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Hand plane selection - Japanese or western

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Forum topic by Praki posted 09-13-2007 06:47 AM 35729 views 8 times favorited 35 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Praki

201 posts in 4412 days


09-13-2007 06:47 AM

Topic tags/keywords: hand planes japanese milling

Folks,

As a newbie with a limited budget, I am faced with making tough decisions. I don’t have a jointer or planer. I have decided to stick with preparing stock by hand. This is not such a big deal for me as woodworking is more for relaxation and I grew up watching my cousins building traditional furniture with nothing but hand tools. I have no deadlines to meet or customers to please – save the LOML!

My question is about western and Japanese style planes. My understanding is that, traditional Japanese woodworking uses lumber that is softer. Would the Japanese style planes work well with hardwoods as well? If there is anybody here that has experience with Japanese style planes, I would love to hear their thoughts.

Cheers,
Praki

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker


35 replies so far

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4046 posts in 4479 days


#1 posted 09-13-2007 08:16 AM

No experience, just an observation. I think that a fair amount of us that maybe considered going oriental were persuaded to abandon that idea because setting the iron with a hammer is another part of the learning curve. Stanley or Norris style adjusters seemed more natural and more carefree. The fact that I inherited a fair handful of old pre-war Bailey pattern planes really swung it for me.

I love Japanese pattern saws and chisels, and the metallurgy of the plane irons are fascinating. That, and seeing what can be done with the Krenov style wooden-bodied planes (Phillip Edwards and Rentman are two recent LJ’s that have posted beautiful wooden-bodied planes recently) make giving these beauties a try seem like a worthy option.

I think either style of plane will work well on hardwoods. You might have to take a bit more care with the soles of oak-bodied planes, but the steel is up for anything.

Another option, recently blogged by Wayne C. explores the option of rehabilitating any of the thousands of Bailey pattern planes that have entered the market as “antiques”. If you’re up to a little self-education and sweat-equity in lapping the sole and side and cleaning up the body, frog, adjusting mechanisms and sharpening the iron (or getting a thicker Hock iron and chipbreaker), you might get the cheapest deal that way. Plus you might give the tool that was a mainstay of some deceased cabinet-maker’s toolkit a second life, as well as make that plane your own through a little hard work. It’s pretty satisfying to make long thin curls with the plane you rescued from the rust pile.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

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Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4377 days


#2 posted 09-13-2007 12:09 PM

I agree with Douglas. I don’t think it matters which plane you use as long as you use it well. If you’ll look at the photos of my shop you will see a wall of planes that I use. almost all were purchased on E-Bay. I doubt that I have $300 in the whole bunch. That and a bunch of sweat. You can get by with 5 planes. Some kind of a block, a #5 jack, #4 smooth, #92 shoulder plane and #7 or 8 jointer. It would also help to have a set of scrapers: card, #80 and a #112. Take a little time and study how E-bay works and who the reputable dealers are. Pay attention to how much you will be paying for shipping. Some of these guys floor the deal by jacking up the shipping. You want to stay away from collectable planes and stay with good solid users.

When you get a plane in, the first thing to do is strip it down to components and clean it up. I use an old stamp block which is a 3 inch thick pieced of granite about 20 inches long. You could use a thick piece of glass and then use the same glass for the Scary Sharp system. I use Porter-Cable stick on sand paper, 120 grit and 320 grit to lap the bottom and sides of the plane. This is sweat equity and an education in plane tuning. The sides don’t have to be perfect but the bottom needs to be flat. You’ll be able to see this as you work. When you lap the bottom of a plane, push it forward for a while and then push it backward for a while. This increases the possiblity that it will grind flat. I use a nozzle on the air compresser to blow the steel dust out of the sandpaper. This can take a while but in the end you will have a plane with a flat bottom. The next thing is to sharpen the iron. Use some kind of jig. Get Garrett Hack’s plane book, check out how David Charlesworth sharpens irons. Check with Phil here and Wayne and decide how you want to sharpen your irons. I keep one #4 set at a York pitch and one at 25 degrees and one for rough work. I personally sharpen more like GH and just relieve the corners on my irons but I understand why David sets a slight curve in his irons. By the time you learn how to tune and use your planes you will be ready to do some outstanding work with them. When I am really honked off about the world in general, I go to the shop and surface plane a board with my planes. There is something about the feel of a well tuned iron cutting a perfect shaving. Even with a shop full of tools, sometimes the best solution is a plane.Let me know how you do or if you have questions, here is the place to ask.
Tom

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

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frank

1492 posts in 4621 days


#3 posted 09-13-2007 01:12 PM

Hello Praki;
—-as I have noted and have wrote about some insights before on this, let me ask you….How is your back?

