Comparing Low Angle and High Angle Planes

Woodworkers discuss the differences between low angle and high angle planes, and the appropriate uses for each. February 14, 2010

What are the reasons for the different angles in hand planes? I only have experience with low angle planes. I'm especially interested the purpose of the planes with a steep angle.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
Low angles tend to be better for end grain, and high angles better at avoiding tearout. That said, be careful when comparing "low angle" planes to others. Planes we call "low angle," i.e. a Stanley 60 1/2, typically have the bevel ground on the top side of the blade, whereas planes with more upright postures such as a common Bailey model has the bevel on the back/bottom side of the blade. Say the blade is ground with a 30-degree bevel. If it's placed on a 45-degree incline (the Bailey) with the bevel down then the cutting angle is 45 degrees. Flip the same blade over so its bevel faces up and lay it down on a low-angle 15-degree bed, and the cutting angle is still 45 degrees. In other words, the differences between standard and low-angle planes are mostly ergonomic, having to do with the overall shape and size of the tool, hand placement, etc. Differences in cutting action are pretty subtle.

From contributor D:
Contributor J is dead on with his response. I would add that low angle planes typically are easier to push and produce a more sheared surface, whereas a higher-angle plane is a little harder on the arms but will tear-out less. If you go with a high enough angle, eventually you end up with a scraping plane, which won't tear-out even on difficult woods (for the most part), but it will only remove small amounts at a time. Bottom line - if you use hand planes very much (like me), then you'll want both in your arsenal. They each have their place.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the education. What about long planes? What are they for? I mean the really long (16 inches long or so)?

From contributor J:
They're jointers, from the time before jointers had cutterheads and motors and dust collection ducts. They're better at making surfaces flat and edges straight, just as a great big electric jointer does that job better than a dinky little one.

From contributor W:
One other aspect of low angle versus higher angle blades is that low angle blades have more metal behind the edge and thus chatter less on difficult grain. I have a Stanley 220 and a 601/2 (20 degrees vs. 12 degrees) both with the stock blade. I can set the mouth smaller on the 60 1/2 (variable toe plate) and less chatter as I go for translucent shavings on wild grain.

I also have a L-N Low Angle Jack plane and a Stanley #5. I can hog off thick shavings with the #5. With the breaker set about 32nd from the blade edge chatter even with a Hock blade on thin shavings. The Low Angle Jack with the heavy blade I can get no chatter and whisper thin shavings on any grain figure. If I didn't have my standard Stanley’s already I would probably have nearly all low angle planes. Things are improved with the thicker Hock and L-N blades.