Saturday, October 10, 2015

#62 low angle - finessing a plane

By the time you've had a couple of decades of buying, using and making hand tools, the dictum "You get what you pay for" generally holds as a pretty good summation of tool quality in relation to cost. Of course there are those bargains found at tool swaps or garage sales or even the tool which though relatively expensive, is such a pleasure to use, the initial high price becomes irrelevant very quickly.

And then there are the disappointments of which I've had a few.

The #140 skew angle block plane circa 1900 found at a tool swap. I should have known better. I really should have known better - the seller had re-japanned it and done a fine job but that had only hidden the problems the plane had (and still has) which make setting the blade correctly nigh impossible, Suffice to say, it cuts very well on the side of the mouth near the detachable fence.

But I'm frequently puzzled as to why people seem terribly disappointed if their brand new plane or second hand treasure doesn't schwish along a piece of timber the first time they use it. I keep reading or seeing endless Youtube clips of user reviews which bemoan a tool not primped and primed right out of the box. I'm sorry folks, but if you don't know how to coax, tend and set the tool up, well you're going to struggle to get it to perform at its best even if it comes to you beautifully set up some other experienced hand.

I've got a fair range of hand planes, all of which earn their keep. I can honestly say that, hand on heart, none of them loaf about just for the sake of occupying a bit of space in the tool cabinet. The Record #7 had its Stay-Set cap and blade replaced with a Hock set and is much the better for it. The US Bailey #6 has a laminated Samurai blade and it is a lovely thing to use, particularly on the shooting board where the plane's weight is a positive. The Davey replacement rear handle was one of those great buys which needed almost no reshaping.


The Bailey #5 will probably lodge a complaint with the RSPCA as it really is used as a roughing plane, with a set of variously configured standard Australian made Stanley blades which hold an edge much better than I would ever have expected and are quick to resharpen. And yes it does have a Carter rear handle - I dropped and cracked a very dearly loved 1950s Carter #5 but recycled the handle as it is incredibly comfortable for my smaller mitts.



The Bailey #4  has a Stanley blade that Academy Saw Works in Rydalmere were selling in the 90s which is reputed to be about R62 and whispers sweet nothings to whatever timber it is gliding over. The US Bailey #3 has a Sweetheart blade which though a bit pitted is absolutely lovely when sharp, zinging along with a cheery finesse that always make me smile. (The wee #3 raises a question for me about the usefulness of a #2 - even with my hands, I'd find anything smaller than the #3's handle uncomfortable. And I have a scraper and know how to use it)


Plus there's three block planes, a compass plane, sweet little 1/4" infill shoulder plane with a Hearnshaw blade, couple of bull nose rebate planes, a Record #71 router plane and a Boker scrub plane I bought from Leon Sadubin in about 1991. If I can get a good edge quickly on the blade, it stays. I use waterstones, King brand from memory, up to 8000 (but I've just ordered a 16 000 Shapton glass stone)


As most of the planes were bought or procured second hand, you can't expect to just pick it up and start working. Second hand planes certainly require pulling apart, cleaning, sole and frog lapping, perhaps replacement parts, and a fair bit of grinding, lapping and sharpening of the blade if it was usable. The #7 and #6 were lapped in a university engineering workshop and so they are truly flat. But apart from that, it was hours of back and forth on sheets of wet and dry on the jointer bed, filing mouths, and lapping blades on the waterstones.


Which finally brings me to the actual subject of this post. Most of the time, cranky grain is schwished away with a newly sharpened blade in the #6 but occasionally even that won't defeat a spot of poorly behaved myrtle, or bad tempered English ash or some eucalypt or another. I had heard the legends of the #62, defeater of the cranky grain, but was shocked at the prices either at tool swaps or online via ebay. Beloved of collectors and very prone to fracture between the mouth edge and the sides, $500 or more didn't appeal. Over the years, various new versions have appeared from Lie Nielsen, Veritas and Stanley themselves and finally a Chinese manufactured version from the Quangsheng Tool Company which is marketed as Woodriver in the US, an in-house brand with Dictum tools in Germany and in the UK with a number of major retailers.

The Quangsheng planes excite a lot of tapping fingers on the 'net, with people claiming they are direct copies of Lie Nielsen planes, and/or infringing their copyright, and dreadfully inferior. As someone who works on copyright questions in one of my consulting roles, all statements I've seen so far concerning copyright infringement are complete balderdash. Many of Lie Nielsen's planes are based on Stanley planes as produced during the twentieth century, including the #62, contemporaneous with many other plane makers including Record, Marples, Clifton, Sargent, Carter, Pope making exactly the same planes. The patents and copyright on the planes Bailey or Stanley made had lapsed prior to WWII. Hence Lie Nielsen being able to manufacture their versions of bedrocks - designs which Lie Neilsen can't patent or apply for copyright on as they are not dissimilar enough from the Stanley products to be able to be defined as unique designs.

Nor are the Quangsheng planes direct copies of the Lie Nielsen planes. They may look the same at first glance but the lever cap is different, the blade shape on the Quangsheng plane is the same shape used by Stanley during production and the adjustment mechanism is different again. My observations are that the LN planes are better made, visibly better made, their tolerances on the parts are tighter, the blades are higher quality and the planes are fettled, yes ready to go from the box. You would have to be very new to the world of tools and have significant sight loss to mistake a LN plane for a Quangsheng plane.

But are they dreadfully inferior? As I've just bought a Quangsheng #62 from McJing Tools in Sydney, I hope I can at least answer that question in the next week as I fettle and fiddle with the plane I picked up yesterday.