The Orange Block Plane – a review

After paring chisels and spokeshaves, my favourite tool is a block plane. These tools all have in common “feel”, a more direct involvement with the wood.

My block plane collection of regular users centres on four planes, classic vinatge Stanleys #18 Knuckle joint and #65 Knuckle joint, and modern Lie Nielsens #60 ½ and bronze #103. All superb block planes that define the art of block plane design. And then there is The Orange Block Plane....

I was asked to review The Orange Block Plane by my son, Jamie, who has owned it since it was discovered in the bargain bin of Bunnings (the local borg) several years ago. At the time I felt that the $5 asking price was daylight robbery. Still, it does have some novel features, and I shall come to these in due course.

I had not used this plane in some years. It had originally been purchased for Jamie (then 6 years old) to practice on in the workshop. He stored it amongst his treasures at the back of his wardrobe under a pile of old socks. He is now 13 years old and was recently re-introduced to woodworking at high school by Ms Robinson. He seems keen.

Who manufactures The Orange Block Plane? Who indeed? It has no markings at all. Perhaps, this is a deliberate ploy of Triton (who shares this colour scheme) to manipulate everyone into using their ‘tailed routers instead!

Here is the collection of block planes mentioned above. See if you can spot The Orange Block Plane.

And in case you had any difficulty, here is a close up:

Important features of TOBP (The Orange Block Plane)

Tuning up The Orange Block Plane

Surprisingly, the plane was not ready to go out of the box. It required tuning. The original bevel appeared to be honed at 45°. This was re-ground to 25° and I freehand sharpened it to 8000 grit.

The back of the blade had a low area throughout its length and width, a lot like a Japanese blade. I’m sure it was on purpose. It was possible to flatten it at the important back edge of the bevel.

I assumed that I lapped the sole all those years ago as it was flat against a straight edge. I made no effort to flatten it this time around.

The blade was place on the rear of the mouth and the cap iron tightened down. Fine adjustment was made with a mallet. The large mouth was ignored and the blade projection was considered sufficient once fine shavings emerged.

Making Shavings

Planing of pine face grain was completed by Jamie. Here is his style:

And here are the shavings he made:

A little later I attempted to cut pine endgrain:

The resultant surface was actually pretty good. Pine end grain actually has a high rating on the difficulty scale. The soft wood fibres do not “stand up” to be cut, and a clean slice is a good measure of the blades ability to penetrate these fibres. What we would call “sharp” is really a combination of the smoothness and the angle of the bevel. A lower cutting angle and a smoother bevel equate to easier penetration.

Summing up

One might assume that my regular block planes are in no danger of being replaced by The Orange Block Plane, but this is not certain. The Orange Block Planet does give them a run for their money under these conditions (I did do some planing with the #65 and #60 ½, and they really did not produce any better results on this piece of pine).

The Orange Block Plane is really more than just a paperweight. It is probably one of the more “distinctive” planes I have used – indeed the colour causes me to be transfixed like a kangaroo in the headlights of my ute on a dark night – I reckon that it would look pretty sharp in a belt holster made from a converted neoprene stubby holder.

There is definitely something machismo about this plane. One could saunter into the pub, lean against the bar, and attract admiring glances as you casually toss it onto the counter. It says “I am not affected by fashion … (I am cheap).” And to the kids, “One day this could be yours if you are good … (because I am cheap)”.

Well that’s about it. You were expecting more? For $5? Yeah … right.

Derek Cohen
Perth, 2006