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Hand Planes, Brands ranking

wiskytango's picture

Just wondering what all your thoughts are as to the quality of old hand planes. Im not talking about the super fancy planes im talking about stuff you can casually find on ebay or in antique stores. Miller Falls, Keen Kutter, Stanley, and maybe even LN. Are there other brands that are out there you would consider.

JeffHeath's picture

Your question isn't very (post #146746, reply #1 of 21)

Your question isn't very specific regarding cost and, of course, condition. Many different brands of old hand tools can be made to work very well, if you know what to do to them. Most of these old tools, especially pre-WWII, took for granted that the end user knew how to properly set up the tool and sharpen it correctly. In todays mostly hobbyist market, that would be a false assumption.

I have been successful taking a piece of junk Stanley #4 that was designated for paperweight use for the rest of its life, and tuned it up to perform very well on North American hardwoods. If an untrained individual would have tried using the tool beforehand, they would have thrown it in the garbage.

From your list:
1. Lie Nielsen
2. Pre WWII Stanley Bedrock
3. Pre WWII Stanley
4. Miller Falls (almost interchangeable with #3

Most of the others can fall from here, and some are even better, depending on how well they are tuned.

I had an old Sargent smoother that was a terrific user plane.

It would be more appropriate for you to discuss what tools are easiest to refurbish into good users, in my opinion. All fall into that category except the Lie Nielsen's, which come ready to use right out of the box.


A distinguished graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
wiskytango's picture

Jeff, yeah I understand (post #146746, reply #2 of 21)

yeah I understand the vagueness of my question, I guess it would be more of an overall quality of brands, So a medium quality Stanley VS a Medium quality Miller falls for example. OR would you rather have ah Miller Falls that is like new vs a Stanley that is in say average shape.

JeffHeath's picture

My long winded reply boils (post #146746, reply #3 of 21)

My long winded reply boils down to one thing:

Learn how to properly tune a plane. Once you do, you can turn almost any brand that you mentioned (assuming it's complete) into a terrific tool.


A distinguished graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
gdblake's picture

Wisky: What matters most in a (post #146746, reply #4 of 21)


What matters most in a vintage metal handplane are how its components were made and what condition are they in now. Plus, how much has the plane been abused and can it be tuned up with a reasonable amount of effort. Here is a link to a Blog site that discusses handplanes in general and what to look for in a vintage one.

Christopher Schwarz's book "Handplane Essentials" is a collection of everything he has written, in print or on his blog over the past several years. It is a good crash course that will help you sort out the junk from the serviceable. For my own use I always went with old Stanleys because I pretty much knew what I was getting. I picked up two old Craftsman planes, a #4 for $10 and a #7 for $14 that I tuning up and donated to a new woodworker. Both of the Craftsman planes turned out to be serviceable users once tuned up.


We're all here because we're not all there.

RalphBarker's picture

Except for a new bronze Lie (post #146746, reply #5 of 21)

Except for a new bronze Lie Nielsen #4, all of my planes are '70s vintage Record planes, purchased new. They're excellent tools, close to LN-level quality.

In the '50s and '60s Millers Falls made a variety of tools, all good value for the money, but certainly not "top-tier" - more in the user/abuser category, I'd say.

gdblake's picture

Ralph: You are quite right, (post #146746, reply #6 of 21)


You are quite right, Record planes should be on the short list of vintage planes to consider along with the others already mentioned. They were reasonably well made even into the 1980s. I feel particularly stupid not to think of Record considering that I own and use a vintage #405 multiplane, the #778 fillister, and #071 router plane. All of which are fine tools.


We're all here because we're not all there.

wiskytango's picture

Well I just bough a Stanley (post #146746, reply #7 of 21)

Well I just bough a Stanley #6, was looking for a #7 but it Seem like this one is in pretty good shape, its still in the original box. And sounds like it hardly saw any use. Hopefully its worth the $80 I spent.
I plan on also getting a Veritas Bevel-Up Jointer Plane from Lee Valley to use in combination with this.

