The Marcou S15/BU Smoother - Reviewed

Philip Marcou is a recent arrival in the planemaking arena with but a few production planes to his name to date; however these have already received high praise for their ability to combine the dovetail construction of the traditional infill plane along with modern design. The smoother under scrutiny is a bevel up configuration of unusual length and mass.

Philip’s background principally lies in cabinetmaking. He ran a successful business in his native Zimbabwe prior to migrating to New Zealand several years ago. He has now made a commitment to planemaking on a fulltime basis. We have exchanged much correspondence over the past several months I have come to recognise in Philip a craftsman of exacting standards. He has an in-depth knowledge of metallurgy from years of knifemaking, and a passion for the woods of his native Africa which, amongst others, he is using in his planes.

In this review I believe that we have a handplane that is something quite special. To appreciate its deceptive simplicity it is necessary to comprehend the complexity of its construction, so in this regard I shall provide a number of images to illustrate Philip’s handiwork.

This is a high-end plane. It embodies the best that Philip can produce at this stage of his career. It commands a price tag (around the $2000 mark) that immediately places it in the “collectable” category. Yet it is intended as a user – for a very serious user perhaps, but a user all the same. Consequently, we shall examine its performance as a tool for working wood.

For the first time I have invited others to participate in a review. I shall introduce two woodworking friends, one with decades of experience with handplanes, a number of which are collectable infill planes that he uses frequently. The other an enthusiastic relative newcomer to handplanes, with about five years under his belt, and clearly sliding down this slope at an alarming rate!

Incidentally, the symbol on the lever cap is the Greek letter "phi" and, according to Philip, “it symbolizes balance and purity”.

Contemporary Planemakers

When the conversation turns to contemporary planemakers, the first name to spring to mind is that of Karl Holtey. Based in Scotland, Karl’s work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. A perfectionist with a background as a cabinetmaker and as a machinist, his planes represent the current nirvana for woodworkers. In the main his planes are based on traditional Spier and Norris infill designs with ingredients of steel, brass and Rosewood, such as this Norris A13 below.

There are others making similarly beautiful and functional works of art - art in that they are both acquisitively crafted, and functional in that they are intended for serious use in woodwork.

Here is another stunning example, a Norris panel plane in English Boxwood by Ian Dalziel.

There are a number of other quite superb planemakers, such as Brian Buckner, Wayne Anderson, and Konrad Sauer (Sauer & Steiner).

There are interesting new designs from planemakers willing to break the traditional mould. Some, like John Economaki of Bridge City Tool Works, attempt to combine advanced design along with their artistic visions. He has created a bevel up configured “variable pitch bench plane”, the VP-60, which is illustrated below.

A planemaker with a twist on style, but still remaining within the traditional infill mode, is Malcolm McPherson, another Kiwi. Here he has borrowed from classic knifemaking for the tote, and created an art deco-inspired smoother.

There has been a recent increase in the use of the bevel up configuration. Originally more commonly associated with infill mitre planes and the Stanley #62/164 long block planes, these have now found increasing support owing to the user-friendliness of the design, such as the ability to alter cutting angles by altering the bevel angle of the iron. Mass produced versions of these planes include those by Lie Nielson and VERITAS.

One craftsman version is the handled mitre plane of Shepherd Tools, below:

Another recent and significant deviation from the bevel down path is the Holtey #98 smoother. Karl Holtey conceived the design for this plane in 1998 (hence its name) by integrating his A11 improved pattern mitre plane with a 20 deg bed and an A2 blade. Karl’s motivation to follow this construction is summed up in his own words:

By presenting the blade in this format the need for a chipbreaker has been eliminated (I do not believe in the use of chipbreakers anyway). The blade is supported very close to the cutting edge by virtue of its being inverted. Using mitre planes of the same format I found that they worked better as smoothing planes than smoothers and I was therefore determined to design this blade configuration into a smoothing plane”.

