Confessions of a wannabe hand plane collector: Not gonna happen unless I win the lottery. But I can try and every now and then add to the fleet (so far: most of a Stanley Bailey set, two Bedrocks, four HNT Gordon‘s and the twenty I’ve built). The things that make a plane desirable to me are likely the same as yours: performance, ergonomics and appearance, maybe not in that order. Here, I’m just going to concern myself with smoothing planes, ie light cuts (not more than a sheet of paper thick).
(Feel free to jump to the summary unless you want to read my biases)
Performance: My baseline: Stanley planes are usable but I want “twice” the performance. Yes, they can be made to work well but it takes skill both in tuning and using. I mostly putter around in the shop, I want to put the plane on a board and push; not study the grain, file a flight plan and then fly the plane. Chip breakers can also work very well but I’ve yet to meet the one that is easy to set and works well (OK, I don’t get out much). I’d also rather have a steeper cutting angle and single iron because it is easier to remove and sharpen. If you can see the difference in surface finish between 45° and 50°, your eye is better than mine.
While I don’t live in fantasy land, I’d like to see it from here.
Since I haven’t used Veritas, Lie-Nielson, S&S, Holtey, Daed, Marcou, etc, etc, I might not know my belly button from a hole in the ground. I also suspect that once you get to the V/LN level, a sharp blade, skill and personal preference matter more than the brand.
Additional reading: The “And in the End” section of this Popular Woodworking article.
Ergonomics: Comfort in hand, ease of adjustment (eg I love my older wedge only Gordon’s but jeez they are a pain to adjust).
Appearance: I’ll admit it – I like hand tools because I like hand tools. If I just wanted [or needed] to turn boards into finished projects, I’d have an all power tool shop. But I’ll go into the shop just to make boards thinner, just because I like doing it. I have six or so egg beaters just because I like they way they look, I don’t use them much. That said, I think Norris bench planes are boring, boring, boring (on other hand, their shoulder planes, oh la la). Spiers don’t look nice enough for the coin (the shoulders do). Veritas, LN, yawn. Holtey No. 98 & 982, yum. Sauer & Steiner K series: not ready to sell a kidney but would consider it. I like to take things apart so screws are a plus, piened rivets are a minus. And I really like Art Deco and the cars of the 1930’s (such as the Talbot Lago T150 SS).
OK, with that verbiage out of the way, I’ll post my
Summary: Review of Two Lazarus Handplane Co. planes (based on several hours of use over several weeks):
I like. Very much. Way good value. Ready to go out of the box. Lots of heft. Avoid these two if you have large mitts.
Sizes: Say wide #2 and #3 (see images below)
Blades: 1 5/8″ & 1 7/8″ wide 3/16″ thick A2, 50° bevel down. I haven’t sharpened them (ever) and I’ve planed mostly pine and oak with some walnut, ebony and apple for variety.
Mouth: Fixed. About right (haven’t measured, they don’t clog or tear out so I don’t really care).
Wood: Very nice.
Workmanship: Very nice but a wee bit rough in places.
Sole: 3/8″ steel with a small “bumper stack” at the front, under the bun, to make it 3/4″.
Sides: 1/4″ & 3/16″ brass.
Flatness: I stuck a Starrett rule (as flat as I can measure) this way and that on the soles, set the planes on the surface plate and went at them with a 0.0015″ feeler gauge and they are at least that flat (although I think there is the possibility they may “settle in” with use and sag a tiny bit).
Square: Real close (few thou out). I tried using the large one as a shooting plane and it doesn’t do it for me so, for me, squareness is a no care.
Performance: Very good (better than the rest of the fleet). I’m guessing this is pretty close to the point where the next level is the difference in between a sharp or not so sharp blade or a plane targeted at a type of wood. On the other hand, they feel like a 50° smoother, so if you have used a nice one (V, LN, etc high angle frog) you know how it works. If you are coming from a Bailey, you will be very pleased. See part II for some fluffies.
