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.
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.