What is the difference between a low-angle block and a standard block plane? What would be the advantage to having one over the other? I am getting into more traditional hand tools and I am wondering which one I should purchase first. – Matt Miller
Tim Inman: The lower the angle, the easier it is to make the cut. A low-angle block plane is the one I grew up with — and the one I use most often to this day. The block plane is really an obsolete tool in today’s world of fine carbide saws. This will date me! My father required that all end grain joints be planed before assembly. In every cabinet and staircase we made, the end grain cuts had to be planed to fit. We forget that, in the good old days, the saws left ragged and torn cuts under the best of circumstances. Today, our saws leave an edge that resembles a knife cut more than an old-time saw kerf. Hence the block plane. My best handmade low angle block plane also has a razor-sharp plane iron with the bevel turned upside down relative to other planes. Razor-sharp! Me? I’d never go with anything in a block plane but a low angle model.
Chris Marshall: I use a low-angle block plane too, and it works so wonderfully on end and edge grain that I can’t imagine even needing a standard block plane. The bed angle of my block plane is 12 degrees. In other words, the plane bed tips the blade 12 degrees up from horizontal, as opposed to a standard block plane that typically beds a blade at about 20 degrees. The primary angle of the blade in my block plane is 25 degrees. The combination of those two form a 37-degree “attack angle”, which cuts across or along the grain easily. And, the lower position of the round lever cap on top fits the base of my palm well, so it’s comfortable to push along. I agree with Tim: go straight to a low-angle block plane, and that may be the only one you need.
If you’re a paid subscriber to our magazine, Ernie Conover has a good introductory video that covers low-angle planes. It’s a Premium Content video that you can watch free of charge, by just entering your subscriber number (it’s the 10-digit number on the mailing label of your print magazine right above your name). Here’s a link to the video, and other options in Ernie’s hand plane series. Enjoy!