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Tool Addicts

Top-Notch Tools for Less: WoodRiver's New V3 Block Planes

comments (29) March 8th, 2011 in blogs

GEide GEide, Contributor
thumbs up 26 users recommend

Did you see Chris Gochnour’s recent review of the new WoodRiver block planes?

Back in 2009, when he reviewed the first release of WoodRiver planes, Gochnour was not impressed with the tools.

But the manufacturer seems to have taken feedback to heart and revamped the designs. We were happy to review the block planes again and this time, Gochnour’s assessment was chock full of superlatives: “flawlessly made,” “fine machining,” and “great performance.”

More Handplane Tech

Guide to Block Planes 

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The planes include other features such as greater heft for “rigorous use” and a unique knuckle-joint lever cap, which makes blade changes easy and it holds the blade securely.

But the real question is... what do you folks think? Has anyone out there purchased or tried these planes? Any comments?

And what do you think of the price? These planes are cheaper than higher-end counterparts, under $100 for one of them. Yet Gochnour said that the performance was “on a par with other premium block planes.”

Does this affect how you look at hand tools? If you’re a power-tool junkie, does the potential to buy higher quality for a lower price entice you to try more hand tool work?

posted in: blogs, handplanes, WoodRiver

Comments (29)

patter patter writes: I have always wanted to learn more about planes and how to use and care for a classic hand tool.I found wood river a good tool to learn a new craft but did not want cheap junk to learn with. Afraid of high end,in fear I would mess them up and be out a large amount of money.Wood river in that respect is my happy choice. About spending your money in the usa. I am sure Mr. Nielsen would sell his company to anybody in China if the price is right, and put his workers out in the street passing them by as he goes to the bank.I am sure Mr. Nielsen is a great person, and I am sure I will own one of his planes before he sells out to China.I live and work in Detroit I know first hand what its like to be sold out for cheap labor.
Posted: 10:28 pm on April 1st

Richinsd52 Richinsd52 writes: Really, if you look at the actual difference in price of a new wood river block plane and a Lee valley Veritas, come on we're not talking about breaking the bank. Fifty dollars is not going to kill most woodworkers. That's a couple boxes of sandpaper and a can of decent finish. I have several Veritas planes and every one of them performs perfectly from the box. I have a couple of Lie Nielsons as well but the veritas perform every bit as well and I just like the way they feel in my hand. The price difference between wood river and Veritas in some of the larger planes may be more significant but in any case, you'll spend more an a nice piece of figured hardwood than the difference between any of them anyway. A perfect tool is a pleasure to work with and a lifetime investment. Wouldn't you rather spend your time working with wood than wasting hours or days trying to make a second rate tool perform like the best?
Posted: 9:41 pm on March 28th

peterdyck peterdyck writes: I bought the low angle jack plane about a month ago sharpened the blade took a few passes and noticed the frog was out of alignment. I couldn't get it to produce a shaving without one side of the blade digging in deeper than the other. I fiddled with it for 2 days and finally took it back. Got the Lee Valley low angle jack plane on their website. What a difference! Suffice it to say don't cheap it out, you really do get what you pay for. All adjustments are at your fingertips. Just a few turns of the screws and you have whisper thin shavings right out of the box. Now that's innovation at its finest. Try one and you will not be disappointed.
Posted: 11:25 am on March 28th

randy_m randy_m writes: It's sad many of us have such short sight; we want it now and cheap. I admit to fall in there sometimes. I already see this in woodworking. People do not appreciate craftsmanship or the effort that goes into a piece. So go ahead feed your desire for Made in Sooner or later no one will appreciate what you create with them anyway, since they can buy a copy of what you could create at a discount store down the street, made in you know where. I honestly don't see LV planes that much more expensive and will continue to buy them. (I keep waiting for pfeil to be replaced by WoodRiver next).
Posted: 10:17 pm on March 21st

manysplinters manysplinters writes: Buy American, Hmmm, I wonder if there are any Mexicans working at Lie Nielsen.

