These little planes have been an indispensable part of the woodworker’s arsenal for many, many decades but the original use was to trim a heavy butcher’s block..hence the name ‘block plane’. The Axminster ‘Rider’ range consists of five principal planes, which can be subdivided into two groups, Standard and DeLuxe, but both share common features.
They’re generally used one handed and as such, the cap iron has a smoothed, domed profile so that it sits comfortably in the palm of the dominant hand. For more accurate and precise work, block planes can be used two handed, where the user’s other hand or thumb is applied to the substantial front brass knob, which locks the sliding shoe, in turn regulating the size of the mouth. The bodies are made from high quality ductile iron, with copper and nickel added to improve its resistance to corrosion after which the raw castings are then left for several months to condition or age, removing the internal stresses prior to the machining process.
Soles are ground flat to within +/- 0.04mm or 0.0016” and the sides are also square which is essential if it’s used as a mini shooting board plane.
The most important part of the block plane is the blade and each is made from a blank of 3mm thick, O1 (oil quenched) high carbon spring steel, hardened and tempered to RC 63. The blade is honed with a serviceable secondary bevel and is ready to take shavings.
In common with all the other planes in the Rider range, every single block plane undergoes a detailed inspection at Axminster to ensure consistent quality and each is supplied with a protective sock together with an instruction booklet.
The Standard block planes consist of the No.60½ and 9½. They look very similar but there’s one quite significant difference and that’s the angle at which the blade is mounted on the bed. The No.60½ is referred to as a ‘low angle’ block, where the blade is seated at 13½° whilst the No.9½ has a slightly higher 20° bed and the difference this makes is in the way the plane cuts.
Blade angles and effective pitch
Block plane blades are always placed bevel up on the bed and to find the ‘effective pitch’ (the angle at which the blade edge meets the timber), the honed angle (usually 30°) must be added to the bed angle.
In a ‘low angle’ block plane the effective pitch is 13½°+30° = 43½° which is almost the same as bevel down configuration of a standard bench plane (506560). Reducing the effective pitch slightly to approximately 40° (by lowering the honed bevel angle to around 27°) means that the blade will slice through end grain fibres more easily, which is the plane’s primary purpose.
Conversely, the effective pitch of a No.9½ block plane, with a 30° honed edge is 50° which makes it very suitable for tackling more awkward areas of difficult grain.
By slightly altering the honed angle on either type of plane, it’s quite easy to increase or decrease the effective cutting pitch of the blade which is one of the reasons why these small planes are so versatile.
Deluxe Block Planes
There’s an Axminster ‘Rider’ block plane to cater for every taste, but the more discerning user might be drawn to the Deluxe version principally due to the highly polished bronze cap iron but a more likely excuse is that most people like a bit of bling!
Apart from its undoubted dazzle, the bronze cap iron does have one or two practical advantages over over those sported by its less glamorous cousins. First and foremost, from an ergonomic viewpoint, there’s more of a pronounced dome to it’s shape, which means that it tends to sit more comfortably in the palm of the hand. Second and foremost, it has comparatively more mass, the result of which is that the Deluxe block planes have a little more ‘heft’ when picked up and applied to the timber.
One other difference which is immediately noticeable is the that the Deluxe planes have a more desirable method of locking the blade in place. This consists of a large, knurled brass wheel directly under lever cap, which is turned between finger and thumb to apply just the correct amount of pressure to secure the blade. The downside of the system is that it then becomes easy to apply too much pressure, the result of which may be to unduly stress the body of the plane. The correct amount of pressure is when the blade firmly held, but no more.
The Deluxe range comprises the low angle No.60½, the No.9½ and a hybrid, the No.69½, which combines the best attributes of both. It has the low angle bed of the No.60½, together with the increased blade width (41mm) of the No.9½ and for those users who like something a little heavier, the result is a block plane with a quite respectable weight of 950g or 2lb 1½oz in old money.
Whatever type of Axminster ‘Rider’ block plane is chosen, without doubt there’s going to be one to suit every taste and pocket.