Hot New Tools: Issue 28

WoodRiver Planes

Tester: Craig Bentzley

After reading some heated Internet threads about the WoodRiver planes, I’ll admit that I had some misgivings about putting myself in the crossfire. Then, I thought about the guy looking to buy his first block or bench plane on a limited budget. Price is important, especially today. (I had been woodworking for 15 years before I could afford my first Bed Rock.) That said, no tool is a bargain if it doesn’t work properly. So, out of pure curiosity, I accepted the assignment to examine and test the first editions of the WoodRiver block and bench planes.

First, the facts. The bench planes (Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6) are modeled after the Stanley “Bed Rock,” which went out of production in 1943. These new planes feature a solid, machined frog (see photo, below) designed to reduce blade chatter, and a three-screw adjustment system that allows for throat adjustments without removing the blade. (Similar planes exist, but not at this price.)

I spent about 15 minutes per plane, disassembling and cleaning each, before taking them to a granite surface plate, where I checked them for flatness and side-to-sole perpendicularity and then subjected them to a general inspection. In total, I spent about 45 minutes on each bench plane before it was ready to use. Not bad considering some vintage planes need over four hours of fettling and often require a blade and chipbreaker upgrade.

Nicely machined surfaces help prevent chatter by solidly mating the frog to the bottom casting.

The soles tested flat from front to rear but show a bit of concavity side to side. The concavity was less than .001"—comparable to some of my higher-end planes, which I had assumed were perfect until I checked them during this test. The sides measured out of square by an average of about .5°, about the same as my vintage planes. The castings are heavier than my Bed Rocks, and tougher too. One of the shortcomings of the old planes was the tendency of the cast iron body to break when dropped. You’ll find many of the old Baileys that suffered this fate. To test their durability, I dropped the #3 from the bench. It is also notable that they survived several ceiling to floor drops and even a few whacks with a 6 lb. blacksmith’s hammer, with relatively minor dings and dents.

The three-screw mechanism enables you to adjust the size of the throat without removing the blade.

The blades, made from high-carbon steel (in the Rc hardness 60-64 range) and measuring between .118" and .122" thick, are not “ready-to-go” out of the box. They require minor lapping and honing. The thickness of chipbreakers comes close to that of the blade—a real plus; however the lip on the leading edge causes the blade to deflect. This can cause the blade to chatter when planing harder woods. I solved the problem by reducing the lip on a diamond stone until it projected about .020". Also, the leading edges of two of the chipbreakers were not perpendicular to the sides. To fix this, I honed the bevel with a guide until it was square and smooth.

The knobs and totes are made from a light-colored variety of rosewood and have a minimal finish and comfortable shapes. My biggest gripe is the stamped- metal lateral adjusting levers. Considering the forces that this lever is subjected to, I have to wonder how it will hold up.

Thicker blades and chipbreakers reduce vibration and chatter for smoother cuts. WoodRiver’s stock blade and chipbreaker are about twice as thick as a vintage Stanley Bailey.

The block plane was my personal favorite. The polished cap iron was comfortable in the hand, and the adjustable shoe moved smoothly. The blade advancement screw had very little slop. There is no lateral adjustment for the blade, and not much play side-to-side, meaning the bevel needs to be perpendicular to the sides of the blade. (It wasn’t on the plane that I received, but that was easily corrected with the initial sharpening.)

To wrap things up, the new WoodRiver planes may lack the prestige of a vintage tool or the out-of-the-box planability of the pricier competition. However, given a little tune-up and sharpening time, they can handle everything from pine to oak to curly maple just as sweetly. If you’re ready to step into the world of hand tool woodworking, and your tool-buying money tree has fewer leaves, consider these tools as a worthy investment.

#149381 Block Plane  $69.99

Bench Planes:
#149382 No. 3, $99.99;
#149383 No. 4, $109.99;
#149384 No. 5, $119.99;
#149385 No. 6, $129.99

Helical head for the small shop

Steel City Tool Works 13" Portable Planer

So-called “insert” tooling is one of the latest and greatest solutions for machining tough and figured wood. Compared to straight-bladed cutterheads, the small, easy-to-replace knives cause less tear-out and are noticeably quieter. But with the exception of some large machinery and aftermarket cutterheads costing $400 (installation not included), this technology has proved slow to reach small-shop woodworkers.

Enter Steel City with its 13" lunchbox planer having a 26-cutter helical head, and a price tag that’s less than some of its straight-bladed competition. Each cutter has four cutting edges; when one becomes dull, simply loosen a screw and rotate it to reveal a fresh edge. Some would prefer carbide, but according to the manufacturer, you can expect to run about 10,000 linear feet of lumber through the machine before the cutters need replacement. Our quickie test produced smooth, gouge-free surfaces on cherry and quilted maple, with minimal snipe. And the dust collection proved effective as well.

One nice detail that deserves special mention is the repeat cut feature. Set the stop screw, and the step-stopped thickness settings ensure that stock is automatically thicknessed from 13/4" down to 1/8" in 1/8" increments.

#842713  $599.99

Woodcraft Tester: Joe Hurst-Wajszczuk


Smaller tools for tiny turnings

Pinnacle Cryogenic Pen Set

When it comes to turning pens and other small-scale projects, I want a tool that feels more like a pocket knife than a long-handled turning tool. The compact tools in the Pinnacle Cryogenic Pen Set are just the right size for turning pens, bottle stoppers, and tops on my mini-lathe. (It’s worth pointing out that the three-piece set costs about as much as one of the larger turning tools.) As with the full-sized tools, the cryogenically treated steel stays sharp two to three times longer than high-speed steel, which means more turning between sharpenings.

#149546  $89.99

Woodcraft Tester: Kent Harpool

Say “bye-bye” to baby food jars

Highpoint XT Flat Head Screw Assortment Kit

If you’ve ever made a late-night dash to the hardware store, you already know why you need this kit. The 800-piece set of unplated square drive screws should be more than enough to complete almost any workshop project. The carrying case contains two #1 × 2" and two #2 × 2" driver bits, hand drivers, and 50 each of the following: #6 × 1/2", 3/4" and 11/4"; #8 × 3/4", 1", 11/4", 11/2", 13/4", 2", 21/2", and 3"; and #10 × 11/2", 2", 21/2", and 3".

#619169  $49.99

Woodcraft Tester: Darin Lawrence

  An instant glue for just about everything

Titebond Instant Bond CA Adhesives

The first adhesive choice for pen turners and finish carpenters, cyanoacrylate (CA) glues are suitable for attaching almost anything to anything else, in just a few minutes. Titebond manufacturer, Franklin International, now offers a line of CAs that works with other materials but is specially formulated for wood. The glues have a two-year shelf life (unopened), a 4000 psi tensile strength, and a service temperature range from -65°F  to +200°F. Titebond CA comes in four viscosities, from watery thin (for assembling and finishing pens), to gel (for mitered returns). Give the joint a spritz of the activator for an instantaneous bond.

#149430 (Thin, 2 oz.), #149433 (Medium, 2 oz.), and #149436 (Thick, 2 oz.)—each $9.99; #149439 (Gel, 2 oz.), $12.99; #149442 (Activator, 2 oz.), $ 7.99

Woodcraft Tester: Kent Harpool

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