Picture courtesy of Veritas
Veritas recently launched their Small Plow Plane onto the market. It has been eagerly anticipated by many, partly because Veritas may be counted on to produce an innovative product, and partly because there has not been a new metal plough of quality built since Record ended production of their #044 in 1970. There is some debate whether post-WW2 Stanley planes could be called “quality planes” and, consequently, their “desirability factor” is low. Veritas describe the Small Plow Plane as being similar in design to the #044.
Plough planes are used for cutting grooves for bottoms or lids of drawers and boxes, as well as in frame-and-panel construction. Plough planes are also often referred to as rebate planes and used for cutting the open-sided grooves for backs of cabinets.
To avoid any confusion I will continue to use the British spelling of “plough” as opposed to “plow”, which is preferred across the ditch. Similarly, I will support “rebate” rather than rabbet”. Gad, we have hardly begun and already the article is drenched in controversy!
In this assessment and review of the Veritas Small Plow Plane, I have chosen to compare it with the Record #044 and the Rapier #043.
The Rapier #043 is an exact copy of the Record #043.This a small and simple plough that many favour instead of the #044. The #043 has similarly ceased production and, like the #044, is only available on the vintage tools market.
Here are the three plough planes for comparison:
The Veritas comes standard with one blade, which is ¼” wide. There are four optional blades available that range from 1/8” through 3/8”, either individually or as a set. The blades are constructed from A2 and hollow ground at 35°.
The Record #044 has 8 blades from 1/8” through 9/16”. The #043 has 3 blades 1/8” through ¼”. I assume these are HCS. Not having handled an original set in pristine condition, I cannot say at what angle they have been ground. I hollow grind mine at 30 degrees.
None of the blade sets are interchangeable.
The problem with vintage plough planes is that many lack parts and few come with a full set of blades. My #044 only had the ¼”. I completed the set with modified Stanley #45 blades (by grinding adjustment grooves at the back of each).
An auxiliary fence provides better registration against the workpiece.
I had a little fun creating one for the Veritas. There is no rule that says it must have square corners. This one is racy looking, don’t you think? Don’t forget to wax the wood when you use it.
Setting up involves adjustments to the depth stop, the projection of the blade, and alignment of the blade with the outside wall of the skate.
Setting the depth gauge for each of the ploughs was straightforward. Each is adjusted with a knurled knob.
The Veritas Small Plow has a large brass knob that is easiest to use. The mechanism utilizes a wavy washer to provide a spring pressure against the stop when making adjustments. The stop remains in position and is, therefore, able to be adjusted precisely with greater ease (than the #044 and #043, both of which lack this feature). It tightens down securely. One of the nice design features is the chamfered leading and trailing edges, which ensures that it does not catch on an obstacle.
Veritas recommend a depth of cut between .005” - .020” depending on the hardness of the wood.
Veritas Small Plow depth stop
My Record #044 has a depth stop from a Stanley #45, but it is not substantially different from the original, one that resembles the stop on the Rapier #043.
Record #044 with #45 depth stop
Setting up the blade in each of these planes was a telling experience – one that separated the planes in regard to ease of use.
All three planes use a similar system in which the blade is clamped by a lever cap. With both the #044 and #043 this is a loose piece, while the Veritas’ is anchored with a bolt. There is a constant potential risk of the loose lever cap getting lost. In fact, this is such a familiar complaint that Bugbear offers a plan to build a replacement.
Veritas lever cap
#044 lever cap
#043 lever cap
The second point of note is that both the Veritas and the #044 adjust for depth of cut with a screw, while the #043 is adjusted manually. The Veritas’ adjustment is a simple matter of turning a knurled knob while the #043 requires a screwdriver to adjust it in-or-out. It is a big plus for the Veritas over the #044 that a tool is not required to adjust the setting.
The third issue is that the Veritas is the only one of the three planes where the seated blade aligns with the outside wall of the skate. Both my #044 and #043 can not be aligned simply by popping in the blade and tightening it down (as can the Veritas). The blades of both the #044 and #043 protrude past the skate.
To align the blade in both the #044 and the #043 it is necessary to place a straight edge against the side to prevent the blade extending past this point.
Straight edge used to align the blade on the #043
The combination of having to manually adjust the blade for depth as well as align it against the skate’s wall made setting up the #043 a very frustrating experience. Setting up the #044 was easier since the depth adjustment was not an added complication, but it was still very far from the ease of the Veritas. The latter was adjusted with considerable ease, which was made possible by the precise fit of its parts.