Just wanted to know if the Wood River planes do a decent job.
Posted: 12:57 pm on March 21st

Jammersix Jammersix writes: I prefer my tools and equipment to come from overseas-- JET are the mainstays in my shop.

I get more for my dollar, and American firms can keep up or follow Delta.

Carry on.
Posted: 12:00 pm on March 21st

gewima gewima writes: I hope you will all excuse me for mouthing off a second time in this exchange, but I had a unique opportunity over the weekend that is pertinent. A friend gave me his new Wood River #5 to set up. At the same time, I was setting up an old Stanley #5 I bought for my son-in-laws birthday. I had the WR, the old Stanley and my own LN#5 to compare.

It comes as no surprise probably that the LN won this little match-up hands down. How much is due to the fact that I plunked down the $350 asking price some time ago is up to you to decide. It’s been a while since I set this plane up for myself, but it always has been a rock solid performer. The blade took a great edge, and unless I do something stupid, requires a minimum of maintanence to keep razor sharp. The weight, and the design of the tool makes it naturally do what a plane is supposed to do, and it does it very well. The tote is designed right, the adjustments are easy and it holds that adjustment precisely. It is just a pleasure to use. It's hard to quantify that attribute, and if you don't value it, then the LN probably isn't for you.

Second comes the Wood River (I think it goes for ~$150). It was a little harder to set up than I remember the LN being, but it did get to the point where it did an adequate job. It could never really match the LN, but it did OK. I didn't like the tote, but those can be a personal preference. I've been using the LN for years, and anything different feels a bit foreign. I got a good edge on the iron after some difficulty. We'll have to see how long it lasts. I got acceptable shavings on Maple, Cherry and Hickory. (A bit more tear-out on the hickory, but that's a pretty tough test)

The old Stanley ($80) was equivalent on performance to the WR,harder to set up, but it is a sentimental favorite. It obviously belonged to someone who used it, but it was well cared for. The iron was sharpened with a relief on the ends to avoid the dreaded plane marks (This was a bit too much relief for my taste, but I ended up grinding it off and starting over.) I actually liked the way the tool handled. The tote was very comfortable to me, but the plane just seemed a bit light weight for my taste in a #5. It was, to be honest, a real b**ch to set up, but it got there. This tool was made a long time ago and there have been many improvements since that might make a strict comparison unfair. Bottom line, once you get a plane where you like it, it should stay there without too much fussing. Let’s see if this one does. Performance on the maple, cherry and hickory were almost identical to the WR. Neither was as good as the LN.

Putting the political and economic arguments aside, these three tools all serve a purpose in today’s marketplace. If you need your tools to be the best they can be, and you appreciate the design and craftsmanship of the LN tool line, the price tag is not an issue. It is worth every penny. If you need a plane to do what a plane does, the WR might be just fine for you. Keep in mind, you may eventually want to buy an LN, but the WR may serve quite well for now, so why risk the cash now if you don’t need to (or have it). I am glad I bought the Stanley for the son-in law. I hope it will give him the idea of what a quality tool is all about and that he starts to appreciate that quality. He may want an LN someday, but what he got is a pretty good match to the WR, and it’s got some history to it.

Posted: 11:52 am on March 21st

BallinaBill BallinaBill writes: I have seen reviews of these planes made in China and while I am willing to believe that they will do what is required of them, I would still seek alternatives to purchasing them.
America and I include Canada makes superb second to no other hand tools. I have an Estwing hammer that has been with me for 40 years, I also use a No.6 and a No.7 plane, made by union around 1919. I had very minor recovery work to make them serviceable after receiving them around 1990 from Canada. They are used exclusively on Australian hard woods and perform admirably. I also have the excellent Veritas planes and expect that after my demise they will be in service for another generation, or two. The Chinese tools may fit a niche for handy men and hobbyists, they are after all only reverse engineered copies of American tools, however for dedicated wood professionals and serious amateurs there is no comparison to "real" tools expensive they may be, but will be passed on an admiring generation of wood workers.
Posted: 4:28 am on March 21st

