The purpose of this article is to help you choose the best block plane for the job. Below you´ll find the summary of block plane suggestions for different uses.
|Block plane usage||For small hands||For large hands|
|Best first low angle block plane|
Lie Nielsen 60½ / Veritas NX/DX60
Veritas Low Angle Block plane
|Best value block plane|
Stanley 60 ½ / Stanley 9 ½
|Best block plane for carpentry|
Lie Nielsen No. 102 Low Angle Block Plane
|Best low angle block plane for guitar making|
Veritas NX/DX60 Block Plane
Veritas Low Angle Block plane
|Best standard angle block plane for guitar making|
Lie Nielsen No.101 Violin Makers Plane
|Best standard angle block plane for violin making|
Lie Nielsen No.101 Violin Makers Plane
Veritas Standard Angle Block Plane, with the PM-V11 blade
|Best block plane for model makers?|
Veritas miniature Low Angle Block Plane
|Best block plane for smoothing?|
Veritas standard angle block plane
|Best rod makers block plane?|
Lie Nielsen 60½ low angle block plane with the grooved sole
|Best block plane for a shooting board|
Veritas low angle block plane with the O1 blade
|Best small block plane for fine work|
Lie Nielsen 102 low angle block plane
|Best small block plane for coarse work|
Veritas apron plane
|Best skew block plane|
Veritas Skew Block Plane with the optional adjustable depth stop
|Best Rabbet block plane|
Lie Nielsen Rabbet block plane
Block Plane – small in size but bold in the spirit
A block plane is a small but indispensable tool with countless diverse uses in fine woodworking, luthiery, carpentry, model making and in bamboo rod making. Block plane is silent, safe, efficient, and precise and it doesn’t have power cords attached, all in all, a pleasant mix of features in a small package. Small size is a big advantage, the plane can be stored in a vest or apron pocket or else just on the corner of the table always ready for the countless little trimming task.
After the years of gained experience most woodworkers tend to accumulate a collection of various block planes for different uses. In the long run, it is sensible to have dedicated tools for various tasks. However, the beginner could easily start with a one versatile block plane and later get more specialist tools for the specific duties.
Most woodworkers use the block plane on a daily basis. Because it sees so much use, it is important that the block plane of your choice is appropriate, right-sized for your hands, cuts beautifully, and is easy to adjust and hone. By making a wise choice you get a lifelong companion to which you can depend on task after task. But by making a wrong choice you´ll curse yourself over and over again.
There are currently dozens of different models of block planes available from several manufacturers in which the blade bed angle, skew angle, length, weight, the material of the body, adjustability, and optional extras varies.
Finding the suitable block plane may seem difficult when there are dozens of different block planes on the marker from many brands. Stanley, Veritas and Lie Nielsen alone manufacture in total over 25 block plane variants.
Why quality is so important when getting hand tools?
When looking for hand planes or any other hand tools, you should keep in mind that quality tools are not disposable or single-use matters as are many other things in modern society. In the best case, the high-grade tool last many lifetimes and its monetary value will remain or may even grow over time. When you pass away your children or grandchildren will inherit your heirloom quality tools and in the best case, the tools will remain in the hands of makers for many generations to come.
A quality tool that is just right for your way to work will save your time and money. Accurate machining with close tolerances guarantees the straight and well mating parts that are essential for the right function of the block plane. The blade that stays sharp and which is easy to sharpen, the adjustment mechanism that is precise with no backslash, the shape that fits your hand perfectly, all these traits affects the effectiveness and joy of your work.
By investing only a few dozen bucks/euros more for a premium quality block plane instead of getting cheaper, more basic one, you could save hundreds of hours of your time during the years when unnecessary fiddling is eliminated by buying the best. If you value your time then this is a no-brainer.
Why are some brands/planes more expensive than others?
There are many reasons why some brands are costlier than others. Firstly, I would pick the most obvious one, the country of origin directly affects the manufacturing cost and therefore the price paid. Plenty of hand tools on the market are nowadays made in countries where wages are only a fraction of what they are in western countries. Fortunately, there are still quality American, Canadian and British brands wanting to make superb tools and to compete against the lower manufacturing cost of eastern countries. By buying from these brands, the great toolmaking tradition is kept alive and the manufacture of magnificent tools is guaranteed.
