Review By Derek Cohen  Veritas Website - http://www.leevalley.com

Veritas® Router Plane - Woodworking

Veritas (Lee Valley) Router Plane
Review

By De
rek Cohen

Handplanes are often described as being “a holder for a chisel”. No where else does this appear more true than in the case of the router plane since the blade is so visible and unsupported. These planes lack a throat or a mouth and rely on the rigidity of the holding mechanism for a stable cut. 

The job done by the router plane is essentially to chisel a groove (with the grain) or dado (across the grain), and to a specific depth so that the floor is even throughout.  

Before the advent of cast iron, router planes were constructed of wood. These were called an Old Woman’s Tooth (sometimes Old Hag’s Tooth), since they resembled the single-tooth grin of an old hag. Below is an illustration of a typical classic OWT:


Old Woman’s Tooth (OWT)

 The construction is very basic, and many woodworkers will make their own versions even today. Here are some fine examples: 


OWT by
Stephen Shepherd

 According to Patrick Leach, Stanley introduced their #71 in 1885 (manufactured until 1973) and the #71 ½ in 1896 (manufactured until 1949). These differed from the OWT in having an angled bevel end to the blade. The blades lock into position by a clamping collar, which is tightened by a thumbscrew. This serves to raise or lower the blade. 


Stanley #71

 The #71 ½ differs in having a closed throat, that is, it lacks the arched front of the sole forward of the cutter. The #71 provided an adjustable shoe to close the mouth. 

 

Below is a picture of my #71 ½ router plane, which is a patternmaker’s copy in brass (lacking the height adjustment mechanism). Such copies were quite common about 50 or so years ago. 


Brass copy of the Stanley #71 ½

 An adjustable fence was added to the #71 in 1939 (pictured above). There is no provision for this on my copy #71 ½, which is based on an early model, or any models earlier than this date. 

One other router plane worthy of mention is the Stanley #271. This dinky little router plane is extremely useful in small areas.  


Stanley #271 router plane (alongside #71 for perspective)
 

All the router planes, #271, #71 and #71 ½ included, are capable of being used as well in a bullnose position, that is, by rotating the clamp to the other side.  

Features of the Veritas Router Plane
Veritas describe their router plane as “the
Stanley #71 reborn with radical improvements”. There are a number of special features for comparison with the Stanley version;
 
  • The plane is made from very durable ductile cast iron (compared to the fragile grey iron of the Stanley planes).
  • The blade-clamping collar is spring-loaded, which holds the blade in position while the collar is loosened (as it must when raising and lowering the blade). The Stanley lacks this feature, and blades will drop out of position as soon as the collar is adjusted.
  • Blade adjustment on the Veritas travels 1/32” per turn. The blade may be adjusted for a depth of 1”.
  • Below the height adjustment knob are two brass locking rings that are the Depth Stop Knobs. Stanley does not provide a similar arrangement. Use of the depth stop is illustrated further on in “Hinge Mortising”.
  • The fence, which is an optional extra, is significantly easier and more precise to adjust than the Stanley fence. Like the Stanley, the fence is reversible, with one side for straight planing and the other side for curved planing.
  • Both planes come with three blades – ¼” and ½” straight cutters, and the ½” pointed cutter (or V, as termed by Stanley). The original Stanley blades were one-piece constructions, while the two ½” Veritas blades have removable cutters to facilitate honing.
  • Both planes have countersunk holes for the attachment of a shop-made (wooden) auxiliary base to increase the width of support or act as a fence. Note that the depth-of-cut will be reduced by the thickness of this base.
  • The Stanley base is 7 5/8” wide, while the Veritas is 5 5/8” wide (my measurements). The Stanley weighs 2 5/8 lbs. The hardwood knobs on my English-made #71 ½ measure 7 7/8”. The Bubinga-handled Veritas has a wider positioning at 8 7/16”. Weight is 2 lbs.


Veritas Router Plane


...and fence

 My first thought on unpacking the router plane was just how jewel-like it was. The blend of shiny iron, bright stainless steel, black paint and brass knobs together with a compact, yet heavy body was quite striking. The finish was faultless. All edges had been chamfered. I like the look of Bubinga, although I was not mad about the shiny finish. I would remove the lacquer and finish with oil and wax.