JeffHeath's picture

Just know that the #6 you (post #146746, reply #8 of 21)

Just know that the #6 you just purchased will most likely need a thorough tune up to work properly. Stanley's were never ready to use out of the box. Go through it, tune up the mating surfaces and the sole, and you should have a very serviceable fore plane. If you don't already have one, you should try and find a 3, 4, or 4 1/2 smoothing plane. The 6 is good for stock preperation, but you'll need a shorter plane for smoothing.


A distinguished graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
wiskytango's picture

Jeff Yeah a smoothing plane (post #146746, reply #9 of 21)

Yeah a smoothing plane is on the short list of things go get.

9619's picture

Jeff, "The 6 is good for (post #146746, reply #18 of 21)


"The 6 is good for stock preperation, but you'll need a shorter plane for smoothing."

You can use a #7 or #8 for smoothing.  It works nicely, even on small parts for boxes, etc. I am not joking.    You really don't need mjch more than a #7.  It is great for shooting boards, jointing, flattening, etc.   If I could only have one plane ( a really terrible thought), it would be a LN #8.

I went to a LN show in Frederick, MD last year and Deneb was there.  He was saying that he doesn't camber any of his blades anymore.  He explained that is you are taking a thin shaving and if you make consecutive overlapping passes on the board, a square edge works well.  I asked him to demonstrate.   He did, and he did very well.  If there were any track marks, they were very subtle.    

I have seen a number of folks use a #4 with a pretty aggressive camber for smoothing. When taking a very light shaving, they get a very narrow shaving.   I tried it, just to see how it feels.  Didn't seem right to me.    Now I use my LN 4 1/2 with a very light camber, but who knows what the future holds.   I know of a number of woodworkers who use a square edge on smoothers. (of course, that doesn't make it "right").   Ain't it nice -- in woodworking, everybody is right.  It is so much better than politics. 

Have fun.


Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

Buster2000's picture

Mel, I've taken to using a (post #146746, reply #19 of 21)


I've taken to using a LN 5 1/2 for most of my smoothing tasks.  No camber on the blade.

That said I prep most boards with power tools, so they are pretty flat when I touch metal to wood anyway...

9619's picture

Buster, My only LN for a (post #146746, reply #21 of 21)


My only LN for a long time was a 5 1/2 and I used it for everything: jointing, smoothing, shooting..   Initially I just used it as a smoother, and had a slight camber, then I dropped the camber.   Now that I have a 4 1/2 and an 8, I haven't been using the 5 1/2 as much.  I might put a big camber on it and use it as a "Jack Plane", in the old sense, to remove a lot of wood fast.         I have been having a lot of fun with tiis.  Best I can tell, everybody is right. 

Have fun.

Measure your output in smiles per board foot. 

JohnWW's picture

Vintage Millers Falls, (post #146746, reply #10 of 21)

Vintage Millers Falls, Sargent, and Craftsman planes were all as well made, if not a bit better in some cases, than the equivalent planes made by Stanley in the same time period, so don't pass them up.

I personally own several Sargent planes and they are excellent tools. Most of the Craftsman planes were actually made by Sargent.

John White Shop Manager for FWW Magazine, 1998 to 2007

wiskytango's picture

Thanks John, I actually was (post #146746, reply #11 of 21)

Thanks John, I actually was outbid on ebay last nigh on two miller falls, one #4 and one #14 (i think it was anyway) Both practically brand new in the original boxes. I was a bit hesitant since i dont know much about em but next time im going to up my bid.

JohnWW's picture

To a tool collector, the (post #146746, reply #12 of 21)

To a tool collector, the original boxes, are worth more than the tool inside of the box.

If you are searching for a tool to use in your shop, buy a plane that has had some use but is in good condition, there is no need to pay lots of additional money for the box and the fact that the plane hasn't been used.

