The return of
a collectible classic.
Does the user care?
Lie-Nielsen version of the Stanley No. 51 is superior in
every way possible, from its durability to its
performance in the cut.
I have never been a fan of specialty planes or gizmos. I’d rather
use a No. 7 bench plane to square an edge than use a No. 95
edge-trimming plane or even a Stanley bench plane with an accessory
Lie-Nielsen improved on the functional characteristics of
the Stanley model, little could be done about the appearance
of the tool. The tote and frog
still jut out at odd angles.
Part of my preference has to do with my salary. As a writer (a
low-paying trade much like woodworking), my salary limits the tools
I can purchase.
Yes, I know that if you have been reading this
column for many years that it looks like I can afford lots of tools.
But many of those tools are either sold when I am done or returned
to the owners I borrowed them from.
So I don’t have a lot of money available for tools that don’t earn
their place in my tool chest.
And that’s why I (effortlessly) resisted buying the new Lie-Nielsen
No. 51 Chute Board plane.
I shoot my edges and ends with my jointer
plane, which has all of the mass I need to plow through tough end
grain. The No. 51 wasn’t even on my “when I win the lottery” list.
But the readers of my blog and web site had other ideas. They wanted
to know if the Lie-Nielsen version of this highly collectible
vintage plane was something that a user should consider. Or should
the Lie-Nielsen plane be something left to the 500 or so collectors
out there who couldn’t find a mint No. 51 from The Stanley Works.
I begrudgingly bought a Lie-Nielsen No. 51 for full price ($500 in
late 2010). Months later, I do not regret that purchase one single
bit. I won’t be selling the tool, returning the tool or even letting
my co-workers cast lustful gazes upon it. But I am working it to
Compared to the Stanley
Last year I got to use a few vintage Stanley No. 51s that were
loaned to me by a house builder who swore by them. His 51s were set
up perfectly with no broken parts. He didn’t use them on a Stanley
No. 52 Chute Board. Instead, he built his own chute boards out of
One of the nice
improvements with the Lie-Nielsen version of this tool is
that you can tighten up the mouth just like you would on a Bed Rock
This is handy on shooting boards designed for long-grain edges.
The vintage 51s were impressive. I liked using them more than using
a bench plane or even a Stanley No. 9 on the chute board.
The 51 is
easier to hold and guide – thanks to its cocked tote. Plus, you can
easily capture the tool into a track on your chute board to make it
impossible for the tool to drift out of the cut.
In other words, you can’t miss when you shoot with a No. 51. You
simply press the work against the sole of the tool in front of the
blade and thrust the tool forward. If the iron is sharp, it will
take a beautiful end-grain shaving. And the work will be clean and
square – a small miracle even with a powered chop saw.
The other huge
improvement Lie-Nielsen made to the Stanley model was in the frog.
The Lie-Nielsen frog is robust, adjustable and supports the blade
And while I was smitten by the vintage Stanley No. 51, it has its
problems. Some parts of the tool – especially the frog – are fragile
and frequently broken (one of the ones I borrowed had been brazed).
And the frog didn’t supply the complete support of the blade that
makes for a perfect cut.