Other things that affect directly the price of the hand plane or other hand tools?
The material the tools are made of. Not all the cast iron is the same, grey cast iron is cheap but prone to cracking and warping. Ductile cast iron is the superior material to grey cast iron but more costly to make. Brass is also great material due to its weight but it is the most expensive of the three.
Cast irons need to be stress relieved to prevent internal stresses to warp the sole after machining and lapping. This takes lots of time and money.
How well the tool is finished, surface quality, edge chamfers or rounding, really all that takes time and work from the manufacturer and increases the final price of the product.
Take a look at modern, cheap Stanley 60½ low angle block plane for example: Edges around the plane parts are sharp and rough, the blade´s back is rough with deep machine marks, sole and the side are machined fast and the surfaces are rough, and it is certain that the sole is not flat, there is going to be some lapping needed for sole, sides, bed and the blade before it cuts beautifully. But it is cheap to buy, you save money but need to spend many hours of your time tuning the tool.
Then let’s take a look of the Lie Nielsen 60 ½ Low angle block plane which is a basically copy of aforementioned Stanley: The Edges around the plane are smooth without sharp or rough spots, blade, sole, sides, all are perfectly machined and lapped, parts mate perfectly together and only task you need to do before it cuts perfectly is a final honing of the blade. By buying a quality tool you spend more money but save hours of your workshop time!
Best first block plane? – A general purpose plane does it all
Your first block plane should be as varied as possible. With versatile block plane, you can tackle almost all task that can come forward in workshop and job sites. Best pick for the first block plane is the low angle block plane from a quality brand with an adjustable mouth, square sides and which size and shape are suitable for your hands.
I advise going for a quality when purchasing your first tools. A premium tool will save you many hours of frustrations and annoyance. The quality-made tool works as it should, surfaces are lapped straight, the blade is almost ready to use from the box and overall you are going to be pleased for years to come.
Adjustable mouth enables you to adjust the plane from thicker and coarser cut when rough shaping to very fine cut needed in difficult grains and when the utmost surface quality is needed.
Squares sides give you the option to use the block plane with the handy shooting board.
In low angle block planes, the blade is better supported, more stable, and less prone to chatter. It can also be used with a tricky grain that is prone to tear out, the blade can be re-honed to the steeper angle, the mouth can be closed tight and with very light cut you´ll get great results.
To get even more versatile first block plane you should buy it with an optional spare blade, which can be honed with steeper bevel. That way you can tackle even more situations with a single plane.
- For small hands, the best choices are Lie Nielsen 60½ Low Angle block plane and the Veritas NX60/DX60 block planes.
- For bigger hands, the best choice would be the Veritas Low-Angle Block Plane due to bigger overall dimensions and heavier mass.
- The real premium option for a first block plane is the new Clifton Low Angle Block Plane with adjustable mouth. It is heaviest of all block planes, a perfect combination of bronze, steel, and wood, perfectly machined and finished. Great graduation gift to a budding woodworker.
The quality of the Veritas, Lie Nielsen and Clifton block planes are exquisite and they hold their value well.
Best value block plane? – Original has the best value
If you are looking for a value and are prepared to spend some time fiddling and tuning then the king of the value block planes is the Original Stanley 60 ½. For 40€ bucks you get a block plane that after little tuning and set-up is great for decades.
Best block plane for carpentry? – Trimmed down model beats the rest
Carpenters, particularly ones doing finish and trim have found the small block planes handy. It is used for relieving miters and changing their angles, fitting rail parts and hundreds of other things.
Best block plane for carpenters is small and light enough so it could be stored on a tool vest pocket, quality low angle blade that keeps a keen edge forever, is easy to adjust, and has a smallish mouth.
