so you want to be a woodworker. you’ve watched nine-thousand hours of youtube videos and [subscribed to fine woodworking]. you’ve read [every article christian becksvoort’s ever written] and could compose an extended ode to the virtues of white oak improv-style (or maybe as a rap but please, i beg you, don’t). but you’re staring there at your empty workshop and you know you need to actually start making some furniture. you’re ready to take the leap from backseat-workshop-spectator to craftsperson. you want to cut some wood. and it’s about fucking time, don’t you think?
so you think. and you think. and you obsess like you’re on your deathbed. and you come up with four basic things you need to get started woodworking. a bench, some chisels, some saws and some planes. well, i’ve just written [a detailed beginner’s guide to what saws to buy first].
the answer on the saws is easy. get a [silky gomboy], a [suizan dozuki] and a [suizan ryoba]. or a pair of veritas saws — [carcass] and [tenon]. you can read the article if you want more details but that’s the result, at least to start.
as far as chisels go, get yourself a beginner set — yes, there’s an upcoming article on the specifics but i’ll share the spoiler version now. if you’re starting off, get a cheap set with comfortable wood handles like [this one from woodriver] or [this one from narex]. you don’t need the best chisels in the world. and don’t buy a good set. figure out which chisels you use and buy those individual ones the best quality you can afford (within reason — if you’re spending five hundred bucks on a chisel, you’re paying for aesthetics or, perhaps, steel quality that doesn’t actually make a difference to the result in your furniture). but start there.
workbenches have been the subject of many books (including my upcoming one — i’d say it’s a secret but i’ve mentioned it at least three times in the last month in articles so i guess my publisher’s just going to have to deal) and myriad articles. i like the word myriad. it’s a great word. it means “a shitload of” but it doesn’t sound like you grew up in jersey and forgot to go to temple every week. i’m still collecting questions for my introductory workbench article, though it’s coming soon so if you have questions you want to ask message or email me now or i may get distracted and forget to include them. you’ve been warned.
planes, though, i haven’t really dealt with in writing except to talk about how annoying it is that there’s no good-quality adjustable metal pull-plane on the market and because of the pandemic my prototypes are still just that — prototypes. they’re mostly models that haven’t even been built from metal, though some are floating around here. and they work. but you can’t buy one yet. seriously, let’s get rid of this fucking virus thing so i can go home and resume actual daily life like designing and building things on a large scale instead of being confined to my apartment-contained shop where metalwork is kept to a minimum and building tools is relegated to the back-burner unless it’s a krenov-style smoother, which i absolutely love to make. mostly cause it works amazingly and you can build it in a morning. yes, even if you’re a beginner.
but i think it’s time to remedy that. let’s talk about planes and what you need to get started — or, for that matter, what you need to get finished. and it’s far less than you might think.
east and west
much like saws, there are two types of planes, loosely-speaking, based on location. it’s not quite as simple as that but we’ll start there. western planes are mostly designed to be pushed. they have relatively-narrow blades (irons) mostly bevel-down at 45-degrees penetrating the bed approximately in the middle. eastern planes vary much more in angle, though they’re still usually bevel-down and high-angle, but they’re designed to be primarily pulled and the iron sticks out far closer to the tail than the nose (there are various terms for these parts of the plane but they’re really specific to particular types like “heel” and “toe” but those terms seem a bit silly when referring to eastern planes because they’re mostly used because they relate to the direction of travel and … well, they’re travelling in the other direction so your feet would have to be attached backward and that’s less than fun).
