Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 9, Issue 1 - September 2014    
Veritas® Custom Bench Planes
Veritas Custom Bench Planes
Our new Veritas Custom Bench Plane offerings include a #4 Smooth Plane, a #4-12 Smooth Plane, a #5 Jack Plane, a #5-1/2 Large Jack Plane and a #7 Jointer Plane. The #5-1/2 is shown.
Q: Where did the idea to make Custom Bench Planes come from and why did we decide to offer them?

A: Historically, Veritas has always offered customers a choice of blade metals for their planes. We began with O1 and were an early provider of A2 in a commercially available plane. Our introduction of PM-V11® gave customers yet another choice, so we have a history of offering customers some (albeit limited) ability to customize their planes.

When we embarked on the Custom Bench Planes project, one of the benchmarks we looked at was our own line of bevel-up planes. One of the features of the bevel-up planes is the ability to change the cutting angle by merely changing the blade to one with a different bevel angle. Thinking "how could we provide this functionality in a bevel-down configuration?" resulted in the design requirement to have user-replaceable frogs, and the ability for the user to specify the exact angle. (An important note is that this is not a Veritas innovation. Removeable frogs are not new, and we didn't come up with the idea. Being able to specify the exact angle you want, however, is quite innovative and no one else does this in a production-scale product.)

When we looked at old planes, one of the things we saw was a wide variety of handles, front knobs and rear totes. There are a multitude of styles, shapes and sizes, and many older planes have handles that the owners customized to fit their own hands. Recognizing that there is no "one size fits all", and that handles are a subject of intensely personal preference, we looked at our capability to design and manufacture different styles and sizes of handles. An extensive exercise that had us reviewing dozens of handles allowed us to design totes in two styles, each with three different sizes.

The final supporting element was the Internet. People are now highly familiar and comfortable with ordering custom products online, from T-shirts to fishing rods to cars.

Now we are able to bring all the elements together into a plane offering and give people the ability to explore the different features they could have in a plane made just for them.
Rick Blaiklock
Rick Blaiklock, Director of Research & Development for Veritas Tools, at last year's Woodworking In America conference.
Q: What are the benefits?

A: Perhaps the most obvious feature of the line of Custom Bench Planes is the striking design. People have commented on the shape and how good it looks across the five sizes of planes. This shape, however, didn't come about by chance; behind it is a tremendous amount of design effort that went into considerations such as is the weight correct and is the center of gravity in the right location for each plane? Even ensuring the side walls don't interfere with different hand grips on the front knob was a consideration.

These planes bring together all of the innovation that Veritas has brought to the world of hand planes. The adjustable mouth opening makes it easy to control tear-out. When it's time to sharpen your blade, the adjustable set screws and blade carrier make it easy to return it to the position at which you left it. We investigated cap irons and their effectiveness and concluded you don't always need to use one, so the planes work with or without a cap iron.

Recognizing that the choice of frog angle is a function of both the specific operation (roughing, jointing, smoothing, etc.) and the wood being planed, we selected three common angles (40°, 45° and 55°) that will meet the needs of most woodworkers. If you need something else, you can custom-order a frog of any angle from 40° to 65°, in half-degree increments. These frogs are custom machined in our manufacturing facility in Ottawa, Canada, so we're able to ensure quick turnaround of orders.

Because the planes come in two widths, parts are interchangeable across planes. Our #4 and #5 use the same 2" wide blades and frogs, and the #4-1/2, #5-1/2 and #7 use 2-3/8" wide blades and frogs. And of course all knobs and handles are interchangeable across the entire line.
Custom Bench Plane prototypes at various stages of development
Here's three years' worth of the Veritas Research and Development group's work on the Custom Bench Planes, showing prototypes at various stages of development.
Q: What was the process and how long did it take?

A: Like all of our development projects, it starts with a statement of the problem to be addressed and the set of requirements. This leads to designs and prototypes (in this case many, many prototypes). These are reviewed and feedback is collected. The iterative design cycle continues, and once we're happy, we order sample castings. These are machined and sent to testers. Feedback may result in changes. Once we're satisfied, we order casting for a pre-production run; these are our beta samples and are used to prove out our manufacturing processes. From there, it's full speed ahead into production.

So how long did it take? Well, realize that we have many projects running at the same time, so no single product gets full-time attention. We started discussing the requirements for this plane in 2011, and our first designs were created in 2012. Since then, it's been a wild ride to align all the pieces to deliver for the big launch in September 2014.
Custom Bench Planes in the assembly room
Custom Bench Planes in the assembly room will be used to build planes to exact customer specifications, with custom totes, knobs, frogs and blades.
Q: What kind of commitment did it require in terms of production?

A: The Veritas designers, engineers and manufacturing team pulled together to make all of this happen.

Typically we would have only one or two new products requiring castings going through the new-product manufacturing process at one time. During this project, we had five planes, each with multiple cast parts (body, toe, frog, lever cap), to deliver on the same day. At one point it seemed you couldn't turn around in our machine shop without seeing plane parts being machined or in process for their next operation.

On top of this, we had to implement custom machining of frogs. This required some new processes to track orders and ensure a specific frog gets machined and returned to the right customer.

Then we had to build a woodshop to make knobs and totes. Up until this point we've purchased handles from a supplier, but for this product, we wanted to use the same torrefied hard maple that we use for our chisel handles. This required a woodshop in which we had the ability to machine and finish all the handles.

There were a lot of moving parts that had to come together, and the entire team is to be complimented for making it all happen.
Quality-control process
Each body is hand deburred and goes through a quality-control process at each step of manufacturing.
Q: Is this idea unique in the marketplace?

A: We think this is a tremendously innovative concept for woodworking tools.

Historically, the only way to obtain a plane made with a custom bevel angle was to make one from wood or purchase one from a boutique plane maker who made the plane to your specifications. And while it's a common statement that you can easily use a rasp to change a handle if you don't like it, the reality is that most people would rather spend their time using their tools to produce something rather than spend time working on their tools.

The ability to have a plane built to your specifications is something that we're incredibly proud to be offering to our customers.

Photos by Lee Valley
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