There has been some buzz on a couple of blogs talking about the use of smaller smoothers. It’s been a long time since I’ve used 4’s and 4-1/2’s in my shop and the reasons are many. I like a small smoother because it’s nimble and easy to control. When I’m smoothing surfaces,I find the work goes quicker with a small plane. In the case of larger surfaces like table tops or case sides, I can be spending a bit of time with a smoother in my hands. For this reason I’m not a big fan of heavy smoothers either. I get that heavy smoothers have more momentum in use but I have plenty of weight to put behind a plane so I find they are just extra weight to throw around.
My favorite smoothers are wooden ones if I’m being honest. Ever since I was a student at Rosewood Studio and learned how to make them, I've found them to be pretty darn awesome. Only until recently though, did I get really proficient at setting them. During Woodworks 2014, plane maker Scott Meeks was in my shop and I asked him what the secret was to getting a hammer-set plane working well. His advice was to put my metal planes away for a month and only use the wood ones. So that’s what I did…and funny thing, I got pretty good at it. Go figure.
I like wooden smoothers because I get way more feedback from the plane. I can feel tiny spots of reversing grain through my hands and make subtle changes to my planing techniques to correct for it. The wooden sole of the plane also burnishes the surface that I’m working on, making it shine like a crazy diamond.
In the end, I don’t think it matters if you use metal or wood-bodied planes, or large or small smoothers. I think a sharp blade and proper planing techniques will take you all sorts of places. Experiment with both sizes and body materials and go with what you like. There is no right or wrong here…your personal preference is the right choice for you.
Do you have a preference already? Let me know what you use in your shop.
To understand, you must do. - V