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Ask the Experts

Question: What's the difference between Clifton and Lie-Nielsen bench planes?

Answer: As stated in our catalog, Clifton and Lie-Nielsen bench planes are built with Stanley's Bed Rock frog design (see catalog for a detailed description of the Bed Rock frog). Although both companies produce a steel plane superior to anything currently available, there are some differences noting other than price.

Looks:
Aesthetically, Lie-Nielsens have a flat black japanned finish, Stanley-style cherry totes/knobs and a squared side rail much like Stanley's Post-1911 Bed Rocks. The Cliftons are japanned in glossy British racing green with Miller's Falls-style bubinga totes/knobs and rounded Bailey side rails similar to Stanley's earlier Bed Rocks.

Function:
Mechanically, both planes function basically the same. Frog and throat adjustments can be made without removing the blade assembly. Blade advancement and lateral movement work equally fine in familiar ways.

Materials:
The major differences are in body materials and blade assembly. Lie-Nielsen makes its bodies in ductile iron, which is quite shock resistant. Clifton manufactures their plane bodies from gray iron, same as Stanley and Record. Gray iron is not as shock resistant as ductile iron. The moral of this story is not to drop your heirloom-quality plane on a concrete floor, or your blade for that matter.

Blades and Chip Breakers:
Clifton hand-hammers their blades and Lie-Nielsen drop-forges their blades. Both blades are of excellent quality, approximately 1/8" thick to reduce chatter. Clifton blades seem to hold an edge slightly longer. Lie-Nielsen planes come with the usual chip breaker much like Stanley and Record planes. The two-piece chip breaker from Clifton adds mass to the blade assembly and holds the iron flat on the frog with pressure on the blade when the lever cap locks down.

The Bottom Line:
If you're dissatisfied with the quality of standard fare steel planes, then either a Lie-Nielsen or a Clifton will surely appeal to you. After some minor tuning, blade honing and throat adjusting, (see Garrett Hack's The Hand Plane Book), these planes will give world-class performance. At this point consider price, form and visual appeal. After all, you'll have to look at it for a long time, and a beautiful plane is a source of joy forever. Then meditate on the differences above and decide. I'm sure you'll be pleased with these fine tools.

 

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