hubola hubola writes: On trying to buy American, good luck. I worked for years in machine shops and by far the machine tools they bought and used were made in Germany and Japan with the majority from Japan. The cost of living in both those countries is similar to our own and they could still manafacture and ship high quality tools to this country that beat out our own domestic equipment. If the companies in this country prefer to use foreign made stuff maybe we should all sit up and take notice.
Posted: 12:55 pm on March 20th

abeech abeech writes: Stanley make both planes and chisels. A Stanley block plane of today is of much lesser quality than Woodriver. Stanley could make a decent plane but choose not to. Spending $5 more on better machining and more accuracy or better parts would be anathema to them.

Its not really about China vs the US but about the base level quality that a manufacturer is prepared to put into their product. Stanley, a once proud American company, is prepared to shame itself by putting marketing above product quality, by putting a lack of delivery of adequate products behind profit.

Its about attitude and an approach to quality which the US has now lost. Were I Stanley I would want to know where the delivery of actual sound working products had evaporated to. They claim such quality but do not deliver.

Woodriver seems to deliver at a good level of quality for a reasonable price. Thats it.

The bitterness of low quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price.
Posted: 6:28 pm on March 14th

gewima gewima writes: Reducing the fitness of any product to a price/quality ratio is a dangerous game. Before you even start with that, we better have a real clear idea what we mean by quality. The Wood River tools may be 80% there, and that is nice to hear. There is no doubt a market for them to support. If that's good enough for you, so be it. The LN tools are probabaly 95% there and its that 15% that's the killer in price. I'll pay it because I appreciate it.

Hows about another example: I use aluminum bar clamps a lot. I have some manufactured by Universal Clamp (US)@ about $23 per and some made in china for about $12per. They both clamp right? The universal clamp was obviously designed by someone who actually uses them and will absolutely be the first ones off the shelf for me. The chinese ones are becoming obsolete in my collection because they fail(None of the Universal's have done that) and it is more cost effective for me to buy it once and keep it. How much more expensive is a tool that costs twice as much and lasts 10 times longer?

At work I depend on the raw materials being specified and use will meet the need with a bit to spare. At home I want my tools to show the same kind of quality and craftsmanship that I try to show in my furniture. The US can't compete with China when it comes to cheap, so I don't want LN to learn how to mass produce their planes just to make them cheaper. They not only come out of the box ready to use, they will be ready and able to do the job for a long time to come. I can depend on that.

If you aim for minimum quality at a minimum price, you end up with a market flooded with cheap crap with little or no differentiation. I only hope there are enough of us out there who can appreciate quality and craftsmanship in our work and our tools.
Posted: 3:19 pm on March 14th

NikonD80 NikonD80 writes: You know, I can't help but wonder just how jingoistic you'd all be if the US tools were badly built and terrible to use.

Luckily for me, my disposable income is not very great so I can't even afford to consider such names as Lie Nielsen (the lucky bit is that my choice is much narrower and thus choosing becomes more straightforward). Most of my tools are strictly of the bargain basement kind and I have to make up for their deficiencies by building my own skills. Personally, I can't afford to care where the tool comes from, I can only worry about getting the best tool I can in my price range.
Posted: 11:03 am on March 14th

woodworkerdan woodworkerdan writes: plenty of discussion here. Ya gotta look at it another way - if we weren't buying te imports and shopped locally - the prices would drop. We could mass produce, we could use the laws of economics in our favor. Don't kid yourself into thinking that its import or nothing - what did they do for the thousands of years before the industrial revolution.....they bought locally.
enjoy the day....say ho to your friends
Posted: 11:01 pm on March 13th

