by Derek Cohen
has been dubbed by
the #164 (LAS) and #164-1/2 H (BUS), the bench plane equivalents are the #4
and #4 ½ sizes, respectively. This factor is particularly pertinent when you
consider that Patrick
Leach is convinced that
So what desirable characteristics does this high-end smoother demonstrate?
The BUS has …
o (1) Alignment by set screws on each side of the blade, and
o (2) A long and wide bed that supports the blade down to the mouth.
Setscrew for blade alignment
About a year ago, during the time I was assessing the LV
LA Jack Plane (which, as with the BUS reviewed here, was supplied by
I have long tended to prefer lighter planes: in addition
to the LA Smoother and HNT Gordon smoother, I also use a Mujingfang smoother
So the issues of relevance, while analyzing the performance of the BUS, could be reduced to the following two questions:
The BUS was assessed in two cutting angle configurations.
Firstly, it was set up and used with a cutting angle of 45° since this is the Standard Angle configuration
Investigation #1: To determine the planing quality of the BUS,
it was matched with a similar handplane, a vintage
The effective cutting angle for the #4 ½ and the BUS was 45°. Blades were honed to 8000 (1.2 microns) on a King waterstone using a LV Honing Guide Mk II for reliability of bevel angle.
Both planes were carefully set up with the smallest mouth size that could still produce wide shavings. These were measured with a digital micrometer.
The identical selection of timbers was used for each plane, and the results recorded on a scanner at 600 dpi.
The remaining difference between the two planes was the orientation of the blade, since the #4 ½ cuts bevel down. It was hoped that this would provide insight into the experience and use of low- verses high centre of gravity set-ups.
(b) Investigation #2: To determine the input of effective cutting angle, the same timbers were planed with the BUS in high angle mode, here an effective cutting angle of 62°. This was compared with the HNT Gordon smoother, with a 60° effective cutting angle (it would have been possible to add a 2° back bevel, but I was concerned that this might increase the size of the finely set mouth, which is non-adjustable).
The Australian HNT Gordon Smoother (Ironwood version) is a high angle bevel down plane designed to tackle to most difficult Australian timber, particularly hardwoods with interlinked grain. The most obvious difference from the other planes here is that this is a wooden plane and that the blade is held in with a wedge. Adjustments of the blade are made with a mallet.
(c) Investigation #3: To determine the input of mass, the BUS was later compared with the LV LA Smoother (LAS). Both used a high angle setting. Since my earlier comments pointed as much to the subjective experience – “the feel” – of differing masses, both this and an objective measure of planing ability was scrutinized.
The LAS is essentially a smaller version of the BUS, being nominally a #4 size.
Here are the initial contestants.
HNT Gordon Smoother,
About 2 5/8”
About 5 lbs
About 3 ½ lbs
4 ¾ lbs (5 lbs)
The timbers in this review, all from the
they are all hardwoods, the
These timbers had been part of the review written on the LV Scrub plane. They were flat, square and had been finished with either a HNT Gordon Try Plane or LV Bevel Up Jointer. The Jarrah had been additionally smoothed with card scrapers to remove some tear out.
Basically, the cutting angle of a bevel up plane is the bevel angle plus the bed angle, while the cutting angle of the bevel down plane is determined by the angle of the frog only.
Since the Stanley’s cutting angle is, therefore, limited to 45° (excluding the possible addition of a back bevel), the BUS was used with two blades, a 33 degree° bevel (creating a cutting angle of 45 degrees, the BUS-45), and a high angle 50° bevel (creating a cutting angle of 62°, the BUS-62). The high angle is better suited to hardwoods and timber with interlinked grain, and this bevel angle was essentially the same as the 60° bed of the HNT Gordon (HNTG).
All blades were honed through a progression of grits to 1.2 microns on an 8000 King waterstone. The LV Honing Guide Mk II was used in this regard since this made it easier to create reliably accurate bevel angles.
While the quality of the planed surface is really the measure of how well the total smoother package is working, one of the popular tests is how thin are the shavings. A reasonably thin shaving is .002” thick, with .001” being the product of a well-tuned smoother.
The planes here were all capable of doing a good bit better than this.
Maple measured as .0000”
Mahogany at .0005”
Jarrah too fragile to measure
Maple at .001” and Cherry at .0005”
The HNT Gordon did not achieve quite the same degree of fine shavings. Below are examples of fine wisps of Jarrah being measured at .002” (upper picture) and Camphor at .001” (lower picture).
HNT Gordon on Jarrah at .002”
… And on Camphor at .001”
Compared to the Stanley and HNT Gordon, it was evident that the BUS was in a class of its own when it came to setting and fine-tuning the blade.
With the BUS you slide the adjustable mouth forward (to guard against the blade edge striking a metal surface), place the blade on the plane’s bed between the set screws, replace the lever cap, return the sliding mouth to its preset position, then fine-tune the blade for square and projection.
With the Stanley, you must first re-position the chipbreaker on the blade as close to the edge as you can, place the blade on the plane’s frog, carefully attempting to centre the lateral adjustment level, replace the lever cap, then fine-tune the blade.
While these steps appear very similar, they are so much fiddlier
Backlash is the term given to the amount of free play
in the adjustment mechanisms. The
Neither the Stanley nor the HNT Gordon could match the BUS for ease of clearing the mouth of shavings. On the BUS you simply release the adjustable mouth, slide it forward, clear the shavings, then return the mouth to the position set by the stop screw. This takes about 2 seconds. With the Stanley and the HNT Gordon one might, at best, poke a pointy thing into the opening or, at worst, have to remove the blade to clear a jammed mouth.
