I bought this plane to complement several other Jack-sized planes (#5-1/4W, #5, #5-1/2, #62-1/2, Jack Rabbet, all Veritas) with the intent of fitting it with a cambered blade for cases where I want to hog out a lot of material, but with wider/shallower cuts and better flatness than I get from my scrub.
The plane shows good quality control in all functionally important respects. Non-functional fit and finish isn't to the level of my Veritas planes, but they're considerably more expensive. The blade took a moderate amount of work to flatten and sharpen whereas the premium brands come dead-flat. I've used the plane a fair amount, and the blade seems to be made of a decent high-carbon steel though it needs to be sharpened more frequently than the PM-V11 blades in my other Jack planes. I think that these are very reasonable tradeoffs given the price and that the Wood River delivers very good value overall.
I sharpened the blade with a 6" radius camber, which means that it takes a ~60/1000" cut when the blade is extended such that it's just barely taking full-width chips. For comparison, the 1.5" wide, 3" radius blade in my scrub takes a ~70 mil cut when similarly extended. I left the primary bevel at 25 deg.
With the blade cambered as described above I found two issues related to depth adjustment range:
1. With that much extension the frog had to be set fairly far forward to avoid "levering" the blade on the edge of the sole in front of the frog. I set the frog by painting the edge of the sole with Prussian Blue marking grease, and then tweaked the frog backward until the blade bevel just barely contacted the sole when extended as described above. This combination of frog position and extension turned out to leave a very small mouth, and I had to file out the mouth a bit more than 1 mm to pass 60-mil shavings. While this is an inherent limitation of the Bed Rock configuration, I think that given the typical uses for a Jack plane it might be better to ship the plane with a larger mouth. My existing planes don't have such limitations as they use different mechanical configurations that allow wider adjustment ranges (movable toes in the #5, #5-1/2, #62-1/2, and jack rabbet; a frog that extends all the way to the bottom of the sole in the #5-1/4W, such that there's no sole corner to interfere with the blade).
2. Because of the tight camber radius I had to set the chip-breaker about 80 mils back from the blade tip (~20 mils back from the blade corners). The distance from the leading edge of the chipbreaker to the depth adjustment slot is such that I could not fully retract the blade in that configuration. I resolved this by re-grinding the chip-breaker with a 30 deg bevel, which removed just enough from the leading edge to allow the blade to be fully retracted. I think this may reflect a design flaw, because even after modification the adjuster still permits a ridiculous amount of blade extension (more than would ever be useful). The Hock chip breakers are spec'ed with a slightly smaller distance from depth adjuster to leading edge FWIW. Again this is a case where my existing planes (which all use Norris-type adjusters) don't have issues as they have larger depth adjustment ranges.
Assuming somebody else out there wants to use a similar cambered-blade setup, I think that the work required is worth the cost savings, but only if you're comfortable with such mechanical modifications.
I purchased a set of 4 of these with high hopes, I wanted to like these planes however....
The machining on mine was definitely sub-par, all four had burr around he mouths and needed filing, no big deal but not what I expected. In my humble opinion you shoudln't have to touch a new, high quality plane with a file to correct what should have been done at the factory.
The iron on the number 4 was concave or high in the middle, I have lapped it repeatedly and still have low corners Finally the number 6 had the cap iron screw torqued in so tightly that in order to get it out and get to the blade, I had to secure the plane in a vice and put a set of vice grips on an old flat blade screwdriver to get enough torque to get the screw to budge, this after the screwdriver slipped out repeatedly, butchering the new brass screw, now when the cap iron screw is fully screwed in isn't tight enough to hold the cap iron firmly in place during planing. The lateral adjustments are VERY stiff and hard to get a precise setting, you must apply so much pressure to get them to budge, I have tried bending them up (as recommended in the Bob Costas video) so that they don't contact the frog so much to no avail.
I have not set up or tuned the #5 plane but I have had it with these tools, for the money the quality control should be much much better better. These are cheap Chinese knock offs masquerading as high end tools, I'll buy Lie Nelson. I am very disappointed and will be returning mine this weekend.
I was really hoping for more, but, in the end, you get what you pay for. Wood River planes are not bad, but they're NOT Veritas or Lie-Nielsen. If you're looking for a moderately priced hand plane, take a look, but beware that the money you save, you'll spend in time. I bought the #4 and #5 Wood River. The plane is built well and the blade steel seems fine and held an edge for a moderate time. The problem was getting the blade set. The mechanism that advances the blade needs a lot of improvement. There's a lot of play in the mechanism, preventing you from dialing the blade in just right to get a decent shaving. I found that each time I used the plane, I'd spend about 20-30 minutes trying to back the blade off and move it forward to find the sweet-spot. It took so long, I found myself not wanting to use them. I've since bought several Veritas planes and they're much better. It's like night and day of an improvement. I make a slight adjustment to the no-play mechanism and I'm planing away in no time. I only wish I knew this before I spent $280 on two planes that I'll end up selling for a loss.