of course, this isn’t the whole story. many chinese planes were designed to be pushed, though if anyone tells you all chinese planes were push-planes and we’ve been telling the story wrong all these years, just tell them to shut up. it wasn’t nearly that standardized. different areas had different traditions and even within the same city or town woodworkers had preferences. and the same master-craftsperson was just as likely to pull and push a plane on a piece of wood, one after another, because that’s what the wood asked for. until the advent of western metal-body planes with functional handles, the shape and holding of planes meant direction was flexible so thinking of it in a fixed way is misleading. many chinese and korean planes even had handles (often removable) to allow them to be pushed or pulled more easily — this often accompanied a very highly-bedded iron (think 60-degrees or even more) that feels a lot like trying to shove your car out the driveway with the handbrake on if you try to get it through anything harder than styrofoam. awesome for figured grain, though, so the handles are brilliant — and i have retrofitted this feature on a stanley foreplane at least once in my life, something i feel i should repeat someday, perhaps even in a production model.
that being said, the variety of eastern planes available has realistically shrunk to traditional, wide-body japanese pull-planes. that’s what we now see on the market. and they can be lovely when they’re setup well and take whisper-thin shavings. but the setup is a nightmare and they have to be maintained more like caring for a newborn puppy than a tool. they’re simply too much effort for me to even contemplate recommending them. yes, far more than even a western wooden plane. and that’s ridiculous. if you are truly committed to learning traditional japanese woodworking, get yourself a couple of kanna (ok, get yourself five or fix). everyone else, though, put down the sake and head west. well, maybe keep the sake. but leave the kanna.
heavy metal or … heavy wood?
once you’ve left the world of japanese fully-manual lifetime-investment planes, you have two real choices — metal planes or wooden planes. i think there’s a clear choice to be made here but let’s take it from the top.
wooden planes are relatively light and very simple. a wooden plane is a block of wood with a v-shaped hole cut in it, an iron (and usually a chip-breaker) pushed against one side of the v and penetrating the bottom at about 45-degrees, bevel-down with a wedge and some sort of wedge-holding mechanism (pin, bar, fingers, whatever) to keep the whole thing intact. the other side of the v is to direct the shavings out the top of the plane. you adjust these with a hammer. a little hammer. adjust them with what you just pictured (a framing-hammer) and it won’t be a plane much longer. but it’ll definitely take flight. once.
they’re easy to build, easy to use and absolutely the most annoying things in the world to adjust. you can definitely advance the blade. but when you want to take a lighter cut you’re in for a world of screwing around and there’s simply no good answer to that. the mechanics of the thing mean it’s easy to get the blade to go in one direction because it’s increasing the pressure and friction but going in the other direction means the whole thing inherently becomes looser. then you have to go back followed by going forward and nothing remains simple that way. including your lateral adjustment to try to take a cut that’s even across its width rather than simply finding the correct thickness/depth. yes, furniture has been made for thousands of years with this type of plane. and people have been mobile in a sense thanks to horses and camels for even longer. but you drove your pickup to the lumberyard this morning and light your house with bulbs and electrons. there’s nothing wrong with using wooden planes (and there are definitely some reasons you should think about it) but, if you’re starting out, metal is probably your happy-place. embrace it. it’s not really that cold to the touch.
what’s the advantage of a heavy metal plane? actually, that’s one of the big ones. it’s heavy. that means you get more solid contact with the wood. this is one of those times (surprisingly frequent in the shop) where you don’t want something lightweight. you want as much mass as you can get both for downward pressure and momentum to avoid stalling during use. a wooden plane, unless you’re seriously pressing down on it or very experienced in its use, often skips across the wood like a driver in a standard their first time trying to get first-gear to engage in the parking lot. it’s a skill you can learn. but it’s one you don’t have to think about with a metal plane. unless it’s shit. cause there are plenty of those.
the much larger advantage, though, one that skill never mitigates, is adjustability. a metal plane (and this is how stanley managed to dominate the market that was already saturated with cheaper, simpler wooden planes in a matter of a few short years) is continuously and quickly adjustable. you can push the iron deeper or shallower, left or right. and you can do it repeatable, predictable and (this is important so pay attention) without a hammer. no hammer. for the first time, a plane was something you could use without having to employ brute force or another tool. it was totally self-contained. and that’s definitely progress. you can, for most modern planes (and by modern i mean made in the last century or so), even adjust them without taking them off the workpiece. this improves efficiency in the shop so much it didn’t really matter how much they cost. though they never really cost as much as people like to pretend. they were vital for the twentieth-century joiner or cabinetmaker. there was no other sensible option. there still isn’t.
