Edges – hand planes and chisels

Recently I've been thinking about working by hand more. Though I owned three Record hand planes (a #4 Smoothing, a Block, and a Low-Angle Block) and a set of Record chisels for many years, I hadn't used them much, partly because I found the blade sharpening to be so challenging. Now I want to get better planes and chisels, and a wider variety, so I can begin introducing these tools into my work, so I've been reading a lot of information and reviews about planes and chisels, as well as about sharpening tools and techniques.

Hand planes · Chisels
Side note: Sharpening

Hand planes

From what I've read I think these are the best planes available in the U.S. today:

A decision about planes

After reading a bunch of reviews and articles over the past few months, I decided to begin with the trio of Veritas bevel-up planes: Jointer⩘ , Jack⩘ , and Smoother⩘ .

Veritas Bevel-Up Planes

Several factors swayed my decision:

Veritas bevel-up blades

Veritas Jointer Fence

I've read some reviews that have complained about the comfort of the Veritas tote (rear handle), which is straighter than a traditional Stanley. One article I read said that traditional totes were designed for lower tables that called for a more downward angle of push; whereas, newer tables tend to be higher, so a more horizontal angle of push is called for.

My Record #4 has a more traditional tote, and though I've been able to work with it, I don't find it comfortable (I find it too curved and a bit cramped), so I'm actually looking forward to trying the Veritas tote, which promises to be more to my liking. In addition, I think Veritas listened to customer feedback, as they now ship totes with a revised design. Finally, if I really don't like it, I'll probably just pull it off and do some work on it, as I've done with some of my saw handles. Basically, I'm not too concerned about the tote issue.

I'm sure it will be a few years before I get familiar enough with these tools to be able to say much more about them, except perhaps for some first handling impressions. In the meantime I'm headed out to my shop to create some additional shelving to hold these planes (I still have a little free space over the windows). The excuse to putter around in my shop already has me happy about this purchase, even though the planes haven't arrived yet!

Here are some of the reviews I read while pondering this decision:

First impressions

The first impression I had was that they are bigger and more massive than I had expected. The Jointer is a huge tool! And the Bevel-Up Smoother is wide and densely heavy, as well. The Jack was the only one that didn't surprise me. The quality and finish of all three is impressive, much better than the Records.

As I mentioned earlier, I had hoped I would find the Veritas totes more comfortable than the one on my Record Smoother. In fact, they far exceed my hope; for my hands, they are very comfortable.

The shelves turned out nicely. I made them out of clear pine, 40″ wide, with a bit of a lip at the front, more to make me feel secure than for necessity (we don't have earthquake tremors here). My shop smells wonderful; I love the fragrance of wood!

Shelf for two of the planes

Plane Sharpening and Hand Planing by David CharlesworthI found a couple DVDs by David Charlesworth, who provides a great introduction to the techniques of plane sharpening and hand planing. (Though watching someone as skilled as him at work sure makes me feel like a bumbling rookie!)

In the book Designing Web Navigation by James Kalbach, I came across this: Abraham Lincoln is reported to have once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Well, give me a year to begin to learn hand planing, and I guess I'm probably going to need to spend the first 10 months learning how to sharpen blades!

I also found a beautiful book about planes and planing: The Handplane book by Garrett Hack⩘ , Taunton Press, Newton, 1997. Hack covers the history of planes, tuning and planing techniques, and a detailed exploration of the planes for truing and sizing, joinery, surfacing, scraping, and other specialties.

First use

I took a few days off to work on my workbench (see the A deeper look at my workbench project⩘  page). Today I was ready to start preparing the first pieces of maple for resurfacing the top of the table, which involved sharpening and honing the first plane blade (for the Jointer) and planing the edges. I spent the better part of five hours in my shop and all I got done was one edge! It's more challenging than I had thought it would be, but the results are beautiful.

Planing my first edge

Sharpening took most of my time. I used David Charlesworth's method, though he makes it look so much easier than what I experienced! I actually typed up the instructions, printed them out and hung them right in front of my face, and still I fumbled. And once I was finished, I set the blade in the plane, took a first pass, and discovered I had somehow introduce a small chip in the blade's edge that was leaving a ridge in the board's edge. Argh! So I started over. The second time I was more confident and managed to do it right, even sharpening a slight curve into the blade edge.

The Veritas Jointer handles beautifully, and I learned that my table is at a good height. I was able to produce continuous shavings that were 8' long and between .002″ and .007″ thick. This is the first time I've ever planed an edge, and I ended up with an edge that is perpendicular to the sides, flat along the length, silken to the touch, and gorgeous to the eye. Wow!

So what have I learned?

I'm going to be able to do nicer work, but it's going to take me much longer.


After more than a year of thinking about chisels, and after ordering and returning two different sets of well-known and fairly expensive chisels that simply disappointed me for how carelessly they were finished, I finally came across Blue Spruce Toolworks, where David Jenske makes hand tools of unparalleled quality and beauty. I had ordered a Blue Spruce marking awl through a woodworking store, and was simply astonished at how beautifully made it is. That led me to search for the Blue Spruce Toolworks⩘  website, where I discovered a treasure trove of magnificent hand tools.

My first plunge was a set of bench chisels with figured maple handles and one of his figured maple mallets with an African Blackwood handle. Once again, and even though I now had high expectations, I was just amazed by the quality of the tools I received. Jenske, an experienced mechanical engineer and machine designer, infuses the wood with acrylic. While this makes them look beautiful, the real purpose is to make them tough enough to take a hard beating without damage.

Blue Spruce Bench Chisel

The blades are Rc60 A2 steel, impeccably finished, set in an equally tough socket. He makes everything himself in his garage-based shop and the demand is high so there can be quite a wait, but it's certainly worth the patience.

I haven't yet used these tools enough to say much more about them, except that they feel very good in my hands, and are well balanced and superbly finished. I'll share more later.

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