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First Real Plane-Japanese or Western?

5505 Views 14 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  MarkSr
Well the title says it all… Should I get a Japanese or a Western plane as my first real plane?

I'm a new woodworker. I've made some basic rough projects. Garden projects and shop organization stuff. I've been making do with a Japanese chamfer plane that I've removed the chamfer guide from.

Yes, this is the only plane I own right now. But it's time to get down to business and get a real plane.

Why I might want to go Japanese
- I really dig the one I have, believe it or not. I've gotten comfortable with it and can knock out some rough planing pretty quick. I'm no pro, but I've definitely invested some time into learning how to use it and adjust it.
- I also own a Japanese pull saw which I love
- I've never actually USED a western plane, so I'm not sure what I'm missing I guess
- I like the idea of the wood body instead a metal body, as far as being able to reflatten the sole, and not having to use a lubricant (correct?)

Why I might want to go Western
- There is so little info on Japanese woodworking. It would be nice to be able to get a decent number of YouTube videos IN ENGLISH for help. Even "The New Traditional Woodworker" author can't talk about Japanese tools. It's a bit frustrating.
- Less set up and initial sharpening compared to Japanese-I have ZERO sharpening skills or supplies, though I realize this will have to change ASAP regardless of what kind of plane I get. The set up is quite intimidating for someone who doesn't even know how to use tool well, yet, though.
- Ergonomics maybe? I gotta say, those Japanese plane bodies leave a bit to be desired on that end, though I suppose since it IS just a hunk of wood, you could customize that, right?

I would love some advice from anyone who's used both types! And would love some advice of which specific plane would be a good starter plane, too!
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Western planes require plenty of setup and tuning when purchased new unless you spend over $100 to get one of the better brands.

Before committing too much money you might want to get a cheap, used #4 Stanley Bailey so you can see how they function and mess around with tuning it up. It would be a shame to spend $150 on a nice Lie Nielsen plane only to find that you prefer Japanese tools.

Western plane blades aren't any easier to sharpen than the Japanese types so you'll need to learn sharpening skills one way or the other.

Also, Japanese planes are designed to be pulled so their ergonomics are geared towards that.
Japan planes have their charms. They evolved for a specific
style of work though.

I recommend Bailey style planes. Wood planes are interesting
to make, fuss with, collect and use, but considering the
availability and ease of use of Bailey style bench planes,
I think they are the best tools to learn on for the kind
of woodworking you'll mostly see in the magazines.

Toshio Odate's book on Japanese tools is a must-read
if you're interested in using Japanese planes. There's
a meaningful amount of tuning and maintenance
involved in using them and the book describes how
to approach these issues.
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I'd vote the other way. A stanley #4 is not only cheap enuf, but tune it up and it will give you the basic orgasmic concept. You can fine tune it to the 9th degree and get increasingly greater satisfaction. Worst case is if you totally flub some aspect, yer only out 20 bucks or so.

Japanese planes, there has to be an intrinsic appreciation of the construction of the blade, the adjustment and a whole lot of details that are not necessarily in the vocabulary of the tyro-rykenologist.

Do start with a stanley 4, and when the tool-god decides you is ready for a japanese plane, he will put one in front of you at a price you can afford….

I happen to have a Mujingfang chamfer plane in ebony very similar to the one you show. From what I've researched on japanese planes, this design is not really representative. I believe most do not use a wedge. The blade taper and body design are created to wedge the blade at the correct spot. Anyway, it all seemed painstaking and not very flexible.

I have other Eastern woodie planes as well as iron planes. I prefer the iron planes - much better ergonomics for me, able to apply more force when needed, they age better (woodies move around with the humidity & temp changes), and easier to adjust in very fine increments, i.e. smoothing.

I would recommend the Stanley Bailey #4 design as well (there are many copies). Lowe's actually has a Kobalt branded Bailey style for ~$30 that don't look too bad. I've read where a few people have had good luck with them. At least you can take it back if you don't like it, unlike ebay. Ebay is a good source if you know what to look for, otherwise you can get burned.

Learning how to get razor sharp edges is the 1st big key with any plane. I have started a blog here ( covering hand plane performance.
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I had a little Japanese block plane for awhile. I'm a little
sorry I sold it. The iron was bedded at about 40 degrees.

Japanese smoothing planes are more complex than they
appear. In addition to knowing how to fit the iron to
the plane body in your climate (it's an exacting fit), the
sole of the plane is prepared not by flattening, but by
scraping hollows fore and aft of the mouth. Since
the plane body distorts when the iron is installed,
these hollows help the plane contact the work
at only the crucial points.

Japanese tools and working methods are pretty
interesting. The chisels, marking gauges and saws
are all easy to use.