what’s the exception?
when is wood actually a good idea? well, there’s definitely one. if you want to make your own tools. you can certainly follow me into the land of tool-prototyping in aluminum and brass. but you’ll probably want to start with wood regardless of where you end up.
there’s an extremely simple way to make a plane and it was, if not invented (it wasn’t — it’s far older than this, though he refined it), popularized by the modern master-woodworking-teacher james krenov (yes, [the woodworking school in california] is named after him — that’s how influential he was to the craft). you take four pieces of wood, two a few milimeters thick, a few centimeters wide and about the length of a piece of paper, laminate them to the sides of two other blocks with 45-degree-ish angles on them forming a v in the middle with a very small gap (they’re a few centimeters tall and wide), stick a pin through the v, insert an iron and a wedge and start planing. it’s a brilliant design. and you can make a complete stable of planes in a single day (or at least a weekend) either with handtools or through the judicious application of electrons. for the cost of some steel and a couple of vacation days, you can have completely functional planes to do all your shop tasks.
why shoudln’t you do this? well, i think you should. don’t make complicated planes where you have to dig holes with chisels and smooth things with specialized files and sanding blocks. don’t worry about the precision of complex angles and aesthetics. make yourself a few of these and you’ll have fun, learn quite a bit about the mechanics of planes and … well, realistically, you’ll never want to use the things again after a few months of working with them. because, like we already saw, they are a nightmare to adjust — not that it’s difficult, just that it’s time-consuming. and, just like we graduated from the horsecart to the car and the candle to the lightbulb, that was fine when there was no better, more efficient way. but there is.
this is an exploratory project. it’s a lot of fun. truly educational. do it with your kids some weekend (though you’ll only end up with one plane as working with kids in the shop is a great way to remove 90% of your efficiency but they’ll learn a lot and develop a love for woodworking that will last a lifetime — i don’t have kids and that fact is something i’m very thankful for but i’m a teacher so i can relate to adolescents and shop time).
steel yourself and dive in
so you’ve decided to take my advice and get some metal planes. whether you’ve come this far in a few minutes after reading or you took the krenovian path and you’ve been working with your homemade planes for a few months, welcome to the dark side. the shiny-and-dark side. we have metal, cookies and cake. but the cake, i’m sorry to say, is always a lie. and the cookies are made of wood so they may be less appealing. or more. you might be a beaver. and that’s cool.
realistically, there are a few different types of metal (what i will mostly refer to interchangeably with “modern” when i’m teaching). the most common are bench-planes. these are the ones you are picturing — for example a smoother, a jack and a jointer are all bench-planes. then there are low-angle, bevel-up planes like low-angle-block-planes and low-angle-jacks. these work on a somewhat different mechanical principle but look very similar to bench planes. these are the two groups we’re looking at today and you simply don’t need anything else to get started — or, probably, ever. but you might want some of the other ones to make tasks go quickly.
there are spokeshaves. these are tiny planes with short soles and wide handles. they look like drawknives, which aren’t so much like planes but chisels with two handles on their sides instead of behind their blades. these are two very useful types of tool if you’re shaping curves. and that might be something you want to do. but let’s start with straight, flat things until you get the hang of it. then you can (pun much?) branch out.
molding planes are useless. i don’t care if people don’t agree with me. for one, decorative molding looks like something from a period drama and it’s ugly as fuck. and if you want to make it you really don’t need a molding plane. you need a router-table and five minutes. leave the molding planes on the flea-market tables and build some modern furniture. hollows-and-rounds are really just basic molding planes. the same applies. they’re antiquated and arcane, not just because they’re old but because they’re from a style that was aesthetically ridiculous when it was new and we’ve thankfully left it firmly in the past where that decorative firewood belongs. the same goes for tongue-and-groove planes, by the way. either use a saw and a chisel (which is slow but free) or get a set of router bits and get it done. this isn’t fine furniture construction. it’s simple, unrewarding carpentry work to get out of the way before returning to actual creative processes.