The design of the Marcou S15 has a similar appearance to the #98. As we shall see, this similarity is really only superficial. The #98 is significantly smaller and lighter than the Marcou smoother (see later for dimensions). It uses a unique rivet construction as opposed to dovetails, and is built from stainless steel. It is altogether a stunning smoother, both in looks and, reportedly, in performance.

Here are some details of the #98s construction:

Ian Dalziel has been working with Karl Holtey and has built a copy of the #98.

Ian made a number of interesting comments in regard to this plane that also have particular relevance for the Marcou smoother. He believes that the length of the #98 (9.5” plus 1” overhang) is really too short for his own personal comfort. Karl Holtey has a 14” version in the works, but Ian would ideally choose something around the 12” mark. “...this doesn't seem to be a popular length with any of the manufacturers...quite why I don't know..”.

The main features include …

  1. A very high body mass for its length. As measured by my bathroom scale, the Marcou smoother weighs in at 3 ½ kg (7 lbs 11 oz).

  2. Materials used were 8mm plate gauge for the sole and 6mm 70/30 brass for the sides.

  3. It is a bevel up design with a bed of 15°. This specification was chosen to offer a wide range of uses for this plane, from smoothing difficult face grain at high angles to shaving end grain at the lowest of angles.

  4. A standard Veritas iron (3/16”) is used. This is made of A2 tool steel hardened to Rc60-62. The advantage here is that owners can access additional irons more easily. In addition, these irons are well-known for the excellence of manufacture and reliability in performance.

  5. The iron supplied was ground and honed at 30°, providing a 45° cutting angle, and considered ready for out-of-the-box use.

  6. It has an adjustable mouth which has the capability to be set up for the finest of shavings. By my measurements the range of movement is approximately 1.5mm (1/16”).

  7. Blade stability is further increased through

  8. (1) Alignment by set screws on each side of the blade, and

  9. (2) A long and wide bed that supports the blade down to the mouth.

  10. The front knob and rear tote of the review plane were both made from Rhodesian Teak, also known as Zambezi Redwood.

  11. Blade adjustment is through a Norris-style adjuster. This provides adjustment in two planes – forward projection and lateral adjustment.

The pin is shouldered and peined. Philip notes, “I favour this to the method where one can remove the pin, because it adds strength and keeps it all square”.

Then there is the lever cap. “When you look at the step where the cross-pin fits into you can see that it slopes down by a few degrees. The idea of this is that by slacking off on the screw just a little the cap will not slide out should one want to up-end the plane to sight the blade and adjust- also it cannot withdraw if one is reducing cut”.

Another detail that might otherwise go unnoticed is the foot of lever cap screw. "I make it like that because I don't like the look of just a plain "bolt" pressing onto the blade - it looks unprofessional”.

Yet another detail is the steeper-than-usual dovetail splay of 30º. This angle looks better but creates great difficulty when it comes to peining, and therefore is avoided by planemakers.

The fit and finish are flawless, and the quality of construction, attention to detail, and materials used are all out of the top drawer. Whether one agrees with the design is another matter, but it would take an extremely critical eye to find any fault with the workmanship. So-much-so that one resorts to nit-picking to appear balanced in an appraisal of the above.

Just two items stood out in this regard. One was grinding marks under the lever cap. The other was the choice of Philips screw for the adjustment lever.

The tote and knob design is similar to the Stanley design but thicker in profile. “It feels good and looks well. I made the handle a bit thicker so it is graspable, and the curves a little more pronounced - to suit my hand which is of average size”.

I made measurements by removing the totes and reinserting the connecting bolts. Both the Stanley (as measured from a Type 12 #4 ½) and the Marcou totes are angled at 64°. By contrast the LN measured at 69° with the LV at 75°.

I noted that there were variations in the front knobs and raised this with Philip. “I have no policy of making everything identical when I make a small run of planes, preferring instead to have small cosmetic variations, such as the knob shape, diameter of the knob screw head, type of knurling etc - I think it gives character, much in the same way that wood has infinitely varying grain pattern”.