The Blades
The plane comes with three blades, identical to the Stanley. They comprise a ¼” and ½” straight cutter and a ½” Pointed (I prefer the Stanley “V”) cutter. They are slightly tapered in thickness, increasing towards the rear of the cutter. All blades were sharp enough out of the box to be used – but of course no sensible handtooler would do that, and all blades were honed to 8000 waterstone prior to use. 

Both the straight ½” and the V blades have removable cutters. These attach to the shaft with a hex-headed bolt that sits flush within a recess. A hex key is supplied with each blade.

The ¼” cutter is not removable and, while I am unsure whether there are plans afoot for this blade, I cannot see any reason why it should not be constructed any differently to the other blades, that is, that the bladed section be removable from the shaft (perhaps with a smaller hex-headed bolt with a similar sized hex insert?). 

The shaft-cutter join is orientated by a series of serrated-like grooves, which may just be made out in the picture.

 


Do the LV blades fit the Stanley router planes?

This is the question that all owners of vintage Stanley and Record router planes are asking! The answer is yes - they do fit. There is a qualification, however. The LV blades are ¾” longer than the Stanley blades I have (Note: mine were made by St James Bay
, although I expect them to be faithful reproductions).


LV at top and Stanley below

 producing this difference…


Stanley Blade (left), Veritas Blade (right)

 Notice how the depth adjustment knob is maxed out on the Veritas blade. It only just fits!

Honing the blades
I have mixed emotions about the solutions Veritas have arrived at here. There is clearly some innovative thought here, but there are also a few missed opportunities. 

Freehand honing: It appears that honing is expected to be done freehand. A Blade Holder is provided onto which the removable ½” and Pointed (V) cutters are attached for better handling. This is reasonably satisfactory for those that are comfortable with their handskills, but there are a few points that could be improved. 

The Pointed (V) cutter is bevelled at 45 degrees at each rear corner to enable it to be attached at the same angle as the forward (V-ed) bevel, and enable it to be honed in a forward direction.  


Straight Cutter and V Cutter

The ¼” cutter is at an awkward angle to hone, and the only solution is to raise the waterstone to a height such that the blade may be held underneath to achieve the desired bevel angle. 


 
¼” cutter

Using a honing guide: Bearing in mind that LV manufactures a terrific honing jig (the LV Honing Guide Mk II), it is reasonable to expect that LV might have developed a link between the Router Plane and the Mk II. When I attempted to use the Mk II I encountered a few minor (but nevertheless significant) difficulties. 

When either the ½” or the pointed (V) cutter was screwed into the blade holder, the blade holder would not sit flat in on the Registration Jig of the Mk II. The problem is that the screw provided was too long and projected beyond the base of the Blade Holder. This was an easy fix – just file it down. 

 

Complicating matters is the fact that both cutters are not parallel and flare slightly wider at the business end. Consequently, the Blade Holder cannot be used to register the blade for squareness. A line could be scribed across the Registration Jig at the point where the Registration Stop is positioned for a 25° bevel, and the edge of the bevel aligned with this (or one can do this by eye). 


Aligning the ½” cutter by eye.

Since the back of the cutter now sits on the projecting lip of the Blade Holder, which places it above the Registration Jig, the angle that it hones at is not the 25 degrees on the Jig. I estimate that it is probably closer to 27 degrees. 


Aligning the V cutter by eye.
 

The Pointed (V) cutter can also be honed in the Mk II but, again, with similar compromises. With the front of the bevel against the stop (or scribed line), and at the 25 degrees setting, the bevel is honed at about 23 degrees. The following picture illustrated honing the ½” straight cutter on a waterstone using the Mk II. 


LV Honing Guide Mk II and ½” cutter
 

In my view the sharpening system has not been thought through sufficiently. There is a promise of some really creative thinking in the form of removable cutters, but it just falls a little flat when the issues are broadened out. Note: The V cutter does not fit into the LV Honing Guide Mk I blade angle setting jig (the cutter and Blade Holder are too short), but otherwise may be used in the Mk I honing guide as long as you build a blade projection jig (to re-set the bevel angle).
 

Working with the Veritas Router Plane 
So the questions remain, “what is the Veritas Router Plane like to use”? And “Is this a necessary tool for the workshop, in other words, why should I own one”? 

I have included below a selection of projects or joints that use the router plane, and will discuss my experience as we progress through these. 

The router plane should be seen to be a specialist handplane. It will not be used in isolation, but together as part of a team of tools – I almost wrote “handplanes” for “tools” but the fact is that the router plane fits in well with power tools as well, such as cleaning or fine tuning up the floor of a dado that has been trenched with either a dado blade on the table saw or a power router. 