if you frequently cut joinery, you can get a shoulder/rabbet plane. and, if you make a lot of grooves, you can get a plow-plane (which is quite useful) or a combination-plane (which is, while useful, cumbersome and annoying in daily life). there are many names for these (what the actual fuck is a moving-fillister? well, i’d tell you but you’d start using arcane words and that’s something i’ll avoid if possible) but what’s important is that rabbet planes have blades that get to the edge of the plane rather than simply the middle so you can use them on inside corners and plow/combination planes allow you to dig holes and grooves in wood.
a router-plane isn’t like a router. i mean, an electric, handheld router. it’s actually got one very specific job and it does it really well. it’s to level the bottom of a hole (whether the hole has many sides or not) to be a plane parallel with the surface of the piece. that’s incredibly useful if you need it. but it’s generally used to trim tenons, which is easy enough with a large chisel, or flatten the bottom of concealed-mortises, which i maintain is a waste of time — don’t smooth the bottom of your mortises. simply make them deeper than the tenon is long and it doesn’t matter as long as the two don’t touch because all the glue surface that’s useful will be on the walls of the mortise anyway so it’s just good time chasing bad.
you’ll hear about shooting-planes. and yes you can definitely get dedicated ones for that. but unless you spend your life in the shop (and maybe not even then) you don’t need one and it’s a lot of money for something you can just do with a well-tuned jack.
practically speaking, what you need is a small collection of bench-planes (plus at least one low-angle plane, though this is somewhat optional).
what do you bench?
there are five main tasks for bench planes — roughing, jointing, smoothing, shooting and cleaning up joinery. the last one is often best-completed with a rabbet/shoulder plane but you can definitely use a chisel for it, usually in combination with a bench-plane, if you don’t have one and i suggest not getting one until you start to really feel like your shop-time would be improved with its addition. they’re expensive and most people really don’t use them very often so wait and see. the other four, though, are essential for basic daily woodworking life.
when you get a board in the shop, it will be rough. i mean, you can go to the lumberyard and tell them to mill it for you. but if you’re serious about taking wood from start to furniture you probably don’t want to do that. you want to get rough wood and surface it all the way from how it was chopped from the tree. it’s rewarding. not fast. but rewarding.
the first step in this process is to get at least one side and one edge flat — not smooth, just flat. there are machines that can do this for you — jointer, planer, tablesaw is the typical trio, though i believe the jointer is unnecessary and unwise [and you shouldn’t get one even if you’re a powertool-woodworker].
if you’re doing this with handtools, though, planes are your first (and last) stop.
some people will tell you this is done using two different planes — a scrub and a fore. i will tell you this is historical-realism become obsessive. you don’t need two planes to do this task. you need one and you can certainly add as many more as you like. once you learn to do it with one, though, you’ll probably be perfectly happy to either continue doing it with one for the rest of your career or switch to the planer and skip the hand-milling stage completely. either’s totally legit. so is using six different planes to do this task, by the way. but it’s unnecessarily complicating and dragging out what is in many ways a process of simple brute force.
the key to this is to have a relatively large plane with an open mouth, thick cut and cambered iron. let’s talk about what each of those means and why they’re important for the process.
when you look at the bottom of your plane, there is a slot the blade protrudes through. this is the mouth. the size of the mouth (the space between the edge of the blade and the other side of the opening) can be so tiny you can barely see it or several millimeters. this is the maximum thickness of shaving you can plane. the larger the mouth, the more wood you can remove. the smaller the mouth, the less potential you have to tear instead of actually shaving the wood. for this stage in milling, you want a wide-open mouth to let through a huge shaving. practically speaking, the mouth is almost-irrelevant at this point. just make sure it’s open (maybe 3-4mm) and it’ll never interfere.