The Marcou numbering system? The “S15/BU” refers to “Smoother, 15° bed, bevel up orientation”. Each plane is numbered progressively as made, along with the year in which it is made.

Machining Plane Components

Some planemakers do all their machining using handtools. A hacksaw, a few files, a hammer … and lots of patience. Others work with machines – a bandsaw, grinding mill … and lots of patience.

Almost without exception - these being a few screws and bolts and the Veritas iron - all wooden and metal parts were machined from scratch by Philip. The only areas of construction that involve another party are the final surface grinding of the body and the laser engraving of the lever cap.

Below are a collection of images of Philip’s work in progress. Although just a sample, they communicate the nature and quality of the work that goes into each plane. In all, there are almost 500 steps.

The body:

Dovetailing the body:

Machining the parts:

Shaping the Lever Cap:

Evaluating the Performance of the Marcou Smoother

With high-end smoothers there is a law of diminishing returns. A plane that costs several times the “average” does not produce several times the performance. How does one define what an acceptable level of performance should be in a plane of this potential caliber? In my opinion, it is appropriate to set a minimum standard as that already achieved by common yardsticks of excellence. In this case I chose the performance of the LV BUS, which I know well, and the LN #4 ½, which I only know by reputation. Philip's smoother must - at the very least - achieve their level of performance.

With high-end smoothers there is a law of diminishing returns. A plane that costs several times the “average” does not produce several times the performance. How does one define what an acceptable level of performance should be in a plane of this potential caliber? In my opinion, it is appropriate to set a minimum standard as that already achieved by common yardsticks of excellence. In this case I chose the performance of the LV BUS, which I know well, and the LN #4 ½, which I only know by reputation. Philip's smoother must - at the very least - achieve their level of performance.

Length inches

Mass lbs


Bed Angle




Marcou S15

11 ¼ "

7 ¾

2 ¼



15° BU

Holtey #98

9 ½ "

4 ½

2 ¼



20° BU

Veritas BUS



2 ¼



12° BU

LN #4 ½

10 3/8 "

5 ½

2 3/8



45° BD

The BUS used was one I own, while the #4 ½ was on loan for the review. Since the #4 ½ came with a standard angle (45°) frog, the decision was made to plane at two cutting angles, 45° and 60°. For the BUS and the Marcou this required a second blade with the appropriate bevel angle. For the #4 ½ the iron would receive a 15° backbevel when time came to plane at 60°.

As it turned out, the blade that came with the #4 ½ had an edge-holding problem. This compromised the quality of its performance and I was unwilling to accept the results (of consistent tearout) as typical of LN, whom I know for having a high level of product reliability. The replacement iron would not make it in time for the review (It is planned that a follow up review will put the BUS and #4 ½ head-to-head on performance and ergonomics). As a compromise, a Clifton iron was used in the #4 ½. This has the same dimensions as the LN iron, but is hand forged HCS rather than A2. The upgraded LN chipbreaker was also used. The Clifton was honed at 30° with a 1° microbevel.

The BUS used was the standard plane without any modifications. Since the LV Honing Guide Mk II was used throughout for reliability of honing angles, it was not possible to achieve a 45° cutting angle. The closest achieved was 44° (a bevel honed at 30° plus a 2° microbevel on a 12° bed). The 60° cutting angle was also difficult to achieve, and in the end this high angle was accepted at 62° (i.e. 50° bevel total angle).

It was easier to achieve the required cutting angles on the Marcou. With a 15° bed, the irons required 30° and 45° bevels to obtain cutting angles of 45° and 60° respectively. This is precisely the point that Philip was making when he chose 15° for his low angle smoother. The high angle received an additional 2° (via the Mk II’s concentric roller) to cut at 62°.

For reference, all irons were honed on waterstones up to a 8000 King Gold, then stropped on Veritas green rouge (mainly to make sure that the wire edge was completely removed).

