Tool Review - Exceptional Made in India Planes

"Be careful, planes are like crack and cocaine, once you get a few you'll never have enough."
Tod Evans, woodworker

I had always wondered why some hand planes should cost a few hundred rupees and others a few thousand. What could be the big deal? A hand plane after all isn't exactly a sophisticated piece of electronics or machinery; it is plain old casting, steel, brass and some wood or plastic. And all it does is take off shavings of wood. The obsession of some woodworkers with good quality hand planes just did not make sense.

Now, after three years or more of woodworking, I know better. Once you have handled a good quality hand plane, one that moves steady and flat, shaving off just the width of wood you want, leaving no tracks or tear out, you can never go back to anything lesser.

I am not an expert on hand planes but I know for sure that some hand planes are way superior to others. You need to have used them to know the difference. This is why even hundreds of years after their invention, tool makers continue to innovate and come up with subtly better designs and features in hand planes.

Ron Hock, an American tool maker, has made his mark by producing great quality hand plane and chisel blades and Thomas Lie-Nielsen has made his fortune making exceptional hand planes. There are other specialist hand plane makers who sell their tools for thousands of dollars. Some of that, in my opinion, is over the top but there can be no two ways about the importance of well-produced affordable hand planes.

The good news is that now we have at least one company in India that is making great quality planes at an affordable price: the New Delhi based Shobha Industries. They market their planes under the "Soba" brand name. I had reviewed their rebate plane in an earlier blog and then decided to buy a few more planes from them.

Soba No. 5 Plane
One of the planes I purchased was what the company calls a 14 inch "smoothing plane". This is an odd sized plane which has a 2 inch wide blade and weighs about 2.5 kg weight. It is shorter than a fore plane (usually designated as a No 6 plane) and a little longer and narrower than the standard No 5 ½ Jack Plane which usually has a 2 3/8th inch blade and is about 14 to 16 inches long. It is also much shorter than the typical jointer planes that are typically between 20 and 24 inches long. Stanley makes just that size of plane also with a 2 inch wide blade which it calls the No 5 Jack plane.

I plan to use it as a fore plane to hog off material across twisted or cupped boards as well as to joint small pieces of wood which are difficult to joint with the huge jointer planes. This is of course not a plane for everyday use but it promises to be a great help in some of my projects.

What I like about this plane:
  • Handsome plane with solid Rosewood tote and knob
  • Beautifully ground soles and sides
  • Adjustment knob really works, extremely sensitive
  • Blade took hardly ten minutes to hone
  • Solid cap iron - though it required a couple of minutes to rub its edge to prevent shavings getting caught under it
  • Lever plate again very solid, no chatter at all, secured by a knurled knob

The local version costs about Rs 1,500 which is much less than what I would have paid for a Stanley contractor grade plane

Sole of Stanley Plane
Sole of Soba Plane

Soba Plane Cap iron and Blade
In short, it is a beauty. If Shobha industries make all their planes of this quality it would be worthwhile to collect all of them!

I also bought three specialist planes, including a shoulder plane, a 6 inch 3-in-one combination plane and a bull-nose plane. These are planes which are very useful in hand work, especially in joinery, and are also useful for cleaning up edges, rebates, housings and so on cut by power tools.

Soba Shoulder Plane

The shoulder plane is a plane tool with a blade flush with the edges of the plane, allowing trimming right up to the edge of a work piece. Like a rebate plane, the shoulder plane's blade extends, therefore cuts, to the full width of the tool. The shoulder plane is used to trim the shoulders and face of a tenon.  It is used when it is necessary to trim right into the concave corner where two surfaces of the same piece of wood meet perpendicularly. It is also commonly used to clean up housings and tenons for joinery.

Soba Bull-nose Plane

The bull-nose plane is a small 4 inch long by 1 inch wide plane that is used specifically to plane corners and hard to reach areas. It can also be used to level small areas and dowels.

Soba 3-in-1 Plane

The combination plane is really a marvel: it is a shoulder plane, a bull nose plane and a chisel plane in one tool. The top portion of the plane can be removed to turn it into a chisel plane and a small nose can be installed to convert it into a bull-nose plane. I bought this plane for its novelty value but now realise that it will serve me well for many tasks for many years to come.

