Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bevel Up Jack Plane - Will It Work as Your Only Plane?

A few weeks ago, one of my very favorite woodworking heroes, Richard Maguire, wrote a blog post about low angle planes. I've been thinking hard about this post for a while, because I have in the past advocated big time for my Veritas bevel up jack plane (BU jack).

I have to say that Richard's conclusions about the BU jack are spot on, 100%.

Does this mean I am recanting my endorsement of this tool? Absolutely not.
Richard's premise in his blog post is that BU planes work better than other planes at the extremes of the spectrum - basically that they do one thing really great. That is planing end grain.
This plane is really great at end grain.
I whole heartedly agree. They are much better at end grain due to the low angle possible with the BU design.

What about the rest?
Can one joint with this plane?
Well, I agree with Richard. Other planes do a better job at basic tasks than this plane. A 24 inch jointer does joint better than this jack plane. A dedicated jack with a cambered blade does better at hogging out lots of material than this plane. A #4 smoothing plane with a finely set chip breaker will do a better job at smoothing than this plane.
This thing works great shooting end grain. Did I already say that?
Then why do I endorse this plane so enthusiastically?

Well, I have to say that while those other planes do better at those tasks than this plane, the BU jack will indeed do them all.
I almost always do all my jointing with this plane.
A while back, I spent more than a whole year using only this plane and no other bench plane, for no other reason than to put my money where my mouth was regarding being able to build with an extremely limited tool set.

I had noticed that many great woodworkers had recommended "beginner's tool sets" that required many thousands of dollars to fill out before a beginning student could feel like they could do "proper" woodworking.

I thought that was baloney then, and I think it is baloney now. A jack plane (whether BU or bevel down, new or vintage), is a great first tool to get because of the versatility.

Other tools work better for those everyday tasks, but one plane instead of four can be a deal maker for a beginner.

After my exclusive use of this plane for the time I used it, I found out that "plane monogamy" (as Christopher Schwarz puts it), is a wonder.

Face it, there are all kinds of situations where even the largest hand tool shops require making a plane do a bit more than what's in it's name.

To be able to do these amazing tricks with a plane, one really, REALLY needs to know their tool.

I learned that it really is true that you can't buy skill by purchasing a new tool. One should learn how far they can push (get it?) a tool they have before deciding if another is needed in their situation.
Plus, using the same tool is faster: you already have it out.
There are a few things I do to make it easier on myself.

For rough work, I do my best to avoid having to thickness stock very much. My wooden jack plane with an eight inch camber on the blade hogs off wood like crazy and in no time flat. A BU plane is difficult to put a camber on the blade because of the angle of the bed. Taking 1/16" thick or thicker shavings isn't going to happen.

It will take medium sized shavings. If your wood is roughly the thickness you need it, and mostly flat to start with, it is a breeze to bring it to good working dimensions with this plane.

For fine smoothing, again, choose your wood wisely. This plane will easily achieve a finish quality surface without much work. Even without going crazy with steep sharpening angles. Make sure the blade is as sharp as you can get it, and you will be fine. At least until you try to plane against the grain. Even then, lighten the cut a little more and close the adjustable mouth as tight as you can.

For jointing, I find this plane to be long enough to joint nearly anything I can throw at it accurate enough for gluing up a panel. It does take some skill. One will get good at making edges flat eventually with this tool. Just keep checking with a good straight edge, and practice removing the parts that aren't flat. Follow that up with a fine shaving from one end to the other. I find it rare that I need to pull a jointer out for edge jointing anymore.
In conclusion, I would just like to agree with Richard again that this plane shouldn't replace everything in your plane corral. However, if you are looking for your first bench plane, this might be a good place to start.


  1. Good points you make. I agree with both of you. I have found myself reaching for it often, because it's there and I like it...
    It does however work more than adequately as a smoother, with hard woods with unruly grain it really shine thru.
    There never was a single do it all wonder, but this thing comes pretty close


    1. Thanks, Bob, I couldn't have said it better myself.

  2. I don't have any bevel up planes (other than a small block plane), but the thing that strikes me is that the resulting cutting angle is close to the same using a bevel up or bevel down plane. Bevel down planes are typically bedded at 45° so that is the angle presented to the wood as it is pushed forward. A bevel up plane is typically bedded at 12° (not certain about that), so when adding the iron's bevel of 30°, the angle presented to the wood is 42°. One main difference is that on the bevel down plane you can have the chip breaker very close to the iron's edge and this helps break the wood fibers after they've been cut, thereby reducing any tear-out. That can't be done with a BU plane.

    Having said that, you've clearly had a lot of success with your BU. Good post.

