[Tool Review] WoodRiver V3 #5 Jack Plane

Okay, I know there are an awful lot of you guys out there that sport the Lie-Nielsen and Veritas hand planes (drool) but I just cannot swing the budget that high right now.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t have quality!

IMAG2972I just picked up a brand new WoodRiver #5 (V3) and this jack is sweeeeeeet. It’s replacing the #4 Groz smoother that I received last year for Father’s Day.   I spent hours and hours rehabbing the brand new Groz to get it to the point where I could plane pine (of all things) to make my workbench last summer.   Well, working on a new project that involved walnut and maple and the Groz just could not hack it.

I gave up on the Groz because the Groz gave up on life, did my research and picked the WoodRiver.  Got it at the local Woodcraft (Milwaukee) on Tuesday and could not be happier!

It was the floor model, as they had already sold the other.  I looked it over and it seemed fine—plus, they had already wiped off the shipping oil from the sole and visible parts, so when I got home, all I had to do clean the levercap and iron assembly.   Like Rob Crosman says in his famous unboxing video, I checked the mouth and there was just a hint of rough edge on the lower surface (when resting the plane on it’s heel).   Less than 3 seconds with a file and it’s smooth.

I tightened the screws in the tote and that was it.  The frog retaining and adjustment screws were tight, the knob screw was tight.  This plane is solid, heavy and very well machined. the cherry tote and knob feel great and are bigger (but not too big) than the Groz and are oh so comfortable to hold. That said, they are not slicked up with finish either, but have just enough of a sheen to make them look nice but not glossy.   Just looking at it makes me want to attack wood.

I did some quick checks—to pretend I know what the hell I’m talking about—and according to my square, the sides of the sole were dead on 90* to the sole all along the length.IMAG2992IMAG2991 The sole itself was also dead flat—or as flat as my meager assortment of measuring tools can indicate. Which is plenty good enough for me—I spent a long time lapping the sole of the Groz.

The blade had a nice crisp bevel and was ground much nicer and smoother than the Groz (which looked like it had been ground with a jackhammer).  The chipbreaker was likewise ground sharp and crisp and fit the iron perfectly (or as near as I can tell…there was no light coming through when I looked).   Again, night and day from the Groz.   Can you see the pattern—and can you see the face-splitting grin I’ve been wearing since I bought this plane?

A quick honing with Scary Sharp (400, 600, 800 grit for me this time) just to get the ball rolling and the bevel was already starting to look like the mirror finish we all love.IMAG2990

The back was pretty darn flat—as I went through the usual routine of trying to flatten it, I noticed it didn’t take much time at all.

In total, I think it was about ten minutes of sharpening (and admiring) from the time I first touched the iron to the sandpaper.

I’m not a tool expert or anything, but I can tell you that after spending the amount of time necessary to get and keep the Groz running smoothly—in pine—10 minutes was absolutely mind-blowingly short.

I got everything reassembled and put a little wax on the sole (just a block of paraffin—canning—wax I got at the grocery store) and tried some test cuts on a random piece of hickory laying around.

I slowly crept up on the first cut, turning the depth adjustment wheel 1/4 of a turn each pass until the iron finally kissed the wood.   And when it did, I was rewarded with the thinnest shaving I’ve ever seen created by my hands.   We’re not talking St. Roy’s infamous gossamer shavings here, but it nearly brought tears to my eyes.   I mean, it was hickory for cryin’ out loud.   The same wood that stopped the Groz dead in it’s tracks.   I’m not talking chatter or rough shavings.   I mean it just stopped.

What followed was an orgy of “let’s try this!”: scraps of maple, walnut, poplar, oak…everything I could get my hands on had a glass-smooth, dead flat surface in seconds. It’s hard to call this plane a tool when it’s so much fun. I keep thinking of it as a toy!

I do have one caveat for all you newbies out there like me.  When you get a plane that’s quality—or rescue an old workhorse from the 1900s—and you get that baby running smooth…just be careful of the stuff you plane and how much you “play”. The wood can get some awfully sharp corners:IMAG2976

Yeah, that was right after the first test piece of hickory had been planed to a perfect 90* corner…I got so excited I went to grab the piece of wood and take a picture and in my haste, the corner sliced open my thumb!   In my excitement, I ignored the wound and then thought, “If it can do that to hickory, what can it do to [insert wood species here]?”

