Thursday, April 25, 2019

No. 4 Plane Review: Part III - Record

Here's my third Number 4 smoothing plane. A Record made in England during the late '60s or early '70s. I'm not really too knowledgeable about this brand of plane.
Here's what it looked like when I got it.
As you can see, it arrived with in pretty good shape. I think the seller tried to clean it up some, and also tried to make the handles look better. You can see in the above picture that the stain was sanded away in one spot on the base of the tote.
This was my first look at the frog.
I used to not have a good opinion about frogs that had cavities like this in them. I thought it was the manufacturer trying to cut corners. After my experience with the English Stanley, I have a bit more open mind. What I don't like is it looks pretty rusty.
The blade and chipbreaker.
The blade and chipbreaker didn't come in very good shape. I think they were superficially cleaned, but they weren't sharp or tuned at all. I didn't even try to make a cut with it yet.
The front knob. At least it's wood. Notice the front of the casting.
The finishing touches on this casting have a little to be desired. I thought I'd give it due diligence, however. I did have to run the casting and the frog on sandpaper on a glass plate.
The casting. I don't like there being Japanning on the parts that touch the frog, but I left it for now.
One thing I really did like was the design of the chipbreaker. Below is a picture of the blade assembly from the Stanley as well as this one.
Blade assemblies: English Stanley on the top, Record on the bottom.
The chipbreaker on this Record is much beefier than any stock chipbreaker I've seen in the past. Experience tells me that a solid chipbreaker is a fantastic upgrade to any plane. This one came from the factory with a chipbreaker that I would say is an upgrade over the Stanley design.

To tune this up I ran the edge on my stones until I had a nice flat all the way across,
Then I rounded and polished the front of the chipbreaker to make it easy for the shavings to glide past it.
I decided to give the same shiney-up treatment to the brass on this plane as I did the Stanley. This time, I started by letting the brass sit in some salted vinegar for a minute. This was a good time saver. Most of the gunk and "patina" just wiped off. It was then an easy job to polish the brass with toothpaste. This step saved a lot of time over starting with the toothpaste.
Left - after the vinegar and salt treatment, right - before.

The blade adjustment wheel shined up nice, too.
The handles were pretty easy. They were in decent shape. I just sanded them down to a fine grit, then I waxed them with my homemade wax, and I finished up with a coat of shellac. It's the first time in years that I've used shellac, and I think it is perfect for this job.
Shellac looks nice.
After the shellac dried, I went over it with a maroon scrubby and gave it another coat of my soft wax.
Here is how it turned out.
It isn't the most beautiful plane I've ever seen, but it does have a nice character to it.
The other side. The blue Japanning is growing on me.
Enough of the rehab. How does it work?
Wispy shavings.

I have to say it again.


This plane really surprised me. It works fantastic.

I expected it to work well after my experience with the Stanley. But I was expecting the blade to be of lesser quality, or for it to chatter or something.

None of that.

I was a bit worried about the blade being in bad enough shape that shavings would get under the chipbreaker. I did have to resort to using the ruler trick to avoid spending two days lapping the back. That didn't happen, however. It is as good of a blade assembly as any I have.

This next part might sound a bit snooty and wonkish, but if you use oilstones to sharpen you will know what I mean:

The steel in the blade is superb. A lot of what I base that on is how it "feels" on the stone, as well as the sound it makes. Both when sharpening and when planing wood. This is one reason I don't like A2 steel and waterstones. Not because they don't work well, but that "feel" isn't there.

The Stanley blade feels course. Even on my finest stone. And when I plane wood, it gives a raspy, hollow sound. It works great while it is sharp, but it must be sharpened often.

The Ray Iles blade I have is superb O2 steel, and it sharpens up very nice. It sits very solid in the plane and the noise it makes is very satisfying. I must say that I didn't try this blade in the Record yet.

The Record blade has a really nice, slick feel on the stones. It sharpens up to a razor edge in no time, and it seems to stay sharp a long time. I would guess longer than the Ray Iles blade. It's amazing! And paired with that beefy stock chipbreaker the blade assembly is fantastic. The sound the plane makes when cutting wood is very satisfying.

I used this plane to get to know it exclusively during my humidor build. After that I finished a shelf and started another project. I've had my choice of three No. 4 smoothers to use for these projects, and I found myself reaching for the Record every time.
Stanley type 12, English Stanley, Record.

I'll certainly have to do some more playing around with these planes to see which one winds up permanently in my tool chest. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was this Record.

I'd love to hear what you think of your Record plane, or any plane for that matter.

I've looked at three planes so far, and you can find my thoughts on the Stanley USA type 12, and a Stanley made in England.

Will there be more?



  1. I rather like the records...

    ...though mainly because it was easier to learn enough to buy second-hand ones from before the downward trend in quality that hit all the manufacturers after WW2 and which (artisan tool companies like Lee Valley aside) nobody seems to recover from.

    However, stanley's block plane designs were slightly better I think.

    1. Hi Sparks, thanks for the comment. I think you are right about a downward trend in quality that manufacturers don't recover from. You can easily see it in the finishes on this plane compared to my type 12 Stanley.

      It's a little amusing that we use these tools to achieve our best work when corners were cut on these tools themselves.

      That being said, all three of these planes leave a perfect finish to the wood. They all took a degree of fettling/rehabbing to get there, but they do.


