Questions about Planes?

Questions about Planes…here we go!

Hi [David], Thanks for the great emails, they always inspire me to get “furniture making”, hopefully in a year or two’s time when I retire (no I’m not that old only 46) I’ll be able to enroll on one of your courses. As you have probably gathered, woodwork is my hobby; I can’t remember when I first learned to saw a piece of wood or be allowed to use my fathers best plane, but an early career in Toolmaking and technical college has allowed to produce some good work over the years, of course not to your standard.
Perhaps I could ask for your opinion on something? I have a Stanley number 7 plane and a number 6 (they are set up properly and are flat but without blade upgrades), and would like to upgrade to a Lie Neilson, I would have to sell the Stanleys to fund this. My query is
1. Are they worth the extra expense?
2. Do I really need the victor blade?
3. Can one plane cater for all my needs?
I remember reading in “The Professional approach” that Alan Peters only ever used one plane; a Record number 7 with four spare ordinary blades, he used this plane for every planing operation – even shooting, which he did with a wood block he attached to the plane. This would make all the other bench planes redundant and Mr Lie Neilson out of pocket I am guessing. What do you think? I like the Lie Neilson’s; I have a scraper plane and the block plane which gets used for everything!!! But the idea of just one bench plane to sharpen and use appeals to me, should it be a number 7? Is weight an issue? Did Peters use the 7 because it was as heavy as the Norris panel planes?
Please keep sending the emails, also, the website is the best on the web for inspiration and no nonsense advice in my humble opinion
PS. I’ve noted on some of my plane blades that the Record ones are marked “best crucible cast steel” is this the same stuff as the Victor blades? That is – any good?


Hi Jess
Nice questions, I hope I can give a decent answer. Firstly, the question of the number of tools one should have. I know it is in the interest of tool makers to sell more tools and for magazines to review them, but it’s not necessarily in the interests of makers to have a “full set”.
I had the privilege of working for a short time with Alan Peters and saw him using that Record No 7…it was not his only bench plane, he also had a smoother…but it did not get used. Alan once dropped his bench plane resulting in it cracking the casting across the mouth; he got it bronze welded back together but he grumbled that it had never been the same. His view, which I support, was that “Too many tools about your bench slow you down”.
You do, however, have to have the right tools in the first place. Time after time I see young (and not so young) makers carefully gathering sets of tools, making expensive but informed decisions. However as time goes by they change what they originally bought. Sometimes a plane is replaced, sometimes an expensive Wimwam sold on eBay or relegated to the “site work toolbox”. Always the aim is to get the fewest tools that extends our hands skills to accomplish the tasks fast and clean. It always amazes me how a few “favorites” are the skilled maker’s constantly repeated chosen weapons.
If it were me I would not buy the Lee Neilsen plane, I would stick with the planes you have but make sure they are “dead flat”. You are not upgrading if your existing plane is set up right and working as it should do. The blades in the Lee Nielsen are in my opinion not as good as the crucible steel you have. Crucible steel is exactly the same as the steel that the “Victor” use. They take an edge which is not as keen, are more difficult to hone, and hold that dullish edge for Aaaaaaages. We have sent a couple of Lee Neilsen planes back recently and that hasn’t happened for a long time. If you were without a plane I would suggest Clifton with a Victor “crucible steel” blade. The Stanley blade can be upgraded, the Hock blades are good.
Weight is not really an issue, I have a Norris plane but don’t get any better surfaces than Daren or Steve who have Stanley and Clifton planes respectively; in fact they do better work than me as I don’t get on the tools that much.
The question I ask though is, why are you thinking of upgrading? If your planes were working as they should you would use them more readily, rather than your lovely block plane. Maybe you should seek to have them sorted out by a pro, the joy a sweetly working plane can give you would be worth the effort.

David Savage


David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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