Plane irons of Olde

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Blog entry by james3one posted 03-19-2016 08:23 PM 1042 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Do Not, Do Not, Do Not replace your old Stanley Irons. In case you missed it, Do Not replace your old Stanley Hand Plane Irons. It’s become an automatic assumption that you have to switch out those old feeble irons and put in a new, thick, cryogenically treated, advanced powdered steel, walks on water, slices dices and juliennes blade. The old blades work, Especially if you don’t grind them off. Take the old blade, hone the edge and get to work. The only exception might be if you’re working in all hardwoods and exotics all the time. Then maybe get a new blade for your smoother.

For most of your milling and basic smoothing needs that old Stanley blade is just fine. I use a No. 605 jack and an old No. 8 with the original blade. These two planes do most of my milling, and wood prep. I might even use the Jack for smoothing. It’ll put a glass smooth finish on a piece of poplar.

Here’s the deal. The work hardened edge, that is the steel at the end of the blade before you grind it off, is harder and stronger than the rest of the blade. Every push of the plane flexes the end of the blade and with each bend it gets just a little bit harder. You’ll find that with an old blade that wasn’t ground, you’ll get a consistently sharp edge that holds up for a long time. You’ll also find that it gets sharp more quickly than the newer blades because you aren’t taking off so much hard steel.

Don’t spend the extra money or wait until you can get a new one ordered. Take out that old blade, hone it up, put it back in and get to work. Stuff gotta get made.

-- James, Tulsa OK,

6 comments so far

View Redoak49's profile


4529 posts in 2672 days

#1 posted 03-19-2016 08:40 PM

A very interesting suggestion concerning work hardening. How deep does the work hardening layer go? Do you have an data showing the increase in hardness at the edge? This is a new concept to me and would like to know more about it.

Also, wouldn’t all types of steel work harden?

View james3one's profile


59 posts in 3456 days

#2 posted 03-20-2016 03:43 AM

I have no specific data on how steel alters it state under stress. I do know that steel becomes harder every time it’s bent. I also know that work hardening is an accepted truth about steel. Even the honing process may contribute. The issue is that there is a perception that modern steel is better because it’s harder, and can hold an edge longer. It’s my contention that the seemingly insubstantial blades from Stanley are just as effective as the newer blades, if you don’t grind off the work hardened edge.

I don’t know how deep the layer goes and frankly don’t care, as long as the edge is hard enough. The wood doesn’t care either.

All types of steel do work harden but i’m only concerned about that thin piece of steel that was included with my rather cheap, old no. 5. If I can get that to work, my $20.00 was well spent.

-- James, Tulsa OK,

View Redoak49's profile


4529 posts in 2672 days

#3 posted 03-20-2016 12:17 PM

I would agree with you that the older plane irons work well and have done so for a long time. They are likely plain carbon steels that are quenched and tempered. Sharpened properly they will do a fine job.

Some of the newer steels and materials such as A2 and PMV11 are better in a lot of ways as the will hold an edge longer but generally are a little more difficult to sharpen.

While working hardening certainly happens when you strain steels, I can find not indication that it plays a role in sharpening. When sharpening, the abrasives are cutting small amounts of the steel away to produce the edge. If there is any work hardening, the amount is so small as to play a minimal role in the process.

There is an interesting article “Experiments on Knife Sharpening” by John D. Verhoeven that shop a bunch of pictures of edges sharpen by different methods. It gives an idea of how the various abrasives cut the surface.

View Billy E's profile

Billy E

162 posts in 2764 days

#4 posted 03-20-2016 02:22 PM

I think it really depends on what you’re doing. For a lot of work, it is true that the old irons are fine. However, I absolutely love my PMV11 irons on a few of my planes. They sharpen pretty easily and they hold an edge for a long time. Not to mention, half of the planes I have bought (all online) had irons that were not in great shape. Missing chunks, cupped, etc. Few required only honing to get going. I think it depends on the iron you have, and what you’re wanting to do. Planing pine or cherry is different from hickory or wenge.

-- Billy, Florence SC

View james3one's profile


59 posts in 3456 days

#5 posted 03-20-2016 02:33 PM

There is a perception in the woodworking community that you can’t be a real woodworker without expensive blades. Items that often cost more than the planes they’re designed to go into. I’m trying to get the point across that the differences are so minor as to not merit the expense. My experience with the different blades tells me that i spend less time on the stone and more time making shavings with the old blades.

You don’t have to wait until you can afford something different, that old blade is just as effective and professional as anything else. You don’t have to spend the money to be a serious woodworker.

-- James, Tulsa OK,

View Grumpymike's profile


2439 posts in 2999 days

#6 posted 03-20-2016 08:54 PM

All of my planes have the original iron in them, and as I look at the cost of the “New Steel irons” I am convinced that they (the old ones) are just fine.
Now with that said, IF I were to purchase a new Lee Valley or other high end plane, Yes, I would want the improved steel in the iron but for the work I do and for my shop, the old Stanley’s and Record’s are just fine.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

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