View Full Version : Hand Planes

Jess Potter
05-06-2003, 10:19 PM
For my first hand plane. Who makes a good sharp hand plane? Thanks, Jess

imported_Steven Bauer
05-06-2003, 10:25 PM
There are several quality plane-makers around, but you have to make them sharp! :D

I like the Lee Valley planes, Lie-Nielsen are top of the line, a Stanley low angle block plane is nice. Look here:

www.leevalley.com (http://www.leevalley.com)
www.garrettwade.com (http://www.garrettwade.com)


05-06-2003, 10:45 PM
i like my new wooden planes by ece. the english jack plane is my favorite. i have both the primus screw adjustment and the wedge type.

Dave Fleming
05-06-2003, 11:57 PM
Who makes a good sharp hand plane? Thanks, Jess
A number of outfits make fine hand planes including home made ones but, it is YOU who make any of the blades sharp!E-bay is a good start as well as reading Patrick Leach's web site on Stanley planes.
IMOOP, aftermarket blades are going to be, in the main, better quality than what comes with todays Stanley or Record metal planes.

Jess Potter
05-07-2003, 12:32 AM
I accidently left out a part. I am going to using for scarfing but I'm not sure which to get, is a block plane ok?

05-07-2003, 06:12 AM
For scarfing plywood, based on the book on lightweight canoes that WB sells by Tom ___ (name escapes me), I bought and used to great delight the Stanley low-angle block plane. (Think the Record about the same) See the book for more. Remember all the comments on sharpening, I think they're right on the mark :cool: !

05-07-2003, 06:49 AM
It's the iron that gets sharp, not the plane (as noted above),but the plane body also affects the cutting ability. Therefore (insert superior, profesorial timber to voice), buying a bargain plane, with a quality after market iron , probably won't help much. I've seen a low angle jack plane somewhere, maybe Lie Nelson.... I bet that would be great for cutting scarfs... (scarves?)

Chadd Hamilton
05-07-2003, 07:53 AM
I'm in with the rest who reccommend the Stanley low angle block plane. Own one and use it all the time. It's not terribly expensive so maybe you can pony up a little more cash and buy a Stanley jack plane as well. Cheap jackplane on Ebay (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2320838992&category=29526) This combo will go pretty far IMO. For sharpening, search the internet for "scary sharp" and save yourself some $$ on a honing stone.

Bob Perkins
05-07-2003, 10:22 AM
I'm partial to the Lie-Nielson planes.. I've collected a few now.

My Favorite is the Low angle #5, it has an outstanding cut/feel.

Next, the low angle block plane.

The blade just needs a little honing out of the box, everything else is great. They have excellent steel too.

Other (New) planes require more first time setup as the price goes down.

When I was scarfing 5" wide boards, I made a jig and used the #7. So which plane you choose would depend on how you go about doing it..


Wayne Jeffers
05-07-2003, 10:45 AM

I'm a fan of old Stanley planes. At least 50 years old. The new ones in the stores are junk.

If you can find a used tool dealer near you, you should find old Stanley planes in good shape at about the same price as new Stanley planes. $25 to $50 is about right for an old Stanley in good shape. A few of the specialized or rare Stanleys will be priced like collectors items. They can also be found at antique stores, garage sales, etc.

The old Stanley irons are far better than the new ones at holding an edge.

First, buy Michael Dunbar's Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools so you'll know what to look for and how to put it in tip-top shape. I think the WB Store has it.


Bruce Hooke
05-07-2003, 10:49 AM
For a first plane I would get a Record or a good quality Stanley/Bailey (Stanley makes various grades -- the best are made in England(UK)). If you've got extra money I would put it into an after-market blade (Hock is one good brand). Lie-Nielsen, Lee Valley, et al, make some wonderful planes, but I know that when I was starting out I did not know enough about sharpening and using a plane to really make good use of such high-quality tools. Also, cutting scarfs is hard on the plane (and the user) but it is not hugely demanding of the plane.

For cutting scarfs in plywood a low-angle block plane is one good way to go and it will not be that expensive ($45-$50 from Woodcraft (http://www.woodcraft.com)). Another option, and the plane I would probably pick up if I had a scarf to cut, is a "Smooth" (04) plane ($60 from Woodcraft). A Smooth plane is a good bit bigger than a block plane so you can get two hands on it more easily, which makes it easier to use for extended periods of time. I should qualify this by saying that if you are scarfing plywood that is 1/4" or thinner then I would stick with a block plane. On thin plywood a Smooth plane is long enough so that it would be harder to control on such a narrow surface.

