Thursday, May 12, 2016

CTR 12: Mujingfang Rosewood Plough Plane

This is a review of Mujingfang's plough plane.  I'm going to start off by saying that if you can afford a more expensive option, something like the Veritas Small Plow, you should go with that instead.  But since that sells for $275 with 5 blades, and the Mujingfang sells for $66, they're not really competing in the same market.

If you're reading this and don't know what a plow plane is, it's a tool used to cut grooves in a piece of wood.  Think of the grooves in a frame and panel door, or the ones that hold the bottom of a drawer in place.  Normally they're used with the grain, although if you cut the edges of the groove with a knife or saw they can go across the grain.  Some (although not this one) have cutters ahead of the main iron to make them work better across the grain.

Where, and How Much?

I bought mine from Woodcraft, at this link here.  Full retail is $66 no matter where you buy it:  Amazon, Newegg, Woodcraft, wherever... it's always $66.  It's also always sold by Woodcraft, so there might be a connection there.

What do you get, and What's the Construction Like?

You get the body, fence, arms, and five blades, sized 1/8", 3/16", 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2". The sizes are actually Imperial sizes, not metric, so they should match your chisels if you're buying in the US.

Construction is decent, but not fantastic. It's a fairly simple tool: the body has a metal (presumably steel) skate set into it, and the wedge matches the throat quite well. Adjustment is simple, and the fence is reasonably stable.

There are, however, a few minor issues. The first is with the fence: The fence is held in place by what seems to be a serrated piece of metal, with a bolt through it. By tightening the wingnut, you pull that serrated piece of metal up, and it grips the arm. However, loosening the wing nut doesn't actually push it down... it just loosens the nut. A light tap with a mallet (or on the top of your workbench) loosens it fully, though, so it's a nuisance that you'll probably stop noticing fairly quickly.

The other issue, which is a bit more substantial, is with the skate. On the copy I bought, the front skate was ever so slightly too far back, and the back of the iron just barely touched it. Obviously that meant shavings couldn't escape, and so the plane didn't work at all. As soon as it started cutting it would jam. I fixed it with about two minutes of work with a file, rounding off the back corner of the front skate. That resolved the problem entirely. It's possible I just got a bad one, but it certainly indicates their quality control isn't perfect. You should be able to see the issue here. As I said, a little bit of careful work with a file cleared up the issue entirely. If you're planning to take very heavy cuts, you'll want to take off more of the skate, but I took off maybe 1/32" or a touch more, and that was plenty.

Other than that, it's pretty nice.  The irons fit well and mate with the rear skate quite well, the wedge fits, and the fence (once you've correctly loosened the screw) slides easily.  One thing I did notice is that the arms aren't quite parallel, so if you pull the fence all the way off you'll need to squeeze them together just a touch to get it back on.  Not a big deal, and it means the fence doesn't slide around when the nuts are loose.

 How does it work?

Overall, I'm reasonably pleased.  It's fairly easy to adjust, the fence appears to stay where it's put, and the irons seem to cut well.  One thing to be aware of is that the fence has no inclination to stay parallel on its own.  I recommend using a chisel or setup blocks to make sure you've got it set up correctly.

I would say that, overall, it's not quite as nice as the Sargent-made combination plane I have.  It does a better job of dealing with shavings (it spits them out the top, rather than forcing them out the side towards your hand), but it has no depth stop at all, adjustment is more difficult, and I suspect that the fence will eventually stop holding.

But it does do the job, and if you can't afford a modern combination or plow plane, and you don't have the time or ability to restore an old one, it's a pretty good choice.

Final Thoughts?

As I said, a modern or restored plow plane will do the job more easily and reliably.  But the Veritas Small Plow with five irons costs $275, while the Mujingfang version costs $66.  At a price difference of over $200, I'd go with the Mujingfang until I could find a decent used combination plane.  It does the job, looks like it will remain reliable, and is definitely cost efficient.

Would I buy another?

That's hard to answer.  If I had no plow plane at all, and needed one at a low price, then yes, I would.  Or if I needed one to use in conditions where it might be lost or damaged, then sure:  I'd rather lose this than an expensive one, and as I said, it does the job.


  1. Very nice, clear, useful article. But what is a plow plane used for?

    1. Well, there's something I hadn't thought to include. I've updated the first section to include the information, but the short version is that it's used to cut grooves along the grain, like the ones to hold a drawer bottom in place.

  2. It would be great if you posted a how to on adjusting this plane. First you say "Adjustment is simple", then "It's fairly easy to adjust" and finally "adjustment is more difficult" than the Sargent. Ploughing through the adjustments would be groovy. Sorry I could not resist.

    Interesting series, keep it up.

    1. Well, you at least got a groan out of me. I'm a little bit limited in both time and motion right now (I pulled a muscle in my back over the weekend), but I'll try to get some photos in soon. In the meantime, here's some clarification.

      1) The Sargent is easier to adjust. Depth of cut is changed with a screw-type adjuster, so you just twist to where you want it to be. On this (as with most wooden planes), you need to use a hammer to adjust it.

      2) This is one of the easiest to adjust wooden planes I've used. The irons move quite easily in either direction, and the wedge locks them in place so they won't move from the force of cutting with them.

      I'll add a new entry on adjusting wooden planes and link to it here, but for the moment here's a quick course:

      Installing the iron:
      1) Set the iron in the mortise in the plane, making sure the groove on the back of the iron fits to the profile on the skate. Leave it fairly high, where it won't cut at all.
      2) Fit the wedge in with finger pressure. At this point you should be able to let go of the iron and have it stay where you put it.
      3) Tap the wedge with a mallet: wood or plastic are better than metal, which will leave ugly marks on your nice new plane. You don't want to really drive it in, but it should be moderately difficult to pull out at this point.
      4) To advance the iron (make it cut deeper), tap the top end with a mallet or light hammer. It won't take much pressure. When you have it almost as far advanced as you want, tap the wedge again. This will advance the iron a tiny fraction, and also tighten it so it shouldn't move when you use the plane.
      5) To retract the iron (make it cut less), tap the back end of the plane body with the mallet. Again, wood or plastic is better than metal, here. You can also tap the back of the plane against your bench, but I don't like doing that: sometimes the wedge falls out, and then I have to spend time hunting around in piles of shavings for it. Once you've got it retracted a little further than you want, tap the wedge. Again, it will advance the iron a little bit, and tighten it up so you can use the plane.

      You can also check out the video here:

      I found it fairly useful, and should give you a good sense of how a wooden plane works.

  3. Thanks! I am cleaning up my first wooden plane, a 22" (Stanley #7 size) try plane. Picked it up for $40 from a fellow at my local woodworkers guild. It is funny how a lack of screws, dials, and levers can be intimidating.

    Thanks for the explanation and video link.

    Hope the back loosens up soon!!

    1. No problem! Yeah, the more complicated metal ones look a lot simpler, don't they? The best recommendation I can give is to make sure the iron is sharp and the sole is flat. For a try plane that matters quite a lot, and it'll still take some practice to make it work right.