a thick cut is the other side of this equation — make sure the blade is protruding significantly but evenly across the whole width of the mouth. as it is cambered, this won’t be a single distance. but it will be the same on both sides if you’ve done it right. in the center, a very-heavy shaving is 1-2mm. any more than 2mm and you’re probably not planing the wood. you’re getting into saw territory and just wasting material. .5-1mm is heavy enough for seriously-quick stock-removal. that’s a good neighborhood to live in.
camber is the technical term for a curved edge on the blade. we usually measure these in the radius of the circle the end of the blade forms an arc of. if you draw a circle on a piece of paper then place the edge of the blade against the circumference, it should form an arc of a circle about 20-25cm in diameter or 10-12.5cm in radius. you can produce this on a grinding wheel or just as the first step in your stone-sharpening process (pick a sharpening method and whichever you choose will allow you to do this, though i recommend and have written extensively about using diamond plates, something that makes cambering an iron very fast without the need for a grinder).
with these three things, you can get the task completed efficiently and without headaches on almost any wood you bring home regardless of how rough it is — seriously, just get some firewood and you can have it ready to build (admittedly small) furniture in only a few minutes.
but what plane should you use for this? well, you have realistically two choices. either a jack or a fore. in stanley numbers, these correspond (respectively) to five and six. five-and-a-half is another option but an unusual thing to find so i’d say start with five or six. i prefer six for this task but i have big hands and i’m impatient. most people prefer the jack (five) and this is totally fine. if you’re looking for measurements, a five is about 36cm long with a 5cm-wide blade and a six is about ten centimeters longer with a 6cm-wide blade. they’re not that different in look, feel or usage. the six, however, feels significantly heavier after a few minutes, which means it’s easier to get through the wood but more exhausting to use for longer periods. your choice.
the process is simple. you usually start by traversing the board (planing perpendicular to the grain) or slightly skewed but almost-traversing. then you go along the board. it won’t be completely flat but after a few passes you should have removed all the major variations in depth and can go on to the next plane in your toolkit.
jointing is done with either a jointer-plane or a fore. we just talked about the fore. if you’re using your fore for that and have a wide mouth and cambered iron, it’s not useful for this. you either need another fore or a jointer. if you’re using a jack to rough, you can just have one fore or jointer.
the point of this step is to take the board from approximately-flat to absolutely-flat. all the ridges you created with the cambered iron need to be smoothed down and leveled. this is usually done in exactly the same way as the first process — first traversing, probably at an angle rather that completely-perpendicular, then jointing with the grain (not against the grain — you can try it if you think it’s a good idea but you’ll tear your hair out and the board’s, too). when the board is flat, you can call it “jointed” — that’s where the name comes from. in other words, it’s ready to join to another piece of wood. a process done by a joiner. using a joint. english is fun, isn’t it?
you then likely want to turn the board up on end and joint an edge perpendicular (to the face you just jointed) and flat. you probably won’t need to rough that unless the board you got is particularly eccentric. if you do, use your fore/jack as in the previous section. but this is generally a matter of a few passes with the jointer. i’ve detailed it in other articles but the process is simple.
this takes a different type of plane than the previous group, though. you want a plane with a flat iron, a relatively-tight mouth and a long sole (not necessarily completely flat but close is good and far more important here than in the first step, which is why i didn’t even mention it there — there are a few articles here about what parts of the sole need to be flat and what parts don’t matter and i won’t go into details here but assume getting the sole flat is a good plan and just don’t be too picky about it).
the flat iron (with slightly-rounded corners) allows you to remove all the scalloped ridges left by your roughing plane. you’re not making the surface flat and you can’t get a flat surface from a round edge. plane in overlapping passes and it will end up relatively smooth even before you go on to … smoothing. woodworkers are even more obsessive about smooth than a sensory-fixated barber. it’s a word you’ll hear a lot about.
