I wonder how many woodworkers own and use a scrub plane? My impression is that these planes are not widely used these days – and not simply because their job has been replaced by a thicknesser-planer, but also since scrub planes do not have the glamour and immediate attraction of a smoother or a jointer. Their popular image is as a rough tool, definitely not a precision tool, creating thick wooden chips rather than fine wood shavings. My impression also is that there appears to be a reluctance by many to purchase a dedicated scrub plane and, instead, often will resort to re-treading a smoother or jack plane. As a tool this does the scrub plane a great disservice, and in my opinion those woodworkers who do not use one are unwittingly omitting an extremely valuable member of the handplane team.
In this review of the LV Scrub Plane I shall explore the features one should look for in choosing a scrub plane, what some of the choices are in this area, and how a scrub plane may fit into your woodworking world.
Much of the timber for my furniture-making projects comes from salvage and recycling. Ex-roofing material and old floorboards dominate. This produces a decent supply of Jarrah, Karri and Grey Gum, all extremely hard and durable timbers that are a challenge to plane, but worth the effort for the treasure that is uncovered. There is just a something a little more special when you take timber in its raw, often twisted and cupped or just rough state, and turn it into something desirable.
Below: a Grey Gum rafter becomes my young son’s keepsake box.
About Scrub Planes
The scrub plane is the manual version of a powered thicknesser and, in the days of Yesteryear, they would have been the first line of attack in converting a rough and misshapen board into one that was dimensioned and finished. Over the past 100 or so years we have seen the demand for handwork increasingly replaced by machinery, especially in the area of timber preparation. The bandsaw, tablesaw and thicknesser have taken over almost completely. The most well known of the mass produced scrub planes, the Stanley #40, was manufactured from 1896, and ceased production in 1962.
The current demand for scrub planes is no doubt small and it was really only kept alive by specialist manufacturers such as Lie-Nielsen (with their reproduction of the Stanley #40 ½) in the USA, and ECE and Ulmia in Germany. Once made by the bucket-load by companies like Stanley, Sargent (e.g. #160), Ohio (e.g. #040), and Record (e.g. #400 ½), there are now few choices available. It is notable that most models were based on the Stanley #40 (and, to a lesser extent the #40 ½, a slightly longer and wider version). Fortunately these planes are available in the second-hand market – at swap meets, garage sales, on eBay. But they are increasingly being perceived as Collectors Tools and the prices are rising to meet those available new.
What are we looking for in a scrub plane?
Garrett Hack (in The Handplane Book) believes that there are three features that distinguish them from bench planes: “The throat is very large to pass coarse shavings, the iron has a pronounced curvature or camber across the width of the edge, and the iron is usually only a single thick iron without a cap iron”.
The aim is to remove as much material as possible and as quickly as possible. Less concern is given to the resulting rough finish that is the product of “hogging”, the term given to planning with a scrub plane. Since the blade is radically curved, the result is a surface that looks like a series of gouged grooves.
The degree of blade camber and the width of the blade are two central features of a scrub plane. When we seek to remove maximum material, we have a choice between going wide-and-shallow or deep-and-narrow. Hogging wide-and-deep is not an option – unless you are built like a Sherman tank and have arms like a gorilla! It is easier to go deep-and-narrow, and all true scrub planes are developed along these lines. The ECE version has a blade 1 ¼” wide, the Stanley #40 is the same. The Stanley #40 ½ is 1 ½” wide, as is the LN version upon which it is based.
Since the scrub plane is gouging deeply, this means that the blade projects further without the same support available to a plane set for a shallow cut. The stresses on the blade are much higher than usual. As a result, the blade needs to be much thicker than typically used. Where the common Stanley bench plane has a blade of between 1/16” and 5/64” (1.58 – 1.98 mm), their scrub blade is 1/8” (3.18 mm) thick.