Another view of these three planes compares the positions of their mouth and the relative lengths of their soles:

The BUS has a nose of 2-15/16” in front of a tight mouth. The #4 ½ has 2-13/16”, while the Marcou has 3”. These are not significant variations. It is the area at the heal where the Marcou stands out as longer. The reason given by Philip is that this makes it easier to joint edges without the need for a shooting board, as was his practice in cabinetmaking.


There were three main test boards, Rock Maple, Tasmanian Blackwood, and Jarrah.

The Rock Maple was not a terribly hard piece but it contained striations of hard and soft strips, with the softer areas tending to reverse their grain. When planed with a common Stanley #4 and freshly honed iron, the soft areas tore out repeatedly.

The Tasmanian Blackwood is just a stunning example of the beauty of chatoyance in wood. When planed it glimmered like Tiger’s Eye. A hard wood, this one a moderately hard sample, it had a lot of interesting figure. It is the type of wood that you approach with care owing to its unpredictability.

The Jarrah was an old enemy, a board I had used in previous reviews – perhaps one of the harder samples I have come across in recent years, and with a knot of reversing grain at one end. Most planes either just skate across the surface or dig in and create tear out.

Setting up and using the Marcou Smoother

Comparing the BUS and the Marcou highlighted the differences in their Norris adjustment mechanisms.

Both involve placing the iron on the bed and sliding it between the set screws until the hole in the iron met up with the pin in the adjuster.

With the BUS, it is possible to move the adjustable mouth forward and out of any possible damage that might be caused by carelessly running it against the metal end of the mouth. The adjustable stop makes it easy to return to a preset position. The Marcou does not have such an adjustable stop (and to be fair, this feature is only available on the LV. The BU planes of LN also do not have this feature). Nevertheless, with a careful touch, there is no need for concern.

The BUS has a single adjustment screw. The advantage of this is that adjustment is a quick, simple process. The Marcou has two adjustment screws. While this is at first a touch more complicated, it is now possible to align the mouth perfectly with the iron’s bevel edge, which is desired when the bevel has been honed slightly out-of-square. This alignment is not possible with the BUS.

In practice, both planes are capable of being set for very fine mouths, with wider or narrower re-adjustment made in seconds.

Setting the lever cap differs for these planes. The BUS is held in place with a screw, while the Marcou is pinned. The aluminum BUS lever cap is a real lightweight alongside the brass Marcou version, and is fairly easy to bump out of square. The Marcou lever cap slides in, sits squarely and immediately feels solid. Once the lever cap screw is tightened on the Marcou, the iron adjustment screw cannot be moved (and may be damaged if this continues without first loosening the cap screw). Forward/backward adjustment requires that the lever cap screw is slackened slightly. Of the two, I prefer the solid feel of the Marcou.

Backlash is the term given to the amount of free play in the adjustment mechanisms. The BUS required less than a ¼ revolution (I must be getting better at this!). The Marcou required half this amount. In other words, both were excellent.

Lateral adjustment is made with the Norris adjuster. This moved more freely and with a wider arc on the BUS. In addition, there is more room to grip the back of the iron with fingers on the BUS. Like Peter (see later), I find the lateral adjustment of the Norris adjuster to be its weak area, and prefer to either use my fingers or a light tap of a wooden mallet. The amount of adjustment needed with a bevel up iron is very small, and this area requires a design re-think. In practice, both planes have the additional security and use of the set screws to make fine adjustments.

The greater stability of the Marcou design becomes more evident on removing the iron. The BUS’ Norris mechanism sits loose in its shoe. It can be lifted out with the iron, and can thus lose its setting. The Marcou’s Norris mechanism is held in place with a screw (which enables it to be removed), and so without these issues.


All the planes were capable of producing superior finishes on the woods used. This included the LN #4 ½ with the Clifton iron. Note that the LN was not ready for use at the time I was joined by my colleagues, and all comparison pictures were taken at a later date.

The assessment process involved planing the chosen boards both with and against the grain. The latter was done to increase the level of difficulty, and to simulate planing the most difficult of surfaces with reversing grain. Each team member recorded their experiences with the Marcou and the BUS, at 45° and 60°, the feel of each plane, and their perceived results. It was intended that these subjective results reflect the experience of a user.