There is in woodworking an area that I call ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ thought and this is what you need to determine as start exploring tools like chisels, saws and hand planes. Much of ‘western’ thought in woodworking centers around the fact that western saws and hand planes are meant to cut and shave on the ‘push stroke’, while in the eastern tradition of woodworking, their saws and hand planes cut on the ‘pull stroke’. You may have wondered as to why I asked you about your back, but maybe now you are starting to understand why I ask! Different muscles and different stance are involved here, and then there is what I call the major dividing line here and that is the different approach and way of thinking that will become your signature to working wood.

This difference is in the thinking process involved as you begin your journey with wood and I only mention this since you have said you are a “newbie with a limited budget”. And to tell you the truth, you are in a very good place at the moment since you can gather information and then make a knowledgeable decision. The tools you are buying now, will in the years ahead give back to you a thank you in the wood projects, they help you to shape.

I might add here that Japanese hand planes are used for both hardwood and softwood and are called after their name of ‘kanna’ which evolves from the earlier style of Japanese hand plane which was called ‘Tsuki-kanna’ and this one back in the 16th and 17th century originally cut on the push stroke. Even here in eastern thought there appears to be some division in the way of woodworking and thinking, since the early Chinese hand planes worked also on the push stroke along with European thought. Somewhere in the 17th century or so, the Japanese split off from using the style and design of the ‘Tsuki-kanna’ and hence the name for their hand plane was shortened to ‘kanna’. At this time I imagine the Japanese woodworkers also had to get some new backs as their planes now started shaving on the pull stroke.

One now must start coming to an understanding that Japanese carpenters and temple builders were coming to a major shift in their approach to woodworking. In my opinion the Japanese hand planes can shave the wood in a much finer sliver then the planes of the west as Japanese woodworking evolves more around simple flat design and working of the wood with hand planes. After they are done hand planing, the edges of the wood are then decorated with chisels to achieve the finished look. The idea that I am trying to convey here is that by their approach to removing wood in finer shaves, they are also able to much greater expose the character and style of the wood in a finished project. Again here we get into the difference between ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ thought in woodworking. As I have wrote on Japanese chisels, so also can I make this point here on their hand planes and that is that eastern thought is about first cut is the finish cut, while western thought is more on several cuts and then clean up. When the Japanese carpenter makes his cut with the chisel, the cut is made right on the line and that is the finish cut, while European carpenters, (from which we evolve) are taught to go to the inside of the line and then clean up after. Let me add that there is no one way here or right and wrong….it’s just what you are after in a finished product.

Also I would clarify the above statement by Douglas and I’m sure he would agree that when he mentions setting the iron with a “hammer”, he is really saying ‘mallet’, as no woodworker would disrespect his hand plane with a hammer. I read the story once of the displeasure that was heaped upon an apprentice from a master, because the apprentice was caught stepping over his masters hand saws. Easter thought takes a different view of tools and woodworking then we here in the west are accustomed to, much like the no-no of stepping on a threshold when you enter someones house….watch that threshold and please step over, but don’t step over my handsaw….please go around. I know that to some this may seem a small thing, but then how you respect your tools is also how you respect your wood and then there’s the matter of how we respect each other….

I hope I have helped some here on the approach to Japanese hand planes and I will now clear the air here so I can make way and room for any who would like to give their inputs as to western style hand planes. As you may start to guess, I prefer working the wood by hand, with hand tools that carry no motors and I also love eastern thought.

