Lie-Nielsen Blade Upgrade

Part I: Record No. 07

by Cian Perez

This artcle first appeared as a thread on theWoodNet woodworking forum. It was compiled and reproduced here for easier public consumption.

As some of you may know, I'm opting to replace some of the blades (alright, I'll admit it - ALL of the blades ) in my Bailey-type planes with aftermarket Lie-Nielsen blades. This post is the first covering these several upgrades.

As a newcomer to the whole woodworking scene, and even newer to this whole neanderthal concept, I spent quite a lot of time reading about this subject matter. Through my reading, a common complaint that I come across was the thinness of the oem Stanley blades, and its susceptibility to chatter on demanding woods and grains, and ultimately being ineffective to smooth a difficult wood's surface.

History sideline: One of Mr. Bailey's earliest patents was this thin blade/chipbreaker combination. I can guess that he opted for a thinner blade for ease of manufacturing (e.g. lesser material = lesser costs), but he soon found it wanting in performance. Thus the introduction of the necessary chipbreaker.

However, our counterparts on the other end of the pond ( East and West it seems) opted for thicker blades (1/8" to even 1/4"!) where the chipbreaker was an afterthought at times, and only necessary for mechanical blade height adjustment.

I've only seriously started adding planes to my tool chest in January of 2004, and since then acquired a few wonderful Rarebear Baileys, Lie-Nielsens, Veritas, etc... During these acquisitions, I become the fortunate owner of a Rarebear No. 5-1/2 type 11 (the plane which very well could have been responsible for my subsequent downhill activities). Anyway, the blade on this plane was on the short end. (At least I THOUGHT so, but honestly, the stock blade could very well have lasted my lifetime, but, remember, these decisions are analogous to the practicality of a power tool junkie buying a 100 year old hand tool: i.e. logic does not rule here.)

During this time, I was well into Garrett Hack's book (for the third pass through) and was fully believing the benefits of a thicker blade. So if I was gonna get a new blade for my 5-1/2, why not replace it with a superior thicker blade?

My search for a replacement blade quickly exposed a dilemma. My 5-1/2 type 11 DOES NOT take a standard off-the-shelf blade! Huh? It isn't the 2-3/8 wide blade that we would expect. Instead, it is only 2-1/4" wide!?! Doh! So I scoured the landscape for any supplier of a 2-1/4" wide blade, and it only brought me to two places: Hock and Lie-Nielsen.

Both of these manufacturers offer 2-1/4" blades! However, after receiving comments and feedback 'round here, I opted to go with Lie-Nielsen instead of Hock for a few reasons:

  1. All L-N blades are cryo A-2. (The Hock was high carbon steel in this size.)
  2. The L-N is a longer blade (albeit, only on the cosmetic end).
  3. Made in the U.S. of A!
  4. And, of course, it was a LIE-NIELSEN!

So I contaced L-N, and found out they stock this size (2-1/4" width) regularly but don't publish it on their website. They offered the blade in a .095" thicknes (vs Stanley's oem .080"). Coooolll.

But as I read the Handplane Book further, I thought why not even thicker? I entered behind-the-scenes dialogue with a few much-more-experienced fellows from these parts, and found some have successfully opted to go thicker than L-N's .095" offering (which is already 19% thicker than Stanley oem). One woodnetter, Frigator, uses custom L-N 0.115" thick blades. Apparently, though, none have gone all the way up to the L-N standard of 0.125" blades (50% thicker!) that L-N uses in their own planes. So, heck, why not??? Well, after reading some of the cautions (throat width, yoke length, lever cap screw length, etc.) I still said, why the heck not???

So I called L-N up, and they were NOT gonna charge me additional for the custom width 0.125" blades! Talk about cool! (I would pay their normal replacement L-N blade price.)

I'd also like to add, that through my research and tinkering, I found that when Tom Lie-Nielsen opted to manufacture his own superior versions of the Stanley Bailey bench planes, he kept true to form with the original designs. Thus, blade hole patterns, screw threads, lever caps, etc., appear to be identical/interchangeable with other Bailey planes.

Well, in the attempt to make this story short, I ended up purchasing 0.125" blades for all my Baileys, and even opted for the 0.140" blade and new heavy chipbreaker for my 4-1/2 and 7.

Which brings us to where we are today: The upgrading of my brand new Record No. 7.

At the time of this writing (March 2004) I have two No. 7s: a modern day Record and a vintage Bailey type 13 from Rarebear. Why two? I asked that actual question only a month or so back (which may indicate the timeline of my downhill acceleration), and since then decided to have one jointer for edge work and another for panel work (it's all your fault (E)!).

Thus, my Record will be relegated to edge work and will receive the custom 0.125" blade. My panel-specific Rarebear Bailey, which will be subjected to more unfriendly forces across the entire blade width, will receive the 0.140" blade and new 1/8" chipbreaker.

Well, this is where this story ends abruptly because, as far as the Record No. 7 and 0.125" blade goes: It works! And not only does it work, but it works PERFECTLY! The yoke reaches the chipbreaker comfortably, even at cutting depth. The chipbreaker screw engages the chipbreaker through the thicker blade. The throat didn't need to be widened/filed, but I did adjust the frog rearward so that the frog's blade bed and the rear of the throat made one continuous surface.