Examples of the wide mouths and cambered blades, below:
It is evident from the above dimensions that “rolling your own” scrub plane is not going to permit the ideal combination of features. The commonly used #3 (1 ¾” blade) and #4 or #5 (2” blade) are clearly much wider, and they are also much thinner, than desired. The other option – favoured by many – is to use an old woodie, for example, re-treading a worn out smoother or jack plane. These often come with thicker blades, and the wooden construction makes it possible to open the mouth more easily. The only downside is the width of the blade. However, this latter part is more easily dealt with (see below).
Some personal experiences
Like many others, I came quite late to scrub planes. About five or so years ago, as I was sliding further and further down the Neander slope, I decided to build one for myself. From the many discussions on various forums on the web, the “ideal” scrub plane had presented as a woodie (for its lightness) and, preferably, a horned version as used in Europe (i.e. similar to those made by ECE and Ulmia). On one of my better days out rust hunting I came across just such a plane, made by Langeskov, which I subsequently discovered was Danish. In near-new condition, it had a relatively narrow blade (width of 1 ¾”) that was substantial (blade thickness of 9/64” or 3.5 mm) and yet quite light (which is a rather subjective statement since I had never used a scrub plane up until that time).
From my reading I learned that a 3” radius was more standard camber used on scrub planes (such as the #40 ½), and so I ground this onto the blade. Oh what fun this plane was! It was a revelation to experience how quickly and effortlessly (compared to a jack plane) material could be hogged away. It was kept within reach permanently after this.
About two years ago I bought a Stanley #40. This was done as much out of curiosity as on a collector-user level. Well the experience of using the #40 began to ring bells in my head. Contrary to the main criticism levied at this plane (“too heavy for extended use”), I began to use – and prefer it – to the woodie. What needs to be recalled is that I work predominantly in Australian hardwoods, and the #40 appeared to have less difficulty dealing with these than the woodie. This seemed to be due to the extra weight of the #40 (not that there was that much extra weight involved). I began to wonder what a still heavier scrub plane might do.
The LV Scrub Plane
Enter the LV Scrub plane. Now LV is known among handtoolers for their spirit of innovation, for the thought that they have given to updating (and improving) vintage handplane designs. The question is whether they have been able to offer something substantial (again) with their new scrub plane.
Let’s take a look at their offering (which is grouped together with my other two scrub planes. The LV is closest to the camera, the #40 is in the middle, and furthest is the horned woodie).
were minor and my attention was instead drawn to the substantial construction of this plane. As seen in the picture (above), it dominates the others in dimension.
Specific features include (along with those of the #40 and horned woodie for comparison): Firstly, the LV I received (from Lee Valley for assessment/feedback purposes) was a cosmetic “Second”. By this, LV pointed out to me, there were some casting blemishes on the sidewalls. Frankly, these
2 lbs 2 oz
1 lb 10 oz
Lee Valley (LV)
2-11/64” at the mouth
Lie Nielsen (LN)
2 lbs 7 oz
These statistics only tell part of the story. No only is the LV longer, heavier and carrying the more substantial blade, but it also comes with a more durable construction. In contrast to the Stanley, which has been constructed from cast iron since its inception, the LV scrub (as with its other planes, and along with the LN) is built from ductile cast iron. Not only is this reportedly more durable than cast iron (makers other than LV claim it to be damage-free), but it is also more immune to stress movements over time (not that this latter factor should be a concern with scrub planes since they are not faced with the precision of a smoother).
The sole of the LV was perfectly flat, as gauged with a straight edge. Not a glimmer of light evident. As indicated above, this is not a big issue anyway, but it is still one measure of built quality. Compare this with my Sweetheart era Stanley #40, a plane in excellent condition (on receipt it still had the original factory grind on the blade). The sole of #40 was very mildly convex – light could be seen underneath the straight edge to the tune of about .25mm (as judged by eye).
The body of the LV is 7/32” thick (the #40 is 3/16”), according to my measurements. In other words, the LV is 1/16” greater than the thickness of the #40. The forward section (from the mouth) of the LV is further reinforced by a 5/64” band (see picture above).