On an objective level, in all cases, the boards were planed without tearout. These results were recorded on my scanner, where it could be determined that (at a 600 dpi resolution) the differences were insignificant. For this reason, these images have not been displayed here (boring!).

Below are tissue-like shavings on Maple, all planed against the grain.

On a more subjective note, the Marcou, with its greater mass, planed with the greater ease. There was less sensation of resistance, and a greater sense of control. There also appeared to be a qualitative superiority evident in both the shine of the wood surface and the gloss produced on the shavings.

Subjectively, in order of merit, I would place the Marcou, then the BUS, then the LN-plus-Clifton iron. I shall be repeating these exercises when the replacement LN iron arrives. It is sufficient to record that all the planes were capable of managing all the woods here, which was no mean feat.

Below is the Marcou smoother planing the Tasmanian Blackwood. It left a flawless, glassy finish – regardless of which direction the grain ran.

There were two areas of this planing session about which I was particularly interested. The first had to do with the longer length of the Marcou, and whether this was apparent in use.

In reality, it was difficult to judge. First of all, the boards were flat to begin with, so comparison with the shorter planes was not applicable. Secondly, the Marcou just subjectively felt larger owing to its greater mass. There was roughly 1” between the longest and the shortest plane here, and I really doubt that it would made any significant difference when dealing with boards that were mildly out of flat. One might assume that the extra length at the heel would favor the Marcou – and this may indeed be so – but this was not possible to “feel” in this setting.

The second factor was whether the greater mass of the Marcou would induce fatigue after several hours of intermittent planing. It is certainly a heavy plane, and this was immediately commented on by whom ever hefted it for the first time. Nevertheless, this was not a negative experience. The thicker tote and knob contributed to an easier manipulation of the plane. It seemed to combine the best of the LN and LV totes – the comfort of the LN’s lower angle, and the forward drive and roominess of the LV. My impression was that it required less effort to push once going, and the feeling of this plane’s absolute control over everything was just so immense. Even on the hard Jarrah, its ability to slice fine, perfect shavings and leave a perfect finish was never in doubt. With the other planes, you believed they would do a good job, but it was always a relief when you checked that they did so, it was not a given. The Marcou, nevertheless, is not the plane I would want to use continuously all day long. Fortunately, a smoother is not subjected to this type of demand.

It should also be recorded that the Veritas' A2 blades used by the Marcou and BUS held an excellent edge throughout. They completed the entire planing extravaganza without being re-honed.

Feedback from the team

Here is an edited version of the feedback provided by my colleagues, Peter Byrne and Colin Webb.

Peter Byrne has a collection of Slater infills to kill for. I might just do the deed in order to steal away his Stanley #51/52 shooting board! He is the Neanders Neander in that he relies entirely on handtools, and has many years experience with handplanes. These are his words.

My own orientation is toward traditional planes. I have a small collection of infill planes that I reserve for the difficult woods and final finishing. I have not bought or used a modern bevel-up plane.

The Marcou plane is something else. Its length approaches that of a jack plane. Its sharply dovetailed construction of steel sole and brass sides is massive and well finished. The screw-down bracket and holding bar is equally massive. The handles are well made and finished from an exotic wood I did not identify, the tote being not quite so upright as the Veritas. ‘Over-design’ comes to mind.

Overall appearance summary: the Veritas is “Veritas”- function-over-form, not pretty; the Marcou is traditional/modern, it draws the eye, demands to be picked up.

These planes take a bit of getting used to. They are designed to be pushed along more than down. The handle designs indicates this. This is sensible as modern benches are higher than those of fifty years ago. I find that I still push down more than these planes require. As I progressed I pushed down less as I discovered the intended angle of force.

The tests were done on a variety of woods, some very hard, using effective cutting angles of the conventional 45 degrees and about 60 degrees.