The Mahogany, Maple
and Cherry proved to be non-challenging timbers for the
The only difference
Cherry - insignificant differences at 45°
Reflections on Mahogany (left) and Maple (right) following the BUS-45.
It was the Camphor, Jarrah and Karri that sorted the boys out from the men (to use a rather politically incorrect term).
(a) The Camphor
tree is a native of
Here are the results of all the planes on Camphor:
Key to grading results of planing:
All red outlines indicate evidence of tear out.
These results reveal that the
Next worst was the HNT Gordon, although its performance was
reasonably good by comparison to the
The BUS-45 produced a better finish than the HNT Gordon in spite of having a lower angle blade. In my opinion, this was due to having the ability to reduce the size of the mouth and take finer shavings.
The clear winner here was the BUS-62. Not only did it produce a flawless performance on the Camphor, but repeated this even when planing against the grain. The only visible difference between the surfaces planed with- and against the grain with the BUS-62 was that the latter was more matt than shiny in appearance.
(b) The Karri
tree belongs to a group of giant eucalyptus trees that grow in
Key to grading results of planing:
All blue outlines indicate surface abrasion (pseudo-tear out).
The Jarrah tree is another Eucalypt native of
Key to grading results of planing:
All red outlines indicate evidence of tear out.
All blue outlines indicate surface abrasion ( pseudo-tear out).
The common difficulty that all the planes experience was smoothing the area around the knot. Clearly, 45° is insufficient as a cutting angle, even with the small mouth of the BUS-45.
The HNT Gordon faired a little less well that the BUS-45. It produced slightly more tear out around the knot and, subjectively, the timber surface was not as clear.
The BUS-62 produced a near-perfect finish. The only exception was the pseudo-tear out around the knot. This would be expected to be difficult to detect with a little scraping and the applied finish. Interestingly, when the timber was reversed and the BUS-62 planed into the grain, the area around the knot improved. Evidently the grain in this area was also reversed. Importantly, the BUS-62 displayed impressive ability to control the difficult grain of the Jarrah board regardless of its direction. As with the Camphor, the BUS-62 was capable of near-flawless planing with or even against the grain.
Is it true that bigger is better?
It is time to compare the BUS with the LAS.
I recall when the BUS arrived and I removed it from its box. Compared to the LAS it looked squat and ungainly. And heavy. Did I mention it felt much heavier than the LAS? Or that it had a thicker, more cumbersome handle? I was determined not to like this interloper.
Of course I had to try it out. I am only made of flesh and blood. So, with a freshly honed and carefully set blade in a minute mouth … take one Cherry board ……place the BUS down on the timber. It feels as squat as it looks – like a suction on a glass plate. It feels low. Mmmm…it “feels” lower than the LAS.
About a month ago I reviewed the LV Scrub plane and complained about the thickness of the rear tote. The BUS has the same rear tote. This time I barely noticed it.
A short aside about the rear tote…..
I have been using the BU Jointer for the past month. It is just a superb instrument and totally outperforms every jointer I have used to date. My head had really been with the BU Smoother review I am finishing, but the Jointer gave me pause for thought in regard to the rear totes. While I still find the centre of the tote too thick for my personal tastes, it had been less of an issue than with the LV Scrub. It occurred to me that I was also not so fussed with the tote when using the BU Smoother. The question was why? The answer may have a lot to do with the weight of these planes and the momentum they achieve compared to a lighter plane.
My workbench is moderately high - 35 ½ “ - compared to those of Frank Klausz at 33” (since Frank is 6’0” tall, this bench is clearly very low) and Ian Kirby at 34” (he is 5’9”, about an inch shorter than myself). (information available from The Workbench Book by Scott Landis). It was built many years ago and before I thought to dedicate it to handtool use. It occurred to me that the smaller and lighter planes (such as the LA Smoother) require more down force, and that the thinner totes permit me a tighter grip to control them. Perhaps higher benches are better suited to planes that require less downforce?
The second factor is the angle of the tote (according to
my protractor, approximately 80°
What of the front knob? The mushroom knob of the BUS is very
comfortable easy to hold. It reminds me a little of the low
Back to the BUS and the Cherry board…. I push the plane…. It feels like a train on tracks….. It gains momentum and it seems as if nothing can stand in its path….. It feels quite effortless – quite a different sensation to both the LAS and HNT Gordon. The latter planes need to be pressed down onto the surface. The BUS just needs to be pushed forward – its weight provides all the needed pressure downward.
Now the LAS is capable of as superb a finish as the BUS. Its performance was measured on the Camphor. See the pictures below.
LAS-62 at .0000”.
LAS-62 producing a flawless finish on Camphor
There is a difference, nonetheless. It is simply that with the BUS it is less effort to produce these results.
Compared to the LAS, what the BUS lacks in “feel” it makes up in control. With its sole waxed, it has all the speed that one could wish for and, in this situation, it did not feel heavy.
So which do I do prefer? For the majority of the smoothing, especially that involving hardwoods, I will turn to the BUS. Does this mean that the LAS has been superceded? Definitely not - where boards are smaller, particularly where surfaces are narrower and feel is desired, then the LAS will come into its own and be preferred. Not only that, the LAS has a wide range of uses. For example, it is a superior plane on a shooting board. The BUS cannot be used on a shooting board. The owner of a BUS will have this option covered and be seeking this plane as an ultimate, dedicated smoother.
The LV Bevel Up Smoother is a superior plane and earns the right to be short-listed by those seeking a dedicated smoother. About a year ago I became a convert to the promise offered by the bevel up plane design. Now I am a convert to a heavy smoother. I wonder what further changes the future holds in store?