Comparison

Comparisons are odious, wrote a famous English author many years ago. Yet, I cannot but compare the Soba planes with the others available in India. Sad to say but other Indian makes of hand planes next to the Soba planes look like junk; there can be no comparison in terms of engineering, precision and metallurgy. The Soba planes are also shoulders ahead of the contractor grade Stanley planes with their deeply etched bodies and difficult to hone blades.

The New Delhi based Shobha Industries, the makers of the Soba planes, clearly are serious about the hand tools business. Their innovation, attention to detail and quality are remarkable by Indian standards. Their prices are also internationally competitive. Given that a good hand tools can last more than a lifetime, it is always worthwhile to spend a little extra for a well-made tool.

In the West several renowned makers make better planes but those cost at least fifteen to twenty times more than the Soba planes. A vast market exists in the West as well for well-made planes below the premium market. Shobha industries must be aiming at that space. I am told that the company has as many as fifty clients outside the country and does not aggressively market its tools in India.

For Indian woodworkers, given their desperate need for affordable good quality hand tools, one cannot but wish that the company would advertise and distribute their tools in the domestic market. Everybody would stand to benefit from such a move. Till then one can only wish the company well and hope they have a long innings in making high quality hand tools.


Indranil Banerjie
30 October 2013

Comments

  1. Hi Indranil, Where can I buy them online?
    --thanks

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  2. Praveen: Try their website http://www.shobha-india.com/ and their email shobha@shobha-india.com. But be warned that they are very slow to respond to queries!

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  3. Thanks for the wonderful blog. I have decided to take up woodworking as a hobby and wanted your inputs on a good plane to start with ( since I will be a starter ). Is the soba 3-in-1 preferable for a starter?

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  4. Anonymous: If you are a beginner I would recommend you get hold of the No 4 smoothing plane to start with. The No 4 is a smoothing plane but can do much more. If you want more, get hold of the long No 7 jointer plane and a Jack Plane which is used for rough work. Flattening a board requires a combination of the Jack Plane or a Scrub plane (for taking out large amount of material to roughly flatten the board), a jointer plane (to flatten the troughs and ridges left behind by the scrub plane) and the No 4 smoothing plane (to even out the surface). These three planes will be great for a beginner and of course if you are in India, Soba would most certainly be the best. Good luck.

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    Replies
    1. Why doesn't Soba sell all its products online ?
      In the market Anant planes sell while Soba hasn't made an appearance.
      Soba's rabbet or rebate plane is expensive, don't you think they should be cheaper since they are in Made in india ?

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  5. Very much agree with it. I just wanted to add www.handplane.com has very useful information for all levels of wood workers. Also, Shobha has starter kit which come with smothing plane and block plane! I could not find them online and still waiting for their reply.

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  6. I got feedback from Shobha on their planes and their response was quite quick contrary to the notes. They have two started kits - economy and professional. Again confused if I need to pick up the starter or professional.

    http://www.shobha-india.com/wood-working/wood-working-w19.html#1

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  7. Sharat: I just checked the link you had given and the professional starter kit looks very useful, particularly if you don't already have good quality squares and marking gauge.

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  8. All, I'm sorry. Shobha had promptly replied but outlook thought it as junk and removed it. I cannot understand how outlook could categorize a reply to my mail as junk!!??!!

    @Sharat:
    Pro Eco
    260055 260055: Smoothing planes
    260110 260095: Pro, has adjustable mouth
    260480 260460: Both the try squares are 9", but pro has double sided brass
    260435 260435: Same Bevel planes
    260530 260515: Pro is mortise+marker, eco is marker guage

    Not much difference there. Also, if you already have other tools, buying 'block plane set' is good idea.

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  9. I know this has been asked above -- but I cannot figure out which planes would work well for a beginner. Indranil mentioned No 4, No 7 and a Jack plane, could anyone tell me which products would they correspond to? A block plane set from Shobha contains a smoothing plane and adjustable block plane...

    Also, could one just show up at their corporate office and buy these things?