At 45 degrees, both planes smooth superbly taking off full width wispy shavings. In this mode I could detect no difference between the planes. There was a noticeable difference experienced when taking a heavier cut (sometimes we do need to reduce the size of a piece of wood, not just smooth it!). With the heavier cut the Marcou was noticeably smoother and easier, doubtlessly due to its extra mass. Once moving it feels like a train. The only other difference I could detect was on some Tasmanian Blackwood on which the Marcou gave a noticeably superior finish against the grain. (Yes, we planed both ways with both planes, mostly without tear out!) At 60 degrees there was no noticeable difference in cutting performance at all, and no discernable tearout against the grain – a reminder of one of the advantages of these planes – the potential for different angled blades.

I brought along my 1890s Slater smoother (souped up with a Hock blade) and added it to the routine. Planing with the grain it is every bit as good as these newcomers. Against the grain it is not in the same game. The new breed has dashed the superiority held by good quality infills for a century or more. These planes are very, very good.

Not being used to bevel-up planes I found the positioning of blades and adjustment annoyingly fiddly. I was surprised at the sensitivity of the setting screws, despite the fine thread. It may be my familiarity with infills, but I found tapping the heel and toe of both planes with a small mallet better for setting depth of cut than trying to fiddle with the setting screw.

The mouth setting is simpler on the Veritas with its control through the front knob and its cleverly considered setting stop screw. This is probably not a big concern as the width of the mouth is not usually changed often.

Without any doubt at all, the Veritas is superior value for money. But, hang on, that is probably answering the wrong question before it is asked. If asked which plane I would rather have, it is the Marcou. So I should start again.

The Veritas does the job, superbly, at a quarter of the price of the Marcou. So, why would one buy a Marcou? Well, it is beautiful. It combines the best of new design with the tradition of the dovetailed infill planes of the late eighteenth century. It has heft, it has been lovingly hand machined, it says “pick me up and use me”. It is a plane to visit, take down and make a few gossamer shavings before retiring for the night. It is a plane about which to say to the progeny “someday this will be yours” (if you are good). It is a plane which, when acquired, will demonstrate once again that men are as romantic as women, and for that reason alone it was a bargain.

Colin Webb returned to woodworking several years ago. I must take some blame for leading him to the edge of the slope, but he jumped over before I could push. Colin has been sliding fast and far in a short time. I thought it would be helpful to obtain the thoughts of a relative novice, albeit one who has a good understanding of the issues involved, in part from his background in manufacturing. Here is an edited summary of his thoughts.

Philip Marcou’s plane is truly a pleasure to behold. It is a wonderfully well-wrought combination of gleaming brass and steel, smooth silky wood and precise machining. Nobody with an understanding of tools and an appreciation for workmanship could fail to be thoroughly impressed. I have only seen photographs of Karl Holtey’s planes but for appearance - sheer aesthetic worth - I would place Philip Marcou’s smoother in the same category as Holtey’s magnificent creations.

It’s substantially bigger than most smoothing planes, being a similar length to a jack plane. It looks heavy. Even before you pick it up, the plane impresses you with the same kind of physical gravitas as one of the bigger Bentley or Mercedes-Benz limousines. It conveys power and strength and purpose. This is a serious tool.

The weight of the plane is so immediately evident it made me immediately aware that I should adjust my normal planing action. The fact that the plane is so heavy imparts a message that it is unnecessary to apply any downward pressure during the planing action. I’m accustomed, especially with smoothing planes, to bearing down on the plane through the forward stroke. With the Marcou plane this is manifestly unnecessary. All you have to do is push forward and the plane peels off a blade-wide shaving as diaphanous as a dragon-fly’s wing. Does this feel good? What do you think?

Both planes give excellent feedback. You can sense the work that’s going on at the business end. Even if you couldn’t see that dragon-fly’s wing peeling out of the plane’s throat, you would still know that you were getting the right result with both planes because of the obvious tactile transmission through the handles.

