Modern planemakers are turning
their attention to the joinery planes.
But are woodworkers
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
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
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.
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
So what's left for modern planemakers to improve?
Plenty, in my opinion.