Okay, so I’ve got nothing but glowing praise for this plane.   Right?

Well, sorta.

See, I’m about 6’2″, which puts me in the above-average for a human male category. Granted, not by much, but due to my size, my hands are also bigger than the average male.   I guess.   Because just about every tool I’ve ever owned with the exception of the circular saw, has a handle that’s just a hair too small for me to grip it comfortably using my whole hand.

This plane is no exception. I can hear a chorus of “But you said the tote is larger than the Groz!”  Yes.   Yes, I did.   But it’s still just a tad bit uncomfortable to use 3 fingers on the tote and rest the pointer on the side of the plane.  IMAG2993 It’s certainly more comfortable than it’s predecessor, by a country mile.   But…for it to be perfect, that tote would have to be bigger.

Also, the only other…I hesitate to use the word complaint, because I’m too new to the art of working wood to know any better…is that when the chipbreaker/iron/lever cap assembly is fully seated in the plane, the depth adjust has what feels like 1/4 to 1/2 a turn of play in it before it engages.IMAG2989  When it engages, it is significantly harder to turn than when the iron assembly is removed for cleaning.

When there’s no blade in the plane, that depth adjuster spins like it’s greased with angel tears. In Rob Crosman’s unboxing video, he adjusts it quickly using only his index finger after installing the iron, chipbreaker and lever cap.

So!  Either (A) I’m doing something wrong—entirely possible, as I am a bumbling rookie, (B) something is wrong with the plane—not nearly as likely given the high quality of every other part on this plane, or (C) Rob Crosman has freakishly strong fingers.   Discuss.

Personally, I think it’s (A).  But I’ve got time to figure that out when I’m done playing with it…maybe next year.

Seriously though, in the end (this is the end, right?), does the depth wheel bother me enough to write a bad review, throw it across the room or return it?   Not a chance.   Does the tote size make we want to cry or strap a grenade to it?   Nope.   I can very easily turn a blind eye to these two minor “issues” and easily have so much fun planing that I forget to eat.

While this review obviously wasn’t written by an expert reviewer or even a competent woodworker, hopefully it’ll help some other poor slob like me who’s just getting started and is tired of wiping drool off his keyboard because he loves looking at Lie-Nielsen planes.

But they’re just so pretty!  And they’re made in a America (WoodRiver is produced in China…I know, I know…but I bet you said the same thing about Japan in ’70s, right?).

Trust me, when you pick up this oriental baby and cradle it in your hands the only thing you’ll be thinking about his how sharp you can make the corners on a piece of [insert wood species here]. Unless your’e one of those guys who already owns a L-N plane and it’s sitting there, all gleaming and glossy in the cabinet watching you with jealous eyes as you play with a “lower class” girl.

Ultimately, this is my first “real” plane.   It is my first WoodRiver.   But I can tell you right now, it sure won’t be my last!

Wow…this was supposed to be just a simple “guys! Lookie what I got!” tool gloat because my family and friends—well, you all know what I’m talking about.   I haven’t even used it on a project yet but I just couldn’t wait to tell everyone everything I could about this plane.   If I can help one person decide on whether or not to buy this plane, I guess it was worth doing.

Now, excuse me, I’m going to go make a pile of maple shavings on the shop floor.  Again.IMAG3006



About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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3 Responses to [Tool Review] WoodRiver V3 #5 Jack Plane

  1. MrDifficult says:

    Great review, and FYI: You need not fit your whole hand on the handle, your index finger should be pointing forward, solving your size issue

  2. Carlos says:

    Lever cap screw is too tight. It is a design flaw in the frog casting. It is too thin near the pressure point of the cap iron. It deforms or deflects the screw threads. Try this, back off the screw and notice the difference. My only regret having a woodriver plane.

  3. Dave says:

    I enjoyed the read and review. Thanks.

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