So, yeah, a simple blade swap and I was jointing the edge of 4' cherry board, of which some of the curlies are seen with the plane below.

The stained beechwood tote and knob were donated by my Rarebear 4-1/2 type 17 (which received new rosewood).

As noted, the 2-3/8" blade are normally only stocked in .095" or .140" thicknesses. But Lie-Nielsen told me they made a couple more in the widths I requested (2-1/4" and 2-3/8") in case I call back for more (or some other crazy idiot comes up with the same nutty idea ). Not that it's too big a deal, but this means the difference between getting your blades right away, or waiting a few weeks before they get new cryo stock and the guy out back gets around to programming their CNC grinder.

However, my thoughts are if you're gonna file the mouth for a .125" blade, why not just go all the way with the 0.140" blade? The down side is that early try-outs have shown the 0.140" blade will definitely require the filing, a longer chipbreaker screw, and most likely yoke as well. However, the longer hardware could be had with a fee, or course, from good 'ol Lie-Nielsen.

If you do call, ask for "Jennifer." She was great to work with, and understands clearly how to deal with an obsessive mind.


Robin "Frigator" Friersen contributes:

Cian, I am curious to see whether you find any performance increase by going above a 1/8in(.125) thick blade. Lynn Mangiameli, in his high angle smoother comparision concluded that there wasnt really anything to be gained by going above .125 as long as the iron was fully bedded, ie making sure the frog is properly placed in line with the back of the mouth, providing support to the blade right to the bevel edge..

As you increase the thickness of the blade, you increase the size of the bevel and the distance of the cutting edge to the frog face on a bevel down plane. So with a thicker blade, your cutting edge is farther from the frog face, farther from the support. I note that LN seems to offer the thickest blades on their bevel up planes like the LN 62 or 7 1/2, where the cutting edge remains supported no matter what the thickness. Many devotees of bevel up planes argue that the support of the cutting edge is superior on the bevel up planes, thereby making them better.

Once you get up and going let us know if you can ascertain any planing difference between the two different thickness.. Lynn's article kinda punched a hole in the theory that thicker is always better, concluding that at some point, somewhere around 1/8, going any thicker doesnt help. And also pointing out more imp than thickness, is the support of the blade itself.

Very good points Frig.

It'll be a while before I can go through enough board feet to make an educated opinion. I'm sure several others here would be better equipped to answer this question. I was simply going on the findings of those before me.

I have read Lyn's article and although he could not find a strong correlation in his tests, all his blades were right about 1/8" or thicker. His statement was "...I personally doubt that blade thickness is that much of a factor, once a certain basic thickness is achieved, which in this investigation would suggest anything around 1/8th inch is sufficient. More likely, thicker blades are most important on Bailey style planes where when the frog is advanced and bedding ends well above the blade edge." However, his last comment doesn't apply to our situation, where we would have the frog in its most rearward position anyway. So in agreement to you, it may be safe to say that the "standard" or "equalizer" would be a blade with a minimum of 1/8" thickness, after which there may be diminishing returns with going even thicker.

As a point of interest though, L-N has always shipped their 4-1/2, 5-1/2, 6, and 7 with the the 0.140" blade, so that's an available test bed for those who will have both blade types in their shop. Also, the clear winner in his tests was the Stephen Thomas Infill with a blade thickness of 0.191", but we can preclude that other factors were also at play for the superiority of this plane's performance.


Anonymous contribution: sounds like I could go with a .125" thick LN blade and my thicker improved Hock chipbreaker without any modification to my older Bailey type No. 7. Correct?

Well, not really.

My post was stating that the .125" blade will retrofit with no modifications in MY Record No. 7.

I can't guarantee that it'll work in a Bailey without modification, nor can I say it'll work in another another Record No. 7. I would believe that different production runs and different vintages would present slight variations in throat openings even within the same manufacture type.

All that I can say is that my experience has shown that the L-N 0.125" blade should mate up correctly to a Bailey chipbreaker with the supplied screw (although barely at this thickness). The Record chipbreaker screws are a couple threads longer than my Baileys' and the Record yokes slightly longer, therefore making this blade swap rather easy, and even trivial with regards to my Record No. 7.

I have a Bailey No. 7 type 13, and the mouth on that plane is incredibly tight with even the standard blade! It's got to be half the opening of what's available on the Record, and when I mounted the 0.125" blade, it would NOT project through the sole, and, thus would need to be filed.

Additionally, on my Bailey 5-1/2 type 11, the 0.125" blade will project through the sole but with barely any room to spare. I could see light through the mouth when held up to a lamp, but when I attempted to use the plane it would clog at the throat. So even when the hardware appears to be adequate to support this blade, a mouth filing will still be necessary.

And in addition to the Bailey No. 5-1/2, my Record No. 4 and No. 5 planes will definitely require mouth filings for the 0.125" blade to work, contrary to the success I had with the No. 7.

From observation, it appears that the mouths on my comparable Lie-Nielsens are significantly larger than those on my Baileys. Obviously, this makes sense given my findings above.


Next: Part II - Lie-Nielsen Blade on Bailey 5-1/2


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