Looking through the contractors and carpenters forums one can find the unanimous winner:
- The Lie Nielsen Bronze 102 Low Angle Block Plane is your best bet for the best block plane for trim carpentry. It is compact enough to store in a pocket, fit and finish are superb, the blade is of high-quality A2 steel and the fixed mouth is small enough. A well-prepared finish carpenter has also a couple of sharp spare blades at hand because nobody is going to sharpen at the job site.
Best block plane for guitar making?
A luthier making guitars needs a couple of different planes. There is countless small trimming task well-suited for small block planes. My experience is that you need both, the low angle and standard angle block plane. But if you can purchase only one then go for a quality low angle block plane.
For leveling rosettes, purflings and bindings and rosette tile making, extremely sharp low angle block plane is an excellent tool, preferably with the O1 steel blade.
Although you can flatten and size guitar tops and backs with standard angle block plane with a slightly cambered blade the block plane is really a trimming tool, there are better planes for flattening plates.
Best low angle block plane for luthier?
- For small handed luthiers, the Veritas NX/DX60 Block Plane fits the bill nicely.
- For larger hands, the Veritas Low Angle Block Plane is best.
The accuracy of Veritas Norris-type feed and lateral adjuster, adjustable mouth with innovative set-screws, close manufacturing tolerances of plane parts and superb O1 steel blade makes the Veritas block planes outstanding option for luthiers.
Best standard angle block plane for luthier?
Shaping the side profile of ribs/sides, sizing and voicing the braces, and headstock trimming are the tasks that are better suited for small standard angle block plane. Smaller the better.
- The Lie Nielsen Violin Makers Plane is widely regarded as the best standard block plane for a luthier. Small brass body with quality A2 steel blade and precise depth of cut adjustment make it a useful tool.
Best value block planes for guitar luthiers?
- Good value block planes for guitar builders are Kunz “Moppel” 100 Squirrel tail block plane and original Stanley 60½ low angle block plane. Some tuning is needed but after that, they work well for ages. The Kunz planes can be bought with an HSS steel blade that offers the best possible edge retention characteristic with abrasive hardwoods.
Best block plane for violin making?
One of the first things to be taught to the violin making apprentice is how to use and tune the block plane properly. Violins by nature are small and precision crafted instruments. Quality block planes offer the accuracy needed when building the “King of instruments”
Violin sides called ribs are thinned to mere 1,2mm thickness. The material used in ribs is often beautiful curly, flamed or birdseye maple that isn’t the easiest wood to plane. Thicknessing of the ribs is best done by standard angle block plane with a slightly cambered blade with the bevel angle of 30-40 degrees. Sometime when the grain is really nasty and bad behaving luthiers replace the blade with the toothed blade that helps to thin the ribs out without tear out, a scraper is then used as a final touch to remove tooth marks.
Shaping the ebony fingerboard is a challenge for any block plane. To get the best results, the plane should have standard angle and quality A2 or even better more durable PM-V11-steel blade for longer edge life. You still might need to sharpen again once or twice while shaping the fingerboard. Ebony is by nature very hard and abrasive material and blunts the blade edge easily. Bevel angle should be 30-40° for the total cutting angle of 50-60°. Higher the figure, steeper the bevel should be. The best block planes for violin making are thus standard angle block planes.
Best standard angle block plane for large-handed violin makers?
- Large-handed luthiers find the best block plane to be the Veritas Standard Angle Block Plane, get it with PM-V11 blade and you have durable workmate for years to come.
Best standard angle block plane for small handed violin makers?
For smaller hands there use to be great options, but not anymore. It’s a pity that Lie Nielsen has discontinued its great No.9½ and No.103 block planes which were greatly favored by luthiers.
- For small hands, best options there is the Lie Nielsen 101 Violin makers plane, which is really tiny and Veritas NX60/DX60 with PM-V11 blade honed to 33-48°. (Yes the NX/DX60 are low angle block plane but with the superior PM-V11 blade honed to steeper angle it can adequately work with curly and abrasive woods.
Best value block plane for violin makers?
- The value option is to get a vintage Stanley 102 or Stanley 9 ½ block plane and upgrade it with Hock A2 blade. They are widely used by violin makers around the world.
Best block plane for model makers?
