New Planes vs. Vintage Planes

Stanley-Bailey-5.5C-Type-14One of the first questions many people contemplating their first  plane purchase ask is “Should I buy a new plane or vintage plane?” Indeed, this was the first question I asked before my first purchase many years ago. There is no simple single right or wrong answer. It depends on a few different factors:

  • What is your budget?
  • What is the plane’s intended use?
  • Are you willing to invest a little time setting it up and tuning it for use?

Virtually any plane you buy, new or vintage, is going to need some degree tuning and sharpening. The modern hardware store planes will require virtually the same tuning process as a 100 year old Stanley or competitor. Even a brand new Lie Nielsen or Veritas (both of which I am a huge fan) will need a final honing, if nothing else. The quality of hand tools today is generally abysmal. The demand and quality for hand tools fell sharply after WWII as electrically powered tools took off and the era of self-sufficiency evolved into one where paid tradesmen were hired for jobs around the home.  It’s only in the last decade or two that niche companies like Lie Nielsen and Veritas have again produced hand planes that are of acceptable quality for fine woodworking. These, however, come at a cost.

Lie Nielsen Smoothing Plane

Lie Nielsen Smoothing Plane

If you’re a professional or serious woodworker, investing $200 to $400 in a precision plane is arguably justifiable. Both companies mentioned above manufacture extremely high quality tools. On the other hand, the planes found at local hardware stores, big box retailers, and even some specialty shops – those generally under $150 – are simply not in the same class.  Quality of materials, manufacture, fit and finish are often quite poor. And it’s important to note that these brand new sub-$150 planes will undoubtedly require at least a couple hours worth of tuning and sharpening to make them function correctly.

By contrast, the vintage planes made by companies like Stanley, Sargent, Union, and others, especially from about 1910 to 1940, were of excellent quality, and are generally superior to most of the planes made today, especially those under the $100 to $150 price point.  These planes can be found in antique shops, yard sales, tool swaps, and eBay, often for as little as $10 and rarely (depending on the model and rarity) over $100. The caveat with vintage tools is that they will almost always need some degree of restoration and tuning.  Like the cheaper new store bought planes, the sole may need lapping, the frog face flattened, rough surfaces smoothed, and the iron sharpened and honed. However, for the same investment in time and effort, you will likely end up with a far superior plane for less money than you would have spent at your local big box hardware store.

Stanley Bailey no. 2, Type 8

Stanley Bailey no. 2, Type 8

If you have a couple hundred dollars to spend and want the best CNC machined plane money can buy, a Lie Nielsen is a good investment. However, if you’re like most people just starting out, pick up one (or even two) vintage Stanley planes and give them a try. The knowledge gained by disassembling, tuning, and sharpening it will actually aid in your understanding of its mechanics and function. Here are a few resources from the Virginia Toolworks site that might help:

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Stanley Block Planes Demystified

Block Plane Collection 3-11 B&WStanley was surely not lacking in its appetite for block planes, offering models and variations of models in every size and flavor imaginable.  Trying to figure out all the models and differences is maddening.  Since search phrases most frequently entered by those visiting Virginia Toolworks include which block plane to buy, I thought it might be helpful to provide a list  of Stanley’s block plane models organized by functional group and mechanical similarity (rather than numerical model order).  For detailed specifications on each model, please check my Block Plane Chart and the Block Plane Dating page.

Note that the functional groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  The same plane will be found in more than one functional group as I’ve categorized  them. Therefore, you will see a lot of duplication.  I listed them this way on purpose.  It’s also worth noting that competitors like Millers Falls, Sargent, and others offered comparable models to many of these.

Block Planes Sorted by Functional Group & Mechanical Similarity

Basic Handyman Planes

Early Stanley no. 120

Early Stanley no. 120 c. 1870s-80s

  • No. 9-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except it doesn’t have an adjustable mouth.  It was a cheaper alternative and never as desirable as the 9-1/2.  Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 102 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane was another very basic small size block plane.  This one featured a tension adjustment wheel for the lever cap and a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 103 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the no. 102 but adds a poorly designed lever adjustment feature and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 110 – 7 inches long and standard angle, featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 120 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the smaller no. 103 with the same inadequate adjustment mechanism and wooden front knob.
  • No. 203 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane featured the same hooded lever cap found on the 9-1/2 series, a screw type depth adjustment similar to the low angle blocks, and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 220 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 203 but was far more popular.