There are also other handplanes that overlap in function, such as a plough plane when grooving (e.g. Record #044) and dadoing (e.g. Stanley #46). However, these planes are unable to work into stopped ends, such as a stopped groove for the bottom of a box or a drawer. One does not generally associate a router plane with cutting tenons – and it is true, it cannot cut a tenon – but it can do a fine job of planing the tenon face parallel to the face of a stretcher.  

A Simple Mortise – a good first project
This first joint I made with the router plane was a simple mortise for a saw tang. I had been thinking about replacing the handle on my Z-saw dozuki for a while. This seemed like a good opportunity and I had a piece of Camphor that appeared ideal. Here are the components and tools used.
 


The lower saw components are for illustration. The Dozuki for
remodelling is above these. 

The first step was to mark out the mortise for the tang and then score the waste with a chisel. Note the very slightly wavy outline, which is caused by the knife blade following the grain. Still, this will be hidden when the two sides are sandwiched together. 

 

Then it is time to use the LV Router Plane to remove the waste. The ½” straight cutter is used here – preferred for planing with the grain. 

 

This side should end up looking like this. 

 

Do the same on other side, and then glue the two sides together. 

 

Finally, slide in the tang, fix in place with a little epoxy, and shape the handle with a spokeshave and a scraper. A bit of oil and wax for the finish, and the final result is … 

 

A Stopped Groove in a Dovetailed Box
One of the greatest challenges in building a box made with through dovetails are not the dovetails themselves (yes, I know they are supposed to be the be-all to end-it-all). The greatest challenge is really the stopped groove that holds the box’s tray bottom. In a box made with half-blind dovetails it is possible to hide the open ends of a complete groove in the dovetail itself. But one cannot do this with a through dovetail since a full groove will leave gaps in the box ends. The router plane is the ideal tool to create a stopped groove. 
 


1. First mark the groove sides with a cutting gauge.

2. Knife the lines about a 1/16” deep.

3. Drill the stopped end (an alternative is to
chisel a small mortise).

4. Then chisel out the groove.


5. Now it is time for the router plane to remove the remainder of the waste. The straight ¼” cutter is used.
 

 Although the router plane is capable of removing the waste without the aid of a guide, it is advisable to use the fence as well. The end piece on the left, below, shows how I gouged the sidewall. With the fence in place, the router plane will make shavings to rival those of a plough plane. 

 

In spite of the slip above, the groove proves to be a nice fit for the bottom piece.

 

And here is the finished box (and no groove holes!) …

 

We have not finished here yet, and will be back a little later.

Sliding Dovetails
Cutting a sliding dovetail is basically just a variation of a dado. A more complex dado, oh yes!
Basic plan of action - The tail (male) section is made with a saw and chisel, then cleaned up with either a #140 skew block plane (or shoulder plane) or a specialist dovetail plane (which has a sole angled to match the tail profile).

 


1. Mark the outline

2. Cut the shoulder

3. Chisel out the waste

4. Clean up with a #140 skew block plane
 against an angled fence

or use a dovetail plane 

and now on to the pin (female) section of the joint. 

5. First mark out the pin from the outline of the tail.

6. Then cut the shoulders to depth with a backsaw against to a guide angled at 1:6 

7. Cut through the centre to make it easier
to
remove the waste. 

8. And now remove the waste with the router plane. You are going across the grain, so use the V blade.

9. If the pin section needs to be widened slightly,
use a Stanley #79 side rabbet plane.

10. Finally fit the tail into the pin…



Straight dado
After the sliding dovetail, a straight dado is rather easy.

 


1. Again, mark the lines first and score them as deeply as you can with a sharp knife.

2. Create a fence to saw the shoulder.

3. Saw the shoulders to depth, then saw the waste section for easy removal.

4. Knock out the waste…

5. and, finally, it is the turn of the router plane
to smooth out the bottom of the dado.

You can take quite large and clean chips
with the V blade
.

To avoid breakout at the ends of the dado, always enter from the outside. Never complete a cut from the inside of the dado. An additional strategy is to chamfer the end of the dado to the final desired depth.


Now for the final fit …

 


Mortise and Tenon joints
The mortise and tenon joint is probably one of the most commonly used in furniture. It is not one that I immediately think of using a router plane to create but David Charlesworth does write about this, so I have included it here as well.
The router plane is used on the tenon, but we have to have a mortise first (one always forms this before the tenon)
...

