The Amazon Basics Plane

For those of you who are interested to hear my thoughts on the Amazon Basics Plane, as well as other cheap planes in general, this blog post will expand on some of the problems I faced throughout this project.

Let me preface this by explaining my closing message on this video, specifically the part where I claim a lot of woodworkers are hypocrites. Now if you are someone who cannot afford or justify buying expensive tools, I want to make this clear that this does not apply to you.

However if you are someone who CAN afford and justify expensive tools, yet continues to spread the message that these tools are a waste of money, while simultaneously complaining that people don't spend their money on quality furniture nowadays. You are the recipient of this label and are a victim of your own judgement.

I'm going to attack this blog post in the same order I covered things in the video. So let's get stuck into it.

The Blade and Chipbreaker

After purchasing a premium plane, the only thing you need to address out of the box is the blade. While I was certain the Amazon Basics plane would require far more effort than this, I chose to do the sharpening first to allow me to constantly test the plane after each subsequent upgrade. Because without a sharp blade, no matter what I did to the frog, mouth, or adjustments, the plane wouldn't cut.

Cheap planes often have a poor mating surface between the chipbreaker and the blade and there's much debate out there whether a chipbreaker has a use or not. I'm not here to address that. I simply live under the assumption that it does and I move on with my life.

What I do know for certain is that if the mating surface between the blade and chipbreaker is poor, shavings will work their way between them and clog the mouth. Which is a very common problem amongst cheap planes and is why I felt the need to regrind and flatten the end of the chipbreaker. This is definitely worth doing if your plane suffers the same fate!

The poor mating surface between the blade and chipbreaker.

 

As for the chipbreaker design, I have no problem with it at all as it's a pretty standard shape across most bench planes. All I care about it the quality of that mating surface. The shiny finish was removed purely for cosmetic reasons, and I think it was the right bet.

Look how soft and bendy the burr is!

As for the blade quality, I am no metallurgist and have no idea what it's made from (perhaps someone would like to hazard a guess in the comment section below). All I know is that it's extremely soft. Because I've never managed to produce a burr quite as large and rubbery as that. My Lie-Nielsen blades (A2 Steel) usually produce a much smaller burr that is incredibly brittle due to the fact it is a much harder steel. 

(EDIT: Someone mentioned that reversing the cutting direction on the Tormek may produce a smaller burr. While this may be true, I use this cutting direction with all my blades and have never matched the size of the burr. Good shout though!)

Overall, I found the edge retention to be pretty poor. I tested it on Oak in the short montage after sharpening the blade and noticed a quick decline in the quality of finish. I also tried some more abrasive timbers towards the end of the video (Ropalo Lacewood, Ovankol and Bubinga) and it really didn't like it. 

Seeing as this is based on the standard Stanley design, it would have been easy enough to replace the blade for a Lie-Nielsen or Hock blade that will have much better edge retention properties. Although may have required me to file the mouth wider in order to accommodate the thicker blade.

Shavings in Ovankol

The Frog

The frog is so simple in design, yet incredibly difficult to execute. Not only does it need to hold a blade at a consistent angle, but it also needs to provide both longitudal and lateral adjustment to the blade, while also having the ability to be adjusted itself. In a nutshell, it failed at pretty much all these steps.

Before we jump down this rabbit hole, please remember that a plane is meant to take off a thousandth of an inch shaving when in use, (at least in the context of fine woodworking that is). So if that blade is vibrating, by +/- a thousandth of an inch, you are going to notice it in the finished result. This is why it's incredibly important to have a solid foundation for the blade to sit on. Not one that is flimsy or rocks corner to corner.

This was the exact problem with the Amazon Basics Plane. The frog was not sitting flat on the casting, thus was occasionally diving into the wood during long cuts, or would randomly stop cutting completely. I fixed this by flattening the bottom of the frog using my honing guide, and also by dropping one of the contact points on the casting. I also had to flatten the surface of the frog to reduce friction while the blade slid down it, and also removed the corners for cosmetic purposes. This was covered in detail in the video.

So apprently the blade is meant to slide on this?
Attempting to reposition the frog to be aligned with the mouth.

The next problem was the mouth being cut unevenly. This was not shown in the video, but I spent a lot of time moving the frog forwards and backwards as well as twisting it diagonally to try and match the mouth angle, but it was no use. In the end I had to lock the frog in somewhat the right position, and file the mouth back to match it.

