Photos by Carl Duguay; Lead Photo by Rob Brown
Combination planes aren’t new – Stanley introduced its first combo plane (the #45) in the late 19th century, and followed up with the #55 around the turn of the 20th century. Before the advent of these all-metal planes woodworkers would have dozens of wooden planes for each specialized task. With the introduction of the Stanley 45, a single hand plane equipped with a set of specialized blades was all a woodworker would need. However, these early combination hand planes were temperamental in use, which had the effect of limiting their widespread adoption.
While Lee Valley might owe some fealty to Stanley, the Veritas combination plane (VCP) is a marked advancement in design, construction, and functionality. Plus, it’s a lot easier to use.
The VCP is made up of three parts (or ‘skates’) – a main body that holds the cutter, a middle sliding section that supports the cutter, and an outer sliding fence. When assembled, the VCP looks pretty awesome, if somewhat intimidating with those 17 brass knobs, along with the posts, scoring spurs, depth stops, adjustment screws and a multitude of cutters.
Fortunately, the user manual does a good job of explaining how the plane works for each of its six main functions. Be forewarned – you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration if you actually read the manual before you begin to use the VCP.
You will need to spend some time practicing with this plane before committing to a first project. The VCP requires a slight modification of your hand planing technique to ensure optimum results. Essentially this involves pushing the plane forward in small increments using one hand, while applying constant pressure on the fence with the other hand, all the while maintaining the plane in a vertical orientation. Once you get this controlled stroke down pat you’ll be flying.
The VCP comes with a single 1/4″ grooving blade. You might also want to purchase one of each of the other five blades (tonguecutting, fluting, beading and reeding) in a width that you often use in your projects, to practice with.
Sharp blades and straight stock are two key points to keep in mind if you want to master this tool. I suggest you practice on a low- or medium-density wood with as straight grain as you can find. Butternut, walnut, mahogany and soft maple are good choices. Stick with planing long grain until you’re comfortable using the VCP, then go on to cross-grain planing, when you’ll use the two scoring spurs on the main body and middle skate.
A combination plane isn’t just for those folks who’ve forsaken power tools altogether. You’ll find it a welcome alternative to the router for cutting occasional grooves and rabbet or when doing edge treatment on one-off projects. For production runs you’ll still likely want to revert to the ‘scream machine’.
To help you enjoy using, rather than struggling with, your combination plane we’ve listed some tips that you may want to consider.
Carl Duguay - [email protected]
Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.