Block planes are a great tool for the craftsman looking to reconnect with his or her woodworking roots and to craft beautiful pieces without overly relying on power tools.
Even though they’ve been supplanted in many garages and shops by power tools, there are a lot of block planes on the market today, and you could be forgiven for not knowing which one to buy. We want everyone to buy with confidence, and that’s why we’ve assembled this list of reviews of some of the best block planes on the market today.
We also created a buyer’s guide, so if you’ve never shopped for block planes before, you can get up to speed on what you should be looking for when you browse.
|Stanley 12-139 Bailey Low Angle Block Plane|
|E.C. Emmerich 649P Adjustable||1 lb||4.8/5|
(Best for the Money)
|Senkichi 40mmX140mm Japanese||1 lb||4.3/5|
|GreatNeck C4 Bench-Jack||3 lbs||4.1/5|
The Stanley 12-139 Bailey Low Angle Block Plane is a great choice for anyone looking to invest in a block plane. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of planning wood by hand, and this model makes it easy and pleasurable. It’s a low-angle block plane, which means its well-suited to working with tough wood, so you won’t have to worry when working with subpar stock. Likewise, its frog and base were cast together so that you get the best fit possible.
The 1/8 Steel blade holds its edge extremely well, and while most experts may want to shave it down a bit more before they use it, many users will be satisfied with its sharpness right out of the box. It also comes with majority solid-brass adjustment hardware, which lasts a long time in the rough conditions of the shop. One glaring problem that Stanley should address in future models is the inclusion of an aluminum cap lever, which has a habit of stripping if you use too much force. Overall, this is one of the best block planes you can hope for at this price point, so you ought to check it out.
The E.C. Emmerich 649P Adjustable Block Plane is a throwback wooden plane, and possibly the best-made block plane on our list, though that isn’t enough to earn it the top spot. It comes with a lightweight wooden frame which means this block plane weights much less than similarly-sized metal models. This model’s sole is made from Lignum Vitae, which was widely used before the introduction of synthetic materials due to its toughness, density, and strength. Even though this plane is made from wood, it’s designed to take a beating and keep going.
Furthermore, the all-wood design is very comfortable to hold, so if you’re going to be using your block plane extensively, this is a good choice. It also comes with a sharp blade, so unless you’re the most finicky expert, you’ll be happy with how well it works. The one downside is also its greatest strength. It’s made of wood, so it’s not going to have the same durability as metal block planes, which keeps it out of first place. However, if you treat it well, you can expect it to last a long time, and enjoy it while you do so.
The best thing about the Stanley 1-12-220 is its unbelievable price. You can get this model for a fraction of the cost of the first two models, and that makes for a great deal. It’s about twice as heavy as your average block plane, which is a mixed deal. Some people will hate its weight, while others will feel like it gives them extra control. This model also makes control easier with a comfortable forward finger-rest, a feature that’s absent on many other models.
Because the cutter rests at a 21-degree angle, it’s great for cross-grain planning and glides through many kinds of woods easily and quickly. However, this isn’t the best block plane for novices as you have to disassemble the block plane and sharpen the blade before use. On the other hand, if you plan on making this a serious hobby, it’s something you’ll have to learn to do anyway. Overall, this is a great plane for people who already know how to sharpen its blade, but also one that provides great value for the price.
The Senkichi 40mm x 140mm Japanese block plane is a great introduction to Japanese-made block planes. It has a lot of the same features that you’ll find on more expensive Japanese tools, but comes at the lowest price on this list. It has a different form factor than most Western block planes, as it’s a bit narrower and a bit longer. However, it feels more compact, and you may or may not find that to be a plus. Unlike Western blades, Japanese-made blades tend to come well-sharpened, which means you don’t have to do any work on the blade before you begin.
However, you do have to shave down the bottom of the wooden base before you begin. You need to make sure it’s completely-flat, and that you shave off enough to expose the blade, but not so much that you gouge the material with your blade. You don’t have as much control over depth as with other block planes, and you’re also getting a cheap wood in the frame. If you’re looking for an expert challenge at a price that can’t be beat, this is the block plane for you.
