Need help choosing first plane....

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Forum topic by NathanaelBenDavid posted 03-19-2013 10:28 AM 2601 views 0 times favorited 51 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View NathanaelBenDavid's profile


6 posts in 2880 days

03-19-2013 10:28 AM

Topic tags/keywords: lie-nielsen handtools planes syp beginner jack plane smoothing plane

Greetings…I am active duty Air Force and this past year I’ve started getting into woodworking. By that I mean I went to Lowes, got a bunch of SYP and built a very rough dinner table for my wife and 5 children. I enjoyed it very munch and have decided to educate myself on building using only hand tools. I built a bench for the table using a crappy “chisel” from Harbor Freight and hand saw.

I am on an very tight budget, however I highly value quality tools that I will be able to pass on to my brood. I am getting ready to purchase my first hand plane (not from Lowes) and am pretty set on getting a Lie-Nielsen.

My question is that I can only afford one plane and it will be a while till I am ready for a second etc… Which hand plane would give me the most versatility? From previous reading I gather it would be between a no. 5 jack or a no. 4 smoothing?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts/advice!

51 replies so far

View NiteWalker's profile


2741 posts in 3553 days

#1 posted 03-19-2013 10:40 AM

I’d go for a low angle jack plane and get some blades you can grind to other angles. There was an article on fine woodworking where the author did just that.

Also, look into veritas hand planes from lee valley. The veritas LAJ uses the same blades as their bevel up smoother and a couple others.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 3928 days

#2 posted 03-19-2013 11:41 AM

I am guessing with a wife and five kids, money is pretty tight. Been there, done that. If you are on a budget and money is tight, it is hard to justify spending three to four hundred dollars on one plane.

LNs are fine tools, as well as Veritas and some others out there. Something to consider is this: quality tools do not start with those two manufacturers.

Tools made from the early 20th century back to the mid 19th are quality tools for the most part. And unless they are collector’s items, they can be had for a fraction of the cost of a new LN et al. They may require a little tuning up and TLC, but the price difference makes your sweat a non-issue.

I have LNs and I have $20 Stanleys that I resurrected and can say that the LNs do work nicely and are just about ready to go out of the box. The $20 Stanleys, while requiring some work, will give results that are the same as the LNs. The LNs are nice to be sure and they have the tool sex appeal. But at the end of the day, I can get same results from planes that cost less money.

The old Stanleys (or Records or Sargents of whatver old, quality brand) can be cleaned up, tuned up and brought back to their former glory pretty easily. When they get that treatment, they will actually look the part of a quality tool that they were (and still are).

Whatever route you go, I wish you luck.

-- Mike

View Chris P's profile

Chris P

93 posts in 3262 days

#3 posted 03-19-2013 12:52 PM

I’ll agree with paratrooper, you can definitely get quality tools for cheap but it may come with a little work. I started out with an only Stanley No.5 and I loved it, and I still love it. Over the past year or so I’ve managed to get my hands on about another 6 or 7 old planes that work great and all together I probably spent less on those than I did on my one Veritas LA Jack from Lee Valley. That being said my Veritas LA Jack is a joy to use and I have no regrets spending the money on it, I use it more than any other plane I have.

If I were you (I was in your shoes about a year and a half ago, minus the five kids but still on a budget) Do a little Ebay and flea market diving and get yourself a few older planes and for a couple of bucks and see if you stick with it. Once you get to know what kind of woodworking you like and realize your needs you can expand from there.

Just my two cents, but whatever route you go have fun and good luck!

-- Chris, Long Island

View GusG's profile


15 posts in 2871 days

#4 posted 03-19-2013 01:01 PM

I bought three used Stanley vintage planes and all turned out that I can only get 50% functionality out of each of them. You have to also consider buying new blades for them. The original blades are too thin. They planes for me turned out to be junk even after trying to tune them. I don’t use them anymore.I use the Veritas LA Jack Plane. It is a bevel-up plane and if you decide to pick up another bevel-up plane you can interchange the blades. After the LA Jack, I bought the BU Jointer and the BU smoother plane.

View cpd011's profile


91 posts in 4214 days

#5 posted 03-19-2013 01:04 PM

I agree with everything said above and at the risk of getting lambasted let me say that a great way to start is with a Harbor Freight Windsor Design. For $9.99 or $8.00 with a coupon you cannot go wrong. You’ll have to sharpen it but that’s the same for any plane. Stumpynubs has advocated turning it into a scrub plane. It was my first hand plane and I feel it is a no lose proposition, you’ll never feel badly about abusing it. After a little tuning I love the way mine works.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3652 days

#6 posted 03-19-2013 01:52 PM

when buying tools, or anything for that matter, you have to ask yourself:

“What else ya got?”

For someone just starting out, a LN would be the last tool I would consider. It’s like buying a new porche – at full price when your 24 and just got married to your pregnant girlfriend. Ha!

