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The Veritas Custom Bench Planes


When I first planned an article on the Custom Planes my intention was to provide suggestions in choosing components, and tips on tuning. Certainly, there are many aspects here to consider, and all the various possible permutations of frog angle and handle style may be daunting for many – particularly so if you had not been tuned in to developments in this area over the past couple of years. I also saw this as an opportunity to review these developments and obtain some perspective on them.

As time went on I realised that what was really complicated about the topic was where to start, and how much information should one take for granted? Do we really want another discussion about bevel up (BU) versus bevel down (BD) formats, or whether the chipbreaker works? Frankly, I do not have the energy for any of this and so, mercifully, you will be spared. There are a number of excellent articles or forum discussions available if you wish to review the subject material, and I shall present references at the appropriate time. For now I prefer to move on to new ground – and hopefully there is new ground enough to hold your interest and obtain your feedback.

The new Veritas bench planes had been on the drawing board from some time in 2011, and Rick Blaiklock, who is Director of Research and Development for Veritas Tools, gave me a run down in 2012 while asking for some input on choices for frog angles. The new planes were to be bevel down and modular, that is, one would be able to select a frog angle and the handle design to suit one’s personal needs. Now I must point out that my own input was minimal at best. Rick and I discussed the planes now-and-then, and I had the opportunity to play with a prototype when I visited the Lee Valley factory in January 2013, but I was not one of the prototype testers for the pre-production planes (as I have been for some in the past). The custom planes were released in September 2014.

The mention of the dates above is relevant in this story. At the time the new BD planes were first conceived there were two plane configurations that dominated when it came to controlling tearout prone interlocked wood. These both utilised a high cutting angle – either a BD plane with a high angle frog or bed, such as 55 degrees or greater, which would be the cutting angle as well. Alternatively, one could use a BU plane with a high bevel angle, say 50 degrees, which would create a high included cutting angle of 62 degrees (on a typical 12 degree bed).

Lee Valley were already well known for their development of the BU plane concept, and clearly now they sought to add comparable BD planes to their line up.

Around 2012 a few members of WoodCentral forum began discussing the part played by the chipbreaker in controlling tearout (I prefer to use “chipbreaker”, but this is interchangeable with “cap iron”). Inspired by the assertions of Warren Mickley over several years, the videoed research of Professors Yasunori Kawai and Chutaro Kato at Yamagata University in 1989, further subsequent research by Steve Elliott on this and chip formation, in the end we had a couple of excellent articles, such as “Setting a Cap Iron” by David Weaver and “Cap Iron Study” by Kees van der Heiden. Discussion moved onto other forums – WoodNet and Sawmill Creek in particular – and the message moved on.

It needs to be understood that use of the chipbreaker (or “double iron” as which it is also referred) has been around for a couple of centuries. It seemed to fall out of favour with, or was ignored by, woodworking teachers and authors over the past few decades. With the wisdom of hindsight, there are many references in 20th century textbooks that recommend to “set the leading edge of the chipbreaker as close to the edge of the blade as possible”, however the significance of these words was missed by the majority. Consequently, interlocked hardwood was considered best worked with a high cutting angle in a bench plane, or with scrapers.

The Veritas Custom Bench Planes evolved over a three-year period, according to Rick Blaiklock. As far as I am aware the original design was to use single iron, that is, sans chipbreaker. The argument to include a chipbreaker was now strong and Lee Valley demonstrated yet again their creativity to come up with another innovative method of building this in. The design for the chipbreaker was strongly influenced by the Record two-piece “Stay Set” from 1931 (which is easily taken apart for honing, and re-assembled in the same settings for use).

The inclusion of the chipbreaker into the Veritas bench plane was a game changer, and perhaps in a way that one might not expect! I shall leave this remark as a teaser until later.

The third area of interest is the choice of handle and knob.

Now for some years I have been particularly interested in the ergonomics of handtools, and there are four short articles on my website to be found here. I will argue that the way we hold and use a tool – a handplane in these examples – has a profound effect on the plane’s performance and influences its design.

The Veritas handle for the BU planes came in for some bashing over the years: too vertical, better suited to high benches, ugly … I have lost count of the number of times I have swapped them out for Bailey-style handles .. and then swapped them back again. Now they’re back again – well, the new Veritas handles – and I am confident that they will stay. I think that I have figured out what it is that I like, what works, and how to get the best out of them. It helped a great deal to watch video footage of advanced woodworkers planing. What I saw appears to argue a strong case for the Veritas handle design. During this period I also came to understand that bench height, per se, may be irrelevant … a blind alley.

It is difficult to determine how features function without a contrast in planes. For this evaluation I chose (bevel down) Stanley planes #7 jointer (Type 11) and #604 Bedrock. For bevel up equivalents I included the LA Jointer and Bevel Up Smoother, both from Veritas. Here are all together …

All these topics are for discussion, and I shall be happy to edit in comments down the track. So, onto a description of the Veritas Custom Bench Planes ….

And I thought I could write a simple review? Ha! Just so you know - this is not just a review! This is the longest review I have ever written! To make it readable it is split into four parts.

Onwards to Part 2: frogs, adjusters, and applications of use …

Regards from Perth


January 2015