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  10. Anonymous: Regarding the plane set: the smoothing plane is generally the same as the No 4 which is about a nine to ten inch long plane with a two inch wide blade. This the the most versatile plane ever developed and is probably the first plane a beginner should acquire. The block plane is a small plane generally used to pare end grain, cut shamfers and so on; it is very useful but perhaps not essential. A Jack plane would be a No. 5 with a longer body and would be used to roughly smooth the surface. An even longer plane like the No 7 which is between 22 and 24 inch long, would be used to flatten the surface. The No 4 or smoothing plane would be employed at the end. This combination of planes is not required unless you are planning to plane a lot of rough lumber.
    One alternative would be the following sequence of planes: A No 4 with a spare curved blade could be used as a scrub plane, followed by the No 7 and then finished off with the No 4 with a regular blade attached. Hope this clarifies matters.
    As for picking up planes from the Shobha head office, I really cannot say. I suggest you call them and find out.

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  11. Hi Indranil,

    This is good news indeed. I will call them and see if they have any presence in bangalore. Otherwise I'll have to find some way to get those shipped from delhi.

    BTW, how are you honing your wider plane blades? I couldn't find wide stones and finding it very difficult to sharpen my 4 1/2 plane blade.

    thnaks for such wonderful blog.

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  12. Dinabandhu: My widest plane iron blades are 2 and 3/8th inches wide and I sharpen them either on sandpaper or my 3 by 8 inch sharpening stones. Sandpaper on flat float glass or melamine coated particle board is very effective. Final honing is best done on a sharpening stones. The two grit oil stones available in India are pretty narrow and wide blades have to be honed at an angle.

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  13. Mine is also 2 3/8 inch wide. Did you buy your stones in india or did you import them?

    I couldn't find the bull none, shoulder and combination plane on their site. Is this something you need to specifically ask for? How much did they cost?

    Also, if i buy the combination plane do you think the separate shoulder and bull nose planes are still useful?

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  14. Dinabandhu: Unofrtunately I had to import a few sharpening stones as I found the two grit Indian stones inadequate. I got diamond stones which are reputed to be extremely flat and long lasting.
    As for the combination plane, it is not listed in their website but they should send you one if you email them. As far as I can remember it costs about Rs 3,000; and yes, you won't really need to buy the others if you have this one.

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  15. Those diamond plates must have cost you a fortune :) ... I am looking at norton india stones ... should be okay for beginner. In fact I was quite happy with local oil stones ... only if they made some wider ones it would have been great.

    I am in touch with sobha people. Will probably start with a smoothing plane, mortice gauge and coping saw (if they can supply spare blades).

    Since, I read your post I googled for soba and saw some other positive comments as well.

    Thanks again for putting up such a informative blog.

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  16. Dinabandhu: Yes, the diamond stones were expensive but not more than Norton or other water stones; fortunately a friend was coming over from the US so he brought it along. A 2-grit India stone is good enough especially if you use a strop after that. Even wide blades can be honed on a relatively narrow stone if it is done side to side. In fact that is the better way to hone the bevel (as opposed to flattening the back). Once this is done strop it on a piece of leather (get one from your local barber) rubbed with green polishing compound (available locally for about Rs 100). The resulting polish will give your blade a very sharp edge.

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  17. The stones I was talking about is not waterstones, they are basically alluminum oxide stones and are much cheaper. Please see http://www.sharpeningsupplies.com/Norton-India-Bench-Stone-8-x-3-P23C25.aspx , though they are way more expensive than local oilstones.

    I do use a strop (with green compound) though not a leather one as of now. A flattened neem wood block charged with green compound. Believe it or not I couldn't get barber strops from local barbers, they said "only village barbers use them nowadays". Bangalore is the IT capital ;). I plan to buy some leather from some leather shop and try it.

    Side by side didn't work for me, primarily I think because I couldn't hold the angle steady on freehand. I got better (nothing great but better) success using paul sellers convex bevel method, probably because that is a bit more error friendly. But using that method on a stone that is narrower than blade is impossible. I am also thinking of trying to make some kind of a simple guide and try side by side again.

    Thanks again for your help and advice.

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  18. What is the cost of the kit starter or professional from shoba

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  19. Gurumoorthy subramanian: I have no idea. You should call them and find out.