Rather than sink extra money into fancy planes, if you have extra cash I would put it into sharpening gear. A decent plane can be made to work quite well if it is kept sharp. The best plane is useless if it is dull.

Avoid at all costs the cheap hardware store planes. Most are basically junk and can only be made to work if you are willing to do a lot of adjusting, tuning and refining of the plane.

05-07-2003, 11:26 AM
What Dave Fleming said - you make it sharp.
I've bought more cheap tools than I'd like generally known :rolleyes: They're always a bad deal. Lee Valley's planes are, IMHO, a good compromise between too cheap and boutique tools.
Flea market older planes may be the best deal if you don't get stuck with something unfixable.

[ 05-07-2003, 12:27 PM: Message edited by: TomRobb ]

Wayne Jeffers
05-07-2003, 12:31 PM
Originally posted by TomRobb:
. . .
Flea market older planes may be the best deal if you don't get stuck with something unfixable.Don't buy any old planes that need fixing. If something's not right on one, pass it by. Buy the book I mentioned above so that you know what to look for.

There are still plenty of good ones out there for less than $50, sometimes much less. They only need a little clean up, lapping perhaps, and sharpening.


[ 05-07-2003, 01:32 PM: Message edited by: Wayne Jeffers ]

05-07-2003, 01:56 PM
True, Wayne, but I got my nifty little Lee Valley Apron plane for $60. A better deal, to me, than an old one with unknown problems for $50.

Bruce Hooke
05-07-2003, 03:01 PM
I'm also of the opinion that someone who is buying their first plane would be wise to buy a new plane. Without experience in using planes it's harder to know which old planes are in good enough condition to be worth buying. More importantly, without experience it's hard to know what's going wrong when a plane isn't working right -- so it's easier if you can start out by limiting the number of possible problems by starting with a plane that's in good condition. That's my opinion anyway... :D

Wayne Jeffers
05-07-2003, 03:25 PM

Unknown problems? There don't need to be unknown problems. It only takes a minute or two to take apart a plane and check all the parts to make sure they're all original and in good condition.

Most of the old Stanleys I have I bought for about $25 or $30 each. About 8 or 10 years ago, I got a Stanley #4 from the late 1920's, early 1930's, in near mint condition, except for a Millers Falls iron in place of the original, for $15 at a local "Antique Mall." It cost me $2 at my nearby used tool dealer to buy a proper Stanley iron for it. The most I've paid for one is, I think, $47.50 for a #5 1/2C (with corrugated sole) that I bought in an antique shop in Millersburg, OH, last summer. I returned from that trip with three nice old Stanley planes for less than $100. The others were a #5C and a low-angle block plane (I forget the number), both I excellent shape.

Get the book. Learn what to look for. There are bargains to be had in quality old planes.


Setting up a new plane of questionable quality is also a risky proposition. If someone buys Lee Valley or better, there may be some advantage as you suggest. But given a choice between a new Stanley or a 70-year-old Stanley in respectable shape, I would pay twice the amount for the 70-year-old. The new ones have cut corners to the point that it is difficult to get them really well-tuned and the blades won't hold an edge. It would be easy for a beginner to be frustrated with such a plane and give up.


[ 05-07-2003, 04:26 PM: Message edited by: Wayne Jeffers ]

05-08-2003, 01:06 AM
The Lee Valley (Veritas) low angle block plane is the most bang for the buck . It is definitely a cut above the Record and the Stanley and costs about $85.00 The Veritas sharpening system (one 8 inch water stone with different grits on each side of the stone plus an angle setting device costs about $45.00 I have used this setup for the last two years and have had great results... The low-angle block plane is an invaluable tool .

For perfect scarfing consider the John Henry power planer scarffing attachment... He makes one for both of the Makita hand power planers and it works just beautifully... all scarfs are perfect... NO Plane needed. The smaller Makita planer can be picked up an pawn shops for around $50 (scarfs plywood up to 3/8") while the larger planer is more difficult to find but will scarf plywood up to 1/2".