These are all single-iron planes, that is, there is no cap iron. There is also no mechanism for adjustment of blade projection. I have always thought this to be an oversight with scrub planes (I do not know of any that have mechanical adjustment) since there is really a frequent need to re-adjust the depth of cut according to the demands of the timber. Extending projection with a few mallet taps is relatively easy, but retracting the blade is not.
Lastly, mention must be made of LV’s use of set screws to stabilize the blade. The theory is that they will prevent the blade being knocked out of alignment if one runs into a knot or area of twisty grain. See the bottom left of the picture below:
Handles and totes
Other notable differences include the handles. LV handles and totes are significantly different to those on the Stanley, and they took a little getting used to when I first encountered them some planes ago. In time they grew on me and I came to prefer them to the Stanley shape. In a nutshell, they just felt better balanced (but see comments below).
The rear tote is significantly larger (- more on this in a while) and attached with double bolts, which produces a sense of substantial rigidity. The rear tote of the #40 is typical of Stanley’s single-bolt design. The LV front handle is large – about 50% larger than that of the #40 – this is difficult to judge in the picture, I’m afraid. I enjoy the use of Bubinga here, experiencing it as a warm and attractive timber. The #40 is Beech (later versions being made from Rosewood). See below:
What is immediately noticeable is that the LV tote is very upright. Further, this tote has come in for some modifications over the previous LV version, now being thicker in the center and including a toe section. The design has created a little stir among LV users, with some preferring the previous version (especially those with smaller hands), and others remarking that this new version is better suited to larger hands. My own experience is that I also preferred the older versions as the extra thickness in the center of the tote made it less easy for a firm grip. Obviously my (average-sized) hands are too small for this design. I think that I will eventually file this section down.
I have no beef with the front handle. It is comfortable and easy to grasp. In fact it is quite the nicest handle I have used to date.
Picture below: rear totes - upper picture is the new version; lower picture is the previous version.
One of the criteria chosen by scrub plane users on the forums was that they preferred a lighter plane because it was easier to manage. It becomes very relevant, then, to consider how these scrubs are held, and whether there are differences of relevance.
What is immediately apparent is that the LV is a full, four-finger grip, and that this permits a greater degree of forward drive.
The #40 is more restricted, both because the tote is smaller and because there is less room between the tote and the blade. Consequently, one is forced into a three-finger grip, and this does not permit the full amount of forward drive.
While the lightest of the three, I found the woodie to offer a less secure grip, essentially restricted to two fingers (pincer grip). The front horn was preferred to that of the #40 because of its greater size, but not over the LV.
The dimensions for the blades are recorded above. What may be added is that LV is offering a choice of two blades, a high carbon steel (Rc 58 – 60) and a A2 steel (Rc 60 –62).
Comparing the blades of the LV, #40 and horned-woodie:
Conditions for this Review
As seen above, these three planes are quite different, and it would be difficult to draw meaningful conclusions if used as is. What would be a meaningful conclusion?
The single most pertinent variable for examination is that of a scrub plane’s weight. In particular, does a scrub with a higher mass cope better with more dense timber? Consequently, all other factors were controlled as much as possible.
The second pertinent variable was whether there would be a user’s difference found between the #40 and the horned-woodie, and so attempts were made to equalize these as much as possible. The issue here is whether a re-treaded bench plane could be a match for a dedicated, production scrub plane?
Controlling for differences between the scrub planes:
The test timber was kept constant for all scrub planes used here. A selection of Australian and USA soft- and hardwoods were included for a more international appreciation. These were:
Australia: Jarrah, She-oak, Banksia and Tasmanian Blackwood.
