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In:On the Road, Tool Review

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One of the best parts about attending Handworks last week was the opportunity to try various brands of similar tools or variation of the same tool by the same maker.  Here are my thoughts:

Dovetail Saws:
While there weren’t many individual premium saw makers at the show (Bad Axe, Wenzloff, etc) the bigger companies like Lie-Nielsen and Veritas were there, as was Gramercy.  Veritas saws don’t do it for me, period.  I’m not a fan of the black backs or brushed saw plates (but you can’t argue with their price-point if you’re on a budget).  As for Gramercy, their teeth are too fine for my liking when it comes to a dovetail saw and the handles feel a bit thin for me, but that’s obviously going to vary person to person, hand to hand.

What I really want to talk about is the wide variety Lie-Nielsen now offers.  When I bought my dovetail saw from LN I only had one choice to make, 15ppi or progressive pitch teeth (I chose progressive).  A few years later, the 9″ saw I have is discontinued as they are all 10, both dovetail and carcass.  This is a definite improvement.  When you consider most people only use 7″-8″ of their 9″ plate (if you’re good at sawing, some only use 3″-4″) adding the extra 1″ is around a 13% increase in your efficiency.  The saw does not feel unbalanced in the least, in fact I felt it balanced the saw slightly better than the 9″ version.  About the only thing going for my 9″ at this point is that it’s now a collectors item (if someone wants to offer me $500 it’s theirs).

Anyway, beyond the increased length, LN also offers a thin plate version (0.015″ thick vs 0.020″) as well as tapered blades.  I’d not had the opportunity to try any of these until last week and the differences are noticeable.  After playing with all the variations, two stand out to me as my favorites: The progressive pitch and the thin plate, no taper for either.  The taper, in general, I do not care for on backsaws.  I understand why it’s there, but it’s a preference thing and I prefer a non-tapered blade.  The thin plate cuts faster than the standard saw because it’s removing less material, and it cuts very smoothly at 15ppi.  The progressive pitch also cuts smoothly (with fine teeth getting the cut started) but also quickly (with the aggressive teeth at the heel of the saw).  And again, thanks to the 10″ plate, they both cut faster than the saw I use today.  I still do not care for the standard plate at 15ppi.  It’s fine teeth cut smoothly, but without the thinner plate it’s a bit slow.  How should you choose?  If you’re new to sawing go for the progressive pitch, the blade is less kink-prone.  If you like super-fine pins, get the thin plate.
IMG_1510

Hand Stitched Rasps:
Most woodworkers are aware of the French rasp manufacturer, Auriou (pronounced are-you).  These are most readily available through Lie-Nielsen and come fitted with a LN maple handle.  More recently, Tools for Working Wood started carrying their own hand stitched rasps under their Gramercy label.  These are made in Pakistan, handles made in USA.  I tried the Gramercy rasps at Handworks and noticed a couple of things I thought were worth mentioning.  First, they are nice tools and could be a welcome addition to any shop.  However, when compared to Auriou, I felt that the Gramercy handles were too small (and I don’t have particularly large hands either).  A woman or younger woodworker might prefer these handles, but I immediately felt like the handle needed replacing.  As far as the cutting is concerned, these bite the wood more than I’m used to after using my Auriou rasps for a few years.  The teeth seem taller, more pointed than the Auriou rasps and made starting the cut a little more difficult.  Once moving, however, they removed material in a hurry.  This can be a good thing, but I’m more of a mind set that if you want to remove material faster get a courser rasp, not taller teeth (if that makes sense).  I would imagine you could get used to the feel of how these rasps cut and they do leave an excellent finish, but I’d have to give Auriou the edge in user-friendliness.  Auriou also has a wider range of rasp sizes, grain, etc. if you have extensive rasp needs.

Gramercy rasps

Gramercy rasps

Infill Hand Planes:
The most unpredictable part of traveling to the Handworks event was winning one of the door prizes… in fact, I took home the most valuable door prize being awarded, a $1,200 Ron Brese block plane.  I spent a few minutes trying out some of Ron’s larger planes at his bench (which cost between $2,000-$3,000) and they are sweet.  But now that I’ve had some time to play with his block plane at home and compare it to my Lie-Nielsen low angle block plane, a lot of people have asked the obvious question, “does it work better than the Lie-Nielsen?”

Ron Brese planes at his bench at Handworks

Ron Brese planes at his bench at Handworks

The block plane I won as a door prize... wow.

The block plane I won as a door prize… wow.

In short, my answer is no, an infill block plane cannot do anything for you that any other well tuned plane can do.  My Lie-Nielsen is just as sharp as the Brese plane, the bed angles are comparable, the soles on both tools are flat, and the mouth opening is very tight on the Brese plane, the Lie-Nielsen is adjustable.  I planed some cherry and both tools gave fantastic results, as they should.  So if the wood doesn’t care what is being used to cut it, why is a premium Lie-Nielsen $165 (already too much for some people) and a Brese plane $1,200?  And why even buy one if it doesn’t leave a better finish?  Here are my thoughts.  First understand Ron’s price is not over-inflated.  It’s a high price tag because each plane is hand made, the machining and woodworking are impeccable, and the tool performs beautifully.  And that’s what you’re really paying for, the privilege of owning a functional work of art.  Most woodworkers will never even see an infill plane in person, far fewer will own one, if you want to be in that group it comes at a cost.  If all you’re after, however, is high-end performance, buy a Lie-Nielsen and don’t look back.  It works great and to be honest, it’s more comfortable to use than an infill plane, it’s easier to adjust the depth of cut, and the mouth can be opened up for heavy material removal.  So while my Brese plane will be put to use in my shop and cherished for generations, it will not be the workhorse.  That remains the role of my LN 60.5 block plane.
Brese vs Lie Nielsen Block Plane

Lie-Nielsen shaving on the left, Ron Brese on the right.

Lie-Nielsen cut on the left, Ron Brese on the right.

That’s all for now, have a great day.

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