New Tool Review #1

Upon the completion of yet another journey around the sun, my wonderful wife and son treated me to a visit to a nearby (Relatively speaking, still a 1.5 hr drive) woodworking supply store that I recently discovered.

If you happen to be on the West site of Memphis, TN, be sure to drop in and say hi to these nice folks.

The Woodworking Shop

The have a nice, if small, selection of lumber, although priced toward the higher end. Tools prices seem competitive, though. I walked away with these new toys, which I was anxious to try out.

The item I want to discuss today is the Stanley Sweetheart #4 bench plane.

Out of the box, the plane required nothing more than a light honing. I tend to disagree with woodworkers that claim “it’s an expensive hobby, quality tools make it worth doing, etc…” , but I have to agree, a high-quality tool makes a big difference. There is no comparison between this Sweetheart and my vintage Stanley / Stanly clones. Certainly no comparison to the Harbor Freight boat anchor I was using as a smoother.

I compared this to a Woodriver #4 at the store. Build quality seems very much the same, but the design of the Sweetheart’s frog, adjustment mechanism, and tote fit my hand so much better. Every other plane I own is a knuckle-buster. This one has plenty of room, and I can still turn the advancement knob without moving my hand off the tote. The 1/8″ thick blade and re-designed chip breaker are awesome. The integral frog is awesome. I planed this:

 

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Into this:

 

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In a matter of minutes, using only this plane. Knot, reversing grain, and all, no chatter, and no tracks that I could feel. I tried cutting from about 1/32 deep, to, as another woodworker I know says, shavings so thin they only had one side

I stand by my assertion that one can do good work with inferior tools, so long as you understand the restrictions they impose, and you have patience. But, if you can obtain the better stuff, it sure makes life sweeter!

The Nitty-Gritty

First, let me say that I don’t have a large collection of hand planes. I own a Stanley #7 and an unknown knockoff #5(?)C, both inherited from my gand-father, and probably 1950s to 1960s vintage. I also have a small Stanley block plane, and a couple of the Windsor Design #33 “planes” that Harbor Freight sells for around $10. The #7 is in the best condition, so I’ll make my comparison compare that.

The old #7, although considerably longer, is little, if any, heavier that the Sweetheart #4. The casting of the #7 is thinner. The blade is far thinner. But most annoying to me is that, with 22 inches of space to work with, the tote is crammed right against the back end of the blade. I supposed that is to allow for adjustments of the advance screw and lateral lever while maintaining grip, but it doesn’t work for me. I can’t get my fingers in and out of the tight space well enough.

The iron of the #7 seems to be good steel, but thin enough that it can chatter pretty easily, if not perfectly adjusted. Adjusting the frog to close up the mouth is difficult, not because I can’t REACH the adjustment knob, but because my fingers run into the blade and lateral adjustment lever when I try to turn the knob. However, once the required fettling is complete, this old plane cuts quite well. As a general construction carpenter, grandpa mostly used it to fine-tune doors. I mostly use it to re-flatten my workbench. I have power tools for most other milling.

New and Improved!

The Sweetheart #4 is an entirely different class of plane.The major differences are:

  • The casting is heavy, and feels more solid, in part because the frog and body are cast as a single piece.
  • The blade advance screw is now integrated into the lateral lever, rather than behind the frog.
  • There is a lateral adjustment locking screw behind the frog, but it is angled such that there is plenty of clearance. The lever cap has no lever, but a locking screw in its place.
  • The lever cap seems to be aluminum, or some other light-weight alloy.
  • The blade and chip breaker are entirely different.

Where the iron & breaker on the old #7 are thin enough for me to flex by hand, the equivalent parts on the Sweetheart #4 are a full 1/8″ thick. The chip breaker on the old #7 has a curled front end, which is meant to press tightly against the back of the iron. I had to hone this edge significantly to make it fit tightly enough to prevent chips from wedging under it. The chip breaker on the #4 is thicker, beveled on the business end, so when installed, the iron / chip breaker pair resembles a couple of chisels, back to back.

The cutting of the Sweetheart #4 iron is A2 tool steel, factory ground at 25*. Looking at the bevel, it appears to be a two-step flat grind, although the change is so subtle, I may be mistaken. I didn’t have to sharpen the bevel, but I did lap the back on a fine oil stone, followed by stopping the back and bevel.

The feel and handling of the Sweetheart is great, compared to what I had before. The tote is straighter, maybe a shade longer than the vintage planes. The unit just feels solid and substantial. The cutting edge is ground very square to the sides. With the lateral lever centered, it left no perceptible tracks. It plowed through a gnarly piece of walnut scrap with ease. Tried it on some white oak with similar results.

Considering it was priced within $10 of the Woodriver #4, I’m glad I chose the Stanley Sweetheart.

Disclaimer – I’ve never used a Veritas or Leigh-Nielson hand plane. They may be as far above the Sweetheart as it is above the Harbor Freight plane, for all I know.

For those of you that are interested in such things, I have a video that demonstrates just how little tuning the Sweetheart #4 required to make it a great performer.

 

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