the tight mouth mitigates the risk of tearout (when the wood grains bend and rip instead of being sheered off by the plane-iron). it keeps them as flat as possible except the tiniest sliver that’s being cut by the blade at that moment, making it less likely things will go crazy and need to be cleaned up. unlike the roughing step, jointing is best done with a light shaving, thin and whispy. more passes with light cuts are generally better than a single heavy pass and will give you a cleaner, more precise result on both the face and the edge.
the long sole is key to the function of the jointer. you can flatten a board about 2-2.5 times the length of the sole of your plane. so the longer the plane the longer the board you can flatten. this is basic mechanical physics. if it’s not obvious, take a metal ruler and run it along a piece of wood (end-to-end) that’s not flat and watch it undulate with the shape of the wood. you’ll see why a blade protruding from the bottom would flatten only the high spots and make the thing generally flat but that this only happens if the ruler is long enough.
this task can be done with stanley-numbered planes between six and eight. the six (generally fore) is short for jointing and will limit your maximum useful board length (without the addition of extra tools for the process) to about a meter. a seven has a 56cm sole while an eight has one five centimeters longer. the eight has a slightly-wider iron closer to seven centimeters compared to the six of both the six and seven, which are identical in width. the eight is rare and usually very expensive if you can find one in good shape. nobody, as far as i’m aware, makes a modern eight. the major modern manufacturers all make sixes and sevens, though. if you don’t have either, get a seven. if you have a six and don’t want to use it for roughing, use your six.
realistically the job of a plane is to make a board flat and smooth. with the board flat, now it’s time to make it smooth. this is done by a plane with a very-light cut, very-tight mouth and relatively-short sole. yes. you can absolutely do this with a fore or even a jointer. and i have. i actually really like using a six as a final smoother. but i’m weird and i don’t recommend this. most people prefer to use a four or five. sometimes a four-and-a-half or five-and-a-half but unless you already have one of those simply don’t go there until you’ve discovered whether you like the standard sizes. the wider planes (the and-a-half denotes a significant increase in width without changing length) are harder to push and much heavier.
smoothing is just like jointing. you run the plane along the board but this plane has a lighter cut and a tighter mouth — the lighter cut means you’re realistically just shaving the board and the surface should be like glass. the tight mouth has the same impact as in the jointing step but it’s even smaller so it’s more effective at completely-eliminating tearout. in theory. it’s not always the case but 95% of the time it’ll work for you as expected. the other 5% are when you grab a card-scraper and forget the plane cause there’s nothing you can do with the plane that will make it work better — except increase the bed-angle and that’s a story for another article (which i’ve written several about and will certainly talk about again, i’m sure).
stanley made several planes it called smoothing planes and they were numbered three and four. don’t get a three. it’s too short unless you’re making doll-sized furniture. it’s also hard to hold if you have adult-sized hands. i honestly believe the three was originally meant for schools because there’s no way a fully-grown woodworker is going to find it a comfortable tool unless they’re also bite-sized. i’m not very big. i find the three cumbersomely-undersized. then again, i like smoothing with a six and that’s realistically larger than most people find convenient for this task.
so if you’re going to get a smoother get a four. it’s about 23cm long with a 5cm-wide blade (same as the five). or get a five — if you’re using your six for roughing, the five is good for this step.
shooting is taking the end or edge of a board and making it precise and trimming it to a desired measurement. usually the end. it’s often done using a shooting-board. people will tell you you need a shooting-plane for this or at least a low-angle-jack. you don’t. just use one of your bench planes. whichever you smooth with — or your six if you’ve got it setup as a jointer. a four, five or six will do well as long as it has a flat-sharpened iron (if you’re using your five or six for roughing, don’t use it to shoot or your board will have a curved end/edge). you’ve already got a plane that works for this — either as a jointer or a smoother — and likely two. no need to go crazy.
what should i buy?
you need planes to do three tasks so, practically-speaking, you should have three planes. at least one of these will do shooting and cleaning-up joinery so three is completely sufficient. anything else isn’t necessary — it’s collecting. and there’s nothing wrong with that. but here’s a good place to start.
