Over the years Clifton has distinguished itself as a maker of shoulder and other specialty planes, mostly based on Preston designs. This experience has expanded to a great line of bench planes that are done right. Available in a full range of sizes - including now the No. 4 1/2 and No. 5 1/2 - these planes incorporate the best features of both Stanley and Record at their prime, coupled with the fit and finish we have come to expect from Clifton.
The tools have several outstanding features that ensure high performance:
- An extra heavy 0.12" thick blade that is hand forged from high carbon steel, and hardened to 60-62 Rockwell C. The thickness gives a chatter-free performance, and the hardness allows for the creation and maintenance of a razor sharp edge.
- A "Bedrock" mechanism for precision adjustment. "Bedrock" was the Stanley trademark for their premium line of planes that were made from 1900 to the 1940’s. The important distinguishing characteristic that made these planes so desirable, and so worthy of duplicating, is the frog adjustment. The frog, the part of the plane where the blade rests, is attached to the sole of the plane in a precisely machined channel. The machined channel gives a more solid fit to the tool, which translates into less chatter and better planing and the frog can be easily moved with the plane blade in place, so that you can quickly close or open the plane mouth.
- Precision-ground sides and bottom that make it easy to use the plane on shooting boards.
- A special 2 piece cap iron for extremely rigid blade clamping is standard on all Clifton bench planes. The original "Stay - Set" 2 piece cap iron was a Record innovation, and adds two great features to a plane. The Stay Set’s heavy deflector adds mass to the blade and further improves the quality of the cut. In addition, when you’re honing the blade, you can pop off the deflector and easily pop it back on with no loss of position, and you don’t have to find a screwdriver.
- The combination of a heavy blade, 2 piece cap iron, and a heavy, flat, gray iron body makes these planes even more suited for planing very difficult woods than the average Stanley ever was.
- The wooden parts are all made of bubinga, a tropical hardwood with beautiful grain and reminiscent of the original rosewood handles you will find on the old Stanleys.
Which bench plane size should you choose? The answer depends on a lot of factors, including simple personal preference.
The Clifton Number 3 is the smallest size bench plane that can function as an all-around smoother. It’s shorter than the Number 4 (and a smaller size can be better for a smooth plane), and its narrower blade means it’s easier to use. Some people swear by it as the perfect smoother, while others prefer the Number 4 (see next paragraph). It boils down to personal preference. 8" long with a 1 3/4" iron.
The Clifton Number 4 is my personal favorite size for a smoother. Slightly longer than the Number 3, it has a slightly wider blade, which I prefer. It’s really what fits your hand and what works for you. When I think back to my hunt 15 years ago for my Stanley Bedrock 604, I can’t help but envy the new generation of woodworkers who can buy a top notch new plane right off the shelf. 9" long with a 2" iron.
The Clifton Number 4 1/2 is a wide version of the number 4. Our thought is that it’s too big to be a true smoother, and historically these planes were quite rare. However, nowadays many, many writers extol the virtues of the 4 1/2 as a great all around smooth plane, especially where power tools are used for milling the wood. It also makes a great shooting board plane with a wide 2 3/8" iron - a little lighter than the 5 ½ - and the accuracy is provided by the shooting board anyway.
The Clifton Number 5 is often used as a general-purpose plane. While in theory it’s too long to be a perfect smoother, its heft and width make it really appealing. It works wonderfully as a general-purpose panel plane and for taking out the ridges left from a glue-up, and it’s not as heavy as a Number 6. I use mine as a jack plane and I have the mouth set wide and the blade heavily cambered. 14" long with a 2" iron.
The Clifton number 5 1/2 is one of the rarer sizes of traditional Stanley planes and a recent re-introduction by Clifton. It doesn’t have the accuracy of the really long planes, but it’s long enough to be a great panel plane with a good heft to it that makes it sit solidly on the wood. This is the closest equivalent to an English panel plane and it also makes a fine, large shooting plane. 14" long with a 2 3/8" iron.
If you do most of your accurate joinery using power tools, the Clifton Number 6 plane is a good choice. It’s practical for someone who needs a pretty long plane for final surfacing of glued up boards, but only occasionally needs a very long plane for accurate edge joints. Of the long planes it’s the least common - most people go for the number 7 - but it does have its place. If you use power tools for milling wood, a nice smoother (3 or 4) and a Number 6 are the perfect complements. 18" long with a 2 3/8" iron.
The Clifton Number 7 Jointer plane is 22" long and is designed for jointing accurate surfaces and edges to true. It’s a little too long and heavy for general work, but when you need an accurate long plane it’s perfect. This plane is heavier than a traditional Bedrock number 7, but a lot easier to manage than the even larger number 8 with only a miniscule loss of length and accuracy. The extra weight gives it lots of momentum to glide through tough grain. 22" long with a 2 3/8" iron.
Made in Sheffield.