    2. Lest anyone think I'm claiming ownership of that particular thought, I definitely am not by the way, it's something that was mentioned in several histories of woodworking. The market for those manufacturers changed post-WW2 and suddenly professionals were buying power tools even in the UK and hand tools were an amateur thing and then a DIY thing and so they built down to a price. Some manufacturers like Record took longer to switch than manufacturers like Stanley so (a) later planes by them are of higher quality; but also (b) they went out of business or got bought up while Stanley didn't.

      You *can* get those later planes to work well (my scrub plane for years was a €12 #4 made around 2010) but you definitely have more work to do to get there. And even when you do, the ergonomics are often lacking (my scrub plane took chunks out of both the wood and my hands regularly and you can see it very clearly in things like hardpoint saw *handles* versus the handles on older saws).

    3. Hi Sparks, I completely agree with you. Especially about handsaws. I think this particular plane was made in the late '60s or early '70s. My impression is they really started cutting corners on aesthetics, but there was still some quality in the guts of the plane. That said, I indeed did have to sand the face of the frog on glass backed sandpaper, because the original grinding on it was disgraceful. There are still some gashes in it from factory grinding that didn't come out.

      I don't know if a modern, Indian made Anant, for example, could be made to work at a high level, but it would certainly take a lot of effort to get it there. Alternatively, a Lie-Nielsen can be relied on to be highly tuned out of the box.

  2. I recently ordered a Japanese plane just out of curiosity and have been researching how to set it up.

    What I find interesting is that the opposing approach to Western tools goes way beyond the pull vs. push thing. Western planes have a lot of parts and hype focused on what it takes to support a replaceable blade. On Japanese planes the dai (body) of the plane is the consumable and supposedly a blade will go through 3 dai in its life. In its simplest form there are only the two parts to a Japanese plane. Add a chipbreaker and the part count rockets to 4.

    I'm intrigued by the elegance and performance of that approach. I look forward to my first shavings. Currently I'm still fitting the blade to the dai, which is standard practice for new planes.

    Of your three planes, I like the old Stanley most. Its makers did more with less resources. The other two should have been better given advances in manufacturing but they weren't.

    1. Hey Steve, thanks for the comment. You bring up an interesting point, but I would like to add that Western planes come in wooden varieties, too, with as little as three parts. :o)

      I am coming around to the idea that the blade is the most important part, though. Maybe I should say the blade assembly. I'm not convinced that just making a thicker blade is the secret to a superior blade. It does come with some trade offs, such as ease of sharpening. Can a blade be made really sharp, and how often does it need to be sharpened? So far my tests on these planes has been with pretty easy to plane woods, but perhaps some more challenging uses will show more differences.

      When looking at the planes, I have to agree with you that the old Stanley looks the best. As far as how they work, they all seem to leave a beautiful surface on the wood. More use is needed on my part before I decide.


    2. I do wonder if we're not seeing katana syndrome when talking about japanese planes though - lots of myth gently brushing over things like the body being wood because of a lack of cast iron rather than because of fitness for purpose; or the nature of the laminated blade being a workaround a lack of good steel and the difficulty of making good steel from the available materials, rather than it being chosen because it was better.

      I mean, we do similar things with european planes, lauding laminated blades because of reasons that might not have been chosen, but forced on the makers; but with a little less mystery and myth :D

    3. Good point, Sparks. To play the devil's advocate, did they really not have enough good steel to make a blade completely out of the good stuff? Or is there another reason? For one, I find the laminated blades much easier to grind because of the softer steel making up the bulk of the blade. It's no problem for us now with high speed grinders, but in olden times, many craftsmen only would have used whetstones.


    4. I think historically the price of steel was never really what we'd think of as "low" for grades of steel you could make decent edges with - and when you have a high-priced component that you need to make a lot of, we almost always approach it in the most economic way possible or we go bankrupt...

    5. I suppose this is true. In the modern age, labor is one of the most expensive costs for a company, but it wasn't always so. Perhaps that's why the more labor intensive process was used.

  3. One approach is blade centric, the other is is support centric.

    The steel in Japanese blades is several points higher in hardness than Western steel and the bevel is more than 11mm wide on the blade I have. Sharpening that would be very difficult if the backing were not soft and would be difficult to heat treat in thick sections. Also, because of the high hardness the back of the blades are hollowed slightly to make flattening easier. A soft back allows for tapping out the hollow when the edge reaches the hollow. The decision to laminate those irons goes way beyond the cost of material.

    You can't make an airplane out of carbon fiber cloth and you can't make one out of epoxy, but you can make one out of a composite of the two. Such is the world of composites. It's not mystery or myth, just engineering.

    1. Thanks for that, Steve. I think many of the things they used to do we forgot why and figure they would have done it different if they only had a 3D printer.

  4. Interesting points you brings up and followed up in the comments.
    I do not know what it is or how, but the sound a tool makes on wood is always a good indicator of how the blade perform. I use the change in sound pitch to clue me in I'm due for a touch up. The amazing thing to me is why various blades sharpened the same don't always sound the same. They have a different voice (materials difference, thickness, etc all affect) some sing some have a raspier voice. They should make a TV show like "The voice" were you tried to guess the plane/blade combination just by the "voice" it has :-)

    Bob, with a somewhat raspy voice this AM :-)

    1. Hey Bob!

      You've described it perfectly by saying various blades have a different voice. I couldn't have said it better.

  5. Have you seen Paul Sellers 'video "bad vibrations"?
    In another video, he says he can tune the right/left adjuster with closed eyes by listening to the sound of the shavings.
    One of his motto is "work with sensitivity", so I guess he doesn't listen to music or radio while working.