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  20. Hi,
    Not sure if this is the right thread to ask my question. To be honest, I got inspired from your blog and yesterday, made a small book case (very basic)out of laminated particle board. The board was cut to size by a local carpenter and joined by me (screws and nails). Today with the leftover boards, I made a side rack for my comp table. I used his old table saw to cut the boards and then used a older planer to make the symmetry (first two boards my cuts were pathetic.
    My next proj is going to be a plywood shoe case (too big for my boots?)- question:
    1. What kind of planer will work best with plywood? mainly needed to rectify after cut slight uneven edges
    2. I'm planning to order a hand saw from Stanley. Any specifications for my kind of job?
    3. I'll be mainly working on plywood/MDF/particle board...any suggestions for tools?
    4. I'll invariably get stuck and I've no guidance around. Any page where I can post my questions or email you?

    Thanks a lot for reading!
    Dipanjan

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  21. Dipanjan: Your asked 3 questions:
    1. What kind of planer will work best with plywood? mainly needed to rectify after cut slight uneven edges;
    Answer: Planers are not very good with plywood but get a No 4 general purpose hand plane or else get a wood file.
    2. I'm planning to order a hand saw from Stanley. Any specifications for my kind of job?
    Answer: Most Stanley regular saws cut plywood very well. Get a general purpose saw for most work.
    3. I'll be mainly working on plywood/MDF/particle board...any suggestions for tools?
    Answer: The usual hand tools will do but make sure to keep them sharp. Edges dull quickly with man-made materials.
    4. I'll invariably get stuck and I've no guidance around. Any page where I can post my questions or email you?
    Answer: Go to the "Ask our Experts" section.

    best of luck

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  22. Awesome!...I'll start from here...thanks a lot for the support..any suggestion on 4 way stanley saw 15-275? Will it suit my needs?

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  23. Dipanjan: The stanley saw 15-275 is a special purpose saw and is quite small in size. I use it occasionally for making small cuts but it is not suitable for general purpose cutting. For that you need a larger general purpose saw like the 15 inch 20-028L or the 20 inch 20-029L.

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  24. Thanks a lot Indranil...much appreciated!..n subho noboborsho in advance..

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  25. I am trying very hard to plane the blade of my Anant NO 5 planer.
    i am not able to get that edge or may be i am not using it properly.
    I prepare the blade with 1000 grit paper, it gives nice glossy finish but the blade is not sharp enough to remove anything from wood.
    Can someone let me know what am i doing wrong ?
    can i plane wood in any direction or is it only done towards granes direction ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apologies for the enormous delay in replying but somehow I missed your question. I cannot say what you are doing wrong without seeing the blade. My best advice is to watch youtube videos on plane sharpening and usage, particularly those by Paul Sellers. best of luck

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  26. Indranil Sir - I have ordered the Sobha planes 260110 (block plane adjustable mouth - http://www.shobha-india.com/wood-working/wood-working-w2.html#3) and smoothing plane 260055 (http://www.shobha-india.com/wood-working/wood-working-w1.html) which are part of the plane set kit (http://www.shobha-india.com/wood-working/wood-working-w19.html#1).
    Price quoted is 3300+tax.
    Could you please let know your thoughts on the same keeping my beginner status in mind? I plan to move up from plywood to rubber wood soon.
    - Siddhartha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good choice of two essential planes; they will be of critical use in the months and years ahead. What you now need to do is learn how to sharpen plane blades. There are a number of good tutorials on youtube - check out one by Paul Sellers. best wishes

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    2. Got the planes a week back, and followed videos of Paul sellers and Rob Cosman to make them ready for use. Both the Soba planes had almost flat soles (2-3 mins of flattening required), and the blades required minimal work.
      Disassembled them, wiped the greasy stuff, and after working on the blades reassembled them.
      Tried them out on edges of plywood which had some unevenness - worked fine ! But The blades have a tendency to catch on to plywood, and I have read that using them may lead to the blade getting chipped. So for now waiting for a chance to use them on some real wood. - Siddhartha

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    3. Congratulations. Use them well and they will serve you well. Good planes are best avoided on plywood which has glue and abrasives. For plywood use a cheaper plane. By the way how long did it take for the planes to arrive - my last email to Soba for planes for Col Bala elicited no reply!

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    4. As suggested by you, I email Mr Rajiv Chuttani (rajiv@shobha-india.com), and received an acknowledgement. After a couple of followups, Ms Seema Rawat (seema@shobha-india.com) contacted me over email, and it was a regular transaction after that. I would not call the buying process fast, but it was smooth with proper steps (sharing of pro forma invoice, approval of the same, NEFT transfer etc). A week more was spent as I had to manually get the west bengal waybill form 50 from commercial taxes office (thats a story in itself !). The courier took just 2 days and used air service. Overall - it took 20 days from first email to item receipt. Also got a fret saw and a mitre box in the same consignment - Siddhartha

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  27. Can you please suggest me the difference between shobha block plane 260110 and 260112? It is said that angles are different and the number of screws? I am going to buy one of them.