USA: Rock Maple and Mahogany
(b) Blade camber
The LV blades were maintained at their supplied 3” radius. The #40 and horned-woodie were both given the original #40 radius, which is 1 ½”. Now, while this may at first appear to be creating a significantly different set of conditions, in practice this is minimal. See below for a pictorial illustration of the two radii:
It was determined that, when the blade extension was maintained equally for all planes, the differences in camber and width of cut were minimal (not measurable). To do this, notwithstanding that blade depth is usually set for the type of timber (and unless specifically otherwise warranted), all blade projections were set at a moderate cut (1/16” blade depth) or fine cut (1/32” blade depth). Measurements were made with a Starrett combination square (not absolute precision but close enough). Chip thickness was measured for confirmation with digital calipers. On most hardwoods I found that I was most comfortable with a chip that ended up about 0.025 - 0.030" thick (measured at the centre of the chip), on average. With a blade that had a 3" radius, chips would be about 1/2 " – 1” wide.
digital caliper and combo square
Blades were ground to precise radii with the use of templates, and honed to identical levels on a belt sander jig. Belts used were 80, 120, 240, 400, 600 and 1300 grit, then stropped on Veritas green rouge at speed (i.e. ending with an edge honed to .5 microns). All blades easily shaved end grain pine. The bevel angle for all was 30 degrees. See below for templates:
Belt sander jig (top), camber templates (below)
Only the LV high carbon steel blade was used for the assessment proper, in keeping with the other blades in this review.
Working with a Scrub Plane
Each of the pieces of timber required a slightly different treatment. For example, the mahogany had a slight twist and cup and, in addition, had grain reversing down one third of one side. The maple had a mild cup and bow. The Jarrah looked like dressed timber from a distance, but the sides were quite unequal, and the goal here was to complete thicknessing to a specified dimension, compared to the other boards where I attempted to retain maximum thickness.
In every case the scrub plane was the first plane used. Once basic leveling of one side was completed, the boards were smoothed with a LV LA Jack or HNT Gordon Try Plane. One side was then squared to this side, and this made it possible to square to a smoothed face and square the third side.
Here is a pictorial sequence. Timber – Tasmanian Blackwood (medium density)
(1). Scrubbing completed (2). Surface level and rough smoothed (3). One side squared
(4) and (5). Dimensioning sides before repeating tasks 1and 2 on reverse side.
(6). shooting ends (7). Completed board.
The Experience of Using a Scrub Plane
I began with the mahogany board. This was 17 ½ “ long, 9 ½ “ wide and 1 3/8“ thick. Slight cup and twist. I wanted to retain the thickest dimension since this was eventually going to be resawn and the boards used for the main section of a jewelry box for my wife.
The surface was the original rough sawn cut. I placed this cup side down on the workbench and moved it back and forth … It rocked a little indicating a high spot … turned the board over and with a light setting (1/32”) one-handed planed this away.. turned it back over .. rocked some more … planed off another high spot .. continued this until the board sat flat.
One-handed planning of high spots.
Time now to begin the hogging…moderate depth of 1/16” and I make a series of rapid sweeps across the board at a 45 degree angle (hogging at this angle reduces the potential for tearout)…The scrub planes are alternated as I work … first the LV, then the #40, then the woodie … Another sweep … first the woodie, then the LV, then the #40 … a third sweep .. first the #40, then the woodie, then the LV … reverse the scrub and come back on the opposite diagonal. This smoothes and flattens the furrows … finally the hogging is completed..
keeping the scrubs apart
One face is completed
Impressions: The LV cuts with authority and drives through the timber more easily than the other planes. The #40 is a good plane and works well, but just lacks the ease. This is more noticeable when I reverse the plane and sweep it backhanded in the opposite diagonal. The woodie feels very light, especially on the backhand sweep, and there is a need to redo strokes to get a deep enough cut in spite of the blade projections being the same for each plane).
On to the Maple. This board was 18” long and 4 ½ ” wide, with a mild cup and bow. It feels softer than the mahogany.
Mild cup and twist
Impressions: Again the #40 does not feel as stable as the LV when taking thick shavings. The #40 wants to “rock” more in my hand as I hog. This is more pronounced with the woodie, absent with the LV.
35 minutes from beginning to end
The Jarrah is 19” long x 2 3/8” wide and 1 5/8” thick. It has a the appearance of dressed timber but the top and bottom faces are not parallel and there is a mild twist running all the way through. The aim is to flatten and thickness to 1 ½” while retaining as much width as possible.