When building small-scale models, the normal size tools are too big and cumbersome. Model builders use miniature versions of normal woodworking tools when available and improvise and manufacture their own tools when needed. Veritas has lately released a collection of fully functional quality miniature copies of their woodworking tools.
- The miniature version of the Veritas Low-Angle Block Plane is the best block plane for any model builder. It has a fixed mouth, 12-degree bed angle, square to sole sides and great Norris adjuster. You should check also the other miniature tools the Veritas offers.
- Other great options are the Lie Nielsen’s Model Maker´s Block Plane (Low angle) and for difficult long grain Violin Maker´s Plane (Standard angle). These don’t work with shooting boards due to curved sides.
- Best value block plane for model makers are Kunz 100,101 and 102 block planes. With small tune-up, you get great little planes for many tasks.
Best block plane for smoothing?
Smoothing tasks are usually left to dedicated smoother but when the component is small enough or it has local tear-out problem the standard angle block plane tuned as a smoothing plane (cambered blade with steep enough bevel and throat with hair width opening) is great for correcting the confined areas of tear-out. With a small plane, you can pinpoint the problem area and adjust the planing direction to completely avoid the problem.
- Best quality block plane for localized or small-scale smoothing duties is the Veritas Standard Angle Block Plane. Due to the higher bed angle, the blade camber is easier to grind than in low angle versions. The Norris adjuster is precise with minimal backslash which allows the minute adjustments needed when smoothing. Remember that to reduce tear-out you need a sharp blade, high cutting angle, tiny mouth aperture and most importantly, whisper-thin shaving thickness!
- Best value block plane for smoothing is new or vintage Stanley 9 ½ block plane.
Best rod makers block plane? – The perfect “Boo” plane
Construction of traditional bamboo fly rod is staggeringly precise and demanding job. The bamboo rod consists of a number of bamboo strips precision-planed to equilateral triangle cross section. In well-made rods, the glue lines can´t be seen. So that the rod would work as it should the final dimensions and the taper along the length of the rod is critical.
Bamboo strips are planed on a precision-made planing form that can be adjusted with a dial gauge. With the help of the form, the dimensions of taper can be adjusted within 1/1000” accuracy.
The most accurate and durable forms are made of steel which set demands for block plane used. If the blade of the block plane makes a contact with a steel form the edge is lost and you need to spend lots of time grinding and honing the blade. For this reason, rod makers use a special block plane with a grooved sole. (Groove is 0,003-0,005” deep) The groove can be done by the maker, the machinist or you can buy ready-made rod makers block plane with a grooved sole.
Bamboo as a wood is hard and extremely abrasive material. For the tear out free results you need hair-cutting sharp blade which is made of quality and hard-wearing steel. Even the best blades need re-honing after planing one or two strips.
- The best rod makers plane is the Lie Nielsen No.60-½ Adjustable mouth block plane with a Rod Maker´s grooved sole. The groove is ground 1” wide and .003” deep making it well suited to use with a rod making forms. Lie Nielsen makes also a No.212 Small Scraping Plane with an optional Rod Maker’s sole. It is also suitable for use with the rod maker´s form.
Best block plane for the shooting board
A shooting board is an invaluable jig that is used in almost every workshop in some way or other. It offers a precise way to trim wooden pieces to size, to square or miter the ends of the panels, rails or stiles. Most of the shooting is end grain. To cut cleanly through the end grain the blade should be bedded at the low angle and sharpened at low 20°-25° degree bevel and it should be scary sharp. I prefer to sharpen the blade always before using in the shooting board. Best steel material for such an acute bevel angle is O1 (Oil quenched carbon steel) that is easy to sharpen razor sharp. A2 and PM-V11 steels are better suited for steeper bevel angles 30°-40° degrees)
An Ideal block plane for shooting board should have a decent mass that aids to keep the momentum during the end grain cut. The sides of the plane must be exactly 90° degrees to the sole and the surface area of the side must be sufficient so the plane is stable and glides effortlessly on the board surface.
Circular or other shaped indents in the sides increase the ergonomics when the block plane is used on its side.