Fixed Mouth Planes

Stanley no. 110 Type 1

Stanley No. 110 Type 1 c. 1874

  • No. 9-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except it doesn’t have an adjustable mouth.  It was a cheaper alternative and never as desirable as the 9-1/2.  Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 18-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 18 except it didn’t have an adjustable throat.  It was only made from 1952-58 and is somewhat rare.
  • No. 61 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 60 but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are relatively rare.
  • No. 63 – 7 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 65-1/2 (hooded lever cap) but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are also relatively rare.
  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this is a bull-nose version of the no. 101.  It is extremely rare with fine examples selling in the $500 range.
  • No. 102 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane was another very basic small size block plane.  This one featured a tension adjustment wheel for the lever cap and a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 103 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the no. 102 but adds a poorly designed lever adjustment feature and a wooden front knob.110 – 7 inches long and featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 110 – 7 inches long and standard angle, featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 120 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the smaller no. 103 with the same inadequate adjustment mechanism and wooden front knob.
  • No. 130 – 8 inches long and standard angle, this double ended plane featured a tension wheel lever cap.  Bull-nose on one end and standard nose on the other, the iron could be reversed for dual purpose use.
  • No. 131 – 8 inches and standard angle, this plane was similar to the no. 130 but featured a hooded lever cap and a screw type depth adjustment.  It is considered superior to the no. 130, but the mechanism is fragile.
  • No. 140 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this rabbet plane’s iron was set at a skew angle, and its side was removable for precise rabbeting.  This plane is very useful with modern variations still being made.
  • No. 203 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane featured the same hooded lever cap found on the 9-1/2 series, a screw type depth adjustment similar to the low angle blocks, and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 220 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 203 but was far more popular.

Adjustable Mouth Planes

Stanley 9.5 and 16

Stanley no. 9-1/2 and no. 16 c. 1904-08

  • No. 9-1/2 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this was Stanley’s most successful block plane.  Featuring a hooded lever cap, lateral adjustment lever, iron depth adjustment, and an adjustable throat, this plane set the standard for the industry.
  • No. 9-3/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 with the addition of an arm with a wooden knob attached to the rear.  There were far fewer of these planes made and they can easily sell for several hundred dollars today.
  • No. 15 – 7 inches long, this plane was otherwise identical to the no. 9-1/2.
  • No. 15-1/2 – 7 inches long, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 9-3/4 with the same wooden knob at the rear.
  • No. 16 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 9-1/2’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 17 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 15 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 15’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 18 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except the lever cap (after 1913) was the knuckle style cap (also found on the no. 65).  Although not quite as popular as the no. 9-1/2, this is my preferred standard angle block plane for its comfort in use.
  • No. 19 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 18.
  • No. 60 – 6 inches long and narrower than most of the other planes this length (1-3/8″), this low angle block featured a hooded style lever cap, screw depth adjustment, and adjustable throat.  It’s lever cap and hardware were nickel plated.
  • No. 60-1/2 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane is identical to the no. 60 in every way except its lever cap was japanned.  The no. 60 and no. 60-1/2 are frequently confused as there has been conflicting information published online.  Just remember, the 60-1/2 has a japanned cap.
  • No. 65 – 7 inches and low angle, this plane is often referred to as the “Cadillac” of block planes.  It features the same nickel plated knuckle cap as the 18/19 planes, and the same screw type depth adjustment of the 60 series low angle blocks.  And of course the throat is adjustable.
  • No. 65-1/2 – 7 inches long and low angle, this 65-1/2 is identical to the no. 65 except it had a japanned hooded style lever cap throughout it’s entire life.  This confuses a lot of people since the no., 65 switched from a hooded cap to a knuckle cap in about 1913.

Standard Angle Planes

Stanley 19 and 18

Stanley no. 19 & no. 18 c. 1913-18

  • No. 9-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except it doesn’t have an adjustable mouth.  It was a cheaper alternative and never as desirable as the 9-1/2.  Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 9-1/2 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this was Stanley’s most successful block plane.  Featuring a hooded lever cap, lateral adjustment lever, iron depth adjustment, and an adjustable throat, this plane set the standard for the industry.
  • No. 9-3/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 with the addition of an arm with a wooden knob attached to the rear.  There were far fewer of these planes made and they can easily sell for several hundred dollars today.
  • No. 15 – 7 inches long, this plane was otherwise identical to the no. 9-1/2.
  • No. 15-1/2 – 7 inches long, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 9-3/4 with the same wooden knob at the rear.
  • No. 16 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 9-1/2’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 17 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 15 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 15’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 18 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except the lever cap (after 1913) was the knuckle style cap (also found on the no. 65).  Although not quite as popular as the no. 9-1/2, this is my preferred standard angle block plane for its comfort in use.
  • No. 19 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 18.
  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this is a bull-nose version of the no. 101.  It is extremely rare with fine examples selling in the $500 range.
  • No. 102 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane was another very basic small size block plane.  This one featured a tension adjustment wheel for the lever cap and a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 103 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the no. 102 but adds a poorly designed lever adjustment feature and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 110 – 7 inches long and standard angle, featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 120 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the smaller no. 103 with the same inadequate adjustment mechanism and wooden front knob.
  • No. 130 – 8 inches long and standard angle, this double ended plane featured a tension wheel lever cap.  Bull-nose on one end and standard nose on the other, the iron could be reversed for dual purpose use.
  • No. 131 – 8 inches and standard angle, this plane was similar to the no. 130 but featured a hooded lever cap and a screw type depth adjustment.  It is considered superior to the no. 130, but the mechanism is fragile.
  • No. 140 – 7 inches lo
    ng and standard angle, this rabbet plane’s iron was set at a skew angle, and its side was removable for precise rabbeting.  This plane is very useful with modern variations still being made.
  • No. 203 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane featured the same hooded lever cap found on the 9-1/2 series, a screw type depth adjustment similar to the low angle blocks, and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 220 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 203 but was far more popular.