My favourite part of the frog was the pivot point for the lateral adjuster. This thing was so sharp it could probably deglove your finger if you weren't careful (don't Google that word if you don't know what it means). So I filed it down to remove the sharp edges as well as rounded it off with sandpaper.

The Mechanisms

Everything that I had addressed so far was quite easy to diagnose and fix, purely because the problems were so visual. The mechanisms however required a lot more mental mapping of how the plane should work and where the potential flaws may be. On a side note, I use this technique when flattening material by hand by imagining what the bumps and contours look like on a larger scale, and how those are affected every time I take a pass with a plane, or measure it with a straight edge.  It's a great skill to develop, especially in a field such as woodworking where so much of what we do relies on tight tolerances, and diagnosing problems as we go.

One of my biggest problems at this point was the thrust wheel being temperamental. Mainly because it was switching between being extremely loose, and then binding. Originally, I put this down to the mating surface between the yoke and thrust wheel being inconsistent. 

For example, there may have been some bumps in the groove surrounding the wheel that the yoke was catching on. Hence why I deburred, flattened, and smoothed this first.

Reducing friction on the thrust wheel

After all this work, the wheel was still binding (however was slightly better than before). This wasn't shown in the video, but during this testing I noticed the thread that the thrust wheel travelled up and down on was wobbling. So I removed it from the casting, chipped off the poor adhesive they used to hold it in place, degreased it, then reinstalled it with some Loctite retaining compound. Not the best stuff for the job, but better than the stuff they used nonetheless.

While the wheel was removed, this is where I noticed the excessive side to side movement on the yoke, specifically with the pin it pivoted on which was shaped like a torx bit. I'm not sure if this is standard practice amongst cheap planes as I haven't thought to look there before, but I imagine this shape is used to ensure the pin is unable to pivot itself free from the frog.

After removing the pin from the plane to take a closer look, this is where I noticed the sloppy fit between the diameter of the pin and the hole in the yoke. From memory, there was probably just under a millimetres worth of play and was the primary caused for the mechanism binding. 

I won't elaborate on it much more than that because the video covered it in much detail. However what I can say is that this bushing made the single biggest difference to the smoothness of the planes mechanisms. Period.

As much as I hate to say it, this plane now adjusts smoother than my Lie-Nielsen, purely because there is no room for tilt on that pin. If you notice your yoke suffers from the same problem, consider contacting a friend with a metal lathe and ask them to create a bushing to improve the tolerances between the pin and yoke.

The Sole

Despite a planes primary use being flattening and smoothing material, it seems many cheap plane manufacturers think a banana shaped tool is able to do this.

This is a common downfall with poor quality planes and is one of the sole reasons (pardon the pun) for me purchasing high quality tools where the sole is pre-lapped. No matter what purists say, there is nothing enjoyable about this. Anyone who says otherwise is a sociopath.

Polishing the sides. No chance on squaring them though!

This was difficult to flatten as the sole of the plane had a hollow in the middle, but was also slightly pillowed towards the outside. Kind of like a ‘W' shape. As a result, the plane occasionally rocked while I was lapping the bottom and potentially exaggerated the curve on the outsides. This was not helped by the figure of 8 pattern I opted to use while flattening the bottom. Despite being efficient for material removal, it's certainly not the most accurate method of flattening. I'm writing this prior to posting the video, and I predict many people will comment on this method being wrong and slightly uncontrolled. Which I wholeheartedly agree with, I'm just impatient.

Overall, it turned out pretty good. The bow along it's length was significantly reduced and the hollow in the middle was removed.

I briefly addressed this in the video but forgot to show the result at the end. The sides were so far out of square that I had no chance of fixing it. We're talking a good 2-3 mm on either side. This means that this plane will be unable to be used on a shooting board without planing an angle on the end of your wood.

As for the soles cosmetics, I began by removing the existing paint due to the fact it was chipped and had pooled in certain areas. By removing it back to bare metal, I was able to re-apply a thinner coat that would retain the detail surrounding the words and numbers cast into the sole. 

The paint I opted for was Rust-Oleum Matte Black Metal Spray paint. Which in hindsight is not as matte as I would have liked. It's more of a satin finish. I would have much preferred a paint finish like that found on Lie Nielsens, but couldn't be asked with the fuss that entails.

