Ploughing ahead with the Veritas Small Plow Plane

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While in Toronto recently I scored a neat left handed plough* plane at the ridiculously well stocked Lee Valley store on South King Street (yes I am left handed so sue me…). It’s a sweet little thing the Veritas small Plough plane and comes standard with one blade, which is ¼” wide. There are four optional blades available that range from 1/8” through 3/8”, either individually or as a set. Alternatively you can have a set of blades in 1 mm increments from 4 mm to 10 mm (which was the set I went for).  The blades are constructed from A2 steel, hollow ground at 35° and I found them incredibly easy to bring to razor sharpness in just a few minutes with each on the 1000 grit them 6000 grit Toishi Ohishi water stones and Richard Kell jig that are my staple sharpening setup for small blades.

The small plough plane weighs in at 860 g (or 1 lb 14 oz in old money). The body and fence appear to be cast steel with all adjustment knobs being in knurled brass. What appears to be a black enamelled finish on the cast parts really makes the machined surfaces and the brass parts pop out visually. Rounding the look out is a nicely shaped bubinga (Guibourtia demeussi) handle. It’s a pretty little thing then.

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Setting this wee beastie up means adjusting the depth stop, the projection of the blade, and alignment of the blade with the outside wall of the skate. Setting the depth gauge, the fence and the depth of cut is straightforward. Each is adjusted with chunky, knurled knobs (ooh Matron…).The depth gauge mechanism uses a wave washer to provide a spring pressure against the stop when making adjustments. Despite some reviewers claiming the depth stop can be defeated, I found that it remained in position when challenged and is, therefore, able to be adjusted accurately: It tightens down securely. On the fence, one of the nice design features is the chamfered leading and trailing edges, which ensures that it does not catch on anything as you cut and return.

Veritas recommend a depth of cut between .005” – .020” depending on the hardness of the wood but in practice it is much more a case of taking a few test cuts and dropping the blade until a shaving is taken. I had this little plane taking up to 0.4 mm (0.015″) thick shavings quite quickly in some American Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) using zee beeg 10 mm blade. Nice.

One thing to note is that the plane throws the shavings toward your hand.  This drives some people nuts but I did notice that if you use the plane as intended: i.e. for a full, non stopped groove and you go fully to the end of that groove each time, the shaving detaches at the end of the groove and often falls into the gap between the blade and your off hand.

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 It is one thing to have a tasty bit of kit but using it well is quite another so these are my thoughts on how to get the best out of this little machine:

 – One: make sure all of your cutters are sharp. Just like any other hand tool, plow planes benefit from a sharp edge.

 – Two: set up the plane correctly so that you are taking a light cut without masses of effort.

 – Three: if there’s provision for it, fit a deeper fence face (the fence has two screw holes for just this purpose. It stops the plane tilting of vertical. If you are OCD make one from bubinga…

 – Four: wax the bottom of the skate and the inside edge of the fence (you have to take every little advantage you can). I have not seen this advice anywhere else for a plough plane but it made a definite difference to the amount of effort I was putting into each cut.

 – Five: hold and push it correctly: As I am left-handed, that hand does all the pushing. Take a tip from saw technique and point your forefinger (resting it on the blade stop adjuster); it naturally guides you straight and helps keep things vertical. Use you off-hand to keep the fence tight against the work. It is key you maintain this division of labour: Preferred hand pushes forward, off-hand keeps the fence hard against the edge of the work.

Finally, when using a plough plane, Sheryl Crow had it wrong; the first cut is certainly not the deepest.  Take the lightest, most careful cut you can, starting a short groove at the far end of the work then taking cuts roughly 3cm further back each time to extend its length. Why? Well, that very first 3 cm cut is the one that establishes your crisp shoulder – and you do know I like a crisp shoulder!

The only other thing to mention to achieve success with a plough plane is something that is actually nothing to do with the plane itself: choose the straightest grain timber you can: it saves fighting grain direction changes and much frustration.  This little plane can be made to work well even against the grain but why make life hard on yourself?

No more nasty electric spinning things to cut grooves for me then, just the soft swish of the plane along the groove.  Lee Valley have produced a great little plane: it is easy to use, produces great results with a little effort and looks great. Hog heaven.

– Paul Mayon

* As this is New English Workshop and not ‘The Woodwright’s Shop’ it’s a plough plane not a ‘plow’ plane OK?

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