LeeJor LeeJor writes: Yes they are made in China. But I challenge any of you to live the life you lead without China, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan made products; name it in your house, shop or workplace and there are a lot of products made in these countries. The corporate tax situation in this country is appalling and anti-free market, the American blue collar worker is a dying breed,and a lot of us are whining, entitlement-expecting,lazy slobs. Having said this I do prefer American hand tools because they are generally better made, but if the WoodRiver planes are as good, or very close, then I will buy them....and the LN and LVT when I can afford them. Besides isn't WoodCraft an American co.?
Posted: 9:02 pm on March 13th

gilsr gilsr writes: I have nothing to say about price to quality ratio in planes, I like to sharply focus on the automobile market in the 60's through the 80's. I would like someone to go through there Randian tomes and tell me why American autos would rust out before the 48 month payment book was done. I am not interested in hearing what happened after the 73 oil shock and the Japanese invasion. I want to know what free market forces brought us to that point. There were 5 auto companies at that point. Wasn't that a free market? Did the free market choose rust? I sometime think that there is an almost religious aspect of thought on markets. There is always an outcome of a market situation. It is not always the best outcome. May the rust be with you.

Posted: 7:33 pm on March 13th

mmike mmike writes: it is always interesting to me to see the different points of view when the whole issue of "buy American" comes up. As for the specific issues of these plane, I can't quite see the reason items like this don't retail for $20 or so even if they are produced here, I mean it's a chunk of metal holding a blade at an angle. No body had to design a microprocessor for it, the actual design of it is not that original in the first place, I mean how many different ways can you hold a blade at an angle. (now I realize what I just said is blasphemous to folks that do a lot of hand work and admittedly I'll take a power tool any day), ounce for ounce if these tool companies made cars they'd be selling them for $200,000

Now on the issue of China...
To Minnesota and others that prescribe to the view that if we want or current lifestyle... I would care to argue we enjoy our current lifestyle precisely and entirely because we buy from China.

As others have pointed out, the whole Buy American thing is getting even more blurred by the fact that where something is made is not the same as where the materials were sourced. Would you gladly buy Teak from an American distributor knowing the wood is not coming from a managed forest. With most products you have no idea where the equivalent "forest" is located, but I doubt it stops anybody as long as they FEEL like they are doing their part to keep American jobs.

Another curious thing is when it comes to economics everybody talks like we'd love to bury other countries with our superiority, but every time some natural disaster happens we're shelling out billions to help

I don't think there is any easy answer to our predicament. America over the last 40 years or so decided we could retire as a country and just start living off our wealth, in the last 10-12 years we decided we could just manufacture synthetic wealth (everything you need to know in life you learn by about 4th grade, read the "Emperor has no clothes" and it pretty much sums up what you need to know about economic bubbles). As many current retirees are figuring out when the money starts to run low you either need to get off your butt and start working or reduce your lifestyle. Most things in life are not black and white I imagine America's answer will be a little bit of both. And make no mistake this is not a democrat/republican thing, look at a graph of the debt in inflation adjust dollars, it's an exponential curve upward that pays no regard to what party was in power. We have done this to ourselves as an entire country. Like a family sitting at the dinner table with the funds running low, we need to stop arguing about who got us into this mess and get on with the business of working more and living with less.

The most important thing is to realize is these things happen at a society level, on an individual level there will be opportunities galore in this country, the tide may be going out but if you know which way the water is flowing you can keep swimming.

Posted: 7:12 pm on March 13th

james3one james3one writes: All too often, I don't have a choice but to buy a tool that is made in China. For a tool in this price range and type, I do have a choice. I'll leave that nicely made tool sitting on the shelf and go get a nice old Stanley from someone in my community. If I can't find one here I'll adjust my budget and give Tom a call.
Posted: 9:01 am on March 12th

Minnesota Minnesota writes: They are made in China!!!
Say what you will but if you would like future generations of Americans to enjoy the same standard of living that we do today then WAKE UP AND SMELL THE ROSES! Purchase and demand American made when you can or at least buy goods from country's with similar free market practices.
China IS NOT a free market. The playing field IS NOT EVEN CLOSE to level.
Give me LIE NIELSON made in the USA or VERITAS from Canada, but China??? Free market??? PLEASE.....