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    Replies
    1. KIngshuk, from what I could make out the only difference is in the type of blade adjuster. The 260110 appears to have a Norris type adjuster while the other has some other kind of blade adjustment mechanism. I would go for the 260110. Best of luck.

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    2. Thanks a lot. I ordered 260110 which is no-60-1/2 along with Shobha 3-1 shoulder plane. As I carefully observed through your blog and procured shobha 5-1/2 and 4-1/2. I tested these planes(5-1/2 and 4-1/2 on pieces of scrap wood I am currently having and with my little knowledge and experience I found them fascinating. Till now I have just made few jigs mostly out of ply+ solid wood and planning to do a sort of small wall box cabinet to put pics frames of deities(sort of small "simhasana") out of solid scrap wood I am having. With the immense knowledge you share in your blog which is really helpful for the starters like me, I am really in a state of mind and inclined to use more and more hand tools. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to cut pieces of wood using my saw, which I didn't get to that extent using my skill saw,nevertheless which is a bit difficult to control without a proper jig.

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    3. Best of luck Kingshuk. There are some very simple jigs you can make for your circular saw. By the way, curious to know how much Shobha is charging for the planes?

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    4. Hello Indranil sir, I am really thankful to you for this page. I have come to know that soba is a good brand for hand planes. I tried to contact them through online link that you have posted above but I didn't get any response . Is there any other site where I can order these

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  28. These planes costed me dearly :). On the listed price they are adding 12.5 % excise duty which I am not sure of what and why, and 5.25 % CST. Delivery/shipment charges are separate.
    I am giving breakup format like (listed price+ excise+ cst) for planes as below
    1. 4-1/2 plane (1760+220+1040)=2084
    2. 5-1/2 plane (2090+261++109)=2460
    In this last transaction, I negotiated for a discount and they agreed to give me 10%.
    4. Duplex rabbet (2772+346+145)=3263
    5. Rider 3-1 shoulder plane(2871+358+150)=3379
    6. adjustable mouth block plane (1155+60)=1215

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    Replies
    1. Yes, not cheap. Could you email me pix of last 3 planes?

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  29. Good morning Indranilji. I received shoba 2 pcs plain set yesterday which costed about Rs. 4,400/-. I am planning to start using them this week end. Any advise/ tips for initial use/ sharpening.

    Also where can I get the "green polishing compound" to be used on leather strop referred in your one of the replies above. Or what it is called so that I can try online.
    Thanx

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    Replies
    1. Green polishing compound is very easily available in all cities and towns. It is used by metal workers for polishing. Find your local metal/machinery market and you will surely find this there.

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  30. Thanks for this blog Mr. Indranil.
    Today I used shoba planes for first time and experience is very satisfying. I could get continuous ribbon chip-offs on Sal wood. This is with sharpening without final finishing on strop as I have yet to get Green polishing compound from ebay. I hope with that final stage of sharpening, experience could be even better.
    I have my little story to tell you to understand why I am so excited with this success.
    I had in fact attempted to start woodworking way back in 1991 in Hyderabad. I measurably failed as I could not sharpen properly chisels & Planes. Of-course, there was no internet or any blogs not even email. So without personal guidance in those days it was difficult or impossible to start such hobby. This was in spite of me having fair understanding of woodworking as I grew up in the neighbour hood of traditional woodworking family and I was a keen observer till my teens and understood many nuances of woodworking.

    I am really glad that I got head start today in woodworking as I believe, ability to use hand tools successfully, is still a very important aspect going forward in spite of availability of all types of power tools.
    Thanx once again Mr. Indranil for this excellent blog on hand planes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am really delighted with your success. I too had the same feeling when I learnt to use a sharp hand plane; it was an elevating experience! As you progress your sharpening will getter better and easier, and so will the pleasure involved in using well tuned hand tools. Best wishes.

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  31. I can't comment on their prices but I do believe they are or were selling on amazon.in. Some people mentioned buying it online.

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