With winding sticks
Working with the Jarrah is tricky since it is more brittle and susceptible to breakout that all the other timbers here ... It cannot be hogged at 45 degrees and I work across the grain instead … the blade projection is reduced to 1/32, and the work proceeds rapidly now, although constantly with caution.
Impressions: All the comments made previously of the LV feeling more solid than the lighter planes are increased in this example. It just has more momentum through the hard timber. The #40 is lighter when you lift the plane, but with the plane resting on the timber surface, the #40 lacks the same power and feels less controlled, more inclined to move with the grain. The woodie is positively “jittery” and seems to skip over the surface rather than through the timber.
How did we do? The finished product is to spec.
A few examples of the scrub used in fine setting mode
Trimming for final thicknessing is done with a very light cut here. All the planes manage this well. The #40 is preferred here. It feels more like a block plane making a trimming cut that the LV, which feels more like a bench plane in this situation.
You can see the chips are now tiny.
Thicknessing with the face grain. While the planes are again set for a slight cut, planning with the grain is more like using a jack plane with a cambered blade. However the scrub is taking deeper but narrower cuts, which make it possible to trim more precisely those sections that are to be removed.
Long twisty and narrow curls
All the blades – LV, Stanley, Woodie – remained sharp throughout the entire hogging session. At the end of this time they could still pare endgrain pine.
A little time only was given to using the LV A2 blade. Clearly not enough to establish degree of wear compared to the high carbon steel version. Subjectively, there did not appear to be any difference in sharpness while hogging, nor did the A2 blade appear any more difficult to hone than the high carbon steel blade. Keep in mind that these are preliminary views only.
My overall impression is that the LV scrub is a welcome addition to the armory, and will be the one I turn to first when flattening hardwoods. It feels solid and powerful. Its extra heft over the other scrubs here was evident in the extra momentum it creates. As long as the strokes are long, the issue of fatigue is lessened.
It seems to me that the issue of weight and fatigue is a double-edged sword. The effort saved in lifting a light plane is lost in the extra effort required to push it through hardwood.
Will we see a longer scrub plane, one with even greater heft? I think that there is a place for a scrub like this.
What about the lighter scrubs such as the Stanley #40? I think that this is a fine scrub, but better suited to softer woods. It just did not have the authority of the LV when taking heavier cuts. On the other hand, it was nicer to use than the LV when making fine trimming cuts. The analogy is one of a block plane against a bench plane.
The ergonomics of the LV design are a bit of a mixed bag. Bearing in mind that the plane I have is a Second, I found the fit and finish to be excellent. I did not like the rear tote. It just seemed too thick for my hand and forced me to grip all the tighter. Fortunately, this is easily remedied with a file and sandpaper, but I do hope that LV takes a second look at this area. The front handle, on the other hand, was comfortable and easily several steps up from that of the Stanley, which now feels even smaller than ever.
Should one upgrade from a Stanley to the LV? I would keep the Stanley and get the LV as well. I see them working together as a set. That is, unless LV bring out a smaller version. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have included the LN scrub plane here (one was not available). I have not used one but my understanding, based on its specifications (see the chart) and the reviews of others, is that it is likely to fit mid-way between the Stanley #40 and the LV scrub plane.
Could one substitute a re-treaded smoother as a scrub? Well, with a suitably cambered blade it will work, but it will not hold a candle to a dedicated scrub plane, certainly not the LV.
Finally, it was also my intention to illustrate the scrub plane in action since I suspect that many woodworkers do not use one and therefore cannot appreciate its value. Even if one uses a powered thicknesser to dimension rough stock, the scrub plane offers one the ability to quickly true up twisted boards, even if this is only in preparation for the powered tool (since a planer can only follow the line it is given, removing irregularities in boards is first necessary). For others like myself, who do not own a power thicknesser, the scrub plane makes the job of converting rough sawn into dimensioned timber less formidable, if not fun.
Let the chips fly.
Regards from Perth