An updated Wood River Commentary for 2013.
I purchased a #3, #4, #5, and #6 when they were on a -20% sale in the fall 2012. I now have about 4 months using them mostly in white oak, red oak, cherry, and poplar. I have some high-end planes, but sometime have "low-end" users as guests in my shop. I weighed restoring a set of Stanley Bedrocks vs. buying new Wood Rivers and thought I'd take a chance on the new planes. I haven't been disappointed.
I'm generally pleased, but returned the #4 as the tote didn't fit my hand well. The other sizes were fine, so what's up with the #4? Go figure. I didn't want to replace or customize the #4's tote as I have other #4 planes which are perfectly serviceable or actually really quite nice being the Canadian and US premium brands.
I'll lead off by saying I have NOT had any fit or finish problems. Soles are dead flat. I did take a mill file to the throats to de-burr them, but I did that to all my Stanleys too. I did not experience any squareness problems with any of my planes in side-to-sole or blade parallelism. I did carefully align the frog, iron, and chip-breaker after cleaning each plane throughly as they are WELL oiled in their packaging. I did not experience any out-of-square issues with any of the chip breakers' grinds.
The blades seem to be the hardness typical of an O1 steel. Easy to sharpen with average edge retention (I use diamond and ceramic water stones). I easily flattened the backs of all three plane irons, with one of them needing about 10 mins work an the other two about 5 mins each. They honed up easily, and I kept the factory 25 degree grind with an approximately 4 degree micro bevel and a 3 degree or so tertiary bevel for approximately a 32 degree total bevel. I can confirm my Veritas bevel gauge indicates the total bevel is more than 30 degrees and less than 35. So there. for what ever that's worth.
I find the 3 "keepers" an excellent replacement for the Stanley Bedrock series which when purchasd used can come in any imaginable condition of neglect or disrepair. In brief the Wood Rivers are similar in performance the my two Bedrocks, needing about the same tuning, but with a much improved chip breaker, which on my Bedrocks are still the originals.
Since my initial purchase and subsequent return of the #4, I purchased two more, a #4 and #6 for gifts to family members for Christmas, making a total of six Wood Rivers I've unpacked and tuned. These series 3 models seem to be very consistant with the exception of the #4s having a misshapened tote for my comfort. The second #4 ( I should have kept the 1st one I purchased as someone got a completely tuned plane...) went to my son-in-law, who has smaller hands then I do, but then again I'm 6" + and over 250, and have the hands of a farmer, and wear size XL gloves. He wears size medium gloves and thinks the #4's tote is just dandy. My experiencing teaching my sons-in-laws the ins and outs of new plane ownership and preperation reflected my experiences with the 4 I purchased for myself.
Bottom line: My favorite of the bunch is the #6, and it has become my new "super Jack" class plane. The # 6 is VERY hefty. Cuts true and smooth as can be. I use it frequently instead of my #5 or #7. I could have very likely gotten along without the #5, as I have a low-angle Jack & 1/2 and low-angle #7 Jointer but I'm sure my guest will appreciate having the lighter weight #5 plane.
The Wood River planes are NOT Lie-Nielson's out of the box, but they REALLY tuned up nice for the price. I just wished from the bottom of my sentimental heart they were made in the good old USA. I'd pay 20% more for the exact same planes made "locally". That would give woodworkers a great "working class" quality plane family if they don't want to or can't afford or justify the stratosphere-priced hand planes.
My last $.02 worth, which is worth every cent: Every dedicated woodworker SHOULD save up and buy at least ONE high-end hand plane for the experience, user satisfaction, and pride of ownership. I highly recommend investing BIG in YOUR "money" plane. That's THE hand plane you'll use the most OR THE one on which you'll expect and REQUIRE the absolutely best finished cut you can get. For most of us that's a #4 smoother or #5 Jack, but YOUR milage may vary. IF you're loaded, buy a full $et of the caviar level plane$. It will impre$$ your friends and you'll never be sorry. BUT for the rest of us: Get smart. Be informed. Get educated by getting and watching DVDs or take a class. BUT, MOST importantly, take what you read in these reviews with a grain of salt.
Making firewood in 12 or more exotic species since 1962...