[ 05-08-2003, 02:13 AM: Message edited by: rodbrink ]

john welsford
05-08-2003, 02:32 AM
I agree with those who suggest going to a garage sale or junkshop ( not one with "antiques" on the window) and picking up an old Stanley or Record. I have 2 each number threes and number fours plus a 90 1/2 and a couple of other oddities as well as several Primus and other wooden planes, but use teh two number three Stanleys more than all the rest combined, except perhaps the 90 1/2 low angle block plane with gets used on most things which are not actualy clamped in the vice or bench dog. But I dont use any of them for scarfing, an old dog boatbuilder taught me how to use an 8in angle grinder with a sanding disk to cut the bevels, its even faster than using a power plane and belt sander! and as for setting up a router or saw jig, I recon I could have the joint clamped and glued before the other guy was even halfway there.

John W ( who doesnt like swimming so makes sure that any joint he makes is not going to let go)

John W

Bruce Taylor
05-08-2003, 06:57 AM
After you've selected a nice block plane and #4 smoother, stop in at the hobby store and pick up a cheapo, bubble-wrapped Stanley trim plane. At less than $10 you can't go wrong. I have a lot of nice tools, but not one of them sees more use than this little thing. Appearances can be deceiving.


05-08-2003, 09:57 AM
Wayne, if one supposes that there are purveyors of sharpened planes out there waiting to be found, perhaps the faults in old junk shop finds will not be immediately obvious. Of course their guarantee is as good as their word.

Bruce Hooke
05-08-2003, 10:32 AM
Originally posted by Wayne Jeffers:
Unknown problems? There don't need to be unknown problems. It only takes a minute or two to take apart a plane and check all the parts to make sure they're all original and in good condition.This is exactly my point, when I was buying my first plane I could have taken apart an old plane quite easily. Having done that I would not necessarily have known which parts where not original, I would not have known which wear was important and which was simply patina, and I would not have known which planes were high-quality and which were junk when they were made 70 years ago -- and I've certainly seen some of the latter :D . Sure someone could go and read a book to learn all this, and I certainly agree that reading up on tuning planes of any age is a good idea (IIRC there was a great article a few years ago in WoodenBoat on this), but I don't think that all this reading is really necessary for someone buying their first plane. Also, I still maintain that this sort of book will make a lot more sense once the reader has had a chance to use a few planes.

I own recent Stanley and Record planes (I also own some 70+ year old planes) and it certainly did take some tweaking to get them to produce beautiful results on figured hardwoods. However, the recent planes did just fine out of the box (with the iron (blade) sharpened) on less demanding tasks such as planing scarf joints in plywood. On the new planes the key place where corners seem to get cut is on the irons (blades), which is why various people have recommend this as the first upgrade. I will admit that this is probably puts the price in the Lee Valley range, but the new Stanley and Record planes are not "junk".

In the end, I think a lot of it is a matter of personal approach. Some people enjoy learning about old tools, hunting for bargains, and carrying on a legacy by using tools that might have been used by their grandfather. Others would rather not be bothered with all of this and would rather get a new plane that will get the job done. Some, like me, got a lot of their early tools buy hinting to their parents what they would like for Christmas or a birthday :D -- in which case it is a lot easier to point to something in a catalog than try to explain what to look for at a used tool store. Any of these approaches can produce good results so each person needs to choose based on their needs, finances, circumstances, and interests.

Wayne Jeffers
05-08-2003, 12:04 PM

I've bought only one new plane, a Stanley #5, imported from England, quite a few years ago. IIRC, I paid almost $50 for it. Afterward, when I heard people sing the praises of Stanley tools, I thought they were full of it, until I learned the difference between the old and the new.

Unlike the old Stanley planes I've bought in recent years, this new plane had a sole that was impossible to flatten because the casting was so poor, the frog was not adjustable so you could not control the width of the throat for planning figured wood without tearing out, and of course the iron would not hold an edge. It also lacked balance and never felt right in my hand, although that's a matter of personal preference.

FWIW, a couple of my favorites are wooden planes that I have restored, a "coffin" smoothing plane and a jointer with razee handle. It takes a little practice to get them set up just right, but they work well and the balance and feel are wonderful.


Ken Hutchins
05-08-2003, 12:30 PM
If you spot a Stanley scraper plane, don't pass it up. The best thing going for fiqured smile.gif grain.

Bruce Taylor
05-08-2003, 12:51 PM
My main working block plane is a Stanley 60 1/2, bought new about ten years ago...and it's a pretty sloppy tool.

