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Thread: Explanation of hand plane numbering system

  1. #1
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    Explanation of hand plane numbering system

    I see hand planes described as #3 or #5, etc. but I've not seen an explanation of what these numbers mean.

    Can anyone point me to a source that explains the numbering system?

    Also, I'd like to buy 2 or 3 planes for my woodworking shop. Which ones would you start with and why?

    Thanks.

    Scott C.
    Saluda, NC

  2. #2
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    These numbers correspond to the Stanley numbering system. For basic bench planes, 1 is the smallest, 8 is the largest. There are any number of sites that will tell you what the measurements are. Check out either lie-nielsen.com or do a search for Patrick Leach Blood and Gore. I know it doesn't sound like a site devoted to planes, but it's a wealth of information on Stanley planes.

  3. #3
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    Scott, answering your second question is difficult without knowing what you are building. If you are looking for the catch-all planes the typical answer is:

    1 - Block plane
    2 - Smoother - #3 to #5 1/2
    3 - Jointer - #7 - #8

    These three cover most tasks. After that we will really need to understand what projects you are targeting, what power tools supplement these, etc.

    Example - if you are going to be doing a lot of hand mortise and tenon you may need to consider a rabbet block plane or a shoulder plane. If you want to dimension wood with your hand planes you will want something more dedicated to hogging off large chunks of wood (scrub plane, etc).

    Provide a little more detail and the suggestions will start flowing :-)
    With skill and tool we put our trust and when that won't do then power we must.

  4. #4
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    Thanks very much. The Web site is like an encyclopedia about planes ... like drinking from a firehose.

    Rick ... your summary is very helpful. Thanks, I'm mostly interested in tools to help square edges and faces of lumber. I have both a jointer and a planer but I like working with hand tools AND that darn jointer has it in for me. I've spent hours with the darn thing and still can't get good results. In fact, I'm looking for an hour or two of instruction on how to use it. If that doesn't work, I'm thinking Craigslist to sell it and remove the devil from my shop.

    Anyway ... thanks for the fast and helpful replies.

    Scott C.
    Saluda, NC

  5. #5
    With due respect to differences of opinion, and leaving out the #1 size due to rarity and expense, in the Stanley line smoothers are generally considered to be ##2, 3, 4 and 4 1/2, and are used for final surface smoothing as the lengths can follow the board. The #5 and #5 1/2 are jack planes, i.e., "jack of all trades" and while they can be used to smooth, they are not designed for that as they are too long, and they can joint, but not optimally as they are too short. A jointer, ##7 or 8, is needed for jointing and surface flattening, but I've found the #8 size just too heavy and sold mine years ago (interestingly, the #8 has recently picked up a cachet appeal, perhaps because folk want to complete the 'set' - but if you plan to use one regularly you better develop forearms like Popeye).

    IMHO, a basic, yet full range set of bench planes would be a #4, #5 and #7, with a standard and a low angle block plane. If you were to dimension your stock from rough, a scrub is useful, but personally when I do choose to dimension stock I use a #5 1/4 (the "Jr. Jack") or a #5 with a convex ground iron and it works for me.

    Once you get proficient in the use of these, then you can think of filling in with specialty planes, i.e., bevel up smoothers, scrapers, rabbet planes, router, shoulder, beader, plow, all depending on what type of work you are doing.

    And by the way, learn how to sharpen. Planes are nothing but jigs to hold edge tooling, and if the tooling is not sharp, they won't work. Enjoy the journey.

    RN

  6. #6
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    If you're coming from a machine background, I'd suggest that you start with planes that do jobs machines have a hard time with.

    A low angle block is where I'd start. It's useful for trimming endgrain, a job tough for any machine other than a disc sander or mitre saw, and way less awkward.

    Next, I'd look for a router plane, to clean up machined dados and grooves.

    A regular block comes next, for breaking edges and general purpose, and now you've really got the bug because you're no longer a slave to sandpaper.