Posted: 9:54 pm on March 11th

dcscott6850 dcscott6850 writes: I think they are excellent objection is just that they are made in china, and would rather buy and support an American company. I am old enough to remember the superior quality of the old American made machines, and for the most part have been disappointed with the quality of much of the foreign made stuff. While the quality of the Woodriver planes is excellent, I would rather support an American company with American workers..largely on the theory that I don't want my clients buying a cheaper import..
D. Scott
Posted: 5:06 pm on March 10th

gerald_robinson gerald_robinson writes: I have both the WR variable mouth low angle block and their No 6. Both are excellent buys and while the fit and finish isn't as good as the LN or LV it is miles ahead of the Stanley, Anant, Gröz. The alternate irons are not available like for the LV and LN though and the irons don't hold an edge as well.

I can agree with the "buy US sentiment" but that is totally irrelevant IMHO. Yes I tend to avoid Chinese stuff largely because of poor QC. But paying a premium of over $150 for the LN No 6 and about 2.5x for the low angle block is silly.

I just ordered a LN No 62 and some extra irons because of the versatility and it is supposed to be in Friday. IMHO LN and LV tools are great and worth the money, but I can't afford to ignore bargain priced alternates.
Posted: 1:31 pm on March 10th

joe4liberty joe4liberty writes: For me it's simple (and it's obvious that I disagree with most posts here), being a student of economics, I can tell you that the quality-price ratio is a product of free-market forces. When there is a monopoly, prices are higher. Lie Nielsen are priced as high as they are because they are nearly "hand-made" which costs more to produce. This however does not mean that they are of higher quality than COULD be made through mass production. They are made that way because there are no market forces requiring Lie Nielsen to invest in mass production machinery to compete – and thus, it makes the most sense for Lie Nielsen to continue to use current production techniques. Mass production does not mean lower quality; remember Henry Fords’ Model T changed the auto industry, and his autos were considered equal to or better than autos 4-5 times the price.
With the Stanley line of tools began lowering in quality to lower price point (to open a new market base), a void was left for higher-end customers. Woodworkers then had a choice to make, buy lower quality, buy old used higher quality, or pay a premium for new higher quality. And for the past few decades this is where the hand tool market has resided, and the “premium” is at a MUCH higher ratio for hand tools than stationary power tools, in no small part due to market pressures brought about by the introduction of Grizzly tools to the American market more than a decade ago.
I have not used a Wood River plane, so I cannot speak to the quality-price ration of their tools, but if they are as good as the review claims, it is a good thing for woodworking in general, it will force the American market to compete or close doors (remember the Automotive crap coming out of Detroit in the '70's '80's? - thanks to the Japanese, American auto manufacturing can now compete with the best in the world market (within a price point of course)). And I bet my fellow posters here would have - or did - continued to buy the American crap back then just because they “Buy only American.” The ONLY way to improve the quality-price ration in American tools is for woodworking consumers to buy tools with the best quality-price ratio - regardless of where they are made. Free-market forces have, and will continue to, rule and American manufacturing will as it always has, rise to the task. And I predict if Wood River continues to improve in quality, they will do for hand tools what Grizzly did for stationary power tools, which is to say MUCH better quality-price ratios (Delta’s uni-saw is cheaper today (in inflation adjusted dollars) than their old saws of lesser quality, thanks to the competitive fixed power tool market).
* All of this of course is discounting the fact that the tax burden on manufacturing in the U.S. is now at the 50% point of GDP, and higher than nearly any other country except for middle Europe – anyone seeing inexpensive high-quality tools – or anything else for that matter – coming out of England or France?). And the only way to fix this situation sadly is to have more American firms send their manufacturing off shore until the politicians realize that to be competitive in the world market; we cannot balance our debt on the backs of the American business man, since those costs are then borne by consumers who have other choices. In other words, Atlas is shrugging, and sadly it appears that it must continue to happen in order to wake up D.C.

