations I ask of a jack, and its iron has too much curve for my taste. I’m sure that if I started in the craft with a scrub I would love it. But I didn’t. And so I don’t.

Source: lostartpress.com

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