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Veritas Small Plow Plane
Copyright 2008. Originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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Can this Canadian company improve
one of the most highly evolved
woodworking tools?

Unless you’re involved in production woodworking (with plywood, MDF or worse), you probably would welcome a plow plane into your workshop.

I can remember the moment when I decided to buy one. I was making a pair of doors for a one-off bookcase, and I was routing the groove in the stiles using our shop’s expensive router table. Despite my best efforts, the router bit grabbed my first stile and flung it across the shop about 15 feet.

The stile survived the javelin-style slinging, and so I began grooving the next stile in the pile. Like the first stile, this one made an Olympic launch across the shop. But this time the stile’s entire groove got chewed up by the router bit as the board made its hasty exit to kiss the floor.

There are some times when a machine is not the right choice for short-run work.

My first plow plane was a Record 043, an adorable English plane that came with three cutters that some Englishman had forgotten to heat-treat. Despite the fact that I had to sharpen the cutters every time I picked up the plane, I was hooked. I bought a Record 044 (the little guy’s bigger brother), then a Stanley 45 and a 46.

Each of these tools had advantages. I liked the skew cutter on the Stanley 46 so I could make clean cuts across the grain. I liked the robust depth stop of the Stanley 45 and its weight, which kept the tool stable through the cut. And the Record 044 didn’t get clogged as much as the baby 043.

I also purchased a couple nice wooden plow planes, but they had a variety of problems that kept them on the shelf and off the bench.

Sometimes, however, I feel I’m alone in my enthusiasm for plow planes among woodworkers, even among those who like hand tools.

Plows seem complex and fussy to the uninitiated. In truth, plow planes are some of the easiest joinery planes to use. If you know the right tricks, they are simple to sharpen, simple to set up and simple to use.

So I was delighted when Robin Lee, president of Lee Valley Tools, pulled out the prototype for the Veritas small plow plane as we drank a couple beers after a trade show in Las Vegas in August 2007. Later that fall, Veritas loaned me a pre-production model to test for a few weeks. And once the company began manufacturing the tool in large quantities I snapped up one of the first ones and have been using it quite a bit in my work.

Allow me to spoil the ending: The Veritas plow plane is better than all of my other plow planes. Its Canadian designers fundamentally improved an already highly-evolved tool. And the quality of manufacturing exceeds that of all my vintage plows. I do have a couple quibbles with the tool, which I discuss below, but overall, the Veritas Small Plow is an impressive piece of work and an unqualified success.

About Plows

Any tool collector worth his (or her) salt knows that plow planes were the equivalent of jewelry for 19th century cabinetmakers. The plow was the fanciest tool in the toolbox, and early woodworkers spent good money to get a tool that would impress their underlings and coworkers.

But that cachet was during the heyday of the wooden plow plane, and as metal planes pushed the wooden ones aside, the metal plows didn’t keep the same luster as the wooden plows. Sure, there were some fancy metal plow and combination planes made, but since the invention of the powered router, the plow plane has been little more than a curiosity for modern woodworkers.

The new Veritas Small Plow Plane is probably a little ahead of its time. Though some hand-tool woodworkers are wildly enthusiastic about its release, the No. 1 question I hear is: What is it used for?

So here’s a short explanation: Plow planes make grooves and (with some of the metal versions) some of them make small rabbets – the largest groove or rabbet that the Veritas Small Plow Plane can make with a single set-up is 3/8”.

Unlike bench planes, all plows work on different principles. You need to sharpen the cutting edge of your plow’s iron square and keep it that way – otherwise your cutter could wander in the cut and it could become difficult to push the tool.

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