Low Angle Planes

Stanley no. 65 c. 1913, no. 65 c. 1904, & no. 65-1/2 c. 1904

Stanley no. 65 c. 1913, no. 65 c. 1904, & no. 65-1/2 c. 1904

  • No. 61 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 60 but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are relatively rare.
  • No. 63 – 7 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 65-1/2 (hooded lever cap) but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are also relatively rare.
  • No. 60 – 6 inches long and narrower than most of the other planes this length (1-3/8″), this low angle block featured a hooded style lever cap, screw depth adjustment, and adjustable throat.  It’s lever cap and hardware were nickel plated.
  • No. 60-1/2 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane is identical to the no. 60 in every way except its lever cap was japanned.  The no. 60 and no. 60-1/2 are frequently confused as there has been conflicting information published online.  Just remember, the 60-1/2 has a japanned cap.
  • No. 65 – 7 inches and low angle, this plane is often referred to as the “Cadillac” of block planes.  It features the same nickel plated knuckle cap as the 18/19 planes, and the same screw type depth adjustment of the 60 series low angle blocks.  And of course the throat is adjustable.
  • No. 65-1/2 – 7 inches long and low angle, this 65-1/2 is identical to the no. 65 except it had a japanned hooded style lever cap throughout it’s entire life.  This confuses a lot of people since the no., 65 switched from a hooded cap to a knuckle cap in about 1913.

Bull-nose Planes

Stanley 131 Plane

Stanley no. 131 Plane c. 1920s

  • No. 101-1/2 -3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 130 – 8 inches long and standard angle, this double ended plane featured a tension wheel lever cap.  Bull-nose on one end and standard nose on the other, the iron could be reversed for dual purpose use.
  • No. 131 – 8 inches and standard angle, this plane was similar to the no. 130 but featured a hooded lever cap and a screw type depth adjustment.  It is considered superior to the no. 130, but the mechanism is fragile.

Instrument Makers Planes

Stanley 101.5 Plane

Stanley no. 101-1/2 Plane c. 1890s

  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this is a bull-nose version of the no. 101.  It is extremely rare with fine examples selling in the $500 range.

Rabbet (Rebate) Planes

  • No. 140 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this rabbet plane’s iron was set at a skew angle, and its side was removable for precise rabbeting.  This plane is very useful with modern variations still being made.
SB140 Type 1

Stanley no. 140 Rabbet Plane c. 1896

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Tool Profile – Millers Falls “Buck Rogers” Planes

Millers Falls Buck Rogers Duo 1

Millers Falls Buck Rogers Planes, nos. 714 and 709 – Virginia Toolworks Collection

Designed by Robert Huxtable, a draftsman at the Millers Falls Company, the no. 709 and no. 714 planes were sold from approximately 1950 to 1960. Based on an earlier Sargent design that was never manufactured, the no. 709 was a smoothing plane comparable in size to a Stanley no. 4, and the no. 714 was a jack plane comparable to the Stanley no. 5.

These tools are commonly referred to as “Buck Rogers” planes by tool collectors, an appropriate nickname given their “futuristic” design qualities, characteristic of 1940s and 50s science fiction and late machine age influences.

Both planes featured striking red knobs and handles made of Tennessee Eastman Tenite #2, a cellulosic plastic originally developed in 1929 that was “guaranteed unbreakable.” They did, however, have a tendency to fade over time, and many seen today appear more orange than the original read.  The frogs had very large seating surfaces and an excellent lateral adjustment design. However, they lacked the precise adjustment ability necessary for fine woodworking, and were therefore considered general carpentry planes.

Two variations (identified as “types” in present day reference) were produced, most readily identified by the change from an unbroken metal slope at the toe in the Type 1 (left in the photo above) to a painted recessed area at the toe in the Type 2 (shown right above). The other major change was the slope angle of the top of the tote, which is flatter in the first type and more pronounced in the later type.

Although these planes were well designed and quite sturdy in their construction, they never really caught on. Perhaps viewed as gimmicky or simply introduced during the unfortunate decline of hand tools in the post war years, the planes were only produced for about 10 years before being discontinued around 1960. While not particularly uncommon on the vintage tool market, well preserved examples are somewhat rare and fetch much higher prices than the common Stanley and other Millers Falls bench planes.

MF_HUXTABLE_BUCK-ROGERS

Original Huxtable Patent Drawing, c. 1950

For more information on the Millers Falls Company and Buck Rogers planes, please visit http://oldtoolheaven.com/bench/buckr.htm.

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Millers Falls Plane Specifications

Specification charts for Millers Falls planes have now been added to the site under the Tools menu.  Included are charts for bench planes as well as block and specialty planes.  These charts provide Stanley equivalents where applicable.

There is also a bench plane conversion chart cross-referencing planes made by Stanley, Sargent, Millers Falls, and Record.  I plan to have additional information available in the near future, including comprehensive information on both Millers Falls and Sargent.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Millers Falls page
Bench Plane Specifications Chart
Block Plane Specifications Chart
Plane Cross Reference Chart

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