Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mujingfang Plow Plane, Thoughts and Modifications

Mujingfang plow plane as shipped
For those unfamiliar with the plow (plough) plane, it's a plane primarily used for making grooves near the edge of a board along the grain. If you're going to work without a power router a plow plane is a real necessity when making frames (doors) and boxes (drawers). It's also a lot quieter and a lot less dusty so I think it's just a lot more pleasant.

As regular readers may know, I do some hand tool based workshops and am on the hunt for some plow planes for student use. That's how I came across this one from Mujingfang. At $66 from JapanWoodworker it's definitely accessibly priced but is it any good?

This plane is described as being in the Chinese style. What's the difference you may ask? In most eastern forms of woodworking many tools are pulled instead of pushed like their English/European counterparts. This plane arrives set up to be pulled by a right handed woodworker.

As I'm right handed and work in an English manner this plane has the fence on the opposite side as would be normal for me. It also works against my bench, as it is set up to restrain material against pushing forces. So why did I buy this again? I think with a few modifications it can be a good plow plane for this style of work.

Mujingfang Plow and Veritas Small Plow
 Above you'll see the competition for the Mujingfang (MJF), my personal Veritas Small Plow Plane. I've used this one for years. It's a very competent plow plane that you can get several reviews on with a quick internet search. I'll just mention here that it's currently $275 with 5 irons in a similar range of sizes to the MJF. Can the $66 plane compete?

Those familiar with Veritas planes know the quality is quite good. So how about the quality of the MJF? From my vast sample of one, I'd say it's pretty good. The wood components are nicely made but you can tell it's made mostly by hand. The finish is nice and well applied and the mortices through which the rods fit in the fence and the plane body are accurately sized. The fence locks are a simple kind of affair made with a wing nut and a bent piece of threaded rod that bears on the slide rods when the nut is tightened. That said they work. There is no depth stop, full depth of cut is 3/8".

The irons are hand forged and are sized 1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 3/8, & 1/2 inch. I measured them, curious if they were metric or what. My 1/8 was undersized a couple thousandths, the 3/16 was oversized, and the rest were on size with English measurements. Take note though that the irons have kind of a dovetail shape to them and will get narrower with sharpening. I'm unsure if this is a big deal since when I make panels I end up fitting them to the groove anyway, not relying on a measurement. I can't comment on the quality of the steel at this time as I've only had the plane a short time but it seemed reasonable when sharpening.

Bottom view, showing the skate and an iron. The little groove on the iron keeps it centered on the skate.
Now I wanted to see if I could put the fence on the opposite side, so I could push it and hold it similarly to my Veritas plane. It's not as simple as taking the fence off and sliding it on the rods on the other side. Turns out that end is slightly wider and won't fit in the slots. But it's not that hard either.

Screws removed from the top, rear rod removed.
To get the fence on the other side I removed the 2 wood screws from the top of the plane body, then tapping with a mallet on the end the fence fits on I worked the rods out of the plane body. Finally I reinserted them from the other side, tapping again with a mallet until the hole in the rod lined up with the hole in the body. I then re-inserted a screw. I used new screws since the included ones were a little under sized for the holes drilled. Then I slid the fence back on the rods, now on the opposite side of the body.

Reassembled with the fence on the other side.
You'll notice from the pic that the little taper that matches the rear of the plane body is now in the front. If it's an issue you could probably taper the body and the fence once again to match each other with a little rasping and apply some finish. It doesn't bother me that much.

Proof of operation.
So it plowed a groove and worked well. Is it as convenient as the Veritas? Well, not quite but it's quite usable. Blade depth adjustment is via hammer taps just like any other wedged plane while the Veritas has an adjuster. There is no depth stop as mentioned above. It takes 2 measurements to make sure the fence is parallel to the skate, whereas the Veritas fence sets parallel readily. The fence locks hold the setting well but may wear the rods over time. It takes a little time to find a comfortable hand hold, but I eventually settled on having my left hand fingers pushing the fence into the work and my right hand palm on the butt of the plane with my thumb to the left of the iron and my fingers around the rear rod on the right. It's comfortable but not as obvious as the tote on the Veritas. 

My conclusion is that the MJF is a usable plane and a good value for the price. For the woodworker on a tight budget it may be the obvious choice. I'm going to work on figuring out a depth stop for it so you may see that in a future post. If I can do that reasonably I'll be adding at least one more of these to my student tool kits. 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this Regis. You addressed a number of questions I've had, and I'm going to drop some money and buy myself a Christmas present.

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    1. I'm glad you found it useful. I haven't gotten around to looking into that depth stop. One additional thing I will say is that you need to make sure the wedge is set tightly. Best of luck and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

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  2. Has there been any updates on a depth stop? Also any thoughts about mounting a western style 'saw' handle? I have a need for a plow-plane myself but the Veritas is out of budget... mostly because I bought other Veritas tools. :) This plane is cheaper than buying replacement irons. At a minimum I was considering buying it and scavenging the skate and irons for a home-made western style plane.

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    1. Sean, I never ended up trying for a depth stop because I was using this plane with students that had never used one before and they found it to be one of the most challenging to get good results with. As someone with experience with plow planes, and adjusting wooden planes, I found it quite adequate.

      I currently have, along with my Veritas, a Record 044, A Record 044c and two Craftsman branded Stanley 45 combination planes. All of these I think are a better choice as they have depth stops and comfortable totes. I paid something like $75 for the Record 044 with a full set of 5 cutters a couple of years ago. Check out www.supertool.com, join the mailing list for the monthly tool list but also email Patrick with what you are looking for, eg. a good user grade plow plane. You'll have to clean it up a touch but it will have all the parts and be totally usable once cleaned and sharpened.

      That all said, the Veritas is probably the best value in a new metallic plow plane right now.

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