    A nice shoulder plane comes in handy for trimming machined joinery.

    A smoother , I like the #3, but try them all on before you buy, comes next. These are really fun, they are quicker and easier to use than sandpaper, and leave a superior finish.

    I'd leave the long jointers and joinery specific planes, like the plow, for last. Machines are faster and easier then they are.
    Darnell

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Cardais View Post
    Also, I'd like to buy 2 or 3 planes for my woodworking shop. Which ones would you start with and why?

    Thanks.

    Scott C.
    Saluda, NC
    I recently picked up a No. 6 to sort of "complete the set," and it quickly became my favorite. Its length allows it to be used as a small jointer, but it can also be used more like a jack plane for rough dimensioning. They go for far less than a No. 7 or No. 8 if money is an object. If you really get into handplanes, you'll eventually want a longer plane, but a No. 6 is a good way to test the waters.

    Jim

  8. #8
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    I always thought it was supposed to be the number of months' salary it took to buy the LN planes.

    My first planes (not very long ago) were a Veritas low-angle block plane, Veritas medium shoulder plane and Stanley no. 4. I think it was a pretty good start. If doing it over again I'd probably get the no. 5 before the no. 4. Of all my bench planes the Lie-Nielsen no. 5 is by far my most used.
    Last edited by Zach England; 02-14-2010 at 1:00 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Niemiec View Post
    The #5 and #5 1/2 are jack planes, i.e., "jack of all trades" and while they can be used to smooth, they are not designed for that as they are too long, and they can joint, but not optimally as they are too short.RN
    Richard, why I threw the 5 1/2 in with the smoothers is because it can certainly act like one (just ask Charlesworth). If your plane selection was going to only include 2 the 5 1/2 would be on the tops of my list.
    With skill and tool we put our trust and when that won't do then power we must.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Cardais View Post
    I see hand planes described as #3 or #5, etc. but I've not seen an explanation of what these numbers mean.

    Can anyone point me to a source that explains the numbering system?

    Also, I'd like to buy 2 or 3 planes for my woodworking shop. Which ones would you start with and why?

    Thanks.

    Scott C.
    Saluda, NC
    Here you go.
    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/ar..._bench_planes/

  11. #11
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    A low angle block plane is one of the most used planes in my shop, there are 4 of them on the shelf side by side. Next is a #4 smoother set up for finishing. After that, it all depends on what is being done. My jointers are set up for the #8 to start and the #7 to finish.

    For use on my big shooting board for squaring end grain on wide boards, it is kind of a toss up between a #5-1/2 and a #6. For narrow boards, I often use a #65-1/2 low angle block plane.

    All the other sizes get used when they are the best option for the size of work taking place.

    There really is no reason to have as many planes as are in my shop other than a fondness for hand planes. They do all get used and at times they are the optimum plane to do the job.

    jim
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  12. #12
    Mike,

    Fantastic reference. Thank you. Should be required reading. Christopher is a true master.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Erickson View Post
    Richard, why I threw the 5 1/2 in with the smoothers is because it can certainly act like one (just ask Charlesworth). If your plane selection was going to only include 2 the 5 1/2 would be on the tops of my list.
    Its easy to like the 5 1/2, I use it all the time. Just not as a primary final smoothing plane. I think I agreed it 'could' be used as a smoothing plane, and in certain instances I've used it as such. But it is simply not the optimal choice for final smoothing in the vast majority of instances in my experience, and further, I would think that being a beginner the OP is much better off with a true smoothing plane of shorter length, e.g., a #4 or #4 1/2, to get started with.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Foras Noir View Post
    Mike,

    Fantastic reference. Thank you. Should be required reading. Christopher is a true master.
    Well, if you liked that, get ready for the COMPREHENSIVE reference about Stanley planes ... all of 'em ... not just the bench planes. Patrick Leach's site is the definitive Stanley reference:
    http://supertool.com/StanleyBG/stan0a.html

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