One of the first things that struck me about the Veritas’ tote was how attractive it was. I know these things are subjective and individual, but I have criticized the totes on their bevel up planes in the past.
My hand is average in size. The Veritas tote offers a reasonably comfortable grip for myself, but it is a tight fit if used with 4 fingers and is, therefore, a little smaller than I would have preferred. There is more room if used with 3 fingers. There is not a lot of clearance between the fingers and the blade adjustment knob – about the same as with the #044 – but I did not experience any issues here.
Veritas in 4-finger mode
The Record #044 has a smaller, slightly more upright grip. This can only be used with 3 fingers. Even so, it is a tight fit. The tote is slimmer than that of the Veritas. Overall, I much preferred the warmth and solid feel of the Veritas.
3- finger #044 tote
The Rapier #043 lacks a traditional tote, using instead the rounded rear of the body as a grip. This molds into one’s palm and is quite comfortable. This little plane feels much like a small block plane.
Rapier #043 tote
There are differences in the way the supporting hand feels.
The supporting hand applies pressure side-on against the board being planed. A side-and-forward push guides the fence, keeping the plane upright and the cut straight.
The curved section of the Veritas’ fence is 4” long. It was a comfortable fit for my left hand.
Veritas with left hand support
It struck me shortly after I began using the #044 and #043 that these planes were not comfortable in the left hand. I was using them as I had always used them, with the fence rods either extended to the left or centered on the plane body. I would hook my fingers around the rods while my palm pushed against the rounded section. This afforded a firm grip – but after using the Veritas I was acutely aware of the rods interfering with my grip. It was now uncomfortable.
Record #044 side grip
So I changed the way I used them, and mimicked the way they were set up on the Veritas.
This was only partially successful since I was now aware of the small support area that these planes offered. The rounded section of the #044 is but 2 ½” long, and that of the #043 only 2 ¼” long. They do work – just not as comfortably as the Veritas.
Another reason for preferring the Veritas was its balance. This is partially subjective but it is also a reflection of its overall weight. Here it sits between the #044 and the #043. I considered that the longer fence rods on the #044 might be contributing here. I added a shorter set of rods and this did made a positive difference to the balance, but …
Alter one aspect and another issue is highlighted. In this case the adjustment for the fence comes to the fore. The Veritas is adjusted with a brass knob that is attached to the body, and the fence is adjusted by loosening and tightening this knob manually. When the #044 and #043 are set up with minimal rod projection on the left side of the body, the locking knobs may no longer be used in this way, and adjustment is made by loosening and tightening a screw fitting. This now required the use of a screwdriver.
The other feature that is noted in the #044 and #043 is that there is slight racking apparent in the fence rods and their locking mechanism. My first inclination was to just accept this as a feature of wear-and-tear in two vintage planes. However Veritas have paid special attention to this aspect of set up, referring to “a special collet locking system prevent the fence from racking”. A closer inspection uncovers a locking collet (a split tube that is tightened progressively by the knob as it locks the fence). This design effectively banishes any racking due to wear since any wear is taken up by slightly tightening the split tube. It is notable that the Veritas does not display any similar racking. This was one of the features that made using the Veritas such a stress-free experience.
The preference in feel for the Veritas is a combination of its weight, the substantial feel of its tote, and the comfort of the larger curved fence. It is very well machined that this creates an overall feeling of reliability and confidence for the user.
To test the planes, I used them to cut grooves and rebates, which form the common uses for these planes. Since I was completing a reasonably sympathetic project, I had the opportunity to also try them out in a novel way as well, one for which they are not intended - this being to cut several dados. These are illustrated below.
I prefer to evaluate tools as I compete a project. At this time the bookcase I was building was not completely ideal in that it did not require any grooves to be cut (“grooves” run with the grain). As a result, the boards that were used for this cut were just a mock up.
Each pine board was about 9” long. The plan was to cut a ¼” groove with the grain with each of the planes, and compare their results and ergonomics.
All boards were marked ¼” from one edge and planed to a depth of ¼”.
Marking the line
When planing a groove, begin the cut at the end of the board……..
….. then work your way towards the back of the board. Once you have a full groove, you can plane the full length.
Veritas taking a full-length shaving
While the Veritas was the easiest plane to set up and the most balanced in use, all three of the planes performed faultlessly in creating a typical drawer groove. The end result was such that it was not possible to pick which plane was responsible for which groove.
Below are examples of grooved boards.
fence rods on the Veritas small plow be longer?