These days you can buy old Japanese planes cheaply
on ebay. Definitely acquire a few if they interest
you. Also, they tend to have low bed angles because
they are meant for working softwoods and straight
grained hardwoods. Japanese craftsmen might make
or modify their own higher-angle bodies for difficult
grain, but I think that considering the wedge-fitting
system the process requires a lot of practice to
get right.

When I was starting out I read James Krenov and
made some of my own planes. Gradually though I
gravitated to the Bailey pattern planes because
they hold their settings no matter what the weather
is doing.
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Planes are remarkable tools. A fine tuned plane will force a smile on your face every time you use one. Starting out, I would recommend getting a low angle block plane, Stanley 60-1/2 or equivalent, and learn to sharpen the blade well. A block plane is used quite often for fitting and shaping wood. They are a pleasure to use and once you have one, you'll never get rid of it. Ebay is a good source for finding one of these.

Next I would get the Stanley #4 smoothing plane. At that point you should be able to sharpen the iron properly. Again, once you have fine tuned the plane, it will surprise you on what it can do for you in your woodworking endeavors.

That would be a good start, as for western style planes (which work for me) but be warned that woodworking tools can be addictive… you always want the next one, and the next one, and…

Good luck!
Thanks, all, for the replies. I think you all confirmed my suspicions: that Japanese style planes might be beyond my skill and price level right now. It is definitely a route I want to go down at some point, though. Loren, I'll definitely pick up the book by Toshio Odate and get educated in the meantime. Thank you for the suggestion.

It looks unanimous-a Stanley #4! Do you all use it as both a jointer and a smoothing plane? Switch out the blades? Or can it do both?

What about a #7? I have some projects coming up that might require the longer body, for truing edges and boards… My go-to-reference right now, "The New Traditional Woodworker" by Jim Tolpin recommends a #7 since you can use it for everything, given a good stable of different blades at different bevels. I've been thinking of going that route.

Thanks again for the invaluable advice, guys.
Watch out for them "Infamous Jack Planes", though. Once one gets in the door, more seem to sneak in.
Gas Souvenir Paint Motor vehicle Metal

As for a number 4 Stanley, don't overlook a Millers Falls #9. Same sizewise, but seem to be just a bit better than the run-of-the-mill #4s running around.


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Haha, yeah I got tool creep in the kitchen, too. I've learned over the years you're better off with one really sharp high quality chef's knife and the skill to use it, than all those french fry cutters and mincing machines and special egg slicers. I'm guessing there's a plane equivalent to this philosophy?

Thanks for the eBay tip. Gonna be doin' some shopping!

Robert, what do you think of this Stanley 60 1/2?
The #4 gets recommended because they are a decent middle-of-the-road compromise that performs fairly in most applications. Plus they are so common it's easy to get used ones for a few dollars. I've had people give me at least 4 of them over the years and have seen many more at garage sales.

They're so easy to find and cheap enough to buy that you can get several and try tuning them up in different ways. Once can be for roughing and another for smoothing.

The other sizes are nice but because they're far harder to find used, they tend to sell for higher prices. Those #7 planes will likely sell for over $50 on eBay and it's rare to find them at local sales.
Go with a good used one, even if you have to clean it up a little.

No. 1, You will learn how to take one apart, clean it, and most important how to sharpen the blade.

You can buy an expensive one right from the get go, sooner or later you will have to sharpen it, best to learn on a used one. No.4, No.5 are nice and look for one that has a frog adjuster, but that is not a big necessity either.

Miller put out a nice plane, also Sargent and Union for non frog adjusting planes are contenders.

Beware though…you clean one up, you will want to do another…;)
This is such great info, guys. Thanks. I think I will go with the #4 as suggested off eBay and tune it up. You're totally right-much better to practice my sharpening "skills" on a used one than something nice.
It never hurts to have the odd wood plane either. I love my number 4 but I do have a couple transistional stanleys (31,24,and a 26) plus a small german made horn beam with a wedge and big block of wood Ulmia jointer. All of which were dirt cheap. I read that you thought wood planes don't need lube, well I am one to say they do. I rub a mix of lard and beeswax on the sole of my planes almost every other use. They need it. They wont wear out as fast and it takes away the drag. The 31 and Ulmia are 2ft long and they will skate like Gretzky on acid when flattening out planks and I can do it all day long. That includes scrubbing ( my 24 a resole gone wrong many moons ago now it has a radius blade and rips through rough cut lumber like you wouldn't believe) truing and smoothing. Advice an old guy told me a long time ago… Get the best you can afford, buy used and always grease your tool.
january, I am supprised you haven't from Dan W. yet. I am sure he will have a lot to say about Western vs. Japanese planes, or he is probably trying to calm himself down before commenting on this topic. This is IMHO only.
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