If you read the woodworking forums at all, you are aware that there are several perennial debates. It seems that at least once a month the relative benefits and weaknesses of the bevel up versus the bevel down planes are debated. At this point I should probably admit that I do not own a bevel up smoothing plane. The main reason I have not pulled the trigger and made the purchase is that I have never found a smoothing task that I could not accomplish without one. I have thought many times about purchasing a low angle plane, but mostly to use on a shoot board. I think a low angle plane would probably work better than my old #5. If I were to get a low angle plane for the shoot board I would want a #9 not a smoother.
Dealing with difficult grain is often given as a main benefit of the bevel up planes but there are several other ways to deal with difficult grain. The other big benefit is listed as versatility, you can do different tasks by changing between several blades ground differently. Is a bevel up plane better than a bevel down plane? Here’s the opinion part, I believe you can learn to do any thing you want to do with either style. Both can accomplish any task you need to do. It’s more a matter of taste, what you like and what you get used.
I personally don’t like multipurpose tools. I think each tool has a best use and each tool should do one thing very well. Whenever you try to get a tool to do more than one job it is always a compromise. Generally multipurpose tools do several things acceptably but nothing really well. Even if they do several jobs well you spend to much time adjusting and setting up the tool. In stead of having one plane with several blades to do different jobs, I prefer to have several planes set up and ready to go to do one job each, when I need a high angle plane I just grab the high angle plane or the plane with the back bevel, or the plane with the toothing blade. Old Stanley planes are so cheap you can buy 20 or more for the price of one premium new plane and have one set up for each purposes. This is not meant to imply I am against the new premium planes I’m not, I have several, they are great tools and if you want one, buy it, but you don’t need it.
I think this concept bears repeating, each tool has a single best use. A table saw is best for ripping to width, a radial arm saw is best for cross cutting to length. Any tool can be used to do a task other than its best use but it will be a compromise of it’s best use. Of coarse in the real world other considerations come in to play like tool budget, shop size, etc.
Likewise each task has a tool that will preform it best. Nothing is as rewarding as doing a job with the right tool or as frustrating as trying to do a job with the wrong tool. Some things just can’t be done without the right tools.
Planes I own
Let just say I own a lot of planes, my wife says I must have them all but there are still a few missing. When I bought each one I thought I needed it and used them all for at least a shot time. Many are used occasionally when the need arises. Some are used rarely and a few haven’t been used in years. There are a few that are used every day.
These are the 5 planes I use the most. they are from left to right.
1. Peugeot Freres scrub plane
2. Buck brothers jack plane
3. Stanley #2
4. unmarked infill smoother with a Robert Sorby blade
5. Stanley steel 101.
Of all the planes I own this is the one I use the most. I use it for all kinds of tasks from trimming veneer to shaping and trimming pins.
Every once in a while the stars align, the karma is right, you get lucky and find a plane or tool that for some unknown reason just works better than other planes or tools that appear to be identical. All of the five planes above fall into this group, but of all the planes I own the rosewood jack is by far the most amazing. If I actually believed in magic, I would say it was magical. It holds an edge for a long, long time, it glides across the wood effortlessly with out ever needing wax. If I could only keep one plane this is the one. I own other razee wooden body jack planes but nothing I own works like this plane.