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Thread: Stanley Bench Planes -- How late is okay?

  1. #1

    Question Stanley Bench Planes -- How late is okay?

    I'm catching plane fever. I understand there's a point in time beyond which Stanley bench planes are no longer considered to be of high quality, or at least of noticably lesser quality. Fair to say? I wonder if there's a cutoff that can be described in terms of a date or in terms of Stanley plane types that's generally accepted. I'd love to hear opinions on this. And is it always the case that older is better (assuming equal condition)?

    Thanks

  2. #2
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    I can't give you very specific information, Joe, but I do know that when I first began buying woodworking tools, around 1971-72, I didn't even give Stanley a look and went right to Record.

  3. #3
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    I just have 6 Stanleys and my beginners rule of thumb has been pre WWII.
    Veni Vidi Vendi Vente! I came, I saw, I bought a large coffee!

  4. #4
    Type 19 and exclude T17s (WWII)
    Type 20s are Blue and easy to spot

    Many say T10-T15 is the best Stanley ever made..

    I say its better to buy a minty plane than a T14-T15 (My Favorites) beater........

    I bought a few Type 16 No.4Cs, 5Cs, 6C, and 7C this year Minty with box from $50 to $105

    They price of a brand new Stanley but these where made much better.....

    Just buy one in fine condition and everything else is tuning that you need to learn anyway.........
    aka rarebear - Hand Planes 101 - RexMill - The Resource

  5. #5
    I haven't done a study but I only buy pre-WWII Stanley planes, and only those with the keyhole on the lever cap. In other words, I won't buy a Stanley plane with the kidney shaped hole on the lever cap.

    That may be too restrictive - planes made after that, with the kidney hole may be okay - but there's plenty of Stanley planes that fall into my restriction area so I stay with that.

    There are other good planes - other than Stanley. Look for Keen Kutter planes with the single "K", such as K3, K4, etc. Don't buy those with the two Ks, such as KK3 or KK4.

    The 900 series Vaughan and Bushnell planes are great - 903, 904, etc. These have steel bodies instead of cast iron so if you drop one it won't break. The 700 series V&B planes are okay - not as good as the 900 series, but stay away from the 800 series.

    The Winchester planes with the single W, such as W3, W4, etc. are good but they're rare so they bring higher prices.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  6. #6
    I own several older Stanleys, including one WWII model. The WWII model is not the same as the others; while it can be made useful and I have done so, the frog adjustment screw got ditched, the tote was some cheap softwood that broke on me, the adjustment knob is some sort of cheap plastic, and the iron has taken quite a bit of work to restore to a useful state. There are a number of features that came in around 1900 to 1910, including the frog adjustment screw, that you can do without but that are nice to have; to put a late boundary I would not exactly leap at the chance to acquire another WWII relic.

    It should be noted that there exist a number of WWII planes that are, in fact, just as good as the older models. The WWII production was more noted for variability in quality than anything else. So you can still luck out, but I'd be leery about doing it again.

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    If you're holding the plane

    I look for these quick tests:

    1. full oval tote - if you wrap your thumb and finger around the rear handle (commonly known as "the tote," as opposed to "the knob" at the front), you encounter curves everywhere.

    2. "Bailey" marked on the body, or the presence at the bottom back of the frog (part the cutting iron rests on) of an adjusting screw. By the way, if you see THREE adjusting screws back there on a Stanley plane, you've got a Bedrock plane, and, if the price and condition are good, you should probably oughta grab onto it. Don't know - never been this lucky.

    3. Things aren't bent or broken, no major rust. Surface rust fine, rust to the point that things won't turn, best to walk on by.

