Review By Derek Cohen  Veritas Website - http://www.leevalley.com

Veritas (Lee Valley) Medium Shoulder Plane
Review

By De
rek Cohen

The Shoulder Plane Family
The shoulder plane is one of the more useful hand planes in a woodworker’s tool kit. You will use it to trim a tenon shoulder - from which is where it gets its name - or the shoulder of a breadboard, smooth a rabbet, or clean the bottom of a dado. No other tool will do this with the accuracy of a shoulder plane.

The shoulder plane must not be mistaken for one of its “cousins”. An example here is the Bullnose plane such as the Stanley #90, which is essentially the shoulder plane minus the nose. Some woodworkers attempt to use the bullnose plane to trim shoulders, but they do a poor job in this regard as they lack the registration area for a stable, precise cut.

Another cousin is the Rabbet (or Rebate) plane. Examples include the Stanley #78 and the Record #778. A rabbet plane does something basically similar to the shoulder plane, but its primary purpose is to remove as much material as possible, and as quickly as possible to create the rebate. The mouth is wide and there is no attempt made to cut very finely. Further, rabbets are cut with the grain; dados are cut across the grain, while shoulders are created from end grain.

The shoulder plane is a precision tool. It has sides that are perfectly square to the sole, a small mouth that permits very fine shavings and, generally, a low angle blade, since it is designed primarily to cut the end grain of a tenon shoulder. The LV Medium and the Stanley are both bedded at 15°. This, together with a 25° bevel in a bevel-up configuration, creates a low cutting angle of 40°. The HNT Gordon, on the other hand, is bedded at 60° (which is also the cutting angle since the blade is bedded bevel down).

The other notable feature is the blade projection from the side of the plane. The purpose of the side projection of the side bevel is to make sure that the blade gets right into the corner of the shoulder or rebate. If it did not do so, the corner is in danger of not being cut at 90 degrees. This projection needs only to be a hairs width.


Left to right: Stanley #90 Bullnose, Stanley #140 Skew Block, and Record #778 Rebate.


The LV Medium Shoulder Plane
I must say this quickly and get it out of the way. About a year ago I was discussing shoulder plane design on a forum and the topic turned to aesthetics. My comment was that I thought the LV Medium to be really ugly. All too modern and too busy. It was just not in the spirit of Norris and Spiers and all the other traditional plane makers. I was given as a birthday present the HNT Gordon ¾” shoulder plane, and I pointed to this plane as a thing of beauty.

Well, I can’t say that I have changed my opinion about the aesthetics much. The HNT Gordon Shoulder planes are still quite stunning. But I can say that the LV has grown on me. It is not simply a case of familiarity, but it is an appreciation of the finer details that went into its design, the quality of build, and its superb ease of use. I know I am getting ahead of myself, but this is a very fine shoulder plane.

For years I have predominantly used a Stanley #92 (3/4” wide) and #93 (the 1” version). These have served me very well and I have not been tempted to seek out replacements. Complacency is a poor excuse.

Now onto the LV Medium Shoulder Plane…

Notable features include:

  • The blade is 1/8” thick, made of A2 steel, and hardened to Rc60-62.
  • Low bed angle of 15°.
  • Precision adjustment of mouth and blade.
  • Multiple grip-points to suit different holding styles.


Notes on review methodology
I have chosen to contrast the LV Medium with the Stanley #92 and the HNT Gordon ¾” since this offers an opportunity to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the LV design. Here is a picture of the planes together, along with a classic infill shoulder plane in the background.


Left to right: HNT Gordon, Stanley #92, and LV Medium. Rear: An infill shoulder plane.


Specification comparison of three shoulder planes
 

 

Dimension   Length

Dimension  Width

Adjustable Mouth

Converts to Chisel Plane

Weight

LV Medium

7”

¾”

Yes

No

905 gm

Stanley #92

5 ½ “

¾”

Yes

Yes

485 gm

HNT Gordon ¾”

7”

¾”

No

No

500 gm

Differences in design are immediately apparent as soon as one attempts to remove the blade for honing. The LV Medium is the easiest to remove the blade and later return it to the previous settings, the HNT Gordon next, and the Stanley the most difficult.


Stanley #92 apart

Stanley – undo the main screw… undo the small screw… remove the lever cap… wiggle out the blade. All settings are lost.
With the LV Medium you just loosen the lever cap wheel… then remove the blade.  All settings are maintained. 


