Saturday, June 28, 2008

New Plane? Old Plane?

A question recently arose on the Rough Cut Show forum.  The question is one that all new hand tool users ask themselves, "Should I get a new plane, or get a old plane?"  I am a relatively new hand tool fiend and have spent the last while tuning old planes.  So while I'm not a hand tool expert, I do have some experience here.  I feel that almost all beginners should wait until they can afford a new plane.  Here are some things to consider...
  • Generally, the less you spend in cash the more you will spend in time getting the tool ready to use.
  • Do you enjoy spending your afternoon removing rust, flattening soles, and flattening the backs of plane irons?
  • Do you know enough about the planes to know what your buying?  Are the parts all there?  Are they the correct/original parts?  Sole warped?
  • Do you have a good understanding of what a properly tuned plane feels like?
  • Have you considered features of a new plane that probably are not available on your ebay special?  Norris adjusters? Nice thick blades that have the proper alloy and tempering and haven't been used to open a paint can? Adjustable throats?
Over the years I would pick up hand planes if I saw one at a flea market or antique store.  Now that I taken the time to learn about hand planes and how to restore/use them, I wish I hadn't bought most of them.  Some of them were junk right from the start.  I have had to just through a few away because I didn't have all the proper parts.  Some of the others were all there but had been abused or neglected.  I just didn't know enough about planes to be purchasing them.  I didn't even know what a properly tuned up plane should feel like.  I didn't even know what planes I needed to get the job done.

I recently bought a Lee Valley Bevel Up Jointer Plane....It was as if my eyes had opened for the first time.  "So this is why it always looks to easy in the videos."  It took me about 10 minutes to get the plane ready for use.  It may take me several hours to get a old plane ready for use and when I do, it won't be able to hold a candle to my new plane.  I know that there are a lot of guys out there who will take offense to this.  These are normally the guys who have a love affair with old tools and their history.  As a woodworker (not a tool collector) I can't get caught up in these things.  A woodworker needs quick, accurate, repeatable results.  A quality new plane will give you all of those things.

Here is an excerpt from Our Workshop (O'Kane, 1873)...
Good tools are necessarily expensive, nevertheless our apprentices must use none but the best; for in the end they are the cheapest.  Always remember the old and true saying, "A good workman is known by his tools."  A good workman may do a tolerable job with indifferent tools, but a beginner should never attempt to use any but first class implements, or he will never become a first-class craftsman.  If you use bad tools, and try to cast the blame of bad work on them, recollect that "A bad workman always complains of his tools." 
'nuff said.

1 comment:

Keith said...

Dave: I agree with you on this one. I will say, however, that, I'm am also advocate of buying and tuning up old planes too. I certainly agree with your points because if restoring a plane gets in the way of learning how to use one or enjoying the use of a hand plane, then yes - absolutely buy a good quality new plane.

Keith Cruickshank (www.woodtreks.com)