    People are down on the "made in England" planes - well, fine, but my No. 78 rabbet plane was made there, and it's fine. I've also got a late (not sure of age, but it's got the dreaded kidney-hole lever cap) No. 5, and it's a great plane. So the later stuff may be OK in many cases, but, as others have said, quality can be erratic; and, until you have more of an idea of what you're looking for, determining quality from observation can be hard. Of course, if the tool is priced at $2 at a garage sale and there are no big chunks missing or other things making it clearly unusable, it's hard to go wrong; if it turns out to woof loudly when you try it out (no disrespect meant to actual dogs), you can just donate it to the next rummage sale.

    Watch for "Wards Master" planes (there'll be a decal on the tote) - these are unrecognized gems made by one of the good makers and labeled for Wards, with, in my experience, very good steel on the cutting iron. Lateral adjustment levers not the best, but otherwise good tools. Because they're not collectible, they're usually cheap.

    When you're starting out, if you're buying used, you should either touch the plane or use one of the trustworthy dealers. I wouldn't go to eBay until you know enough to know what questions to ask and do some analysis from the pictures.
    Last edited by Bill Houghton; 09-09-2008 at 8:39 PM. Reason: Expand on ideas, add information

  8. #8
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    Some of the others here are dissing the the WWII and later Stanleys, but I couldn't agree with these opinions. There are subtle differences, but I think Clint hit it on the head when he said condition is the prime factor, more than what particular iteration of the Bailey design you have. Personally, I think the WWII planes with the thicker castings are very desirable and can be tuned just as well as any other type. I also think that the irons from this era are thicker than the pre-war Sweetheart irons, and take a nice edge. Hock irons will beat'em all anyway. I like the early types for their history and nice patina, but give me the later types any day for rugged reliability. David Charlesworth's personal favorite plane is a #5-1/2 made in the 70's. I suspect his performs pretty well too.
    Last edited by Mike Brady; 09-09-2008 at 9:10 PM.

  9. Not to say other's opinions are invalid, I just don't buy the logic around repeating the mantra that pre-war planes are the only ones to buy. I have as my users Type 9s, (##4 1/2, 5 1/2 and 7), Type 11s (##4 and 6) and Type 17 - War Production (##3, 5 1/4 and 5) and frankly, I sold off type 11 and 15 #3s in favor of a type 17 (which sings), and my wartime #5 (with frog adjuster) is absolutely fabulous. The "cheap" plastic depth wheels are not at all cheap, and I've had many wartime planes and never had an issue with them. I don't miss the frog adjustment screw at all (my type 9s don't have them either) and rarely adjust the frog anyway. Type 17s may not have rosewood knobs and totes, but have a heft due to the heavier castings that make them sometimes preferable, at least in my opinion.

    That being said, there were millions of 4s and 5s made over the years, and when found in the wild at reasonable prices, usually they need some work to fettle them into shape. My advice is not to obsess too much over type; just look for good bones; e.g., all parts present, no repairs, no cracks in the cheeks and mouth, sole not warped, no heavy pitting on the sole, good wood (although cracked totes can be carefully repaired and will not affect use) and some "life" in the blade. Personally, a little japanning loss doesn't bother me, anything better than 70% left to me is satisfactory (that being said, some folks strip off the japanning and repaint or rejappan, but that's not my style). Type 18s and some earlier 19s (from the early 1950s, usually the wood on these don't have a really heavy finish, like those from the 60's) can make very satisfactory users, and the older planes, ahem, the "pre war" planes, are as we know fine users. If someone gives me a blue plane, I guess I'd take it, but I'll never pay money for one - an exception are block planes, 220s or 9 1/2s, which can be ok if fettled a bit. I'll shut up now.

    RN

  10. #10
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    For a long time, my only #5 was one of the blue, dreaded type 20s. Given to me by my father...if he paid more than a couple bucks he overpaid...but with a little work, and a hock blade it can take a .001 shaving, though I rarely set it up for that. On the other hand some of my prewar ones needed litlle more than cleaning and sharpening the iron.

    Mark

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    I haven't done a study but I only buy pre-WWII Stanley planes, and only those with the keyhole on the lever cap. In other words, I won't buy a Stanley plane with the kidney shaped hole on the lever cap.

