Hand Plane Quest – The Blog Post I Wish I’d Had While at the Store Yesterday

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My hand plane quest took me to Liberty Tools in Liberty, Maine. This place was off the cellular network, which obviated the possibility of calling an expert or searching the web.

Brain surgeons have a different method, thankfully, but I’m into simple things so I learn by doing, reading, doing a little more – and eventually throwing myself into the task entirely. Doing always comes first. Still, I wish I’d had this blog post – or something like it – with me yesterday when I went to look for a hand plane to restore.

The object of my search was a pre-WWII Stanley hand plane, made in America and about a #4. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the defining features. What I came away with was a different sort of hand plane, as it appears. I think I got a 1960s-era Stanley “Bailey” hand plane, certainly made in England. It may or may not be possible to tune up well. I only figured this out after arriving home and diving into some internet research.

Here are the clues I have, for your consideration. Let me just say up-front that – lest anyone try to sell me their own unwanted tools in the comments section – I spent nearly three hours at one store, inspecting everything carefully. It’s more confusing than I had anticipated. The overall heft and appearance of this tool made me think it was “old enough.”

DFplanestraighton1. A cheap, plastic front knob and, on the lever cap, a kidney-shaped screw hole. My excuse? I saw a wooden tote on the back and assumed the front knob was an after-market replacement. This led me to the further assumption that the lever cap and, as you’ll see later, the frog were also replacements – which didn’t seem too big of a problem. I was looking for a work plane rather than a show plane.


DFbodyandfrog2. I went to the screwdriver section of this well-stocked store and removed the front knob and the frog. This was the cleanest plane I’d seen so far. Being an optimist, the words that came to mind were “well cared for,” rather than “relatively new.” I did not know the significance of the raised ring surrounding the front knob, nor the lack of patent numbers behind the frog base. Apparently, this plane was screaming “1960s” at me but I wasn’t hearing it.


DFmadeinengland3. This was curious, as they say in England. There was an obvious stamp below the tote that read, “Made in England.” I remembered seeing something online that said the British-made Stanley planes were a bit heftier than the American ones, and indeed it felt more substantial than the others I was lifting and inspecting. I decided I liked how it felt, and since everything else was looking pretty good … why not go British?


DFplanesideview4. Click on the image at left for a bigger version, and you’ll see what kept me up last night – the fork, as I think it’s called, straddling the adjustment nut. It is pressed steel. I only noticed this after I returned home and started surfing the web. But you can also see from this side view that everything else is looking pretty good. The body needs a good clean-up and sanding. Other than that, I thought I was looking at a functional, ready-to-go hand plane.

It seems to me that those who buy new or slightly used Lie-Nielsen hand planes, for an additional $200 or so above what I paid for my vintage Stanley, have a very strong argument. I’m looking forward to the day when I have an extra $200 for that. For now, I’m stuck with my little British baby, and I figure I’ll make the most of it. We have a heap of great sharpening and tuning resources here at Popular Woodworking. I’m starting with those, and you should, too, if you’re interested in this type of work! Click here to check out our value pack of the month on sharpening and tuning. Buy it and follow along with me over the next few weeks.

It isn’t brain surgery, after all.

Dan Farnbach

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About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

32 thoughts on “Hand Plane Quest – The Blog Post I Wish I’d Had While at the Store Yesterday

  1. something_vague

    This is an interesting post. I happened upon your post due to the picture of all the planes. I was just at this place 2 weeks ago. I live in Ellsworth, Maine which is about 30 mins away from Bar Harbor. It took me many years to make it over to Liberty. The reason I wasn’t in a rush to visit there is because the sister location called “The Tool Barn” is right in Bar Harbor and is more hand tool oriented, hard to believe I know. But this is a weekly visiting place for myself and I come out of there with at least one tool every visit. It is just stammering at how jam packed The Tool Barn is and is the reason I am a hand tool oriented woodworker. I consider myself very lucky to have this place right down the road from me. Skip is the owner’s name and he has also written a few books on tool makers of the past. He’s a different dude but certainly has paved the way in keeping such tools alive. He might even have an online website. If you search Davistown Museum in Bar Harbor or something like The TOol Barn you might come up with something.

  2. Dan FarnbachDan Farnbach Post author

    Many thanks for adding the blog to “favorites,” and keep the comments coming. The feedback and information is helpful to everyone who visits here!
    RE: midwestern stores … I do not know but will ask during our meeting today with the Cincinnati crew. What I do know is that, as Chris Schwarz says, they could practically “pave the streets” with vintage Stanleys of all varieties here in New England.
    I’m biased, but to answer your questions about where to find more information … I really like Chris’ articles and videos. I dig through everything on the internet, but I think Popular Woodworking takes a very sensible approach to this question. Sort of a “do what works” approach.

  3. connell100

    Thanks for your experience. I live about 200 miles west of Cincy on the Ohio. No tool stores like that within miles or maybe states. Soooo…to eBay I go. I have purchased Stanleys from No. 2-8. I watch constantly and feel good that it is not often I see prices lower than what I paid. I look for “keyhole” as much as possible rather than “kidney”. I have now told you about all I know about the Stanleys. My No. 4 came from my father-in-law who got it from his dad in the early 1900s. So I think it is good and most likely all original.

    Two questions, Do you know of any “midwestern” stores like Liberty and if so where? Flea markets just aren’t working well for me.

    What are your sources for information about Stanley planes? I try to read up but want to expand my source list.

    Thanks for the sharing.

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