No, they do not need to be. The plow is used primarily for narrow rebates and drawer/box grooves. The latter requires a longer rod than the former, and even then it is unusual to require one more than 1/2" from a side edge (or 3/4"/19mm from the fence). There is 40mm available cutting area from the outside of the skate to the inside of the fence, and this represents the available width available without an auxiliary fence. My auxiliary fence is 8mm thick, so adding it in still leaves 32mm available space. This should be plenty for 99% of the time.
As I mentioned earlier, I did have a current project. This is a Pine and Jarrah bookcase for my son. It has some interesting features, which I shall report on more fully at a later date. For now I am able to use the main carcass to illustrate additional joints created with these plough planes.
The construction involves a large dovetailed frame into which a series of vertical dividers sit in dados. A simple dado is sufficient since a frame will cover the face of the bookcase. The rear of the carcass is rebated all around to accept a paneled back.
This was the state of play at the conclusion of the current work session …
Some detail – the dovetailed ends …
I really could have made my life a lot easier if I had planned the construction better. It would have been possible to plane through-rebates on all four ends if I had thought at the outset to make mitered dovetails. Of course I cut the pins first then thought of this option! So .. unless I was prepared to re-cut the boards (which I was not), I was left with cutting two sides with through rebates and two sides with stopped rebates.
The stopped rebates were cut with a router plane. The through rebates were planed with the Veritas.
Here are the boards marked and ready for planing.
Here is the Veritas planing a 3/8” x ¼” rebate. This was quick and satisfying to complete.
Is the absence of a nicker a problem when cutting a rebate? I would say that a nicker is nice, but it is not essential. There are work-arounds. Here I first scored the lines quite deeply with a cutting gauge (you can just make it out on the right side of the picture below). This helped to define the sides of the rebate.
Dados are grooves that are cut across the grain. This is not typically the province of a plough plane. I needed to cut a total of 8 dados. Generally I prefer to chisel-and-rout out (with a router plane) the waste.
The weakness of a plough plane lies in its lack of a nicker(s) to score the surface when cutting across the grain. This can be overcome by scoring the wood deeply with a knife.
Knifing the lines.
The next step is to chisel out some of the waste against these lines. This defines the outer edges of the dado and may be used as a fence against which the edges may be deepened with the aid of a backsaw. I chose not to do it this way this time, and instead planned to rely on the plough plane to maintain square sides.
Chiseling the waste.
The next step was to define the depth of the dado, which was done with a cutting gauge at both sides.
Marking the baseline.
The ends of the dados were chamfered to the depth to prevent unwanted breakout. Note the use of the chisel being used bevel down.
Chamfer the ends.
The fence was removed from the Veritas since the dados were to be cut in the center of the board. With a correct dado plane, a baton would be used as a fence. These plough planes could not be used this way as there was no place to use a batten. The plan was to run the side of the skate against one of the chiseled fences.
Running against the chiseled fence.
Planing one way (against the chiseled fence), then the other way (reversing the board to do so), produced very respectable dados.
It is not recommended that one attempt to plane both side of the dado by running the plane in the same direction. The skate running against the fence minimizes breakout. However, the open side of the plane against the fence can easily cause breakout. See the picture below. The right side of the dado is clean, while the left side has evidence of breakout.
Dado with fitted divider …
How practical is it to cut dados this way? Well it is certainly possible, as demonstrated. And it is quite quick. I timed the last four dados to take a total of 16 minutes is all to go from marking out to fining tweak. But would I do it again? No, I think that I prefer a router plane to remove the waste. It can take a deeper shaving with less threat to break out.
Router plane on dado
For some years my favourite small plough plane has been the Record #044. While others have preferred the Record/Rapier #043, I have always felt that it suffered from being finicky to set up, partly because it lacked a depth adjuster and partly because the sides of the blade did not line up with the outside of the skate. Once set up. However, it is a sweet plane to use.
The Veritas Small Plow Plane enters the arena and very quickly reveals that it is better machined than the other two plough planes, and then further proves itself the winner on ergonomics and ease of set up. It is just the best balanced plane of the three.
In terms of performance, that is, the quality of the cuts, per se, made with the planes – then there was nothing in it. All the planes performed at an equally satisfactory level.
The bottom line is that if one were already an owner of a #044 or #043 - and comfortable with using either of these, that is, not concerned with the issues of setting up I noted earlier - then there will be no urge to upgrade to the Veritas. However, for one who is seeking the best plough plane given these three choices, then the Veritas is the obvious recommendation. It is beautifully made, comfortable to hold, and does the job with class.