    1. Hey Matt!

      Thanks for the comment. I found that a 30° edge works great for nearly everything. Theoretically a higher angle works better on unruly grain, but I found as long as it is sharp, there's not much it won't do at thirty.

      I do find that a close set chipbreaker is far superior for smoothing. But, it's only mandatory in crazy wood. With a jack, the chipbreaker isn't as important. But, the bevel down makes it easy to grind a strong camber to the blade. With that 12° bed on he BU plane, the camber is difficult to obtain.

  3. I agree. While other planes are lighter, easier to sharpen and better suited to their specialized tasks, I still reach for this because it's size it so suited to final trueing of the components in the stuff I make. Another good use is for jointing hardwood panels. If the wood has any figure, a steep bevel takes care of it pretty reliably. It's big weakness is that it's not so hot flattening wide surfaces....too wide and heavy.

    1. It worked great for me flattening an oak tabletop. It was miserable with a figured walnut tabletop I had.

      I think one testament to it's versatility is that so many people use it in different ways. I still don't think this plane is done teaching me everything it can do.

  4. I own this one and small bevel up smoother and for now I can't really say I need another plane. For some tasks the jack is a bit heavy and large ant that is when I use the small smoother. Can't really justify buying another plane right now. I do have more blades for each.

    I do have to add that I rough size wood with machine.

    1. Hi Blaz! Thanks for the comment.

      This plane is a fantastic companion to machines for rough sizing. I think if I had one machine it would be a thickness planer.

      Is there a big difference between the jack and the smoother? They do use the same blade.

    2. These two planes do not use the same blade. I'm talking about Small BU smoother which is more of #3 size. It is very light. Blade width is 1 3/8. The jack's blade with is 2 1/4.

      I do realize that Veritas BU smother, BU jack and BU jointer share the same size blades which appeals to buying all. But for now I try to resist and as you said really get to know the planes I already own.

      I consider both of my planes a precision planes and I don't use them for rough sizing the boards. If I do have to rough size with planes I use some old wooden planes I have.

    3. Thanks for the clarification, Blaz, I forgot about the small smoother. I bet that is a handy plane.

  5. I really liked the Lie Nielsen No 62 bevel up jack plane that I tried at Dictum for the ATC class,
    I haven't got one like that myself, but I have a Veritas BU jointer that I have never gotten around to start using.
    I do most of my stock preparation on machines, so I mostly use planes for smoothing.


    1. You probably overpaid for that jointer. Next time you should buy one from someone reputable.

    2. hahahahahahahaha.
      If it has to be someone reputable, it can't be anyone that I have met at the DCBE :-)
      Joking aside, that plane was a bargain. I just have a hard time using the fine stuff that I buy. It is better to save it for when I hopefully become a decent woodworker who is capable of handling good tools.

    3. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get there someday. :)

  6. That's (just my personal believe) Tom Fidgen ( it as 'the plane' on his school kit.
    disclaimer: I don't have one, sad! lol

  7. "A BU plane is difficult to put a camber on the blade because of the angle of the bed."

    I don't understand why does the angle of the bed affect the camber on a blade. If a cambered blade is sharpened at 30 degrees wouldn't that be the same as a straight blade or is there some resultant angle I'm not seeing?
    I don't have any bevel up planes besides a block plane probably never will so I can't really test this out to understand either.

    1. Hi Nathan!

      The lower angle of the blade means that the radius of the camber must be tighter to get the same effect. hmm. I don't really know how to explain it.

    2. I think I'm going to knock out a wood mock-up because I can't wrap my head around the difference. It's probably a moot point because a replacement blade costs $37.50 and I can find #4 and #5's for less than that counting shipping to turn into a scrub. That way there'd be no set-up changes just grab a different plane when moving from task to task.

    3. Maybe I should do a blog post, but you can see the effect with a coin or something else round and flat. If you hold it in front of you, it looks round, but as you tilt it away, the 2D shape becomes elliptical and eventually a straight line. The lower the angle, the flatter the line if the edge of the coin in relation to your eye.

      It's the same effect when you put a camber on an iron.

    4. Too late lost art press did one. I figured out last night with a wood mock-up it appears that a 4" radius on a BU plane does about the same thing as a 8" on BD plane.

    5. That sounds about right. The radius would not be practical to grind on an expensive, thick blade.

  8. I agree. While I have a regular jack, it is the only bench plane that I use on every project. Some projects may see the smoother or jointer, but all of them involve the jack plane.

    1. Thanks, Bill. I first got the idea from Christopher Schwarz's bool, The Anarchist's Tool Chest. In there, he describes a jack as a necessity, bet a smoother and a jointer are listed as "nice-to-haves."