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What's new in the world of premium planes – part 1: the Made in China group

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What's new in the world of premium planes – part 1: the Made in China group

For a few years now, companies in the US, India, and China have been working hard to get their cloned "Lie-Nielsen" planes on the market. While none of these new planes match the quality and appeal of the Maine-made planes, they deserve our attention because their price-tag is, in most cases, half that of Lie Nielsen's.  Furthermore, they look nearly the same, feel nearly the same, and each year the quality of manufacturing seems to improve. In the last couple of years we also saw Stanley trying to reinvent itself as a maker of good quality planes and chisels. However, Stanley based its new line of premium planes not on the Lie-Nielsen design but rather on Lie Nielsen's competitor – the Canadian company Lee Valley. In this blog entry I will focus solely on the Lie Nielsen clones.

I am a plane lover. I have bought most of my planes on ebay. Often, I spend hours dressing them up by removing rust and flattening their soles. Every so often I upgrade these planes by purchasing an after market blade that is thicker and harder. On my  No.3, 4, 5 and 6, made by Sargent, Stanley and Record, I replaced the thin chip breakers with heavy after market supplement.

But, I have to admit that even the greatness tweaked up Miller Falls (I have a few of these) or WW-II Stanleys, will not feel or perform as good as a Lie Nielsen or a Clifton plane. On the occasions I have used a # 4-1/2 bench plane made by Tom Lie Nielsen I knew that this wood peeling machine was in a league of it own.

I was curious about the new Lie Nielsen lookalikes and decided to research who is making them and where they are sold.  I cannot say that I got 100% of the picture, but I now consider myself to be more informed. In this blog entry I will talk about the planes which are made in China.

First lets talk about the trends. It seems that the high-end planes that sell best are the Bedrock style bench planes, followed by the block planes, followed by some specialty planes that helps us reach perfection in joinery work.

Bench Planes

CIXI city Qiangsheng tool co. seems to be making all the "Lie Nielsen" clones.  It appears that they offer slight changes for different companies who sell them in Europe and the U.S.  The changes are often stylistic and implemented to reflect an aesthetic of the brand or to differentiate between brands.  For example, the main change from one brand name to another is the shape and material of the lever cap with the companie's name on it. Here is the #4 as seen at the Chinese manufacturer's website:

Woodcraft offers four sizes of bench planes: #3, 4, 5, and 6. All under the brand name "Wood River". On top of the cast iron body these planes include parts made from steel, wood, stainless steel and brass. CIXI city Qiangsheng tool co. in Zhejiang Province makes them for Woodcraft. A #4 at woodcraft cost $134.99

JUUMA: While WoodRiver's planes have a silvery lever cap, a group of planes sold in Germany at Dieter Schmid - Fine tools, and bares the name "JUUMA", have a bronze lever cap. In the picture is a JUUMA #4 which cost € 109.00 ($145)

The German tool distributer DICTUM also sells a Lie Nielsen clones which I bet is made by the same Qiangsheng tool co. However, noticed the change in the lever cap and the use of beech wood handles. ... this #4 cost in Germany € 84.90 ($114). Here it is.

Block planes

Under the JUUMA name a painstakingly clone of the Lie-Nilesn adjustable mouth plane is made. It reassembles the Lie Nielsen in almost every way; from the choosing of the materials to the color of the cast iron and the proportions of the different components.

WoodRiver version of the Lie Nielsen's block plane look almost exactly like the JUUMA plane except that it has a two parts Lever cap that clamp down on the blade via a cam mechanism. Personally I prefer the Lie Nielsen's style with its more predictable tightening knob.

DICTUM Block Plane is another Lie-nielsen's look alike, though the lever cap is made (or plated) with a silvery material. It cost in Europe € 54.90 ($74)

And here is the block plane as appears on the Chinese manufacturers website:

The Chinese company has recently started to make yet another Lie Nielsen's clone. This time it is the Rabbet block plane. I have not seen it under the WoodRiver brand name, but DICTUM have it in there catalog. Here is the chinese Rabbet block plane, the DICTUM (€ 55.90) plane and the original Lie-Nielsen. The newest Lie-Nielsen's Rabbet block plane includes a nicker that sheers/scores the fibers in advent of the blade to prevent tear out while planing across the grain. So for the chinese clones do not include that important feature. 

Next time I will show some of the premium planes that are made in India.