 


1. ...so here I am mortise chisel in
hand.

2. Making the tenon begins with marking out.

3. The shoulders are too shallow to saw off,
so I plane them off with a Stanley #140
 
4. The router plane has sufficient registration that additional support is not required.

But if it were, then screw on an outrigger of the same thickness as the tenon.
The #140 is my preferred way of cleaning up sawn tenons, but I discover that the router plane has an advantage of producing perfectly parallel faces. The router planes faces are not as smooth as those finished by a #140 and the tenon slides in with gentle persuasion.

 

Hinge Mortising
The final demonstration of the router plane is hinge mortising. I find this method produces a perfect flush fit for hinges, something that is important when building fine furniture.
 


1. For the example, let us fit this hinge...

2. …here

3. Mark out and chisel the waste as
demonstrated before

4. Now is the time to set the depth stop
for the exact thickness of the hinge.
Be careful here – tighten the rings too much and they will be extremely difficult to loosen with fingers alone. A few times I resorted to inserting the hex keys into the holes in the circumference. It helps to back
off the Depth Adjustment Knob slightly.

5. Now remove the waste…

6.
...which leaves behind a clean and even mortise.

7. The final fit is good.

Large hinge mortises like this are relatively easy to make. It is much more difficult to do tiny hinge mortises, such as the ones on the box I made earlier in this article. It is tempting to just rely on a chisel (and often I do just that) because this is now a very fiddly job. Nevertheless, the router plane, even one the size of the Veritas Router Plane, can make for a better fit. 


Use the V blade as this makes it easier to manoeuvre inside the mortise.

Note – as an alternative to the above, where manoeuvrability is difficult and more support is necessary, then the router plane may be used with the blade in a lateral position, as in the picture below. For our mortise, however, while could be a need for more support (the sides could be packed to achieve this), there is too little room to use the blade lengthwise. So the V blade used obliquely is still the best option. 


Blade in the lateral position
 

Finally … a box for my dovetail chisels.


Observations and last words
The Veritas Router Plane is a pleasure to use. It inspires confidence through the quality of its build. When one holds it the first thought is about the solidness and heft it has. I know that this is in part just an illusion since the Stanley weighs more. Perhaps it is the chiselled, clean edges of the Veritas or the new paint, since my old Stanley(s) wear the scars of many battles.  

I also cannot compare the blades of the two planes since I do not have original Stanleys in my collection. Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between the blades from St James Bay (with which I have been happy in the past) and those from Veritas. I am unsure whether the Veritas blades are A2 steel (since this is not mentioned anywhere) but they hold a keen edge and are beautifully machined.  

I am less happy with the thought given to the blade sharpening methodology. As I indicated earlier, the ¼” blade should also have a removable bevel end, and all the blades should be configured for the LV Honing Guide Mk II. 

That said, the blade adjustment system of the Veritas is a huge improvement over the Stanley. The spring-loaded collar is inspired. Clearly thought has been given to what happens when you need to insert a blade or alter blade height in the real world. There is both precision and reliability about this one. The ease of inserting blades and adjusting blade height is a Very Big issue when using a router plane. An Even Bigger issue is the ability to set a depth to an exact height. The Veritas router plane does this … well, precisely. 

I could not say that the Veritas actually felt significantly different to the Stanley when held. The balance is much-of-a-muchness for the two. The slight extra width of the Stanley was not noticeable as the knobs are roughly the same distance apart.  

The fence on the Veritas is a beauty. It adjusts easily and can be set precisely. But this is another area where I feel Veritas must receive a back-handled compliment. They have designed a terrific product in the fence, but it really should not be an “optional extra”. I cannot see how a serious router plane user could live without one. 

A few small niggles about screws. Both the Blade Holder and the fence mount use a slotted screw to attach the fence mount. It makes more sense to me to use hex bolts here as well and so maintain uniformity. Overall, the niggles are few and the positives are many. 

In summary, the word that keeps returning to me when I think of the Veritas Router Plane is “Precision”. This is a precision instrument that grew from a crude tool. It remains a basic tool at heart, and indeed one does not actually need such sophistication in a tool such as this. However, once used there is no turning back.

The Veritas Router Plane and other Veritas products can be purchased online at Lee Valley (Canada) - www.leevalley.com or www.timbecon.com.au in Australia.

Derek Cohen
Perth, January 2006
 

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