Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Exactly how many smoothers does a non-collecting woodworker need?

Now don't get excited - I'm not proposing a mass clearout here. I know my limitations and while I strenuously deny the moniker "collector" I'm not kidding myself that Mrs F's little girl isn't a little bit of an accumulator... But really, what can one sensibly justify? Yeah, you can manage with one, but it means fussing with back bevels or different blades (or possibly adding a scraper plane to the arsenal - which I currently do not possess. There's a trivia question for the next online woodworker's pub quiz, if ever I head one. That and "Which common bench plane sizes does Alf also not own?" There could be a house point in it fot the right answer there....)

My smoother plane size of choice is the chunky #4 1/2. I like its weighty authority, it's sweeping statement of intent across a wide panel and it just feels Right to me. Do not the majority of venerable coffin smoothers have similar dimensions, blade-wise? Surely not a coincidence... But friends, sometimes the panel is very wide and the woodworker very weary and perhaps the lure of a #4 size is too much to resist, no? And what of those very localised areas of trouble that simply scream for a #3? I confess I splurged my magazine tipstering vouchers on a Veritas low angle block with the sole intention of equipping it with rear handle and front knob to become a #3-sized smoother for those very tasks - and it's really very nice. So nice it gets used or less specialised tasks as simply a handy small bench plane. Too bad its standard-angle brother is not equipped to take a rear handle for those of us wishing to play bevel-up games starting from a higher bedding angle would have been well pleased. As it is pleas have to be thrown in the direction of R&D departments and we go round the place with crossed fingers in the hopes of favourable results.

See how I naturally look at the problem from an upwards-facing-bevel attitude these days? Who'd have thunk it? But your more widely-used configuration of a downward-facing bevel opens the doors to so many more smoothing justifications to the seasoned "well, I need it because..." merchant. I mean who wants to fiddle with cap irons while swapping irons? Exactly. So a smoother in each size with a back bevel ready to go seems the very least. And what angle of back bevel? Ah, again, the well-prepared woodworker will have two or three from which to choose, will they not? The bevel may look at the gutter but the owner has the stars to choose from in terms of smoother justification.

Naturally I have only touched on the more common sizes of plane - but what of the 2s and 1s I hear you ask? To which I can only say that's the advanced class and even I haven't come up with those excuses yet. But I'm open to ideas...

But now I must go - England vs Germany at Wembley calls - plus I have to devote some thought to what my favourite wood is...


  1. Exactly how many smoothers does a non-collecting woodworker need?

    Either that is a trick question, a rhetorical one, or...the question should be "Exactly how many smoothers does an accumulator need?"

    fwiw, I have 2.

    Take care, Mike

  2. Do you mean 4 1/2 or 5 1/4?
    I've never heard of a 4 1/4?


  3. I have enough smoother, at least I think, a #164(60° EP), a #4.5 (55° EP), a #5.5 (50° EP) and my favourite #7 (55°). - No, after rethinking, I haven't enough, I will add a standard angle block plane for smoothing frame joints. And then I will be well equipped in smoothers...

    Or not? I can't draw a line between user and collector by the number. I have a friend who has two jointers. When he bought the new Veritas, he sold his old Stanley. He is strictly no collector. And he has only two purposes for jointers. When I bought a #8, I didn't sold my Ulmia jointer or my #7, I only gave these planes other purposes. Am I a collector then? Collecting means to gather a lot of things and care for them. Using doesn't exclude collecting, so there is no border line inbetween. I will no longer bother, only at the moment my toolcabinet is full...



  4. Sorry, Jeremy, slip of the fingers in my haste - 4 1\2. Just as well I hurried though, or I'd have missed the only good bit of the game as far as England were concerned...

    Marc, sounds to me like you have the very sensible beginnings of a suitable smoothing arsenal - but Mike worries me. Maybe I should consider saws next? That should bring him back to earth with a bump! :)

  5. Nah, I'm selling off most of my vintage saws once I can get pictures and descriptions of them.

    Now when you get to the plows...

    Take care, Mike

  6. Phew, Alf. I thought I had to buy another smoother. I went to the shed and counted the planes that I have set up for smoothing. When you live in Oz, you tend to work with either some really hard native hardwoods or somepretty soft plantation softwoods and they need two totslly different setups.

    So I counted these smoothers:

    2 x #4 (1 hard, 1 soft)
    1 x #4 1/2 (soft - it is too difficult to push the wide blade through aussie hardwood)
    1 x Mujingfang set for hardwood and really fine shavings
    1 x #6 which I used to use for jointing but is now set up for smoothing large panels of hardwood

    and I also have two block planes (one high angle and one low angle), for smoothing small pieces and fiddly places.

    I can't be a colllector - I use them all (honestly, I do), but 7 smoother does look like a few!

    PS hard luck about the football - but I remember some wag who said that the World Cup involved 60 games where two teams play for 90 minutes to see who was better and then at the end Germany won!

    Better luck against Israel and Russia!!



  7. Hi Alf and All,

    Random thoughts about smoothers. For straight panel smoothing, such as shown in textbooks or Garrett Hack's book, one 50 degree smoother does it for me. Temperate zone figured hardwoods. A 2-1/4" A5.

    There are a few other situations where something different is nice to have. LIke cleaning up and trimming drawer sides, where you're coming in across the lapped drawer front and the pin ends....there is nothing (for me) like a 60mm Japanese plane bedded in the low-40's for this job, because the blade is set back so you get a long registration before the blade hits the drawer front, and the low angle is nice for the end grain of pins and drawer front. And it's easy to skew the plane just a bit to ease the the attack as the plane hits the drawer. Plus I like to do this kind of fitting with the plane is one hand and the drawer against me (no fixturing) and the woodie is convenient for one-handed operation too.

    Then there is trimming the top edges of drawers--the sides, back, front--so the drawer juuust fits the space. A short narrow woodie is nice for that, like a 1-5/8" or 2" wide C&W. Short because I want to know exactly where the plane is, and narrow woodie because I am just enough klutzy that sometimes I ding the drawer sides or back or front when I use a metal plane, especially a normal size one.

    Another situation is where you want your hands right over the cut. For example, when flattening inlay or stringing, or smoothing around the corner of a frame (for a frame and panel). Or planing with the plane balanced on an edge, like a narrow cabinet door you're fitting. I particularly like a short, unhandled infill for this--the infill is nice because of the way it hangs in the cut when you turn the corner or stop momentarily. Unhandled to keep the hands right over the blade. Plus the unhandled plane doesn't care if it's coming or going, or pulling or pushing, which can be useful. Cleaning up the back of a strip of banding (which still has some dried glue on it, etc) is another example where it's nice to have your hand right over the blade, so you can feel exactly what the plane is doing. Probably other people would use a block plane for this, but for some reason I don't own any block planes and would rather use small smoothers.

    Then doesn't everybody have a utility smoother of some sort around for a zillion planing jobs that don't fall into any categories?? I have a 50 degree C&W that I really like for these jobs--it's light and handy.


  8. how many does that make, Wiley? [bg]

    And Alf, don't be too worried. I have my eye on a couple smallish planes. One a Philly baby smoother (you listening, Phil?) and perhaps a little infill--maybe a Master Wayne one down the road.

    But...for everyday work? The two suffice.

    Take care, Mike


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