Monday, February 4, 2013

My Basic Hand Tool Poll Results Are In - And the Winner Is...

The Router Plane!

My Lie-Nielsen router plane
As a recap, I have been writing about what tools a beginner should focus on, in my humble opinion.  I decided to take a poll about which tool my readers think a beginner should next put on his/her list.

I was surprised that the router was a clear winner by a big margin.  I kind of always consider the shoulder plane the partner of the router plane, but the shoulder plane got only two votes, one of which was my wife who voted for it because it was first on the list.

Here are the results of my poll, in order of popularity:
  1. Router Plane - 30%
  2. Proper Back Saw - 21%
  3. Brace and Bit - 18%
  4. Plow Plane - 9%
  5. More Chisels - 6%
  6. Rabbet Plane - 6%
  7. Shoulder Plane - 6%
  8.  Other (Coping Saw) - 3%
  9. More Bench Planes - 0%
Let me mention here that there was absolutely nothing scientific about this poll.  About 350 people read the post, and of those only 33 voted.  

I happen to agree with this poll, in that a router would be an excellent tool to put on your wish list.  I have been making a few projects using only my Basic Tool Kit (BTK), and have missed being able to use some of these tools, but a router plane would have made some of these projects even easier.

My favorite use for a router plane is to clean up the cheeks on a tenon or a lap joint.  Since I have been using a lot of lap joints with this basic tool kit, a router plane would have been nice.

Here is how you use it to clean up the cheek:  secure the piece with the newly cut tenon or lap joint on your bench with a clamp or a hold-fast.  Then, put another piece of wood that is the exact same thickness next to the tenon.  You will use this for support when cleaning the tenon. 

If you can still see your layout mark on the side of the tennon, lower the blade on the router until the sharp edge is right on that mark.  Now, set your depth stop to this position.  This is easy on a Lie-Nielsen, and is the main reason I chose this router. 

Before making a cut, back the blade off a few turns, so that you make very light cuts.

To make the cut, use one hand to secure one of the knobs in place and use the other hand to push the opposite handle, like a lever.  This gives a lot of control and finesse on this cut.  If you push with both hands, you may wind up taking more than you want.

Once the router cuts no more wood, lower the blade a half a turn or so and repeat.  Keep this up until you bottom out on your depth stop.

Just to be on the safe side, you should be looking at that gauge line to make sure you don't cut too far.

If you are cleaning up a tenon, keep your depth stop adjustment, flip the piece over and repeat.  Now, your tenon is perfectly centered on your stock!

If you would like to cut a lap joint that is exactly half the thickness of your stock, use your router like a marking gauge to find the middle of your stick of wood.  Eyeball it about half way, make a mark from each side.  If the marks aren't perfectly in the same spot, move the blade to split the difference and check again.  Once you have the middle, set your depth stop, mark the lap joint, saw it out and use the router to clean up.  When your depth stop bottoms out, you are perfectly in the middle.

I do have to admit, though, that I think I may have been using this plane a little bit as a crutch.  Practicing these joints using only a chisel has given me confidence and improved my skill in flattening with only a chisel.  I think from now on, I'll only use the router if I have multiple pieces that need to be the exact same, or some other reason the accuracy needs to be dead-nuts on. 

Paring with a chisel is faster than all of that fussing with depth stops and adjustments.  What you gain is surgical accuracy, if you need it.

Next up, some tool porn as I go through the merits and uses of the other tools on the poll.


  1. I am surprised the router won. I would have put my money on the plow plane. Wondering out loud ....what would the results have been if more had voted?

    1. Serious question: Do you use your plow more than your router?

  2. I voted for more chisels, but in a way, I am glad that the router won.
    I used my router plane yesterday, and again today. It is actually a nice tool to have.

    1. I really like my router, too. But, I imagine that in practice most people probably would buy more chisels before a router plane.

  3. The router plane is handy, but there are very few jobs it can handle that can't be accomplished any other way. I would have voted for the plow plane. It's pretty difficult to cut a decent groove any other way, and they double as small rabbet planes (or even large rabbet planes if you're willing to work inefficiently).

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for the comment.

      What I think the router introduces is a level of precision requiring less skill than some other methods. For example, I know I can make tenons with a saw and chisel, but if I have eight of them for a table, I know they are all the same if I use a router plane.

      Ralph agrees with you about the plow plane. I have to admit, I really like mine. I wouldn't have thought it was a tool that newbies should think about right away, but you guys got me thinking...

  4. Great article. I also agree with the results. The router plane can come in very handy and work great for the "clean-up" jobs.