Original paintwork stripped off
The side walls after being polished

I also took the time to polish the edges of the plane after being painted, which was a detail I borrowed from my Bronze Lie-Nielsen. I usually dislike polished, chrome-like surfaces on metal, but it's such a beautiful way of finishing off the walls on the plane that I couldn't resist. 

I produced this polished surface by filing the surface flat to begin with. Then attacked it with sandpaper, followed by micro-mesh pads escalating to 12,000 grit. I could have used my polisher for this but I was worried about damaging the paint.

Cosmetics

Of course the planes cospectics don't necessarily equate to it's function, but if I'm looking at a tool all day, I at least want it to look nice. Shame I can't expand that rule to looking at myself in the mirror eh?

Again, this was summarised quite well in the video. Essentially it consisted of filing edges to be square and refined, removing chrome finishes in favour of a satin shine, oiling mechanisms that I had previously missed and of course re-finishing the handles.

The ghastly chrome finish

The rear handle of the plane was made from Beech whereas the front was made from Maple. Not necessarily a problem, just an observation. Amazon had opted for a thick lacquer/varnish for the handles that I didn't like the feel of. It provided a plasticky barrier between your hands and the wood during use, and simply felt uncomfortable.

I stripped this back to bare wood and created my own custom dye to refinish the handles. I wanted to go for something that would somewhat resemble the Bubinga handles on the old Veritas and Quangsheng planes before it became difficult to import/export. One thing I didn't mention in the video was that this was the second finish I attempted. Originally, I applied a dark brown stain to the handles and it looked absolutely terrible. So I had to spend the next hour stripping it off, re-sanding, and reapplying the new finish. Absolute nightmare.

After receiving a couple of coats of stain, I finished the handles in Skelton Saws Peacock Oil. This was the first time I've used this finish, and it was absolutely sublime.

Extra Info

Despite being an accurate calculation of how much time I had to complete the plane, the clock used in the video was purely there for effect and humour. Realisitically, it was incredibly difficult to keep track of time in between moving the camera, and presenting to the daily live streams we had running at the time.

Saying that, if you take into account all the processes I carried out, as well as diagnosing problems and testing results, I believe that this plane makeover would have taken roughly 8-9 hours to complete anyway. So although I cannot confirm it, I believe it's mostly accurate.

As I said at the end of the video, the last thing I wanted is for the video to promote the fact that cheap tools can perform the same as expensive ones. The lessons I wanted to leave was that Amazon will be absolutely fine without your money, but other smaller manufacturers rely on it to stay afloat. I believe strongly in reciprocating the care these tool manufacturers have for me and the quality and enjoyment of my work. So despite it being a big hit on the wallet, it's a fulfilling feeling knowing that your money is going somewhere that it's actually going to make a difference.

I would also like to say I'm not anti-Bezos or anti-Amazon at all. I'm just using them as a scapegoat to call out all cheap plane manufacturers and the poor quality tools they produce. If you want any recommendations on planes I recommend, have a look below.

God Tier

So most of us cannot afford these, but I wanted to highlight these plane manufacturers because they are absolute masters of their craft and produce some stunning work that one day I'd love to have the pleasure of owning.

Sauer and Steiner

My favourite plane maker of all time. While I currently cannot afford one of his tools, I do own a bronze belt he made and is one of my most prized and loved possessions.

Holtey

It doesn't take long to hear the name Holtey when the topic of hand planes comes up in conversation. These are pieces of art as much as they are functional tools.

Gold Tier

This is the tier that I often purchase my planes from and is what I attempted to get the Amazon Basics plane to match. This is the tier I recommend to people who want that one tool that can handle anything. Usually, that lands on the low angle Jack Plane from one of these manufacturers.

Lie-Nielsen

Lie-Nielsen is the brand that I opt for when purchasing bench planes such as smoothing planes, jack planes and jointer planes. They are simple to use and feel great in the hand.

Veritas

I opt for Veritas when purchasing joinery and specialist planes such as shoulder planes and router planes. I find the innovative designs they use superior in these applications.

Silver Tier

These planes are often regarded as replica's of the gold tier planes, but without the price tag. Usually that means production being outsourced to the East, as opposed to being produced in the West. While that's not ideal from a manufacturing perspective, I believe the distributors who supply these tools are still worth supporting because of their desire to stock high quality tools at an affordable price. They care about woodworkers.

Quangsheng

A good alternative to Lie-Nielsen if you're looking for something slightly more affordable. But if you can stretch to the next tier up, please consider it!

