You may notice that when you’re looking for hand planes to use in your woodshop, some of them may have a bevel that faces in different directions. The bevel of the plane’s blade (also known as the iron) is the angle of the cutting end that’s formed with it was first sharpened.
Face Direction and Angle
Block planes tend to have the bevel up design. This means the bevel face is on the top side away from the workpiece. However, some low angle bench planes are now sporting a bevel up design as well.
Normally, the blade of the bevel up plane is bedded (secured) at a more acute angle. This is typically at about 12 degrees.
Most bench planes and scrub feature the bevel down design. The beveled edge of the blade is facing down towards the workpiece. The bedding angle of the blade is much higher, usually at 45 degrees.
The Need for a Chip Breaker
With a bevel down plane, you usually have a chip breaker part as well. But you don’t have this component with the bevel up plane. That’s because the bevel on the blade performs the function of the chip breaker.
Some say that the lack of a chip break is a disadvantage. But others say otherwise, because the chip breaker is often the cause of clogging. This happens when your wood shavings build up and cause a block between the blade and the leading edge of the mouth.
Attack Angle Changes
If you have a bevel down plane, there’s no changing the angle of attack. The cut angle is always the angle at which the blade is bedded.
However, you can change the attack angle of the bevel up plane. You can just hone a new bevel on the blade.
You’ll find that on the bevel up planes it’s easier to adjust the mouth opening than with the bevel down planes. With the bevel up plane, you can just turn the front knob counterclockwise. This lets you slide the toe section of the sole closer to the blade of farther away from the blade. It’s easy.
It’s not as easy with the bevel down planes. You’ll have to first remove the chip breaker, lever cap, and iron. Then you need a screwdriver to loosen the secure screws, and that you’ll also need that screwdriver to turn the frog adjustment screw. Finally you can adjust the opening between the cutting edge and the leading edge of the mouth.
Some newer bevel downs don’t require you to remove the blade assembly anymore to make the adjustment. However, you’ll still need a screwdriver remove the securing screws and to adjust the frog adjustment screw.
Pros and Cons of Bevel Up vs Bevel Down Plane
Bevel Up Pros
- Easier to set up
- No need for chip breaker (an advantage if your chip breakers tend to cause clogging)
- Lower effective cutting angle of the blade is great for planing end grain
- Low center of balance, making it suitable for planing the narrow edges square with the sides of the work-piece
- Easier to adjust the size of the mouth
Bevel Up Cons
- You have to take your hand off the rear handle (the tote) to adjust the depth of the iron
- There are no chip breakers (which is a disadvantage if you think chip breakers reduce the risk of splitting and tear-out of the wood)
- The lower blade angle isn’t as effective for smoothing and other finishing work, especially with grains with varying directions
Bevel Down Pros
- You’re able to adjust the depth of the iron without taking your hand off the rear handle.
- It’s better for blade adjustment control
- Great for planing along the grain
Bevel Down Cons
- A bit more difficult to set up
- Somewhat top heavy, so you may have trouble planing narrow edges
- Harder to adjust the size of the mouth
Which Should You Get?
If you’re getting a wide range of planes, you will want several bevel down planes with each one adjusted to a particular situation.
But if you’re a newbie or just planning to get 1 or 2 planes, then you ought to get a bevel up plane. That’s because you’re able to make changes to the mouth size and angle of attack easily.