A New Plane: the Stanley Number 3

It’s been a while since my last post, but there’s lots to write about. I previously wrote about my struggles with my Stanley block plane, and how tiring it was to use it for long stretches at a time. Would a larger plane with a tote and knob be more comfortable to use? Would I need a low-angle plane for the woods I work with (like my block plane) or could I get away with a more ‘regular’ Stanley plane? It was nice to see the reactions to my post from fellow bloggers. They were very informative and thoughtful:

  • Orepass suggested I get a number 4 plane.
  • Marilyn suggested I get a number 3 plane, although she also recommended the bevel-up smoother.
  • ChrisHasFlair advised me to only get what I need, when I need it. He also gave a good tip, which is to curve the plane blade slightly to ease the work a bit.

I pondered lots, browsed ebay, read reviews and finally made a decision: I was going to get a number 3 plane. Why? I wanted something bigger than my block plane, but not too big. Although the number 4 plane is seen as a ‘standard’ multi-purpose, good-for-everything plane, I liked the idea of having one that was just a bit smaller and lighter. I just couldn’t see myself planing a guitar back plate to 2mm thickness with a 1.5 kg hunk of metal. I also decided against the bevel-up smoother (for now). It costs a lot more than a second hand number 3 and since I don’t have much experience with bigger planes yet I can’t justify the cost. I had already ruled out getting a new Stanley as I’ve read many bad reviews on their new planes. Ebay has plenty of number 3 planes available, and I managed to get one for around 17 pounds. A good price to see if the world of ‘larger planes’ is something for me.

The plane arrived well looked after (oiled, cleaned up and even a bit sharpened). A quick look at setting it up revealed some extra features over the block plane. There’s tons of information out there on setting up a plane properly. I started with Chris Schwartz’s video on setting up a plane, which I found very useful. New to me was the ‘frog’ that can be adjusted backwards and forwards. I couldn’t retract the blade far enough to get a fine shaving, so I loosened the screws and moved the frog back slightly (about a millimetre), which solved the problem. I also gave the blade a good sharpen and I was ready to go!

I spent an afternoon planing the rosewood back plates for my guitar. The number 3 cut smoothly through the wood. I was surprised how little effort it took. I thought the wider blade would require more effort, but this wasn’t the case. The back strokes were heavier than the block plane though, due to the extra weight. But the ergonomics of the number 3 are much better. The tote at the back means you can grip it vertically, and the large wooden knob at the front is much more ergonomic than the brass screw at the from of the block plane.

The block plane and the number 3 plane

The block plane and the number 3 plane. They look rusty although that’s just the dust from the rosewood.

I’m not giving up my block plane though. Being smaller and without a tote means your hands are closer to the wood, giving more of a connection. It’s also a lot lighter and smaller, so is still needed for the lighter work and for end grain.

I still need to finalise the set-up of the plane and become more comfortable using it. I noticed that the sole isn’t perfectly flat (it curves up at the front and back). Although that didn’t give me any noticeable problems, I do need to work on that. I also need to read up on the finer points of setting up one of these planes, to make sure I’ve got it right. But I’m really pleased I bought it. This is one to keep!

This post is dedicated to Les, my father-in-law, who was many things but also one of the first readers and commenters of my blog. I think this post would have appealed to him.

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2 thoughts on “A New Plane: the Stanley Number 3

  1. Leuk jurgen, vooral omdat ik erbij was toen je de schaaf kreeg!! Lukt het goed nu/ ben je er erg blij mee??

    Liefs mama

  2. Awesome! A friend of mine gave me a block plane to tune up for him yesterday….I hate it haha I find they are very uncomfortable to use for long stretches, like you said. The No. 3 and other bench planes are much more comfortable to use 🙂

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