LA Jack Only vs. Set of 3 Planes

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Forum topic by the_ryantist posted 08-01-2018 11:58 AM 1254 views 1 time favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 742 days

08-01-2018 11:58 AM

Topic tags/keywords: jack plane smoothing plane jointer plane


I’m new to the hand-tool world and I’m trying to decide on which bench plane sizes to get. I’ve done lots of research and am pretty settled on Veritas, and also it seems like the bevel-up stuff will be good for me. But I’ve come across at least two contrasting opinions: (1) just get a low angle jack, and then get a few different irons for different purposes, different honing angles, maybe camber one, etc. That way you can use the jack for everything. (2) Get a jack, jointer, and smoother, and use them in that order for roughing, flattening, and then smoothing.

I’m trying to keep my number of tools to a minimum, so it’d be nice if just the jack is viable (I also have a LN 102 low angle apron plane). But soon (maybe in the next year or so) I’d like to build a desk and a small kitchen table, neither of which would exceed 48”. How practical is it for a 15” jack to do this vs. a 22” jointer? I don’t anticipate building anything larger than this for a while.

I don’t anticipate using rough lumber for a while, so what if I get the jointer and smoother and skip the jack? I like that the Veritas jointer has an optional fence, but not sure if that’s necessary.

Some background: I’m almost done making an electric bass guitar, and I built a router sled to remove nearly 1/4” of thickness from my body blank (21” x 15”). It was slow, messy, and had a lot of tool marks which had to be sanded out. After that I started researching hand tools, bought the LN apron plane and used it on another part of the guitar. It was a lot of fun and gave me great results, and was clean and quiet. I’ve since bought a couple of Japanese pull saws, a card scraper, and a sharpening jig. (I have chisels that I had never sharpened before, oh man what a difference!)


27 replies so far

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5295 posts in 4769 days

#1 posted 08-01-2018 01:54 PM

I’m not in the camp that touts one tool that does everything. My planes are Stanleys #s 3,4 (2), 5 1/2, 7, low angle block, and an Ohio that I ground as a scrub. There are many more wooden planes as well, but that’s for another time.
Having 3 basics (4, 5, and 7) will take ya almost anywhere ya wanna go.
I’ve never used the high dollar modern planes or the exotic plane irons. Guess that means that I’m stuck in the past. Oh well…………

-- [email protected]

View beater's profile


5 posts in 746 days

#2 posted 08-01-2018 02:09 PM

I tend to agree with Bill. Changing blades and resetting your plane for each task gets old real quick. I use a Stanley #4, #5, and a low angle block plane and have but seldom use an old wooden jointer. I have never used the newer planes but what I have has served me well so far. My most used plane is the #5 jack. I’d start there and add more as I have the need. The biggest thing is to learn to make them sharp.

View BlasterStumps's profile


1705 posts in 1248 days

#3 posted 08-01-2018 02:18 PM

“the ryantist”, IMO, you are on the right track. I refer to mine as the plane of last resorts. If all else fails, I grab the LA jack.

-- "...I've been through the desert on a horse with no name." So name the damned horse already!

View bondogaposis's profile


5805 posts in 3160 days

#4 posted 08-01-2018 02:26 PM

Getting started in hand planes is a very slippery slope. Soon you will have dozens, they just sort of “show up” after you get the first one. Your plan of getting an LA jack with several irons is sound and will work for what you want to do in the short term and get you by while waiting for the others to show up.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View DBDesigns's profile


232 posts in 806 days

#5 posted 08-01-2018 03:52 PM

“I’m trying to keep the number of tools to a minimum” THAT”S JUST CRAZY TALK!!
I’m trying to keep my number of tools to a maximum! He who dies with the most tools wins.

That being said, go onto EBAY and buy old Stanley planes. De-rust and sharpen them and you will have life long friends.
Just Sayin’

-- I remember when Grateful wasn't Dead

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16812 posts in 3427 days

#6 posted 08-01-2018 04:05 PM

Progress with hand tools is deliberate enough without having to stop and fettle each time I change tasks and have to change cutters in my plane. A LA Jack isn’t a smoother, nor is it a jointer. Can you press it into those roles and be happy? Sure, I guess it’s possible. But why? It’s not a huge leap to have three bench planes, and that’s the minimum I’d keep on hand if I were serious about productivity AND a minimalist approach to tool buying / maintenance.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 3020 days

#7 posted 08-01-2018 05:59 PM

Count me in the camp of not trying to make one tool do it all, as well. I like to set a plane and leave it set, not have to mess with each time I have a new task.

