Tool of the Month: Block Planes - Part 1

I have been asked to write a piece on “block planes”, their types, use, restoration etc. in this part I will cover the types of block plane and their uses.

Over the years many block planes have passed through my care, some have stayed as they are either too nice to use, rare or have some sentimental value. Some have been sold or given away because they are either ten a penny and I wanted to free up some cash or were very valuable and again I needed the cash flow or someone needed it more than me, so I have given it to them. My current collection of block planes is shown in the photos.

So what is a “block Plane” then? They are a group of small and humble planes that are almost always bevel up and have irons bedded at 20 or 12 degree angles. Block planes range from 6-8 inches in length (150-200mm). Like wood and metal bench planes, there are many types and model numbers and many makers too.   

My focus in these articles will be on metal block planes both new and old. I have little or no knowledge of wooden block plans and as such I am not sure if they even existed prior to the invent of metal planes in the 1800s. I believe the earliest types were patented by the Stanley Rule and Level company.  One of mine bares a 1897 patent date and my knuckle cap sweet heart block plane has a 1913 patent date. 

What are the types of "block planes"?

  • Fixed: these are the most basic of all the block planes such as the Record 0110 or its predecessor the WS A110; fixed block planes were also made by Hobbies and Stanley to name but a few. Usually have a bed angle of 20 degrees and no mouth or blade adjustments. 
  • Double ended: these are usually fixed type block planes with a standard set up at one end with a bull nose type plane at the other. Examples of these can be seen such as Stanley’s 130, WS’ A130 and Records 0130.
  • Adjustable Iron: these type of planes feature a similar body to the above fixed planes with a similar bed angle but have the added bonus of a depth of cut adjustment to the iron; some also feature a lateral adjustment too. Examples of these are the Stanley 220 or record 0220.
  • Fully Adjustable: these are the Rolls Royce of block planes and feature irons bedded at either 12or20 degrees have depth and most of the time also lateral adjustment. The most helpful feature on this type of plane however is the adjustable mouth. The section in front of the blade has a blade width sliding section that can be easily adjusted to open or close the mouth of the plane. Examples of these include Records 060-1/2 and 019 stanleys 60-1/2 or 19 models. 
  • Rabbeting:   this somewhat new addition to the market feature cut out sides and full width irons as well as nicking irons for cross grain work. Also they have depth adjustment. I believe originally created by Lie Neilson a copy is also available from Queshang. This type of plane excels at rabbet or shoulder work and is a useful addition to any had or power tool shop.

Like their bench plane cousins block planes have many patterns and models and way too many to list in this article. All these models feature different designs such as the complicated “knuckle Joint” lever caps found on 019 and 19 models to the very simple wheel tightened caps of fixed body and rabbet type block planes. All these types of planes function well although some need more fettling than others to get an exceptional result.  

After a number 4 plane I always recommend to beginners acquiring a good block plane and the reason for this is in their usage. I have never felt the need to join the bevel up low angle bench plane club the reason for this is not because these modern planes are not good, in fact they are exceptional quality they are also expensive. I have always owned or had the use of a bevel up low angle plane in the form of a block plane. 

So putting block planes to use, well they are without doubt the most versatile of all planes and if someone had a solely power tool shop I would still recommend a rabbeting block plane and a low angle adjustable and the reasons why are in the use of a block plane. They excel for planning end grain due to their low angle and bevel up configuration; their usefulness does not end here though. They can be used single handed making them exceptional for tasks such as removing an arris tweaking the fit on cabinet doors or applying a chamfer to a tenon end. There low angle combined with adjustable mouths makes cleaning up box and draw tops a breeze, planing difficult or changing grain easy. 

I like a block plane with rounded corners for cleaning up stringing or edge banding on boxes or furniture but at the same time keep a cheap one in the van to remove and arris on new doors once fitting is complete.

My rabbeting block plane for me is essential - from tweaking joint fit to smoothing machining marks out of rebates this plane is a real helper in the shop.

So it really is possible to do what you could do with a low angle smoother or jack using a block plane; it however due to its size will be a slower process the end result will be the same however. 

Like all planes block planes require maintenance and old or badly stored ones may require some restoration work. In part two I will take a look into restoration once I’ve purchased a suitable donor. If funds allow I will also make the purchase I have been meaning to for a while and I will purchase a modern premium brand block plane and show what I would do to commission such a plane ready for use.

Adam Lynch, 14/09/16 Whitacre Bespoke Carpentry LTD.

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