Thank you.
GODSPEED,
Frank

-- --frank, NH, http://rusticwoodart.tumblr.com/

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Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4377 days


#4 posted 09-13-2007 02:02 PM

Well said, Frank.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4046 posts in 4479 days


#5 posted 09-13-2007 05:02 PM

Your right, Frank. I didn’t want to suggest that you haul off and whack your eastern plane around with your Estwing or Death Stick. I was actually thinking of the Lee Valley-Veritas plane hammer with the wooden insert on one end and the belled brass face on the other (item no.50K56.01). There, I slipped in a plug for my favorite Woodworking and Hardware source.

Maybe it’s time to move the catalogues out of the bathroom… Naw.

Tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools, tools.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

14358 posts in 4512 days


#6 posted 09-13-2007 05:13 PM

LOL Douglass. Tools, tools, etc.

Also, I belive cost is a factor. Decent planes are not cheap. Western style planes are much more available. Especially on the used market. Most Japanese planes I have seen are fairly expensive. Rehabilitating and tuning a few used stanley planes is a good way to get your feet wet. Also, making one would be a good experience.

I may have to put in my plug for a hammer from my new favorite woodworking store.

http://www.craftsmanstudio.com/html_p/G900.htm

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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Praki

201 posts in 4412 days


#7 posted 09-14-2007 05:41 AM

Douglas – thanks for your advice and the pointer to the hand planes projects.

Tom – thanks also for your insight on this. I will start hunting on ebay for planes. I have found it very difficult to find reputable dealers. At least on two separate occasions, I paid good money for garbage. I am also curious if you were able to reuse the blades from the ‘antique’ planes you bought from ebay or you replaced the blades. If you have any recommendation for blades, I would like to know. I have seen a number of references to Hock, Lie-Nielsen and wondering if there are other choices. Also, any opinions on the type of steel – HSS, O1 or M2?

Frank – thanks for your long and thoughtful reply. You have taught me more about hand planes than what I was able to find from Google. Funny you should ask about my back! I did have some trouble with my lower back a few years ago and some rest and physical therapy took care of it. Of course I don’t want to do anything that would be send me back to therapy. I think I will have to see if push or pull works better for my back. If it turned out to be bad for my back, it would be very disappointing to give up the idea of preparing stock with hand planes though.

Wayne – I found a lot of western hand planes with a wide price range but almost all Japanese hand planes that I found were very expensive. As price is an issue, Western hand planes do look attractive. Thanks for the link.

All of your responses have been very helpful and educational. I thank you all!

Cheers!

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

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Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4377 days


#8 posted 09-14-2007 02:54 PM

Praki,

When looking at planes on E-Bay I look at the photo to see how long the plane iron is. You will be able to tell a full iron after a while. The length of iron is also a clue as to how used the plane is. Many were never used at all. They were bought and used once or twice and then put on a shelf for 30 years. Most of mine have Stanley irons. I replaced one iron with a Hock and I bought a Clifton two piece chip breaker for a 3 but didn’t like the Clifton. The Hock iron is heavier than a Stanley Bailey but seemed to be a little softer. It does good work. There is no reason I know of that you can’t pull Western style planes. I do it all the time.
Something else to think about is that Craftsman planes were made by Sargent. I have several Sargent planes and really like them. I also use a Craftsman Jointer that I paid $25 for. It is by far one of the best planes I have. I also have a brand new Craftsman #4 that cost $10 plus shipping. At present I use it for rough work but it is capable of very fine work as well. Don’t bother with a #78 Stanley or a #75. I’ve got both and they are wall hangers. I’m sure there is at least one 78 fan reading this but I still haven’t been able to get any use out of them. If you are building furniture be sure to get some kind of shoulder plane. You will find that you use it constantly. Next to having at least one sharp chisel I just need that plane. The wood doesn’t care what cuts it; a $ 10 plane that is tuned right will do better work than a poorly tuned plane that cost $325.

