Image: Laura Simmons www.franglaisphotography.com

Ron Hock Plane Blade

A generous influx of birthday money meant I have been able to invest in a new blade for my 5 1/2 bench plane. I’ve been wanting to swap out the standard Stanley blade and breaker for a Ron Hock one for some time, but since using the Quashkang planes (which are brilliant) at Rycotewood the need to upgrade has seemed more urgent!

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t put too much thought into choosing between the two steels on offer. Blades are available in High Carbon steel, which sharpens to a ridiculously sharp edge, but needs more regular sharpening to keep it peaking, and the hardened A2 steel which is still very sharp, but with better edge retention — the result of chemical wizardry in the heat treating. I basically made the choice with my wallet and went for the almost £10 cheaper Carbon steel. This allowed me to pair it with a chip breaker, which again, was worth it and a much needed replacement blade for one of my Japanese saws which sadly got buckled last month.

Whether you feel it needs it or not, an edge can nearly always be improved by a sharpen, provided your sharpening practices are effective and working for you.

The blades themselves are made at two sites, one in Fort Bragg, California — the home of the man himself, and also at an authorized maker in France. On Ron Hocks website I believe it says how to tell the two apart, and if memory serves its that the logo is laser etched in France and stamped in the US. Being here in the UK, Classic Hand Tools supplied me with one made in France, which was what I’d expected. No point shipping one from California when they also make them in France. A laser etched “France” next to the main Hock logo confirmed this.

Out of the packaging the blade felt pretty sharp but clearly needed a touch up. I’ve never owned a new plane and this is my first replacement (but likely not the last) blade I’ve got. But I have received new tools, including bench chisels (I still love using my Ashliey Iles Mk II Bench Chisels) and I know that the first sharpen is an important process.

Whether you feel it needs it or not, a new edge can nearly always be improved by a sharpen, provided your sharpening practices are effective and working for you. But more than that, in that first sharpen, you learn something about that new blade. You learn about the flatness, or otherwise, of the back of the blade. Etc etc.

I found the back of mine to be very slightly concave, and after minimal sharpening a thin strip across the whole edge had been brought into play which was confirmed by feeling a burr on the bevel side.

My workbench isn’t always this messy, really.

There is nothing very exotic about my sharpening system. I have continued to stick with Japanese Waterstones after first seeing them be used by bushcraft expert Ray Mears. I don’t use particularly fine grits either (again mainly to save my wallet) I believe mine are 800/1200 and 2000 for a polish. Over the summer I made myself a honing strop which I use with some fine honing compound. It’s still a bit too soon for me to sing about this addition but it does add something to a fresh sharpen and it does provide a valid ‘top-up’ between sharpens which is helpful too.

I tested the newly polished blade on a piece of difficult olive ash which I’m working on at the moment. The difference in ease of cut was backed up by a notable change in the sound of the cut. And lastly the mirrored surface left behind told its own story. In my haste I neglected to “curve” the corners of the blade in sharpening and as a result I am getting some trough marks, but this is easily fixed.

So was it worth the money? Absolutely. I’m looking forward to putting it through it’s paces more over the next couple of weeks, but initial impressions are yes, I would pay the money again glen the choice, and I’m already thinking about which plane deserves the upgrade next.