    That may be too restrictive - planes made after that, with the kidney hole may be okay - but there's plenty of Stanley planes that fall into my restriction area so I stay with that.

    There are other good planes - other than Stanley. Look for Keen Kutter planes with the single "K", such as K3, K4, etc. Don't buy those with the two Ks, such as KK3 or KK4.

    The 900 series Vaughan and Bushnell planes are great - 903, 904, etc. These have steel bodies instead of cast iron so if you drop one it won't break. The 700 series V&B planes are okay - not as good as the 900 series, but stay away from the 800 series.

    The Winchester planes with the single W, such as W3, W4, etc. are good but they're rare so they bring higher prices.

    Mike
    I think the comments from Mike is the most helpful to the original post. It is very easy for a beginner to get overwhelmed with info on type this or type that. First a beginner would not even know how to tell one from the other.
    Starting off looking for a Stanley plane without a kidney shape hole is easy to understand. One can buy then use and then after more experience with that plane, expand to other types.

  12. #12

    Personal Preferences

    That's what it boils down too....I prefer type 11 to type 15 or Bedrocks of any vintage...get frog adjustment screws and lateral levers they aren't nescessary but
    are nice to have. Price/condition/availability...
    are determining factors of your first purchases; buy the best you can get to ease the learning curve.

    Not mentioned yet are the Millers Falls planes with the two piece lever caps...They are fine planes. I only have a couple, #4 and #6 equivilants, but I like them. The totes aren't as comfortable as Stanleys' , but hey we're woodworkers aren't we?
    roy
    roy griggs
    roygriggs@valornet.com

  13. #13
    Thanks for the replies and the suggestions. I'm trying to read up on vintage Stanley planes and I'm slowly learning about the variations. This discussion is helpful as I absorb all of this.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Vincent View Post
    I'm catching plane fever. I understand there's a point in time beyond which Stanley bench planes are no longer considered to be of high quality, or at least of noticably lesser quality. Fair to say? I wonder if there's a cutoff that can be described in terms of a date or in terms of Stanley plane types that's generally accepted. I'd love to hear opinions on this. And is it always the case that older is better (assuming equal condition)?

    Thanks
    Dang, that stuff is contagious

    I do think there is a cutoff. It is somewhere between WWII and the made in England versions. I shoot for older planes, but am not biased to the pre-kidney generations. Far from an expert on this I am, but I have found some nice planes along the way. One thing to remember is that just because it is rusty doesn't mean that it is old. Next is just because it is old doesn't mean that it is better.

    Patrick's Blood and Gore is probably the best online source of free information in one place, but he does have more a collector's view of them vs. a practical users view.
    http://www.supertool.com/StanleyBG/stan0a.html

    Another one that is supposedly a must have is the Little Big Book
    http://www.astragalpress.com/stanley...e_big_book.htm
    I don't have it, but from what I have heard is somewhat invaluable in keeping you in check with respect to plane value and identification.
    Quote Originally Posted by James Carmichael View Post
    I suspect family members are plotting an intervention.

  15. #15
    Joe - Keep in mind that there are two schools of thought w/regard to old planes. Mike Henderson typifies someone who is as much (or more) a collector, and Bill Houghton represents someone who is more concerned with the usability. I tend to be more in Bill's camp, as I have two Stanley-Bailey's, a #4 and #6 both post-war, and they're two of my favorite hand tools. Tuned and sharp they work beautifully, and they were inexpensive. The #4 dates from the early 50's, is flawless and cost me $15. The #6 of the same vintage has lost about 20 % of its japanning and needed a new tote, but was otherwise sound and cost me $17.

    If you are interested in the residual value, or enjoy the collecting aspect, Mike has given you some good pointers. If you're like me, and just want to use the darn things, you can be a little less demanding and still end up with good usable tools.
    --Steve--
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