I tuned it nicely, at the time...lapped the sole to a mirror shine, filed the throat flat, and buffed the burrs out of that pretty knurled brass knob, but there's no way to change what this is: a very mediocre production plane.

The cap iron is too small; the blade is thin and poorly supported; the lateral adjustment is funky and unreliable (and seems, in any case, less like a useful feature than a concession to poor manufacturing).

Another fifteen bucks will get you a Veritas apron plane: a far better value.

So why don't I replace it? Because it's good enough. I've learned to do decent work with an inferior tool. A better plane would be more pleasant to use, but it won't improve my chops.

Reasonably accurate work can be done with shoddy tools. Most of the parts in this intarsia rosette were thicknessed with that lousy plane, and the same plane was used to level the mosaics after they were installed.


Bruce Hooke
05-08-2003, 12:58 PM

I seem to remember hearing somewhere that Stanley went through a "dark period" when the quality of their planes really hit bottom. I can attest that on the Stanley plane I bought a couple years ago the sole was in better shape than many old planes I've come across, the frog was adjustable, and the iron was quite decent...

One thing I've often thought recently is that anyone who was trying to do hand tool woodworking in the 50's and 60's deserves a lot of credit. It seems like there was a period in there when the likes of Stanley had stopped producing all the great old tools, and the new makers like Lee Valley had not yet came along, and all the good mail order places had yet to came into being (aside from a few, like Woodcraft, which has been around for 75 years).

- Bruce

Wayne Jeffers
05-08-2003, 01:53 PM
Bruce T,

While as you say reasonably accurate work can be produced with shoddy tools, it is much more pleasurable to work with good tools. My only point is that some very good quality tools can be found at bargain prices in flea markets and other such places if only one learns a bit about what to look for. The beginner should not be encouraged to think that paying upwards of $100 for a plane is necessary in order to obtain good quality.

Lovely work on the guitar, BTW.

Bruce H,

I can't remember exactly when I bought that new Stanley plane, but I think it was about 1985. It had sort of a maroon japanning on it instead of black. It had black plastic tote and knob instead of wood.

As I understand it, following WWII, Stanley began to focus production and marketing effort on the "handyman" mass market instead of the tradesman market. Many compromises in quality to keep prices competitive. The best stuff is mostly pre-WWII, but there's a lot of it available in good condition, cheap, if you know what to look for.


Scott Rosen
05-08-2003, 02:41 PM
Hindsight is always 20/20. If I had to start my collection over again, the first hand plane I'd get would be this:


I have a Stanley low-angle block plane which is pretty good. By that, I mean I can do passable work with it and I feel comfortable handling it. But a low-angle rabbet block plane would cover about 90% of my plane use.

Edited to add the following from the Lie-Nielsen site:


Many years ago, Sargent made a small rabbeting block plane, No. 507. Ohio Tool offered a version as well. It's a great design, handy as a block plane and wider than most rabbet planes, making trimming tenons to fit easy.

Being fond of low angle planes, we've lowered the cutting angle to 12. Non-adjustable mouth, 1-3/4" overall width, 6 1/4" long unbreakable Ductile Iron body. (We recently tested this body casting by dropping it from 15' onto concrete nose first. The tool bent a trifle but the casting did not break.) Bronze cap,
1/8" blade, body ground flat and square to .001".

Rabbet Block Plane
$150.00 U.S.

[ 05-08-2003, 03:43 PM: Message edited by: Scott Rosen ]

05-08-2003, 03:08 PM
On 7/10/02 Stanley Works Inc. (Stanley Connecticut) filed a revised proxy statement to be named Stanley Ltd. (Stanley Bermuda). This reincorporation appears to be a bold and unveiled move to avoid federal taxes. I own several Stanley products and I have no issue with buying imported goods, but I will give an extra thought before I purchase any more Stanley tools. I believe congress is taking up this offshore reincorporation issue.

05-09-2003, 08:27 AM
Yep, some planes are better than others, however cheap ones can work really well.

My first plane was a cheap smoother (#4). No matter how sharp I had the iron, I just couldn't make it work so I gave up on it. Then some book I was reading (probably one of Tage Frid's) had a section on tuning up hand planes. After reading it, I got out my $15 aluminum body plane and looked it over. The chip breaker didn't meet the iron properly. A little grinding and filing and now that plane works just fine.