John White Shop Manager for FWW Magazine, 1998 to 2007

wiskytango's picture

Yeah i hear ya, i wasn't as (post #146746, reply #13 of 21)

Yeah i hear ya, i wasn't as worried about getting the box as i was the tools looked to be in real good shape.
maybe i should try and figure out who bought em and see if they will send me the tool and keep the box for themselves :)

Joe Sullivan's picture

I agree with John about (post #146746, reply #15 of 21)

I agree with John about Sargent planes.  Even their low-end Hercules plane is decent enough, and the other lines are excellent.  Can't think of the numbers just now ( I use and accumulate, but don't take a collector's interest), but I have the Sargent equivalents of Stanley 3, 4, 5, and 7, and am very satisfied with all.  Gave my son a set as well.


Yes, they needed to be fettled.  So what?  that's part of learning the trade/hobby.



Troy's picture

The Keen Kutter K series not (post #146746, reply #14 of 21)

The Keen Kutter K series not the kk series are the same design as the original Stanley Bedrock planes and are quite nice I  believe they where made by Stanley for the Simmons Hardware company.  I think the older Millers Fall planes are very nice and often you can find them for a fraction of the price of a Stanley.  I have a Millers Fall # 22 (same size as a Stanley #7) and I think it is equal in quality.



wiskytango's picture

Troy,  yeah I took the keen (post #146746, reply #17 of 21)

Troy,  yeah I took the keen kutter apart and    cleaned it up as best I could without getting crazy on it.  I did notice the frog assembly sat    to the bed like the old stanleys did.  It actually works pretty good. I also got the #6 Stanley that i bought on ebay and did a quick touch up on it as well and it seem to work nice.  Still waiting on my #9 Miller falls to get here.  

 Speaking of old stanleys,  I am going to get one of my granddads, Its a stanley 603 that has been sitting in my parents basement for the last 40 years  so it should be in pretty good shape.  Also still going to order that bevel up jointer from lee valley at some point. 

So the plane collection has come along nicely 

#3 stanley 603

#9 miller falls 

#5 Keen Kutter

#6 Stanley 

Soon to have Lee valley bevel up jointer

As well as another plane from the parents basement that they  couldn't see any brand on.

Now i just need to get some time working with them 



cahudson42's picture

If you are going to be (post #146746, reply #16 of 21)

If you are going to be bidding on Stanley Planes on eBay, I suggest reviewing this site first - - particularly the 'type study'.

You will then be able to identify the Sellers who very thoroughly describe their planes, and include key photos of the frog, sole, and mouth.  While you will pay more for these planes, my experience is that they have been worth it.

Yes, on rare occasion I have seen a good pre-war Stanley offered by a casual seller and bought it at a lower price. But more often the single-photo jobs are rusted junk.

And on rust again - I suggest if you see any at all - there is likely much more. Move on - there are enough rust-free planes still out there you don't need to frustrate yourself trying to revive a rust-bucket. I find a 'gray patina' not a problem - but rust, no.

As for 'user planes', I look for the Bailey type 10 thru 15.  I have never bought a Bedrock - looked at a lot of them - and IMHO - always overpriced. Particularly when you realize that you can get a brand-new Lee Valley Veritas for not that much more - or even sometimes less.

clinton66's picture

If this hasn't been mentioned (post #146746, reply #20 of 21)

If this hasn't been mentioned already, do yourslef a favor and get a replacement blade from LN or Hock no matter what type of old plane you buy.  Most old plane irons are in rough shape and rather than spend 3 hours trying to lap out a rusty old thin plane iron, buy an LN or Hock blade and in 30 minutes out of the wrapper the iron will be ready to go. New irons are thicker and chatter less and will stay sharp longer. Make sure you get the correct thickness, stanley planes will not accept stock LN replacement irons, they make a slightly thinner iron just for stanley bailey type planes.