Nice Ash Planes - Nice Ash Small Smoother (Rating: 3)

I offered to do a review on the Nice Ash plane. Wood planes always intrigued me. I've restored a lot of them. They are stuck in corners, on shelves and above cabinets all over my house and shop. With a few exception, everyone has been made to work. The only ones I typically use though are a couple I made myself, but I normally use metal planes.

I gave this a 3 and would have gone to 3.5 if I could. I believe part of the reason for the lower score is this plane is one of the first 25 built. I think with some very minor improvements, it could hit 4 and maybe even a 5.

This plane is somewhat of a cross between a krenov style and a traditional wood bodied plane. It leans toward the krenov with a Kentucky style all of its own.

The biggest draw of this plane is the price point. These are very affordable and priced very well. The woodwork put into these is top notch.

So here is the good, the bad, and the ugly.

First, when my plane came I happen to be working on fitting the infills for a couple of infill planes I was making. The infills were made from some nice walnut I had. The Nice Ash came out of the package and went to work. The first few swipes were sweet. I used the plane to fit the infills and it worked wonderfully. I thought to myself, what a nice ash.

Now if that was the end of the story, we'd all be doing great, but I knew I had to put this plane through the paces. From here it got a little hairy.

If you're planing some nice straight grain wood, this thing is SO nice. So I grabbed a piece of poplar with a big old knot right dead center. Now I didn't really expect to plane it, but I did want to see how it would react. I also figured I better "touch up" the edge. I gave it a quick sharpening. I should note, the back of the iron was flat, and the hollow grind was square and true. It literal took less than a minute to make sure it was sharp.

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It took a little work to get the iron to stay put. It wanted to slide around with the force of the knot and the difficult grain. I hit the bed with a rasp, and the underside of the cross pin with a file. I made sure the iron was clean.

The wedge just didn't cut it. It was too thin and went too far toward the mouth to allow the shavings to escape. I quickly fashioned a new one out of a piece of oak scrap. This helped substantially.

I also didn't care for the width of the iron in relation to the body. The iron was 1 ½" set in a full 1 ¾" plane. I also think the new wedge, which was wider, helped as well. I should note this is more of an ascetic thing, than a performance issue.

I spent some time on the phone and exchanged a few emails with Rhett. I believe he is making some modifications to future planes, but I'll leave those comments to him. We had a great conversation about planes and Kentucky and woodworking in general. I really do wish these guys all the best.

There were some questions about the comfort of the plane on other threads. I find this plane very comfortable to use as is. It was small enough to allow my index finger to slide over the iron. My left hand ran over the front just like a krenov style. All that said, the plane could very easily be modified to fit anyone's style.

All-in-all, the plane is well worth the asking price. The ash is beautiful and will last a life time. A good O-1 iron will run you a fair percentage of the asking price, and these seem to be good irons. All the pounding I did against that nasty poplar knot and it never asked for a re-sharpen.

You can also see from the picture I hit some oak with it to. It took the oak in stride once it was tuned for use.

So I guess the bottom line is this. If you want a plane that works wonders on any difficult wood, right out of the box, give Ron Brese or Phil Marcou a call. Of course you'll also need to take your budgetary vision to a completely different ball park.

If you're ok with a little work on your own, you like wood planes and you want to buy American made. Nice Ash is some Nice Ash. Just know what you're buying and what you plan to do with it. I'll keep this plane on my user shelf, and it will get used from time to time. It's a little better than a large block, and a bit smaller than a #3 smoother.

I keep looking at the Nice Ash jack. I wonder if the wife would buy "I'm just trying it out".