I’d probably go with new for the smoother and jointer and find an old Stanley #5 for a jack plane. A jack just doesn’t need to have near the precision of the others, so I personally don’t see the need to spend for a premium plane for rough work.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16812 posts in 3427 days

#8 posted 08-01-2018 06:05 PM

^ Very good point re: jack planes JayT, one that’s often overlooked.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View trilogy's profile


10 posts in 1183 days

#9 posted 08-01-2018 07:13 PM

I still consider myself a newbie compared to most who have replied so take this with a grain of salt but I’m in a similar position to you with the space limitations (2’x4’ bench on the back patio and most of my tools have to fit in the bench) and I think that you will be just fine with only the LAJ, I have a few others but the LAJ gets used for 99% of my operations.

I would buy the LAJ (you’re not going to regret it if only for being able to use it on a shooting board) and if you decide that you need more planes then buy them down the road.

View OpensideFlanker's profile


14 posts in 1117 days

#10 posted 08-01-2018 08:36 PM

I think the final sentence in your original post holds the crux of the answer to your question. The epiphany of discovering the joy of a sharp tool! The easier and quicker you make sharpening, the happier you will be. Learning to sharpen freehand makes it a matter of a couple of minutes to touch up an iron, which means that you will be grinning more when planing. In my mind, that’s the beauty of a bevel-down plane during the sharpening learning curve, as the exact angle of the bevel is not too critical as long as it is very acute (sharp). With a bevel-up plane, any variation in the bevel directly changes the attack angle of the iron.
In other words, I would just start with a #4 smoother and a #5 jack from the world of old Stanleys, fettle and sharpen them into shape, and let the inevitable accumulation juggernaut start. You can surely get both of these for less than one new LV bevel-up plane and it is a lot easier to forgive your own learning mistakes on a second-hand plane than on a brand new, shiny tool.

View TheFridge's profile


10859 posts in 2295 days

#11 posted 08-01-2018 09:34 PM

Not a believer. Organized just right, they’ll fit into a rather small space.

16”wide x 24”tall

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View jdw101's profile


4 posts in 937 days

#12 posted 08-01-2018 09:35 PM

I am going against the grain but I find I can use my Veritas LA jack pretty much for everything. Granted I find pure joy in my #3, #4 and many others but the LA jack with a few different angle irons works very well for everything I need. I use it for a jack, a shooter and smoother quite often even with an extensive set of planes. I really like it I guess.

I have every iron they have made for it and a couple extra I have ground for extra high angle (62) and if I had to pick a single plane that would be it.

I might use the jack rabbet instead if I had to pick a single plane though, that one while a little thinner bed has the same width iron and the same choices on the irons plus a fence and you can do rabbets and drop a little wood fence on it for shooting. I’ve thought about getting that and selling my LA jack and using it in place of it. Might end up with both though sigh.

View fivecodys's profile


1641 posts in 2445 days

#13 posted 08-01-2018 10:04 PM

I started with a old rusty Stanley No. 5 I got cheap off ebay. It cleaned up real nice and is my “go to” plane.
I soon followed it up with a No.4
I was a ton of fun to watch them come back to life. I am totally hooked!

Welcome to the slippery slope!

-- A bad day woodworking is still better than a good day working.

View TheFridge's profile


10859 posts in 2295 days

#14 posted 08-02-2018 12:18 AM

I have some refurbished Stanley’s in the shop I need to get rid off of your interested. 2-5s and a 4 I believe.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View the_ryantist's profile


4 posts in 742 days

#15 posted 08-02-2018 04:00 PM

Wow, thank you all for the replies. Lots of great insights! It’s good to see different people having success with either just one LAJ or multiple specialized planes. I think in trying to maintain my minimalist approach, I’ll start with the LAJ and see what the limitations are, and see how annoying blade changes are. :)

On my LN 102 I fully retract the blade in between uses just for protection. Not sure if that’s necessary, but I’m able to set it where I want pretty quickly now. Hopefully I won’t have to go back and forth between blades very frequently.

@JayT I totally see what you mean about having a nice jointer & smoother and a rough jack. That was sort of the undertone of my dilemma, because if I get the others later, I’ve spent unnecessary money on the nice jack. But I guess that’s the “risk” I’m taking. FWIW, with Veritas, their smoother and jointer that I’d be interested in don’t have flat sides, so at least the jack will always be good for shooting.

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