Ergonomics: This is a mixed bag. I have medium small hands and the little tote is on the small side (the back of the horn could be ¼” taller), the larger plane tote is about the right height (for a three finger grip) but feels a bit angular and thick (front to back). If I had big mitts it would be a deal killer but I don’t and feel it is personal preference. Sideways thickness is good. For comparison, I really dislike stock Stanley totes and have reshaped every one (but one) of mine. Other than that, the bun hand finds them quite comfortable to use.
The knurling is very crisp and the cap of the cap screw (on the larger plane) is about the size of the later Stanley depth adjuster knobs and has a very nice feel. The edges of the knurling felt a bit sharp for my tastes so I stuck both on the lathe and beveled them (because I could and felt like it, not that it was necessary).
Heft: These are porkers, the large one weighs 4.7#, about half a pound heavier than a Stanley #5, about half a #7. They feel good to me but it is quite noticeable.
Fly in the ointment: On the small plane, the lever cap axle is a wee bit out of alignment such that it would fully contact the frog but only partially contact the blade (ie there was a gap on one side). I didn’t notice this until I had used the plane for a while so I don’t think it is a performance issue and if the screws that mate the two piece lever cap are a bit loose, the cap can, I think, contact fully (I seem to remember it being delivered that way but guess who can’t resist turning something if it can be turned). No biggie, it was easy to disassemble and file/sand for a good fit. I also expect Mateo would have fixed it under warranty. If this possibility bugs you, get one of his center post (Stanley like) planes, they are self aligning. That was the only goof I could find and I look for these things.
Adjusting (lateral): Interesting (in a neutral way). The back of the blade has a slot that engages a pin at the top of the frog, a much higher pivot point than I’m used to. It is nice in that it keeps the blade from sliding out the bottom and removing a toe. You definitely do not want to smack the top with a hammer for lateral adjustment. Loosen the cap screw and tap or push with a finger. The small plane has set screws so you can tweak the blade side to side that way but they don’t do much for me. The larger plane lacks the set screws (I’d have switched them as the mouth has more slop on the big one) but is easy to adjust.
Adjusting (depth): On the small one, hands or hammer taps work fine. The tote makes things a bit tight so I kinda slide the hammer along the top of the tote to hit the blade. Or tap the blade shoulders (see the above link for a photo of the shape).
Hands or shoulder taps on the big one as the tote precludes hammer use on the top of the blade. The very nice thing is the lever cap contacts about three quarters the way down the blade bevel (but on the other side of course) and has enough leverage that, by adjusting the tightness of the cap, you can bend the blade (or push down the sole, I can’t tell which) and make minute adjustments in depth (I’d guess about a half thou). I don’t know if this was intentional, but functionally, it is up there with sliced bread and canned beer (as demonstrated in part II). Whether or not this much leverage will have any long term detrimental effect, I don’t know (if it is the blade that is bending, I’m not at all worried). Note: You are not reefing down the screw: maybe a quarter turn past contact is good enough, a further eighth turn to tweak the depth of cut; there is a lot of leverage here.
The small plane has a similar arrangement but the lever ratio is too short and cap is too small to tighten that much.
Appearance: They float my boat. Elegant comes to mind. A very petty but important-to-me thing: the lever cap screw is square to the blade. When the screw doesn’t point straight out from the blade, it just looks really wrong (to me). I dearly love the wood, wood work, metal work and shapes; everything looks like it was meant to be that shape in that place. Fluff seems minimal, function and style seem blended into a whole.
Value: I paid $550 and $650 to my door (I bought the small one and based on that one, a week or two later I bought the big one). Buy direct and avoid the EBay markup. Value is personal thing but based on me being a a tight wad, cash short and knowing what it takes to build planes of this caliber, I feel I got a screaming deal; I got two planes for about half the price of one plane from other builders.