For that money you could buy a nice Stanley # 5 that’s been refurbished for around 50.00 But, you probably won’t use it much after you screw up you first door edge and finally buy a decent power planer with a fence.

I’d also buy a cheap (15- 24.00), slightly rusty Stanley # 3 or 4 from Ebay and refinish them because it’s fun and teaches you so much about how they work. Do you own a grinder?

You end up going online for hours researching their history, what they are worth and how to refurbish them.

I’d buy a decent Stanley # 90 or a 92 rabbit plane either new for around 80.00 (made in England) or from Ebay for about the same, hopefully with the box (made in USA) Now this is a tool you will use.

I would look at two, barely used Stanley block planes with adjustable throats like the 9 1/2 and a low angle 60 1/2 block plane on E bay. The new Stanley block planes are terrible. Forget about HD Buck Bros. too. I’m sure they work OK but they’re so frickin ugly I can’t even look at them. Ha!

Check out the woodriver block planes at Woodcraft too. They look like an older version of a stanley #18 – I think? Sweet tool and worth every penny.

Don’t forget, these tools are worthless unless you have a decent sharpening set up and know how to tune them so they cut right. I bought a book a long time ago about sharpening which helped alot. I also have a grinder set up to sharpen chisels and plane blades.

Hey, I just listed 5 planes and a book on sharpening for the same price as that LN.

So be patient Grasshopper….. your LN day will come. First tools first.

or you could say, what the Hell and impulse buy it…...done that too.

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 4335 days

#7 posted 03-19-2013 01:54 PM

I’m with Chris and Mike on this. I think you could do very well with vintage planes. The thing is that you either need to buy from a known entity whose work you can trust to give you a plane that’s ready to work right out of the box, or you have to have the time, knowledge and materials to do the work yourself. For example, you can buy a Stanley #4 that’s all tuned up for no more than $50 and a #5 for the same amount (plus shipping, of course). That will leave you about $100 you can spend on other planes, a couple of good chisels, etc. You might want to check with DonW. here. A lot of the folks here have purchased planes from him and he is highly thought of. I also sell planes, and I hope that the people who have purchased from me are happy. My $.02

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Don W's profile

Don W

19847 posts in 3544 days

#8 posted 03-19-2013 02:24 PM

I can’t add much to the above statements. I always try to convince people to restore and tune a plane as their first one. Take the time to understand what makes it work. There is plenty of knowledgeable folks around LJ’s who are ready to help.

My advice is start with a block plane. Everybody needs a block plane. Even power tool guys need a block plane.

I also agree a LN or LV are great tools, but the don’t coincide with “tight budget.”

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View bandit571's profile


27526 posts in 3659 days

#9 posted 03-19-2013 02:28 PM

First off, my tool budget is just about zero. The ones I do buy were paid for by selling other tools. Look around at a flea market, antique store, and the yard sales. One can pick up a few planes, IF one goes looking.

This one was just an old parts plane. Cleaned up, iron sharpened up. Price was under $10.

As for having to get a brand new iron right off the bat? Haven’t found any need to buy one, as the old iron work just fine. Too many seem to think that all their troubles sharpening an old iron can be “cured” simply by slapping a brand new thicker iron in the plane. Might be nice, in fact, since the new iron is already sharpened for them. Sooner or later, they will have to learn HOW to sharpen that iron. Unless they just keep buy a new iron when the old one gets a bit dull.

L-N, Veritas, L-V, et al. Might be good planes, IF ones has the budget to get them. I am not, however a “Cheerleader” of them. Why are they such a “JOY” to use? Because the company has done all the fettling work for the buyer. They don’t HAVE to make a plane tuned up before use, L-N did for them.

Keep on the lookout for an OLDER block plane on Ebay, they run about $10 or so shipped. Get one, clean it up, sharpen the cutter. Plane #1 is then in the house.

Same thing with a #3 or a #4 size smooth plane. They run somewhere in the $20-30 range, to your doorstep. Clean and sharpen them up. Doesn’t matter whether it is a #3 or a #4, just get one, for now.

A #5 Jack plane would be on the list as well, they run a bit more. So, let’s see, now you have a block plane, a smooth plane and a Jack plane. All for less than a $100 bill. learn how to use these three planes. Then you can see what you “Need to have” after that. Maybe, who knows, you might be able to get a small L-N plane with the next years Tax Refund….

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View stevenmadden's profile


174 posts in 4065 days

#10 posted 03-19-2013 04:05 PM

NathanaelBenDavid: I have 6 Lie-Nielsen hand planes, 5 bevel down and 1 bevel up (the Low Angle Jack). You can get the Low Angle Jack along with three or four additional blades that are sharpened at different angles and cover a lot of ground. There was an article by Christian Becksvoort in a recent edition of FineWoodworking that coverd this subject (last Summer, I think). I use all of my hand planes on a regular basis, but the one I go for most often is my No. 5-1/2 bench plane. On the other hand, if you asked me to give one of them up, I couldn’t do it…


View bandit571's profile


27526 posts in 3659 days

#11 posted 03-19-2013 04:07 PM

Careful now, it is a very slippery slope to stand on

Can’t just buy only one, you know…....

