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Here we have a list of mini reviews of block planes … and more block planes. There are so many on the market – new, vintage, cheap, expensive, standard bed, low angle bed, wood, metal … the list goes on and on. What I would like to provide is a overview of each, their strengths and weaknesses, performance potential, and availability. I am going to try and keep these reviews brief. A few pictures of planing end grain and face grain, adjustment, and grip.
Standard or LA block plane? Which is best?
The usual recommendation for a block plane is to get a low angle type (12 degree bed) over a standard angle type (20 degree bed). The argument for this is that a low cutting angle, typically 37 degrees, is the better choice for planing end grain.
I have block planes with both bed angles. A favourite is the bronze LN #103, a standard angle. With a 25 degree bevel one creates a common cutting angle of 45 degrees, which is the same as the average bench plane. Another is the vintage Stanley #18 Knucklejoint, which is used with a replacement Japanese laminated blade.
These standard angle blockplanes have no difficulty cutting end grain and, although not quite as good in this regard as either the LN or LV LA block planes in that area, they are still excellent in this regard.
Standard angle block planes have other advantages that may make them the better choice in the end.
A standard angle block plane is a more appropriate choice if much of the time the block plane is used for trimming edge and face grain, and not end grain. Think about this - planing a chamfer, cleaning up a little saw mark, etc., - just how often do you use it to plane end grain? While I do use it in this way, I am more likely to turn to a shooting board to trim and square end grain. Further, the disadvantage of a low cutting angle is that it is more at risk to cause tear out in face grain than a common cutting angle.
Some woodworkers argue that they do not even own a block plane and instead simply use a bench plane.
Since most block planes have the blade bevel up, the cutting angle is easily altered with a higher secondary bevel. Noting this point, it is not the bed angle of the plane that is all-important, but rather the cutting angle that is used.
Ideally you will have two block planes, one standard angle and one low angle. Most can only afford one, so the next choice then would be to have a second blade with a higher cutting angle. A block plane with a low bed and bevel up configuration is a very flexible beast.