Clifton Low Angle Block Plane Review

Extremely well made and comfortable to hold and use, the Clifton will handle any job that a block plane is meant to perform.

Clifton Low Angle Block Plane

Clifton Low Angle Block Plane



There aren't a lot of block plane brands on the market, so it's a real treat when a new plane comes onto the scene. This one is manufactured in Sheffield, England, by Thomas Flinn & Co. The company started in 1923, making hand saws, and has been continuously owned and operated by the Ellis family since 1936. You may know Thomas Flinn for their exceptional line of Pax and Lynx saws (available from Lee Valley). What you may not know is that in 2014 they took over the manufacture of the 'Clifton' brand of hand tools from Clico Tooling, making Thomas Flinn the last in a long line of British hand tools manufacturers.

I've had the opportunity of trying out their new low angle block plane for the past couple of months. It comes in two formats – with a fixed mouth or, the one I tested, an adjustable mouth.

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Three materials all woodworkers love: bronze, steel, and wood

Like any metal block plane the Clifton consists of four major components – the body (with it's adjustable toe plate), cap, blade, and blade adjuster. For the body, Thomas Flinn has chosen bronze. A good choice, given it's strength, resistance to corrosion, and it's connection to historical craft. Modern bronze, of course, with its various additives, is considerably more durable and resilient than the stuff that the Babylonians used. It isn't likely to crack if dropped on a shop floor. And, over time the surface will develop a wonderful patina. If you think it looks stellar now, just wait for a few decades.

At 2" by 6-1/2" and weighing in at just over 2 pounds the Clifton is quite a substantial block plane with a commanding presence and wonderful warmth in the hand. The sides, which are 9/64" thick, are perfectly square to the body, and all the edges are nicely rounded over. 
 
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Meticulously machined sole with a perfectly fitting toe plate

The sole is dead flat – head to toe, and side to side. The toe plate fits so snugly into the sole that the seams, as you can see in the top photo, are barely visible. 

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Norris style adjuster for precise blade control

The Clifton employs a Norris-type blade adjuster with a double threaded screw and two floating steel pivots that ride in a precision machined slot. The pin that protrudes from the top of the smaller pivot fits precisely into the mounting hole on the plane blade. The adjuster is a smooth operator, advancing and retracting the blade in minute increments. And, the adjuster also takes care of lateral blade adjustment.

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Fully adjustable mouth

I like to keep the mouth as narrow as possible, and find that even if I advance the blade slightly to take a somewhat more aggressive shaving, I rarely need to re-adjust the toe plate. However if you do tend to make very deep cuts with a block plane, then this feature will undoubtedly come in handy.

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Machined stops align the blade

At the mouth of the plane are two machined stops (one on either side of the mouth). These make it easier to keep the front end of the plane blade parallel to the mouth – I find it especially useful as I'm constantly adjusting the depth of cut throughout the day. This feature seems to be unique to Clifton – I've certainly not not seen it used on any other planes. 

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Stout cap with large locking wheel

The cap is a real beauty. Superbly machined, and with a lovely Bubinga insert atop that makes for a very comfortable place to rest the palm of your hand. Once tightened down – and it only takes a few turns of the flywheel to do so – the blade is locked firmly in place. Note, in the photo above, how the flywheel is perfectly flush with the back of the cap so that the wheel doesn't dig into your hand in use.

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Cryogenically treated 01 steel

Without a decent blade any plane is mere eye candy. The Clifton blade is substantial – 1/8" thick, made of high carbon 01 steel, ground to 25°, and cryogenically treated. It holds an edge well, yet can be quickly brought to a razor sharp condition. The parallel sides on the blade make it easy to hold in just about any honing jig.

Out of the box I didn't have to do anything to the blade – it had a dead flat back, square tip, and a cutting edge that wanted to go straight to work (though it didn't mind a bit of stropping).

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A glorious block plane
 
I've used the Clifton to cut bevels on both long and edge grain, to trim dovetails and through tenons flush, to chamfer edges, and to do final fitting of cabinet drawers and doors.

Considering how much a block plane gets used in the shop, it's important to get one that you'll enjoy using, and that will preform flawlessly. The Clifton is such a plane. It has sufficient weight and mass to handle end-grain, is wide enough to tackle larger surfaces, yet perfectly balanced for use on small, narrow edges. It'll produce gossamer thin shavings and leave a crisp clean surface that's ready for a bit of finish – no sanding required. All with nary a chatter, even on the most wicked grain. 

This is a tool that you can use daily for the rest of your work life,and have the pleasant thought that it will become the cherished 'heritage' possession of some future woodworker. 

KEY FEATURES:

  • Body: Bronze
  • Cap: Bubinga and solid brass
  • Size: 2" by 6-1/2"
  • Blade: 1/8" x 1-5/8" x 4-1/4", cryogenically treated 01 steel
  • Bed Angle: 12°
  • Blade Angle: 25°
  • Effective Angle: 37°
  • Adjuster: Norris style
  • Weight: 2.1 pounds

COMPANY:Thomas Flinn & Co
MODEL:Low Angle Block Plane
PRICE:$349.95 US
MADE IN:England
SOURCE:ToolsForWoodworking.com

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Author: 
Carl Duguay
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