Now that I underdstand my planes a bit better I really like my old stanleys that I've bought on ebay, and at flea markets.

My recommendation is buy something you can feel happy about spending the money on and learn how to tune it up. The most expensive plane won't work right if they aren't sharp and tuned properly and then you'll just hate yourself for "wasting" the money. Sure the expensive ones likely won't have setup problems out of the box, but even with those you'll eventually need to know how to tune it, so you might as well learn that now.

Bruce Hooke
05-09-2003, 09:28 AM
Originally posted by bheys:
On 7/10/02 Stanley Works Inc. (Stanley Connecticut) filed a revised proxy statement to be named Stanley Ltd. (Stanley Bermuda). This reincorporation appears to be a bold and unveiled move to avoid federal taxes. I own several Stanley products and I have no issue with buying imported goods, but I will give an extra thought before I purchase any more Stanley tools. I believe congress is taking up this offshore reincorporation issue.IIRC Stanley cancelled these plans, in which case they are still based in New Britain, Connecticut. Of course their best planes have long been made across the pond in "old" Britain, A.K.A the UK...

Nicholas Carey
05-09-2003, 01:42 PM
If you want to know [Far More Than You Ever Wanted To Know] about any Stanley Plane, you need to surf over to Patrick Leach's The Superior Works (http://www.supertool.com) and read his opus magister Patrick's Blood and Gore (http://www.supertool.com/StanleyBG/stan0.htm).

He's also a good source for old, quality planes and tools (Stanley and others). You just need to subscribe to Patrick's monthly tool list (http://www.supertool.com/oldtools.htm).

And he makes new tools (http://www.supertool.com/newtools.htm) as well, including a quality [and expensive] 'reproduction' of a Stanley Bed Rock #601 model that was never manufactured as well as a part for the Emmertt patternmaker's vise that's often missing.

Nicholas Carey
05-09-2003, 06:43 PM
I'd, as a general rule, stay away from new planes of Stanley or Record manufacture. My experiences have been...not good. :(

Other good sources for planes (new) outside of those mentioned above—Lie-Nielson, Veritas/Lee Valley, etc.— are:

Clifton. (aka CliCo) Clifton is a toolmaker for the aerospace industry and makes planes as good as Lie-Nielsen (but a smidgen less costly.) Painted British Racing Green, of course. CliCo bought out Preston some years back and manufactures upgraded versions of Preston spokeshaves and shoulder/rabbet planes.

Clifton tools can be obtained from Highland Hardware (http://www.highlandhardware.com/) as well as The Usual Places (Woodcraft, Garret Wade, etc.)

Knight Toolworks. You might also consider Knight Toolworks (http://www.knight-toolworks.com/wooden.htm). He makes quality wood-bodied and infill planes.

Shepherd Tools. Check out Shepherd Tools (http://www.shepherdtool.com/) as well. They manufacture Norris- and Spiers- style infill planes and kits. The finished planes are tres cher, but the kits are reasonable (for some definition of 'reasonable' :D )

Also look at HNT Gordon (http://www.hntgordon.com.au/). He's an Australian maker of very high-quality chinese-style planes at fair prices.

Gordon planes are made from various—not to mention beautimous—Ozzie hardwoods. They're also available from Highland Hardware (http://www.highlandhardware.com/) here in the US -- see their website for the complete list of stockists. Gordon also makes plane kits and will build custom planes if so desired (30 inch long jointer made from lignum vitae anyone? or a block plane made from pink ivorywood?)

05-12-2003, 09:05 PM
Who makes a good sharp hand plane?

Two words: you do.

Learn to sharpen, but get good steel to begin with. If you have more time than money, buy cheap, and then tune and sharpen for hours and hours.

Scott, you're right. A low-angle rabbeting block plane will fill most of my boatbuilding needs too, but that presupposes big machines to do thicknessing, straightening.

If I were starting fresh in the plane department and had a couple-hundred bucks, I'd buy a Clifton #4. Then I'd spring for a Veritas or L-N low-angle block plane. And you could probably quit right there.

High C
05-12-2003, 09:22 PM
I have a Stanley, circa early 80s low angle block plane that I love. Use it for all kinds of things, and a Record block plane, circa 1993, that I hate. I can't get it to do anything well. It looks like it should be a better tool, but it's always the Stanley that I reach for.

[ 05-12-2003, 10:27 PM: Message edited by: High C ]