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

9771 posts in 3305 days

#12 posted 03-19-2013 04:25 PM

I’d suggest getting a Stanley/Bailey/Record or similar clone, in either a #4 smoother or a #5 Jack for your first plane. You should be able to find one for <$50

Learn how to sharpen the iron…. and get it as sharp as possible. Then upgrade to an after market iron if you feel the need for improvement ~$20

Follow that with an adjustable toe Stanley block plane.

They started us on #4 Stanley’s in 7th grade wood shop class, and I think you’ll have to go quite a long ways with your wood working for the combination to prove inadequate.

Given how infrequently I reach for a hand plane in my power tool centered basement shop, I can’t justify the price of top of the line hand planes. You can get a pretty darn good router or router table for what a LN cost.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4737 days

#13 posted 03-19-2013 04:32 PM

Fortunately, I’m past the tight budgets, but I certainly remember those times.

Used Stanley/Bailey planes are commonly found at reasonable prices. With a little work their performance can rival the expensive top of the line new planes. I can’t think of a better place to start than with a #5. That said, a #4 plane for smoothing, and a #6 or #7 can do a great job of jointing up edges for gluing.

Also look for used Ace Hardware hand chisels (pre China). I’ve gotten very good use out of these chisels. Ace also has a very reasonably priced 14 inch back saw with 12 tpi that crosscuts wood and cuts tennon shoulders almost as well as saws costing ten times as much.

Check out the books and DVD’s from the Lost Art Press. Chris Schwarz is the former editor of Popular Woodworking magazine and is one of the top hand tool experts.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View TerryDowning's profile


1148 posts in 3093 days

#14 posted 03-19-2013 04:32 PM

I’ll start with this. Don’t spend a dime on woodworking tools yet. Get into your MWR wood hobby shop and see what they have, they often have classes that teach the skills required and they have the tools as well. You might as well use that benefit provided. Try out the different tools, get advice from experienced woodworkers and experiment to determine where your money is best spent on tools.

That being said, I’m going to cast a dissenting opinion regarding what size to start with.

If I had to have one and only one plane, it would be my Millers Falls #9 smooth plane. If I were starting out all over again, I would start with a smooth plane with an adjustable frog (Stanley Number 4 or 4 1/2 or equivalent. My MF #9 for example) By far this is the most versatile plane there is. Open the mouth and plane diagonally to scrub down a board, no problem. tighten the mouth a bit more go with the grain to flatten it a bit more. Hone the edge and tighten the mouth a bit more and smooth the board all in one shot. the number 4 smoother is heavy enough to stay put and perform the task, but not so heavy that it’s hard to control or wear you out while trying to learn how to use it. It’s a great plane to learn the body mechanics of using a hand plane. I started with a number 5 that I inherited and had no clue what I was doing, I wrecked a lot of lumber, and was scared away from hand planes and hand tools in general for quite a while. If I had started with a well tuned smooth plane, things would have been different.

I do agree with others about starting with a used plane that needs some work. This saves a lot of money, you learn how the tool works from the inside out, and you have the satisfaction of using a tool that you restored. You might as well the sharpening from the beginning.

Just my 2 cents

-- - Terry

View Dwain's profile


621 posts in 4835 days

#15 posted 03-19-2013 04:40 PM

OK, here is the thing. We don’t know what the OP has to spend. I think it is silly to say “as cheap as possible.” It’s hard to be really happy that way. Give us a budget, no matter how small. Even Bandit 571 had a budget, it was “about 10 dollars”!

NBD, what do you have to spend? If you have $100, I would suggest trying to find the best Stanley/Bailey 4.5, 7 and low angle block plane. You will have to work on them to get them tuned up, but when done, you have a really strong set of starter planes.

If you have $200, then save for the veritas low angle jack. No muss, no fuss. As suggested above, get a couple of different blade angles over time and you are ready to go. Very little work. Open the box, touch up the blade (possibly) and get to planing.

If you have $25, then try to find the best Stanley Bailey 5 jack plane that you can find. It’s a start. You can do a lot with a 5. Get comfortable with this, then save up for a low angle block plane, a 7, then a 4.5. It’s not a bad idea to upgrade to a better blade, but I wouldn’t worry about that until I had a starter set.

If you haven’t noticed, I really like the 4.5 smoother plane. It is really flexible as far as the old stanley’s go. Here is the gist. I would think that you SHOULD START with a few planes, not just one. IF you were thinking of LN, then I would suggest getting a starter set of baileys for the same price, just three or four, and get started. They will provide you with the opportunity to learn about planes, and they will do everything you need to get started. Once you have this starter set down and are comfortable, then I would look to the newer, LN and LV planes. They are great, and I appreciate mine so much more since I worked on my set of stanley type 11’s.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Oh, and thanks for your service.


-- When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there is no end to what you CAN'T do

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