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Smoothing Planes, Which is Better? The Stanley No. 3 or the Stanley No.4

What, sir rule, said the plane,
Another reason I will thee say;
Tho oft my master have no stock,
Yet thy master thou should not mock;
For yet a means I shall see,
So that my master shall prosperous be.
I shall him help, both day and night.
To get him good with all my might,
I shall cleanse on every side
To help my master in his pride.

Anonymous, 15th century manuscript

Rob Gates, who has a wonderful blog, The Offcut, asked me whether I like the Stanley #3 smoothing plane better than the #4 smoothing plane.

I like both, but I find that I will pick up the #3 more often than I do a #4. Why? Maybe because of the #3 seems to "cleanse" wood easier than a #4. I find it interesting that one of my #3's smooths Indian rosewood better than the other, that could be explained by saying I have that blade and plane tuned up perfectly for such wood, or...?

For the record, the two planes I use most are a #3 and a #7.

And another thing-I discovered that these old vintage planes (pre-WWII types) work better with their original irons capped by a new Hock or Lee Valley chip breaker. Those old blades are made from wonderful steel that I can quickly hone to razor sharpness and with the thicker breaker I experience no chatter, no tear outs, just shavings. The old chip breakers are good, but don't throw them away! They're collectible, you know!

I mention this because I recently read in some wood working magazine that there is a "hand plane revival", but in order to be part of this revival you must buy some expensive blades and chip breakers and alter your original antique planes to accept those new irons and breakers!

Please, don't alter your old planes for these new blades, they will work fine with original parts issued for them!

I think it is better to spend your time working with the wood and getting to know your old tools than reading opinions in a magazine. Or on a blog.

Now get to work!


  1. What's better than either? An infill smoother or an Old Street smoother. But, if forced to ignore my own kit and pick one of the options, I'll take the #3.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on the Stanleys, Wilson.

  3. "Now get to work!"

    That's the key, isn't it? Quit thinking about things. Put down the magazine or turn off the PC. Head down to the shop. Start putting edge to wood and see what happens!

    If you screw it up? Start over! And learn from your lesson!

  4. I have thicker Hock and Lee Valley/Veritas blades in several unaltered Stanley hand planes.

  5. I agree totally, all these "new" steels are not any better than high carbon, Ron Hock explains why in his book. I like high carbon, o1 and a2 especially I think is just too damn hard. GIve me old high carbon any day.

  6. I agree Wilson, high carbon is the best steel out there, sharpens easily and gets sharper than the others, esp. A2, hate A2.


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