There’s just something about using a well-made and well-tuned hand plane. The tactile feedback. Those whisper-thin shavings. Oh… you don’t know what I’m talking about? The only hand planes you’ve used are turd hand-me-downs that tire you out and marr your work? I’ve been there. And the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane changed the way I felt about hand planes.
I was a jaded and frustrated when it came to hand planes and hand tool & hybrid woodworking in general. Hand tools remained a mystery to me.
When I tried Lie Nielson’s low angle jack the secret was revealed: my tools were garbage and I didn’t know how to make them not-garbage. The very concept of a hand plane is inspiring in it’s simplicity: a chisel locked in a flat bed which hogs away material or take delicate, gossamer-thin shavings. Like everything Lie Nielson does, they distilled and perfected the jack plane form.
Here’s my advice to you: make your first hand plane a good one. Experience how a plane should work first. Then you’ll have a better frame of reference to judge whether a plane, new or used, is quality or junk.
You can’t go wrong with making the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack plane the first hand plane in your tool chest.
How I Discovered the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack
I owned several planes before the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack. Of course I had several knock-offs of the quintessential Stanley 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane. I also own a Stanley Block Plane, and an old Stanley #2 Transitional Jointer that I restored and improved with a new blade from Veritas. All but the restored jointer were basically pointy, work-gouging garbage.
Back in June 2015 the wife and I were in the neighborhood of Lie Nielson’s facility and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try them out. Lie Nielson’s small show room is setup with work benches and tools inviting you to test their quality and craftsmanship. From the moment I stuck a scrap in a leg vice and attacked it with the jack plane, it won me over. In fact attack it the wrong word. It was a delicate caress that extracted a gossimar-thin shaving the likes of which I had only seen in one of those Japanese hand plane porn videos.
This plane is visible in about every other article in Popular Woodworking. So it’s not like I’m passing on some great secret. But the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack is a terrific tool, worth all the pennies they charge and then some.
Tool Quality and Workmanship
Unlike some lower-cost planes a Lie Nielson is ready out of the box. They tell you to sharpen the iron, but if I’m being honest the factory grind on the plane iron was better than anything I had ever experienced. The sole is flat. The depth adjuster is solid but easy to manipulate. The front knob turns and loosens the shoe which allows for mouth adjustments. This is one adjustment that you can’t appreciate until you use it. The narrower the mouth, the less tear-out you’ll experience.
Having known nothing but knock-offs and dirty hand-me-downs, the fit and finish of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack is immediately impressive.
Each detail feels tight and polished. The adjustments don’t just give out as you work. All the knobs and screws are tight, with none of the looseness or wobble you might experience in an inferior plane. All adjustments are incredibly easy to make.
One other thing I love–and I suppose it’s one of the qualities that makes a jack a jack–is the weight. The low angle jack plane is hefty enough that the size and weight of the plane really improves the cut and helps to keep the tool against the work piece. But it’s not so heavy as to kick your ass as you use it.
Like I said: my base for comparison was a cabinet full of trash planes. When I used the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack for the first time in their show room, I finally understood the magic of a well-tuned hand plane.
When I received mine in the mail about a week later, it did not disappoint. Even though I didn’t bother to sharpen the blade it immediately cut better than any other plane that I owned. The jack does just as well at taking aggressive cross-grain passes as with a scrub plane as it does taking whisper-thin shaving when setup and used as a finishing tool. I’ve used the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack to plane to chamfer end grain too. It works just fine, but the size does make it a little bit awkward for this sort of work.
Results over Time
Over time the front knob has gotten difficult to turn. I think I can attribute this to the fact that I don’t store my planes safely. While they’re not directly exposed to the elements, my workshop is an uninsulated, non climate-controlled shed. And as often as I use this tool, it’s usually sitting on my workbench. There’s every chance the mechanism took on some moister or something. After I put some effort into loosening it once, it’s pretty good again for a while.
Lie Nielson sells a bunch of additional blades and accessories for the Low Angle Jack Plane, which can offer you more bang for the buck. They offer a toothed blade for aggressive stock removal. They offer a scraping blade. Various sources suggest buying multiple blades and grinding them to different angles for different uses. I haven’t done any of this and I can’t speak to the efficacy of different blades or bevel angles on this tool, but they are available. I’m particularly curious about the scraping blade, as I don’t own a good scraper right now.
Summary: I Would Buy This Plane Every Damned Time
I’m not being overly hyperbolic when I say the Lie Nielson Jack Plane changed the way I think about hand tools. Before I bought one hand planes felt mysterious. Every time I touched one I gouged my work and felt as if there was some secret that actual woodworkers weren’t telling me.
Nope. Turns out my tools just sucked, or weren’t properly tuned.
Putting my hands on a Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane gave me a good frame of reference for hand plane quality and has actually helped me to tune those old hand planes to a state of functionality, if not the state of workshop nirvana that I reach each time I use the low angle jack. I actually find myself turning to my low angle jack to do tasks that could be performed quicker with a router, because it’s so pleasant to use.
Given the chance I would buy this tool over-and-over again. I can’t recommend it enough.