Goofs Illustrated: Too Many Planes

I’m going to start a new feature that will appear irregularly, meaning “whenever I have material.” Essentially, when I have enough explanation for something that I messed up, I’ll write about it. I was originally going to call these “mistakes,” but I realized that they aren’t that serious (and Kari Hultman agrees). It’s an important distinction because I don’t want to give the impression that you can’t get anything done if you goof up, goof off, or whatever. I’ve completed several projects while doing the “wrong thing.” The contradiction is that in woodworking, completing a project is essentially never the wrong thing to do. Just ask your significant other.

So here we go with the most obvious one: I bought too many stupid bench planes, and didn’t know what to do with them. You’re going to see a lot of confessions like this (if you haven’t already) due to the release of Schwarz’s The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, where he goes into detail about this. It is a recurring thing, though–seems that everyone has to go through it because otherwise, you really don’t know for yourself.

Let’s start with jack planes. I knew that I needed a jack plane and I got a pair of metal Bailey-style models early on because they were not expensive. I got one working well as a general-purpose plane and I was really happy that I was able to get the thing to take nice shavings. So far, so good, but that didn’t stop me from buying more. I ended up with four #5-size ones. I don’t know why, because I use only one of them. I’m currently thinking about adapting a second to shooting-board use, so that would still leave two extras. And that #5 1/4-size plane I picked up? I’ve used it maybe once, but it sure is cute.

What’s probably worse is that I didn’t put a serious camber on my jack plane until, what was it, three years after I got it? That was almost a year and a half ago. Stock prep has never quite been the same since. I’d made a scrub plane, which is great for getting really icky boards into shape, but it never occurred to me that I should have something somewhere between that and a straight edge.

What was I thinking?

So I’m happy with that thing, but am I finished with jack planes?

Oh well, the answer doesn’t matter. Let’s talk about smoothers now, because we have to. At my peak, I had five metal #4-sized smoothers. I’m down to three: one that does what it’s supposed to do when it’s sharp, one that I don’t use so much, and another that I’m prepping to give to a friend. I have a wooden Taiwanese plane that works wonders as a smoother, and I’m thinking about rehabbing a coffin smoother because wooden planes are awesome. And there’s the #3 size that I’ve got, too. It works great but I never use it.

This would be a nice set. The coffin smoother isn’t tuned, though.

At least smoothing planes are small, though. I don’t have as many as a hardcore addict, so they’re easy to stow away and sort of forget about. Unlike jointer planes.

I’ve owned five jointer planes. I had two metal Bailey #7-size examples and they worked okay, but I was never terribly happy with them. I gave one to a friend. I also had a #8 that needed some work. I gave that one to a fellow BAG when I realized that I hadn’t gotten it to work yet because I never really wanted it to.

And I was still in jointer hell. The one that remained and I actually used, I didn’t like very much. There was just something about it that bugged me, so this year, I bought two more at about the same time. One of these was a woodie that a friend picked up at the flea (thanks, again, Kirk!). The other is Veritas bevel-up jointer (BUJ). Now that there is a serious plane–and I think it cost more than all of my other bench planes combined. I flattened the sole of the woodie with the BUJ, set the woodie for a thicker shaving (kind of like a fore plane), the BUJ for a fine shaving, and maybe, just maybe, I’ve escaped jointer hell. I found stock prep on the nightstands v2 project to be much less of a chore with these. Remember the phrase, “coarse, medium, fine?” The woodie is medium and the BUJ is fine. On thin boards where the blade is wider than the stock, you don’t need to use a smoother.

If I’m lucky, this will be the end of the jointer debacle.

Oh yeah, and of course, I have two Bailey #6-size planes. I never use them because I’ve found that I prefer the jack plane size as a fore plane. Why? The #6 is too heavy for my weight. When I make a diagonal stroke with one, it’s too much effort to lift it back toward me. I’ve noticed that guys who like the #6 size for this sort of thing tend to outsize me. So, would a wooden plane be better, or should I just stop fooling around and be happy with my jack plane?

Too heavy.

That final question is why I’m still in the goofing-off stage with bench planes. There are two sides to this. On one hand, goofing around with tools can seriously detract from projects that you’re supposed to be working on (and believe me, those are my top priorities). On the other hand, there are certain tools that can save you a lot of time on your projects if you spend enough time goofing around with them.

I have slight excesses of other tools, but the plane surplus is the one I’m embarrassed about. So this will probably be the only goof episode about too many tools.

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