#60½ Block plane ruminations

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If the woodworking communities’ hive mind were to choose a pantheon of gods to worship, I think the #60½ block plane in one or more of its guises would find itself elevated to the exclusive Di Consentes. It seems that so many of the craftsmen I respect, when referring to their vintage or premium block planes, have that faraway look in their eyes normally found in the elderly as they remember fondly the days of their youth. Within this framing, I have what feels like a dirty secret, one that I’m almost embarrassed to openly express; I don’t understand the point of the #60½ block plane.

I’m not suggesting I know better, or that generations of craftsmen are wrong. Rather, that particular light has simply never had its switch flipped on for me. I find it odd, as I do similar work to several proponents, but where they would reach for a 60½, I grab something else. I have tried to emulate their choices, bit it always feels sub-optimal. And yet, despite feeling that what I do works well, I can’t rid myself of this nagging suspicion that I’m missing out.

My three small planes: a modern Stanley #102, Luban #60½, Record #4

I think it’s party historical. For years, the only planes which I owned for more delicate work were my Record #4 and a modern Stanley #102. Being a student of Paul Sellers when starting out, I used my #4 for everything. I only pulled out the #102 for removing inside arrises where the #4 was just too large or awkward.

For a long time I resisted buying a seemingly proper block plane because I really didn’t notice a hole in my capability. Several years and many projects later, I succumbed to my curiosity, and bought a Luban #60½, a plane many proport to being no different to the benchmark, the Lie Nielsen Adjustable Mouth Block Plane. It is a beautiful tool. Exceptionally presented and finished. Sadly, despite the anticipation of a thoroughly researched pairing, true love was never to bloom and grow.

I see the #60½ being used for planing edges, and small faces where I prefer a #4. It is used for end grain due to its low angle blade. I started without any low angle plane, learning that a really sharp blade on a #4 seemed to work just fine. And perhaps herein lies the rub; I leaned alternative ways of addressing issues otherwise managed by a #60½, and they just feel more natural now. Despite now having a more versatile block plane, it has found no additional uses.

Oddly enough, the longer I tried loving the exciting new #60½, the more I came to appreciate my plain old #102 which had been there all long. Is there any area of life to which Pride and Prejudice doesn’t reveal hidden truths?

What are the issues then? In a nutshell, the #102 feels smaller and more nimble. I only really use a block plane one handed, mostly unsupported for removing arrises and adding chamfers or rounded edges. Interestingly, in my mind the #102 was smaller than my #60½. Imagine my surprise then when measuring them earlier today to find that the #102 is actually 8 mm wider and 11 mm longer! The scales showed the #60½ at 97 g heavier (that’s about 4 AA batteries). I was surprised at how that weight difference can make the smaller plane feel clumsy and big.

I think what bothers me the most about my #60½ is two fold:

  1. Comfort. It just doesn’t feel secure in the palm of my hand. It is as though I need to grip it extra hard lest it continue on on its own when my arm gets to the end of a stroke, or it is going to drop out of my hand when whipping it from one corner of my project to another.
  2. Utility. I really thought it was going to be far more useful than what it has proven to be. And for the one job I like using a block plane, it feels sub-optimal.

I note that a vintage Stanley #60½ and the Lie Nielsen offering both have a listed weight of 680 g. That’s 100 g lighter than the Luban. Will that make the difference? Will it allow me to find additional uses for it? Somehow I doubt it.

Should I accept that that for better or worse, I have a very specific use for a block plane, and get the best scratcher for that particular itch in something like a Lie Nielsen #102 (or Luban equivalent).

I’ll tell you what I do know however; I’m none the wiser as to how the #60½ has a place in the pantheon.

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