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I’ve said before that I’ve never intended this blog to be a woodworking instruction manual. There are far too many blogs, web pages, magazines and videos that do a much better job of that than I ever could. But, if somebody does actually pick up a woodworking tip or two, or learns something new by reading my blog then that couldn’t make me happier.
In the latest issue of Popular Woodworking magazine, Megan Fitzpatrick has written an article about router planes, and why she considers them a must have tool even for woodworkers who work mostly with power tools. I couldn’t agree more with her opinion. I’ve had a router plane for about a year and a half, and it truly is one of those tools that I pick up on just about any project, especially if that project is a case of sometimes. The article lists some of the reasons for having a router plane, such as flattening dados and trimming up tenons, and the plane does indeed do a great job of that, producing a much flatter and more even surface than a table saw can do. But one of my favorite uses for a router plane is for finishing up a stopped dado.
If you’ve ever made stopped dados with a power tool, either an electric router or a table saw w/dado stack, you know that some work needs to be done to finish up the joint with either method. I generally use a table saw for stopped dados, which leaves a slope at the end of the cut that needs to be cleared out and level to make a nice, even joint. Before I started using a router plane, I would do my best to chisel out the remaining waste, which isn’t all that accurate, and usually leaves an uneven and somewhat jagged bottom to the end of the dado. With a router plane, I still use a chisel to clear out the bulk of the material, but rather than try and get the bottom perfect, I chisel close to the intended depth, and use the router plane to finish the job, which always results in a smooth transition, and a flat and even dado. The same techniques can be used if you make you stopped dados with an electric router as well. Just for those reasons alone a router plane is worth keeping in my tool box.
If there is one knock on using a router plane it is in sharpening the plane iron, which because of it’s shape makes it somewhat tricky to sharpen. I don’t consider sharpening a router plane difficult, just awkward. But in the article, a method of sharpening the iron using the “ruler trick” is shown, and for those of you who don’t read Popular Woodworking, or check out the magazine’s web page, here is a link to a video that shows how easy it is to sharpen the iron with this method. I’ve tried it several times and it really is simple, and more importantly it really does work, and this coming from a woodworker who really doesn’t care for the “ruler trick” in most cases.
The router plane I own is a Lie Nielsen, though Veritas offers a version that is considered just as good an option. As far as purchasing a used router, I probably wouldn’t recommend doing it. I’ve never used a vintage router, but nearly every person who has reports that the adjustments on the modern versions are much easier. But the real reason I would stick with a new model is because of the price. I haven’t come across a vintage router plane that was in decent shape for under $100, and most of them cost nearly as much as a brand new one, which is in the $140 range. For that, I would rather have a new tool that I know is going to work, and which also has a guarantee to back it up. However, if you prefer vintage tools, there are still a lot of them out there for sale.
So for the benefit of anybody who happens to read this blog, and who doesn’t happen to read Popular Woodworking magazine, if you get the chance, check it out this month. Even if you are a woodworker who uses nearly all power tools when you make furniture, I would recommend trying out a router plane. When you use one for the first time, it really does become one of those tools that makes you wish that you had always owned it. At that, it is one of the few “lesser known” woodworking tools that I believe lives up to its claim to fame.
***I believe that on Popular Woodworking Magazine’s web page they are offering a free digital download of the current issue. So it will be easy to check out the article for yourself if you like***