Wood River

I haven't used these before but I've heard multiple times that these are almost identical to the Quangsheng planes. Just don't quote me on that.

Bronze Tier

Similar to before, these planes are manufactured in the East as opposed to the west. However have a slightly lower quality finish than their Silver Tier counterparts. Particularly surrounding the finish of components, and the smoothness of mechanisms. This is as cheap as I would go when it comes to buying a plane. Any less than this, and you're in Amazon Basics territory.

Axminster Rider

Produced in the East but work well nevertheless. I worked in Axminster for 5 years and can vouch for the care and passion they put into supporting the woodworking community.

Bench Dog

Again, haven't used these before but have heard from multiple sources that they are identical to the Axminster Riders. They're likely produced in the same factory, just don't quote me on it!

'Stay the f*** away' Tier

The title says it all really. Don't be fooled by the marketing copy or the fancy images of these tools. They are utter garbage and will requite the same amount of effort that this Amazon basics plane needed.

Stanley (New)

If you can find an old, pre-WWII Stanley, you're onto a winner. The new stuff however rides the wave of this highly esteemed brand, and provides cheap low quality tools in return.

Faithfull

Faithfull are ok in some areas, and poor in others. Their hand planes fall into the latter. So much so that I often refer to them as Faithless tools.

Closing Notes

What are your thoughts on premium vs cheap planes? I'd love to hear them in the comment section below. Also don't be afraid of recommending other brands that I have not mentioned here. Let's help eachother find the best tools for the job, while also doing our bit to support those who are actually deserving of our custom. Thanks for reading!

6 Comments

  • Do you have any experience with the DICTUM planes? I suspect they are on par with Axminster at least, but would love to get an expert’s opinion.

    Reply
    • Hello Laszlo, I followed the advice (a good first plane cost more then 100 €) and bought a Dictum #4 bevel down. As a learning object it is a good option. It can be improved with better planes, for example Blue Paper. Nevertheless, you could consider a bevel up version from Dictum as your first choice, if your are a beginner. Why? I have bought a Small Bevel Up Smooth Plane with Pm-v11 from Veritas a short while ago when everything was out of stock. It like an up-grade of two classes and planing on a different level. Now I am waiting to buy a Jack Plane from Veritas which will be my last plane ever follwing the advise of Mr Schwarz: “If you buy a good tool, you don’t have think about it anymore.”

      Reply
  • For £40 you could buy a decent Record or old Stanley plane and have a far better basis for a decent plane than the Amazon Basic.
    Kunz (premium range.) planes seem to be worth looking at if you can’t afford the likes of Lie Neilson or Veritas.

    Reply
  • Due to my being computer-stupid, I inadvertently became “Anonymous” after my reply to Colin, in which I suggested bying a decent used plane as an alternative to spending fortunes.

    Hopefully I now have my name back!

    Reply
  • It’s often said that a bad workman blames his tools, but I don’t know of a good workman who’s prepared to tolerate bad ones. Even worse, a beginner could be put off woodwork for life buying tools like the Amazon plane, which is why this video is so useful. Hopefully, after seeing the amount of work Matt had to do – only to end up with a tool that had the edge-holding properties of a potato – the novice will realise what makes a good plane good, and then go and buy a decent used Stanley or Record off of e-bay and apply what he or she has learned from Matt’s video. The e-bay plane will repay many times over the work carried out, that Amazon is a door-stop no matter what you do to it. My Stanley Bailey planes are ancient (from c. 1895 through to c. 1940), and the one I used most is my #4 of around 1914 vintage. THAT, I’ll leave to my son, but I wouldn’t insult him with the Amazon plane!

    The Stanley ‘Sweethearts’ seem to get good reviews, but an e-bay #4 will set you back between £20 and £40 (even less if you don’t mind the work!) and very few of them can’t be fixed.

    By all means buy the best you can afford, just remember that second-hand offers a great alternative. Great video, Matt!

    Reply
  • Hi Matt. I so appreciate youe stuff. Honest and thoughtful and we’ll presented.

    My question: You relegate “Stanley (New)” to your ‘Stay the f*** away’ tier. However Stanley produce both cheap planes and a “premium” range using the “Sweetheart” badge. The latter seems to get good reviews in places. On Amazon their No 4s come in at £55 for the bog-standard and £115 for the Sweetheart. Where would you put the latter in your rankings? I’d hope the extra £60 price makes a difference to the quality and build.

    Reply

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