Lie-Nielsen - No. 4 Bench Plane with HAF, Bronze (Rating: 4)

Let me start off by saying this is the best plane I've ever used. I can run it any direction with or against the grain and leave a mirror-smooth surface, taking translucent shavings. The reason I docked a star is Lie-Nielsen's quality control isn't very good. When I first received the plane (ordered brand new off their website), there were several problems:

- The chipbreaker's leading edge didn't contact the blade, it was ground wrong. This means small shavings were getting stuck under it and clogging the mouth quickly.

- I couldn't close the mouth more than about 1/8" without the frog adjuster screw jamming. I took it apart and found bronze shavings stuck in the hole. I blew-out the shavings with compressed air, but they had only tapped the hole down to where it stopped, which was on the shavings (poor practice not to count turns when tapping).

- The large screw attaching the chipbreaker to the blade was mangled by someone using a too-small screwdriver to tighten it. It's a minor thing, but sloppy since they sell a screwdriver just for this purpose (which I bought to avoid making this mistake myself).

To Lie-Nielsen's credit, it only took one email for them to issue me a return label and take the plane back for fixing. It took one week for the plane to originally come to me, another week for it to get back to Lie-Nielsen, a third week for them to fix it, and a fourth week for it to ship back to me. So a full month after my original order, I received the "fixed" plane back and discovered yet more problems:

- The replacement chipbreaker AGAIN wasn't ground properly, but this time the leading edge at least connected. They left the edge very thick though, maybe 1/32", rather than grinding it to a near knife-edge like usual. This made a wall that shavings contacted, again clogging the small mouth with shavings immediately. I wasn't about to wait another 3 weeks for them to fix it, so I ground the bevel down myself on diamond stones until the leading "edge" was close to being an actual edge. Before I fixed it, the edge looked like this (it was hard to take a picture of, but there's a 90 degree wall where shavings were hitting the chipbreaker edge):

- The lever cap was scuffed-up. A minor problem but it irks me a little on a brand-new plane. Fortunately I can buff it out if I want to:

- Another minor problem is they didn't do a great job lapping the back of the blade. Only the leading about 1/2" has been flattened, and at what looks to be a very coarse grit. Fortunately I use the ruler trick when sharpening, so it doesn't matter to me. It's a bit surprising, though, since the Veritas blades I've seen have been dead-flat and somewhat polished.

Despite the poor quality-control and frustrating wait, the plane is amazing. I sharpened the blade using Rob Cosman's freehand technique on Shapton 1000 and 15000 grit waterstones, and adjusted the plane's mouth to about 1/32" wide. On a piece of reversing-grain hard maple, I was getting a mirror-smooth surface (regardless of planing direction) with translucent shavings less than 0.0005" thick according to my calipers:

The maple felt like glass afterwords. The high-angle (50 degree / york pitch) frog seems to help a lot on the reversing grain, as I have another smoothing plane at 45 degree pitch that tears out a little on reversals. The extra weight of the heavy bronze castings seems to help reduce chatter, too.

I used this smoother to do the final planing on a project I'm completing and only needed to do a light sanding before finishing (mainly just so the finish would absorb). It worked like a charm, even at a skew to get at some low spots. Here it is in action:

So in conclusion, I love this plane and will use it for all my smoothing tasks, but I might think twice before ordering another. This plane cost me $350… it's the single-most expensive hand tool I own, but even my chinese-made woodriver came in better condition out of the box. For a tool of this quality, you'd expect more attention to detail and inspection before shipping. Still, it will be a beautiful user in my shop for the rest of my days and I can't wait to smooth some more wood. Here's a picture of it mingling with my other planes: