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Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better. - Christopher Schwarz


 
 

VERITAS Router Plane by Christopher Schwarz
Copyright 2006. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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Modern planemakers are turning their attention to the joinery planes.

But are woodworkers ready?

One of the delights of living in this age is getting to see the history of tool manufacturing almost repeat itself. In fact, if we thought of the recent renaissance of toolmaking as a movie, it's fair to say that this is a rare case where the sequel is better than the original.

For the last 10 years, modern hand-tool makers have focused their efforts on reviving two kinds of tools: the iconic bench planes that flatten and surface lumber, and what I call the "tweaking tools" planes that refine a joint (shoulder planes and side-rabbet planes) or correct an assembly (block planes and chisel planes).

What has been missing from the catalogs from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Lee Valley Tools and Clifton have been the tools that cut wholesale joinery fillister planes, dado planes, plow planes, router planes and (I shudder to suggest it) dovetail planes. But this situation is about to change. North American woodworkers are rapidly acquiring the skills to sharpen, set up and use the bench planes and tweaking tools; from there it's but a short and painless hop over to the joinery tools.

 

 

The VERITAS router plane is a closed-throat router, which allows it to nimbly navigate narrow edges.  The Stanley No. 71, its genetic ancestor, is an open-throat router, which is supposed to have better chip clearance and allow the user to see the work better.  Is there a difference? We find out.

 

And that's why you should pay close attention to the new router plane from VERITAS, the manufacturing arm of Lee Valley Tools. If this plane is successful and it deserves to be I think you'll see more joinery planes in the ever-fattening tool catalogs from these metal plane manufacturers and from the wood-lovers, Clark & Williams, which has been offering custom wooden joinery planes for some time. (And here's some inside scoop: The boys from Eureka Springs, Ark., have been showing a very sexy plow plane at shows recently. Perhaps Clark & Williams is a bit ahead of the curve here with that plow; but I can tell you it's a pretty fair curve.)

Router Planes: The Sequel

The router plane is the descendant of the wooden "Old Woman's Tooth" plane, which was a wooden stock with a straight iron that extended below the sole and was secured by a wedge. I've used these planes a few times and don't much care for them. Yes, they will cut a flattened depression, but adjusting them is tedious because of that wedge; router planes require constant adjustment as you work. Plus, the wooden stock obscures where the work is going on and the tools can be difficult to push because they work mainly by scraping the wood. So it's little wonder that these tools evolved and that the next major jump would try to address these deficiencies.

The wooden D-handled routers (so called because of their shape) had the cutter secured in a hole in the stock so you could see the cutting action. And adjusting the iron became simpler (if not yet entirely predictable). The iron was secured by a metal collar that could be quickly loosened and tightened. I own a shop-made D-handle router and use it quite a bit. But though I can see a great deal more of the cut as I'm working, the big wooden stock gets in the way when I'm working in tight quarters and I tend to set the cutter to take too heavy or too light a cut when I adjust it. It takes a while for me to get into the rhythm of the tool.

 

 

This shop-made D-handle router isn't sophisticated, but it works quite well and can be built to suit any custom application.  This model was built using an Allen wrench as a cutter   which is just the right hardness for the task.

 

The modern metal router popularized by the Stanley No. 71 and its many variants is what most of us think about when we talk about a router plane. It adjusts predictably with a wheel adjuster. You can always see where you are working and you can even mount the cutters to they can cut in impossibly tight spaces. 

So what's left for modern planemakers to improve?  Plenty, in my opinion.


 
Learn how. Discover why. Build better.
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