Posted: 1:09 pm on March 10th

sdugay sdugay writes: I have owned the low angle block plane from Wood River for about 3 months now and it works flawlessly. I cannot see the value of pating $150 for a Lie-Nielsen when the WoodRiver is $89 and just as high quality. As far as the country of origin goes, we now live in global economy. If you doubt me, then check out the content sticker on any new Ford or Chevy vehicle. I bought a 2008 F150 pickup which was "assembled" in Kansas City, MO but according to the sticker, 38% of the parts came from overseas.
Posted: 9:28 am on March 10th

illron illron writes: I'm fairly new to woodworking, about 5 years in, but I use hand tools every chance I get. I find making quality furniture by hand is about 30% skill/experience and 70% having the right tool. I've purchased several lie nielsen planes including a jointer, smoother, shoulder plane, small and large router plane, multiple block planes, saws, etc. I've found their tools brought me up the learning curve very quickly because I was focused on execution rather than fighting with a poorly tuned tool. Having said that, I have gone back and purchased some millers falls and stanley planes, tuned them up, and they work quite well now, but only because I had my lie nielsen tools as a reference point for how a tool should work. Lie nielsen tools are worth every penny and I feel good spending extra knowing it's going to good people in my own country. Even if a foreign tool comes out that is every bit as good as a lie nielsen, blue spruce, or bad axe tool, I will still spend more for the American brand... and in my opinion, that's how it should be. If money is an issue, by all means, save money and buy old stanleys, sargents, millers falls, etc off ebay, even then you're getting a well made tool and putting your money directly into the pocket of another American.
Posted: 8:26 am on March 10th

Posted: 7:58 am on March 10th

stjones stjones writes: Is there actually anything "unique" about these planes' knuckle-joint lever caps? Stanley, Sargent, and Millers Falls all made knuckle-joint block planes. No need to spend $90 on a Chinese model when American ones are as common as dirt for less money. Even a clean Stanley 65 (arguably the best mass-produced low angle block plane ever) can be had for less.

In the rare cases when I've thought I needed a new plane, the only manufacturers I've seriously considered are Lie-Nielsen for improved traditional designs (I own a small shoulder plane) or Veritas for innovative new designs (I own a large shoulder plane and a low angle smoother). WoodRiver is a non-starter.
Posted: 3:02 pm on March 9th

9619 9619 writes: What is the best way. To adjust the angle alignment of the blade in the Wood River block planes with the knuckle joint lever cap? Does one use hammer taps? Is there a way of adjusting the force that the lever cap closes with?
Posted: 11:32 am on March 9th

thaBuce thaBuce writes: I always make it a point to purchase USA made but for me even $90.00 for a single plane is too much. I am retired and have to be careful in what I can afford. I have been woodworking for over 30 years and I do respect the feel and performance of good tools but the "ggod tools" as entirely out of my price range now. The price of even buying a new iron for my 30 year ols planes are too much.
Posted: 11:11 am on March 9th

PRK569 PRK569 writes: I agree with Shepo26. Made in the USA and top quality are important. I spent $350.00 on Lie Nielson tools and some on another Made in USA product (I can't begin to spell the name)
Posted: 10:49 am on March 9th

Sheppo26 Sheppo26 writes: I have a handful of Woodriver planes and several Lie Nielsen planes. I can get similar performance from either name brand. The biggest difference is in the irons. Lie Nielsen blades keep an edge longer, but I think you can get a keener edge on the high carbon blades that Woodriver provides.

For me, I prefer Lie Nielsen because they are "Made in USA" while Woodriver planes are made in China
Posted: 8:49 am on March 9th

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