WT196 – Pimp My Bench Plane!

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On today’s show, we’re talking about avoiding rounding over with a random orbit sander, splines or biscuits as a glue-up aide, a bit of marquetry on a box, and a Woodworking in America wrap-up with a discussion of Lee Valley’s new custom planes.

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What’s on the Bench

Marc – Benchcrafted Criss Cross retrofit. Now on to the pirate ship wheel thingie.
Matt – Went to Woodworking in America.
Shannon – Channeling his inner Spielberg.

What’s New

Woodworking in America 2014
Lee Valley has new custom planes.

Poll of the Week

Do you wear a shop apron?
What’s Your Workbench Situation?


– Stan is also permanently bearded and recommends the Resp-o-Rater.
– Tom Buhl pointed out an ironic wood movement issue from last week’s show.


– Joel is wondering what bandsaw blades to purchase.


– Shawn is having trouble with his random orbit sander rounding over edges.
– Travis wants to know if he can use 4/4 stock to make up a workbench top with the help of biscuits.
– Erik is experiencing some gaps in his marquetry.

Reviews and Thanks!

Are you interested in setting up a recurring donation to help support the show? Use the links in the left column! We’d like to thank Gonzalo Plaza Ramirez as well as everyone else for their continued support.

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4 replies on “WT196 – Pimp My Bench Plane!”

Good episode and I think you hit the nail on the head when comparing the new Veritas system of planes to cars, also I bet it’s no coincidence that systainers were used given their modularity. I think this is the only way they could design a set of bench planes, without catching flack for wrong handle shape or bed angles. Basically these are a new “body style” and expect that the current bench planes will be phased out. I hope some sort of numbering system will shake out that incorporates all the customizable elements, which I hope will include bodies made from that fancy nickle material they have. This allows ordering and forum discussion such that you can order a (body material)(Length)(iron material)(iron width)(frog material)(frog angle)(knob material)(knob style)(knob size)(tote material)(tote style)(tote size) and much like buying a car, can spec out a custom hot rod setup from the factory or take one off the lot that is based on the most common options.

One thing passed over in the discussion of the new planes is the use of stainless steel in many of the parts. Given how often people ask about controlling rust it’s nice to see this option and it’s worth some extra dollars. I don’t think the planes are intended for replacing a quality plane as much as providing a great option for someone moving into hand tools.

I have been to a couple of WIA’s and I would agree with a lot of what was being said, especially regarding the quality of the instructors at this year’s event. With Patrick Edwards, Phil Lowe, and Will Neptune you had 3 Cartouche winners. I sat in on Patrick and Phil’s classes, which were excellent, and both were very approachable and willing to answer questions. I also heard from others who attended Will’s class and they said it was mind blowing. I hope next year’s conference will find these instructors back.

I also noticed the marketplace seemed to lack some excitement. I do not know if it was the absence of some vendors you would expect to see or the lack of what I would call “innovation” among the vendors. Lee Valley’s new line of hand planes excepted, I was hoping to see some new offerings from some of the big boys (I was secretly hoping Lie-Nielsen would launch their plow plane). Patrick Leach brought a ton of good user tools and I was happy to reduce his inventory a little. A couple of new vendors who caught my attention were Walke Moore Tools, who had some very nice straight edges and winding sticks and Sterling Tool Works, who I might have somehow missed at last year’s show. All that being said, I personally contributed enough capital to the vendors to where I could not look my wife in the eyes when I arrived home.

A few comments about the Lee Valley custom planes:

– Sounds like the three hosts of Woodtalk aren’t LV’s market. I’m a newbie, and have two planes total, a smoother and a jack, and I’ve spent a tonne of time refurbishing them, and the smoother still has a banana sole. They cost $12.50 each a garage sale, but how much time have I put into them? And, my gawd, the sandpaper I’ve gone through. I’m at the point where I’ll use the planes only as long as I have to until I can replace them with heirloom planes, the kind of planes with all the benefits of today’s technology (quality steel, precise machining) but with a healthy respect for the past 150 years of innovation. I want a plane with sole I don’t have to lap, and a frog with lots surface area for bedding the blade, etc. I had narrowed down my choice of two manufacturers to, no surprise, Lee Valley and Lie Nielsen. My problem with Lee Valley has always been the aesthetics. Their planes (the non-custom ones) have, to my eye, cheesy 1980’s styling. Lie Nielsen planes, on the other hand, are the on the dare I say it – older and stodgy side of things, but admittedly beautiful, classic and pleasing to my eye. Aesthetics are not as important, you might say, but I say no. They’re hugely important. I want to be inspired to do great work every time I pick up the tool. So, until last week, I was dead set on the Lie Nielsen planes. I even have a spreadsheet of my picks and a scheduling for buying them month by month. Now, as much as I’m surprised to say it, I actually appreciate the design of the Lee Valley planes more. They have what I look for in “form” – a drop dead gorgeous mix of classic and contemporary elements. Don’t get me wrong, aesthetics don’t trump function, but if they work as good as they look, or as good as Lee Valley’s other planes, then yeah, I’m their new biggest fan.

– I have freakishly wide palms. Large traditional handle please. Nuff said. Actually, no, let’s delve deeper. Mark said he’d have trouble ordering a nob online. How would he know which to choose? Well, since I’m committed to idea of high quality, heirloom planes, why shouldn’t I try more than one? For an extra $20 or $40 bucks I could try 2 or all 3, and I might find one handle is infinitely more comfortable. If I intend to use it for decades to come, and pass the plane along to my son, isn’t that a worthy experiment (maybe he’ll find one of the other handles more comfortable)? Anyway, the custom tote and nob is super cool in my book, and I’m willing to pay the extra premium.

– I appreciate Shannon’s worry about paralysis by analysis, but even a totally green woodworker like myself can wade through the frog issue. I’ll get the low angle frog, buy extra blades and put higher bevels on them if need be.

On the whole, is the concept of custom planes worth it? Heck yes.

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