LV Medium Shoulder apart

The HNT Gordon is fairly straightforward as well. Tap the brass abutment with a mallet, which loosens the wedge … remove the wedge and blade. The setting for the side of the plane is lost, however this is not a big deal to restore. 


HNT Gordon apart

 Tuning the shoulder plane for depth of cut:  Tuning for depth of cut on the LV Medium is done with the Depth Adjustment Knob. A word needs to be first said about the Lever Cap Wheel. Tightening this increases the clamping force exerted on the blade and results in a slight deflection of the blade bed. According to LV, “this is normal”. Deflection may range from a mild .0005” to a high .003” if you clamp it with high tension. They recommend a 1/8 turn as sufficient.  

Backlash is the term given to the amount of free play in the adjustment mechanisms. The Stanley required a ¼ revolution of the blade projection knob to produce movement. The LV required a ½ revolution for movement. While both these figures are good, the LV was more than I expected and greater than I have experienced in their other planes.

Positioning the blade:  Unique to the LV Medium (and present as well on other planes in their range) are two setscrews on each side of the plane’s body. These are used to fine-tune the blade’s side projection once it is in place. It is only when one returns to the Stanley and HNT Gordon that the value of these setscrews becomes so apparent.

It is a relatively easy matter to position a blade in the mouth in a roughly accurate position. The perfectly correct position is with a bevel square to the front of the mouth (it goes without saying that the blades of a shoulder plane are honed especially carefully for square), but it is the side projection of a “hair” that is more difficult to achieve while keeping the blade square. With the Stanley, one would fiddle back and forth. With the LV, all that is needed is to slide (and hold) the blade into position with the setscrews.

Adjusting the mouth:  The mouth adjustment is a similar process on both the LV and Stanley. Both require that the mouth section is first released by a top screw (the Toe Locking Screw on the LV). The Stanley is moved back and forth manually, while the LV is more precise in this regard, with adjustment made with the Toe Adjustment Screw.
 

The LV Medium Shoulder Plane in Action
I used the three shoulder planes on tenons cut in Pine (for softwood) and Redgum (for hardwood).

More than anything, the testing really emphasized that the important differences were about the ease with which each of these planes could be used. All of them cut extremely well. That is, all the planes were capable of very fine, semi-transparent shavings, but this was to be expected since two of them were personal users. The LV Medium required minimal tuning out-of-the-box and worked perfectly from the moment it arrived. Together with all the others, its blade was honed to 8000 grit on a King waterstone, set for a fine shaving, and away we went…

I can cut a tenon in a few different ways: with a backsaw, with a table saw or, as I did here, with a band saw. This left a slightly serrated surface for the shoulder planes to clean.

A Stanley #140 Skew Block plane was called into action to clean up the tenon face. Generally I cut a tenon fractionally large, then trim it to fit the mortise using the #140. 

Now enter the shoulder planes. The shoulders are smoothed from the outsides (working inwards only so as to avoid breaking out the end side). As noted earlier, all the planes performed perfectly in their ability to take fine shavings in both soft and hard woods. One cannot fault any part of this area. 

Differences between the planes are immediately noted when they are held. The LV is very comfortable to hold. Not only does it offer a wider, flat surface that registers with greater stability on the tenon face, but it also provides additional grips to hold the sole of the plane firmly against the tenon shoulder. 


Registration area of the three shoulder planes

The LV has two grips. The first is a cutout in the plane body. The second is a pivoting knob. This can be moved into either position where it provides a point of rest in the web of your hand. The angle may be altered to suit. The knob may be unscrewed should you prefer not to use it.                                                                                       

 

The holding technique is illustrated below. 


Trimming soft Pine. 

The Stanley #92 feels small by comparison. It lacks the registration area both in the nose and body. In particular, the right hand is significantly less secure than with the LV. The HNT Gordon, while very comfortable to hold, also lacks the amount of control at the right hand as experienced with the LV. 


The Stanley #92
 

Below: Fine tuning a breadboard end.

 
The end result of planing with the LV Medium Shoulder Plane…
 


The Final Verdict

The LV Medium Shoulder Plane turned from an Ugly Duckling into a Beautiful Swan. While it still lacks the classical form that I associate with vintage infill planes, I was won over by the excellent build quality and attention to detail. More than anything, this plane is a precision instrument, one that is a pleasure to adjust, comfortable to hold, and exceptionally stable in execution. 

Derek Cohen
September 2005

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