The GreatNeck C4 Bench-Jack is a disappointing block plane. While it is very inexpensive relative to most models on this list, it doesn’t provide very much value beyond its low price. It does have adjustable blades, which allow you to control the depth of your plane. However, the adjustment mechanisms are poorly-made, and they tend to stick and fight you instead of working smoothly.
Many of these also come with warped bases, which takes time to fix, and is only possible to fix if you have the right equipment. It also comes with plastic handles, which aren’t going to last that long relative to the wood or metal handles on other models. You’re just not getting good value out of this model, and you’re likely setting yourself up for a frustrating experience. If you’re looking for something more out of your block plane, you can spend a bit more or a bit less and get better value.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably confident that you’re looking for a block plane, but since it’s outside the standard 21st-century standard tool list, we thought we’d go over the block plane’s strengths and weaknesses to give you a better feel for the tool.
Block planes are primarily designed to smooth out the end grain on a board. If the milling process left a rough end grain that looks or feels rough, the block plane is a great tool to use to fix that problem. Likewise, if a board has sharp edges that affect its aesthetics or cause it to just barely not fit in a space, the block plane is a great go-to tool, as you can shave down offending parts without redefining the shape of the board.
You can also use it for chamfering, which makes it a great general-use plane. While there are a lot of great power tools out there, few are going to give you the same feeling of control and craftsmanship as you work as you’ll get from an old-fashioned block plane.
There are two common types of block planes. The first is the standard block plane, which beds the blade at a 20-degree angle. The blades for standard models usually have a 25-degree sharpened angle, which brings the total angle to 45-degrees. That means you get an easy-to-control cut without taking too much off in a single go. It’s not inefficient, but it is forgiving. You might go over a spot a few times to get it where you want it, but you’ll rarely overshoot on the first try with a standard block plane.
The other type of block plane is the low-angle block plane. You use the same 25-degree blades, but the base instead includes a 12-degree bed angle. That means the total angle is only 37-degrees. While that might not sound like a lot, rest assured, it shaves far more wood per pass than the standard block plane. Consequently, the low-angle is better at working extremely rough end grains, but it also takes more control and caution to use properly.
With block planes you get a choice that you don’t often have when shopping for tools: metal or wood. Many block plane users opt to buy a model that is entirely wooden, save for the blade. Wooden block planes can be very aesthetically pleasing, but they also reinforce the retro feeling that many are looking for when they opt to use a block plane in the first place. Of course, most wooden block planes aren’t going to be as durable as their metal counterparts, though those made with ironwood will give them a run for their money.
While you lose a lot in aesthetics, metal block planes add a lot when it comes to durability. You still have to do your due diligence into each brand and model, as some manufacturers put low-quality parts in their metal block planes that greatly reduce the tool’s lifespan and usefulness. Of course, a ton of companies do a great job, so it’s still generally okay to think of metal block planes as lasting longer.
There are far more options in the world of block planes than you get in many product categories. Wood vs metal and standard vs low plane are all features that you’ll have to consider right off the bat. However, the big question you need to answer is one that you need to answer yourself. What features are you looking for in a block plane?
If you can figure that out, you’ll greatly reduce the number of models you’ll need to consider. One of the best ways to get a good-value purchase is to buy a tool that only has the features you need and forgoes additional features that would drive up the price. In this case, you sacrifice durability and ease of use when you buy cheaper, so keep that in mind as you shop.
However, if you shop according to your required list of features, every tool will be good value, so you can buy the cheapest tool that meets your requirements and still get a good deal.
The Stanley 12-139 Bailey Low Angle is our favorite block plane, as it comes with a high-quality base, a sturdy blade, and features a low angle perfect for tough planes. The E.C. Emmerich 649P Adjustable Block Plane is our runner up due to its high-quality wooden frame and comfortable design, though it misses out on first because it won’t last as long as a metal model. The Stanley 1-12-220 is the best-value block plane due to its low price and cross-grain capabilities, even if you must sharpen the blade before use. The Senkichi 40mm x 140mm Japanese block plane is THE discount buy, given it’s low price, even though you have to machine the base before use. The GreatNeck C4 Bench-Jack doesn’t work very well and features low-quality parts, so it’s probably not the model you’re looking for.
We hope that our reviews have helped you find the block plane of your dreams and that the model you buy gives you a long, frustration-free life of service.