- to rough, get a five or six.
- to joint, get a six or seven.
- to smooth, get a four or five.
don’t try to do any two of these with the same plane or you’ll end up slaughtering your efficiency and getting annoyed at the process. with three separate planes, you’ll find the encounter enjoyable. remove one and it becomes cumbersome and annoying.
you have two options, of course. you can buy and restore an old stanley (or one of their competitors). i would recommend this if you like fixing old things. i don’t. many woodworkers do. and it’s cheap. don’t spend more than about $20-$25 on a four or five or $40-$50 on a six or seven. if you can find an eight under sixty bucks, i’ll be surprised and you might want to get it if you work with a lot of large wood and have lots of stamina. if you spend about fifty bucks on a four and five together and another fifty on a six or seven, you’ll have your whole stable of planes for a hundred dollars and be well and truly ready to tackle some wood. anything after the end of the second-world-war, by the way, probably isn’t worth paying much attention to. build quality dropped dramatically because these tools were mostly made for hobbyists instead of the commercial joiners and cabinetmakers who bought them before about 1950. brands to look for include stanley (of course), bailey (often the same thing), sargent, union, ohio, craftsman — yes, that craftsman but make sure it’s seriously vintage cause those got pretty shit after the war — record, acorn, marples.
if you’re looking at getting a new plane, the same guidelines apply. you probably want a four, five and six/seven. brands to seriously look at are veritas (awesome as all fuck and my first-choice in handplanes), woodriver (excellent value but less-refined designs) and quangsheng (somewhere in the middle). don’t buy a new stanley. they’re awful. you can get a lie nielsen if you want but they’re dramatically overpriced. both the woodriver and lie nielsen are direct copies of the most advanced stanley design. the woodriver is just as well-made and dramatically cheaper. lie nielsen makes excellent tools but the extra price is just gratuitous price-gouging and i won’t recommend it — their other tools, though, saws and chisels and some of their less-traditional-copy-focused planes are worth the money. though i don’t own any because none of their tools has ever impressed me to the point where i felt it was even close to worth it. practically speaking, though, if you want to buy the planes that will last you a whole career, any of those three brands — veritas, woodriver, quangsheng — will do it and you’ll never have to replace them.
much ado about bedrock
i’ve realistically come to the end of the survey of planes for starting your woodworking shop/career but there’s a question that always comes up — what about the stanley bedrock planes? well, no. just no. they’re not worth it.
a bedrock plane will cost you a lot more money. it will be a slightly-better plane but it’s still an old plane. if you’re going to drop that kind of money, you should be getting something new (the typical price for a vintage bedrock in good condition is pretty close to a new woodriver and that’s a dramatically better plane — and it’s an exact copy of a vintage bedrock design but with modern materials and manufacturing quality). so, when someone starts talking to you about bedrocks, just say no. the same goes for any other vintage plane you might hear is amazing. don’t even get me started on infill planes. they are simply loads of hype and have absolutely no (i repeat, no, none, zilch, nada, zero, null) benefit over a modern plane from one of the three manufacturers i’ve just talked about. and they’re priced in the stratosphere. while we’re on the subject of useless vintage planes, by the way, keep in mind if you’re buying something old you might need parts. stanley parts are very easy to source. other brands may take the same parts but most don’t and they can land you with a useless tool missing something vital you now either have to make from a piece of steel or source at ridiculous cost. you can restore an old plane if you like. but this is one of the many reasons i caution against it.
so you’re starting your woodworking journey and you want to get into planing wood. you’ve got two choices. get three old stanleys (four, five, six/seven) and fix them up or get three new modern planes (same sizes but by veritas, woodriver or quangsheng) and get to work right away. the choice is yours. or start out with a few krenov-style homemade planes if you really want to experience that before you switch (and you will). i truly hope this has been useful. thanks for reading.