The Lee Valley website states This little plane is a close copy of Leonard Bailey's 1877 "Little Victor" #51 block plane, which was once advertised as the "perfect tool, useful in house, shop, bank, office and especially in scroll saw work".
The “Little Victor” is the first reproduction plane made by Lee Valley. More will follow this one.
The plane reviewed here was sent to me by Lee Valley for feedback prior to release. I have essentially included below the comments I made to them. Prior to receiving it, I had only seen pictures of the Bailey “Little Victor” block plane. I was aware of their relative rarity and that collectors are willing to pay several hundred Dollars for one in good condition.
To my eye this looks an exact copy, but I was informed that it was fractionally larger than the original.
The other difference is the colour, burgundy, which was apparently chosen for its elegance and distinctiveness.
The notable features of the Little Victor are
A body 3-1/8" long by 1-1/4" wide, and weighing just under 5 oz.
An “investment-cast steel body” with a lapped sole (another first for Lee Valley).
A 45° bed angle and a fixed mouth.
The blade is secured by cogwheel screw. It has a 30° bevel and is made from O1 tool steel, measuring 0.085" thick by 1" wide.
Lee Valley state that both the sole of the plane and the working surface* of the blade are lapped to a flatness tolerance of ±0.0002" or better.
To appreciate the size of this little pocket plane it is here viewed alongside a Stanley #65 Knucklejoint block plane. The Starrett combination square is 4” long.
This is indeed a tiny plane.
I had not previously used a plane as small as this and my first efforts were somewhat clumsy. I found it difficult to sustain registration and the blade cut into my palm. The grip in the catalogue illustration appears to recommend a grip that involved a pincer grip with one hand and the use of the thumb of the other hand. Like so:
This works but is not as stable as what evolved as I experimented. While this plane is high mass for its size, it is still small and light and requires significant even down force to prevent it skipping.
The plane can be used by pushing or pulling.
The grip for the push begins with placement of a ring finger in the rear recess. Then one grips the sides with fore fingers. Finally the thumb is placed across the front recess.
The grip I preferred for the pull is identical but in the reverse position.
It can be seen that my palm is well clear of the blade in these illustrations. However, it strikes me that many will want to use this plane one-handed in a palmer grip, that is, the palm is wrapped low down around the plane. Lee Valley provide this illustration:
This would be what I would do, and what I see as the main use that the plane would be put to. Such as breaking edges (i.e. chamfering). When attempting this the blade cut into my palm. This is the one area that I feel is remiss in the construction – the top edge of the blade was a little sharp (no rough edges – just cleanly squared off). I dealt with this by chamfering them slightly.
This does make a significant difference but I felt that the blade could be slightly shorter as well.
The performance of the plane was surprisingly good. The blade was very well machined – flat - and, as a result, easy and quick to hone. I ran it freehand over a 1200 diamond stone and then over a leather strop loaded with Veritas green rouge. This was sufficient to shave arm hair.
The blade holding mechanism felt solid and worked well. There was no indication of the blade coming loose. I lay the sole on a sheet of glass, slid in the blade, and then tightened up the cogwheel. This was usually enough to set the depth of cut. Adjustments could be made with gentle taps from a hammer.
Shavings on long (edge) grain were easy (with the above grip). Here are some in Rock Maple.
Some serious full-width shavings can be taken!
Planing end grain was equally successful. Here is Rock Maple ..
.. a clean finish on hard Jarrah:
and on Tasmanian Oak:
It struck me that the small footprint of the plane would be ideal for those occasions when one needed to remove small sections of tearout. Of course this is not the province of a 45-degree angle of attack. However, with the 30-degree bevel, by reversing the blade one gets a 75-degree angle of attack. Of course, the mouth is now gigantic, but this is irrelevant at this cutting angle.
The Little Victor worked very well as a high angle smoother/scraper. In the first picture, the Rock Maple has a section of tearout that I was not able to remove with a standard angle plane. The second picture shows the fine shavings that were taken and the now clean surface.
Here are a few more shavings in HA mode, first on Rock Maple …
…. And also in Jarrah:
Comparison with other small block planes is inevitable. The Little Victor reminds of the Lie Nielson bronze #102/103 insofar as that it is a high-mass-to-size plane. It feels substantial. At its size its closest rivals would be the Stanley #100 and #101, which are also around the 3 ½” mark. These cannot compete with the Lee Valley’s solid construction, superior materials, and thicker blade.
I would not consider the Little Victor to be a substitute for a “full sized” block plane. It lacks their registration and comfort in the hand. It is not a cheap alternative to one of the recognized users, such as a Stanley/LN #60 ½ or Veritas Standard and Apron block planes. Nevertheless, this little plane has a niche in the workshop or construction site.
Once an appropriate grip is mastered the Little Victor is quite comfortable and controllable.
The Little Victor is small enough to drop into a pocket – and one may even forget that it is there! Yet its performance is certainly much larger than that. Cute it may be, but it is not a toy. It is capable of big-plane performance on end grain and face grain. I see its biggest value as a “tweaking plane” (as Rob Lee termed it). Keep one just for a quick chamfer, breaking edges, and planing small sections.
Perth, March 2007