In other respects the Marcou’s ergonomics are not significantly different from what we are accustomed to with other bench planes. The tote is conventionally shaped and angled. The front knob is a bit fatter and squatter than the later Bailey and Bedrock designs but anyone who has an early pattern low-knob plane will find the Marcou’s set-up quite familiar.

Both the Marcou and the LV plane use a Norris-style adjuster mechanism (and both use the same Lee Valley blades). The adjuster mechanism is very precise and allows for simple, accurate fore and aft – and lateral - movement of the plane’s blade. The knurled adjuster wheel on both planes is big enough to be easy to grasp. The gearing of the mechanism makes it possible to make very small adjustments forward and back – essential in a smoothing plane.

Amongst other boards, we planed a piece of Maple. One side of it exhibited a couple of areas of furry grain where tear-out would clearly be an issue. I thought I could see this on the band-sawn reverse of this particular board so I turned it over and took a few passes with one of my Stanley #4½s. Sure enough – tear-out and the dreaded furriness. There was a thin band of reverse grain running through part of the board and a patch where the grain stood up like tightly-spaced bristles.

Both the Marcou and the LV smoothers cleaned up the maple beautifully. No tear-out at all. No furriness. Just a clean, shiny surface, free of any defects. Very impressive!

Price aside – which plane do I prefer?

Philip Marcou’s plane is in a price bracket beyond the aspirations of the majority of woodworkers. As I said early in this piece, I would put it in the same category as Karl Holtey’s planes. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that Philip should be pricing his planes at the same level as Karl Holtey’s.

If I were to buy a Philip Marcou smoothing plane, I would be tempted to place it prominently on a shelf – to be admired for its outstanding good looks. This would actually be somewhat disrespectful of the plane’s intrinsic worth as a tool. It is a superbly functional smoothing plane.

The Lee Valley smoother performs at least as well as the Marcou plane. It handled the truly difficult task of smoothing that knotty, gnarly jarrah with aplomb.

So both planes – in the new and modern category of bevel-up smoothing planes - have demonstrated clearly they can do the job – even on the toughest of Australian hardwood. Which would I choose if price were not a consideration?

Objective judgment now goes completely out of the window and personal, entirely subjective preference is all that counts. I would go for the Lee Valley plane. Its flat, wide shape appeals to me. I like the chunky, upright tote. I like its modern lines. No disrespect to Philip Marcou’s beautiful plane. I just prefer the Lee Valley model. So shoot me!

Summing up

If I could imagine the perfect smoothing plane, it would only be about 8in, long, widest at the iron and tapered at the ends, and would be heavy – very heavy, as massive as if it were cast of pure lead. The iron would be thicker and wider than those of common bench planes, and it would be firmly bedded against a solid frog. What I’d really like is to be able to adjust the iron’s bedding angle, especially for nasty woods where a steeper angle is more effective. My imaginary plane would have a fine throat, so fine that the thinnest of shavings could be planed and not clog. So far, no such plane exists, although some come close to my ideal”

Garrett Hack, The Handplane Book, pages 154-5.

It strikes me that, with the exception of the shorter length and coffin shape specified by Garrett, the Marcou smoother does well to meet his criteria.

Indeed, there are many who seek a longer and heavier smoother, call it a panel plane, in preference to the traditional, shorter plane. Planes, such as the Stanley or LN #5 ½ and the Veritas LA Jack, are commonly described as a preferred replacement. At 14” in length, these are significantly longer than the Marcou reviewed here, by comparison a “mere” 11”. It is interesting that both Peter and Colin referred to it as a jack plane, for it is not – its mass simply creates this illusion.

This is a plane constructed in the classic dovetail manner using traditional steel and brass, with a familiar Bed Rock profile, and an up-to-the-moment bevel up design. There is an adjustable mouth and a Norris adjuster, both of which reveal the high degree of precision that is reflected throughout this plane.

I think most would be happy to place this plane on the mantel as if it were art. For the serious handplane user, this smoother represents an instrument of the highest order, and will satisfy even the most demanding enthusiast.

Derek Cohen

Perth, Australia

May 2006