- Hands down the best block plane to be used with the shooting board is the Veritas Low-Angle Block Plane with the O1 steel blade. For more general use, get also a spare blade made from PM-V11. The block plane is heavy enough to keep going through the end grain cuts, has large enough sides for stable operation on its side, and has the finger detents on the right sport for comfortable handling.
Best small block plane – Apron pocket stuffer
Small block planes have a special place in every workshop or should I say inside a woodworker’s apron pocket. Small block planes, usually called apron planes, are comfortable to use single-handed in an awkward situation, where the bigger planes are too cumbersome or impossible to operate. Small detail work is better suited for small block planes, chamfering the corners or refining the shape of small curved parts is a breeze with a compact “apron” plane.
Small block planes come usually with fixed mouth and coffin-shaped body. The coffin body shape is comfortable to hold one-handed. Fixed mouth is easier and faster to manufacture and thus the fixed mouth block planes are a tad cheaper to buy.
Small, apron block planes are rarely the only block plane in use, usually they are used in a pair with a bigger and heavier block plane/s.
- Best small block plane for fine work is the Lie Nielsen 102 low angle block plane. Its fixed mouth aperture is small and therefore suited for fine cuts. Blade depth adjuster is precise with the minimal backslash. Body is made from bronze which adds nice heft to the plane.
- Best small block plane for general use is the Veritas Apron Plane. The mouth aperture is larger and which allows thicker cuts and fast material removal. Great plane for shaping. A Norris-style adjuster combines feed and lateral positioning for easy, precise blade setting.
Best Skew block planes
A skew block plane is a specialized tool with a couple of unique features. It is available in left and right-hand versions, it comes with adjustable fence and retractable nickers. The blade is bedded at 12 degrees and skewed from 15 to 18 degrees depending on the model. It excels at trimming rabbets and tenons especially in the cross and end grain. Another special use is fielding raised panels for doors. Skew block plane could also be used as a normal low angle block plane but beware the exposed plane that can easily cut your hand very badly.
Excellent choice for the hybrid woodworker who cleans lots of tenons and raised panels.
- The best skew block plane is for its versatility the Veritas Skew Block Plane. It works as a normal low angle block plane when the fence is removed and nickers are retracted. With an optional adjustable depth stop, you can use it as a moving fillister plane. Remember though that you need to have both, the left hand and the right-hand versions to handle every grain directions!
- Lie Nielsen makes also a great skew block plane, 140 Skew Block Plane but it lacks the depth stop option the Veritas version has. Nevertheless, it has a removable faceplate that transforms the plane to an ordinary block plane when attached, and thus prevents the accidental cuts that could harm your fingers.
Rabbet block plane is also a special type of block plane. It has a low angle blade that extends to the full width of the body allowing easy trimming of the tenons to fit. The adjustable nickers help to score the fibers in front of the blade thus producing a cleaner cross-grain cut.
Some makers tout the rabbet block plane as the only block plane you need but there are couple caveats that speak against it:
- When using the rabbet block plane you should be aware of the exposed blade, corners of the blade can easily gouge the work or yourself causing severe injury. I don´t recommend to store rabbet plane in a pocket.
- The body isn´s as sturdy as normal block planes due to cut-outs for the blade, it is more prone to cracking or warping if dropped.
- Fixed mouth limits the usefulness in some applications
The best rabbet plane is the Lie Nielsen Rabbet Block Plane with nicker.
A vintage block plane is many times a good alternative to the new block plane. When you consider whether to buy a vintage block plane you need to understand how the block plane works, and what important traits it should have.
Take enough time to go through the potential block plane so you don’t get “lemon”
The old tool is almost always in a dire need of thorough restoration, particularly if it is sat unused in a cold attic or garage for decades. The rust must be removed, the sole must be lapped, and the function of the screws and adjustment mechanism must be checked, lubricated and restored.
Over the decades the Stanley has manufactured over 30 different block plane models of which some are excellent tools with great demand and others are mere cheap mediocre tools which should be avoided. You should study different block plane models and their differences before making a purchase.