I also learned a lot from Franks comment. Thanks for the info, Frank.
Your local Woodcraft Store has irons and totes and knobs for replacement.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View chscholz's profile

chscholz

36 posts in 4491 days


#9 posted 09-14-2007 03:15 PM

Praki,

The Old Chinese produced stunning pieces of furnitures with planes that are essentially large spokeshaves. They also preferred gnarly old hardwood species that pretty much nobody else dares to touches.
Today Chinese planes are the most under-rated hand tools on the market. Mujingfang is a tradename under which some of these panes are sold from various well known veondors. H.N.T. Gordon manufactures a modern interpretation of these planes at very competitive prices. These type of planes routinely score very high in comarative planing tests (see for example Derek Cohen’s or Alf’s plane reviews). There is a lot of mis-information on the web, Chinese planes are generally pushed (as opposed to the Japanese planes; there is type of plane often called ‘Taiwanese-style’ plane, this appears to be a blend of Japanese pull plane and Chinese materials.) Even Lee-Valley’s photograph for the “Hong Kong style plane” is misleading.

Concerning your question on steel types. I always recommend to use A2, HSS (such as M2; A2 is often called HSS, technically that is not correct) or vacuum-cryo-hoopla blades for planes that are used for rough stock removal (Scrub planes, Jack planes and such). Use the high carbon steel or O1 blades for smoothers and keep them razer sharp (which is easy to do free-hand with laminated blades). If you are just starting out with hand tools I strongly recommend to use a good high carbon steel or O1 blade and invest enough time to learn how to sharpen quickly. After all, a plane is just a holder for a blade. With a not so sharp blade any plane, (Stanley, Steve Knight, Chinese, Japanese, no matter how expensive) is just an exercise in frustration.

Chris

-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com

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Praki

201 posts in 4412 days


#10 posted 09-15-2007 07:30 AM

Thos,

The ebay tips are much appreciated. I had no inkling about the plane iron length! I am heartened to hear I don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get a decent plane. I will keep my eyes open for craftsman/sargent planes.

Thanks,
Praki

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

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Praki

201 posts in 4412 days


#11 posted 09-15-2007 07:52 AM

Chris,

I just discovered Mujingfang planes a few days ago on Google. They look very nice.

Thanks for the answers on which steel to use. This is great information!

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4377 days


#12 posted 09-15-2007 02:47 PM

Praki,

That is some good info from Chris also. It sure is fun to learn, isn’t it?

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4046 posts in 4479 days


#13 posted 09-15-2007 03:07 PM

Praki-
If you decide to go the eBay route, you should know about auction sniping. Google “auction snipe” and you will find several free services and several pay sites that hold your bid and enter it within the last several seconds of an auction. That way you don’t: get in a bidding war, inflate the price early with a bid, never go over your stated “best bid”. And you don’t have to be there at the auction end. A lot of times if the auction is midweek, or at some time that is inconvenient for folks, you will be able to “walk in” and steal the auction at the last minute. It may seem like cheating, but it levels the playing field, especially if you are on dial-up. And there are other snipers out there…it’s business…it’s war!

By waiting for a mid-week auction, I was able to recently get a 15/16×6˝ x 5 foot hunk of Purpleheart for 17 bucks plus shipping (28 bucks all told). Gotta love it. Good luck on the plane search.
I’m off to a farm sale (another good way to get old tools) this morning…

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View frank's profile

frank

1492 posts in 4621 days


#14 posted 09-15-2007 06:03 PM

Hello to all;
—-well it’s good to see discussion going on here and all the wonder-full information being passed around….

Chris;.... glad to see you weighing in with your comments here, I haven’t heard much from you since some months ago when we talked about Chigiritsugi and ‘wood joinery’. If you ever want to share some more photos of Chinese ‘wood joinery’, I would appreciate the information that you possess from your travels over there.

Well lets take a look at some of those MuJingFang Factory hand planes:

....the wood to be used

....and more wood stacked

....working area

....human foot vise

....more on workshop area

....fitting blade

My thanks to:
Lee Valley Tools
Lie-Nelson Toolworks Inc.
Hand Plane Blog
Rob Lee at Woodwork Forums

Thank you.
GODSPEED,
Frank

-- --frank, NH, http://rusticwoodart.tumblr.com/

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4377 days


#15 posted 09-15-2007 06:26 PM

Now, Frank, that’s an interesting post. Neat photos. The planes are obviously hand made, no doubt about it.
The company must furnish the shirts. Thanks Frank

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

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