Veritas Bevel Down No.5 1\2 bench plane
Friday, November 14, 2014
I took delivery of my new Veritas Bevel Down plane about eight weeks ago, around about the same time as we ran a story in the magazine about Lee Valley, the people behind Veritas and ultimately the people behind the development of this plane. If you can, check that out - it was in the November issue - 224 - and will give you a little background information to the project.
There’s a fair amount already written about this launch and it’s possible you may have formed an opinion about the product and how it performs but whatever they may be, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a big deal for woodworkers practising now, but perhaps even more so for those who haven’t yet caught the bug. As much as I approve of the increase in the use of hand tools, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m anti the commercial interpretation. In the right hands, it can be a force for good and I happen to think this product has been brought to market with the right credentials and on that basis alone, deserves to be a success.
So, cut to the chase, are we really talking gimmicks here? Well, just maybe a little and you know, I’m cool with that if it puts tools in the hands of folk who wouldn’t ordinarily pick one up. I happen to think that the introduction of radical tools like this are part of a much wider conversation. To the converted, then, should we see this plane as an insult to our past or a step up the evolutionary ladder? First, I think we need to look at the features and decide if they’re adding anything to an existing solution.
Ok, so bevel down? Nothing new there. A choice of bed angles? Ditto. Adjustable mouth, set screws, lateral adjustment, all ditto so nothing new there either. Even the stay set cap iron is well known. But what about a bench plane that has all these features in one? Hmm. I’m not sure we’ve had that choice before and maybe because we’re familiar with these features we won"t see the Bevel Downs as something entirely new.
When the team of people behind the plane sat down and decided where this project might end up, it helps first to appreciate where they started. Veritas already have an existing range of Bevel Down planes. The problem was that after years spent focusing on Bevel Ups and sleek looking block planes, they looked almost agricultural compared to everything else.
Styling aside, the two main features that could improve your game are the options available for front and back handles and the cap iron/chipbreaker. The range of frog angles will undoubtedly increase this plane"s versatility and so a study on this in general terms will prove interesting at a later date, although not by me. For now, let’s look at the handles first, starting with the front tote. You could opt for the flat shape like a mushroom that will encourage you to make a flat fist or the more upright version that encourages a more street fighting stance. At the sharp end, size is the only meaningful decision you need to make and as long as it’s comfy and you like the look, don’t expect any improvement in performance unless you have a bench that may be a tad on the high side. If so, an upright tote is slightly easier on the muscle groups that will give you good downward pressure. Slightly is the key word here. If the benefits are that noticeable then maybe the problem lies with your bench height. Try alternating grips with your existing planes and see if you notice a difference. If not, the choice is a purely cosmetic one.
At the back end, though, there is perhaps more to choose from in the way of enhanced performance. We’re advised in the sales literature that a more upright handle encourages better forward motion and this is true. The other option, apart from size, is a slightly forward leaning handle that encourages downward force. My take on this is that though the handles do precisely what they are intended to do, instinctively I find myself making the appropriate compensation anyway. The real value brought to the table then has to be the awareness of tool ergonomics in relation to our stance and specifically working height.
As an aside, I recently bought a No.7 Clifton. Not just willy nilly but because I thought I had a need for one. Turns out I’m as good as hopeless with the thing and it’s not the plane"s fault. If we’ve met, you’ll know I’m no giant and the optimum size of plane for me and my build is a No.6. Hand size, wrist strength, forearm, shoulder, etc. all conspire to make this combination effective for me. The larger and heavier plane upsets the dynamics and no amount of compensation, instinctive or otherwise, can correct it to the point that it affords me any real advantage. That little gem is my free gift to you so you don’t go and make the same - costly - mistake. Technique trumps everything at the end of the day.
Back to the bevel down and what you have to do to set it up for use. First, decide if you’re going to use the plane with or without the cap iron. Yes, I did say that. The cap iron is not obligatory. You’re going to want - need - to experiment with this yourself before you decide, but as a general rule, the benefits are only apparent when working alternating grain. I’m not convinced that swapping out to either a steeper or lower angle frog wouldn’t have the same result. If it was any other plane, this could seem like a bit of a faff, but with the Bevel Down, just remove a pair of machine screws and you’re done. Further tweaks can be made with the adjustable mouth, but go steady here as the adjustment screw governing the amount of travel on this moving part doesn’t prevent it from hitting the blade on the 45° or less frog. This needn’t be a dealbreaker and I suspect the reasoning behind it may have something to do with how much the screw head occupies the clearance path for shavings.
There’s one component that’s worthy of a mention and it’s likely you won’t have come across it before: the blade carrier. This device requires the setting up of two hex screws to register the blade in place. It’s small and the screws are even smaller so carry out this setup over the bench and not over a pile of shavings. In fact, here’s another gem: invest in a spare one of each. It takes a level of dexterity not otherwise required for a normal blade/cap iron combination but persevere and become familiar with its ways early on in the relationship. In use, the bevel down feels very similar to the bevel ups. There’s plenty of room behind the frog but no obvious place to rest an index finger, if that’s your style. The clean lines of the casting are typical Veritas and that means a showroom finish on all the bright surfaces and no sharp edges.
To round up, I’m tempted to say “what’s not to like?” but then if you like your hand planes hand plane shaped, then that’s pretty much everything. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind being the guy in an Hawaiian shirt at a funeral, then fill your boots. After all, it’s not what you wear but how you wear it that counts.