For every vintage Stanley plane would-be-owner, I recommend reading the great vintage Stanley plane resource made by Patrick A. Leach: Patrick’s Blood and Gore. There you can find description about every Stanley plane ever made.
For more information about restoring and tuning vintage block planes can be found in my article: How to restore and tune an old block plane
What you need to know when buying a block plane
Intended use – what you are going to do with a block plane?
These are the block plane uses that constitutes special requirements for features needed in block planes:
- Planing and trimming the end grain of the boards
- Shooting board plane
- As a small smoothing plane for problem areas or tight spaces
- Trimming miters and trim in finish carpentry
- Across the grain, fielding raised panels of doors
- Fine tuning and trimming tenons
- Trimming joints flush
- Rough work – trimming and fairing, curved surfaces, and shapes, custom edge profiles etc. canoe/boat fairing
- Musical instrument making, violin and guitar making.
- Model making
- Bamboo rod making
The features you need to pay attention to when choosing a block plane
Toe size – the length of the front part of the sole
- Longer toe helps to register the sole of the plane at the start of the cut and to start cleanly
- Straight, accurately 90° to the sole machined sizes allow the plane to be used with shooting boards
- Coffin shaped sizes make the plane more comfortable and ergonomic to hold one handed but prevent the shooting board use.
- Sharp edges around the plane can cause abrasions and blisters. Look for a plane with rounded corners.
Block plane size and weight
- Short-soled block plane follows along the surface accurately
- Long-soled block plane smooths down the peaks and straightens the surface more efficiently
- A narrow blade has less drag than the wide blade
- More mass/bigger inertia is better when planing the end grain
- Light and small block plane are more comfortable to store in an apron pocket. A light plane is also easier to use in awkward planing positions.
- A brass bodied plane is heavier than similar sized cast iron plane
- Choose the plane according to your hands
- It is best to try it before you buy. Demo events are great places to try tools.
- Any tool can be shaped with file and sandpapers to remove chafing edges or other annoying features.
Cutting angle – Low angle block plane vs standard?
- Cutting angle determines the practical use of any given block plane
- Effective cutting angle is the sum of bed angle and bevel angle. (For example 12° bed angle + 25° bevel angle = cutting angle of 37°)
- The low-angle block plane is best in end-grain cuts, its cutting angle can be as low as 32°
- For long grain cuts, the standard angle block plane is best because of the 20° bed angle.
- Standard angle block plane is better when used as a smoothing plane. The blade camber is easier to grind when the blade bed angle is higher
- Blade with higher bed angle/bigger blade clearance angle stays sharp longer due to slower wear bevel forming.
- Lower the bed angle, better the blade is supported and less it is prone to chatter and balking
Block plane adjustment mechanism types:
- Manual adjustment, found in cheaper models, steep learning curve.
- Depth-adjuster screw and manual lateral adjuster. Works well if the blade is honed precisely square
- Separate adjuster for depth and lateral adjustments
- Norris-type combined adjuster for depth of the cut and lateral blade adjustment. Very precise adjuster.
Mouth size and its adjustment
- Adjustable mouth enables more diverse uses for the block plane.
- Larger mouth allows faster and coarser material removal
- Fine mouth aperture is great when planing difficult grain
- Fixed mouth block planes are generally cheaper
Blade steel choice
- O1 is a great choice for low angle, end grain cuts because of its extreme sharpness.
- O1 steel is best when the needed bevel angle is 25° degrees or lower
- O1 steel is easy to sharpen but wears out easily
- A2 and PM-V11 are more durable steels but require steeper bevel (30° or more)
- A2 and PM-V11 require more aggressive sharpening mediums and are generally harder to sharpen well.
- PM-V11 has the best impact resistance and edge retention characteristics of all tool steels.
- For exotic hardwoods such as cocobolo, I recommend PM-V11 steel blades
- Blade skew angle helps to cut across grain more cleanly
- Adjustable nicker in front of the blade cuts the cross grain fibers cleanly before the blade
- Finger deters offer better grip in various working conditions
- Optional knob and handles can be added to some block plane models
All suggestions stated are my personal opinion of the subject.