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Woodcraft is offering a new line of hand planes, made in China, that carry their own Wood River trademark. I recently examined the complete line: four bench planes ranging in size from No. 3 to No. 6, and a low-angle block plane. According to Woodcraft, all are patterned after vintage Stanley bedrock-style planes.
I tried them all, but focused most of my testing on the No. 4 bench plane, as that’s the size I use most often in my shop. For starters, the plane looked beautiful. All the machining was clean and crisp. And the sole was about as flat as you can get. Indeed, I couldn’t fit a 0.001-in. feeler gauge under a straightedge spanning toe to heel.
The plane weighed in at a hefty 4-1/2 lb. A smooth, thick coating of satin black paint covered the interior. The tote and knob, made from African rosewood, were nicely shaped and fit comfortably in my hands. Brass trimmings and a nickel-plated lever cap wrapped up the elegant detailing. I also liked the beefy high-carbon blade, measuring 1/8 in. thick and ground square to a 25° bevel. The back of the blade was flat, so it took little time to lap to a polished surface. After just a few minutes, I had honed the blade sharp and the plane was ready to use.
The plane’s chip-breaker has a contemporary design that resembles a Lie-Nielsen or a Hock. Its beefy 1/8-in. thickness really stabilizes the blade. However, the bevel of the chip-breaker was ground out of square and it took about 20 minutes to correct it. Also on the downside, the frog had been machined out of square, forcing the blade to drop lower on one side. In other words, with everything lined up, the blade was not parallel to the sole. This can be corrected by tilting the lateral adjustment lever. But, to me, a perpetually tilted lateral lever is a definite nuisance. I checked the remaining three bench planes for a repeat of the problem. Turns out, one had the same issue, although it sloped in the opposite direction. The other two were just fine.
In use, after I reground its chip-breaker and learned to live with the lever tilt, the No. 4 performed as well as high-end planes, for about half the price. Of course, high-end planes don’t require such prep work to get them cutting properly. The Wood River planes have a lot going for them, but with some quality issues still to be resolved. Once sharpened and tuned, though, they can perform with the best. The No. 4 sells for $109. Go to www.woodcraft.com for more information.
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