Expensive Hand Planes

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Forum topic by richgreer posted 08-13-2010 04:40 AM 14405 views 0 times favorited 48 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 3492 days

08-13-2010 04:40 AM

I come to this subject in, virtually, total ignorance. I confess that I am a power tool guy. I occasionally use a hand saw or a some chisels and I often sand by hand. Otherwise, I use power tools and I don’t know much about established hand tools and hand tool techniques.

However, my interest in learning more is insatiable and I think learning more about hand tools would be a good thing.

It seems like in the world of hand tools, hand planes are held in a special reverence. It looks like you can buy reasonably good hand planes in the $50 – $80 range and better ones for around $100. However, there are hand planes on the market for $300 to over $500. The basic structure is always the same. It seems like the most important element is the iron and they are replaceable.

Out of total ignorance let me ask – What is it that makes a $500 plane worth that much more than a $100 plane?

As an FYI – I just bought (for the heck of it) a used Stanley 5 1/4 jack plane on e-bay for less than $35 (including shipping). It looks to be in like new condition. I sharpened the iron and it seems to work great. What would be different if I spent 15 times more.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

48 replies so far

View Broglea's profile


687 posts in 3508 days

#1 posted 08-13-2010 05:08 AM

I ask that same question to myself all the time. I use the older planes that I pick up at flea markets and antique stores for about $10. I go through and restore them the best that I can and they work great. I’m not sure why I would need to spend $200 on a new one.

I’m interested to see what others think.

View MedicKen's profile


1615 posts in 3880 days

#2 posted 08-13-2010 05:09 AM

Handplanes are no different than any other tool, you are mostly paying for the name. A lie-nielsen will be more expensive due to they are hand made, with exception of the casting and machining. The older planes, stanley, record, etc are not the same quality as today, they are far superior and will command a higher price. The age and condition of a vintage plane, as well as rarity, will also dictate price. All of my planes are Stanley and in the 1940-50 vintage and have new Hock blades and chippers. I wouldn’t trade them for a lie-nielsen if given the chance, I don’t see the point.

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their [email protected]

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 3340 days

#3 posted 08-13-2010 05:29 AM

Hi Rich,
Actually there is really big money involved in plane making. Take a look on this link ... there are more much expensive than this site.

Honestly, the most important parts of the plane are the blade and sole. May it be a wooden body, an infill, or a metal casted body… the blade must be really sharp and stay sharp. As you mentioned why it becomes so expensive…. The manufacturers or makers earns the quality making the cost high… same like making a jewelry box or any project that is made by a good boxmaker. I have my own handmade plane and it is very far from anywhere I can buy. It is customized as per my grip and the blade is hardened the way I want it. The material used is also important.

But to my disappointment … in some hardwares… you can find a terrible and useless plane that even for a dollar it is not worth…. Buyers will be fooled… But on same store you have another brand nicely sealed and 100 times worth.

I can conclude that buying handtools will be same in buying power tools… You need to have right specs of your need, the quality of makers product (there should be a little research) and most important accuracy of the functionalities. I denounce cost and price as one of the criteria for any tools… though this determines the budget.

-- Bert

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3578 days

#4 posted 08-13-2010 05:37 AM

Functionally, no difference in my opinion either. But I’m a power tool guy too. :) I’d suggest making your own Rich. You’d learn more about the plane that way.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3477 days

#5 posted 08-13-2010 05:40 AM

Rich, the main thing you pay for when purchasing a Lie Nielsen or a Veritas plan is labor and perhaps a few more subtle improvements such as thicker iron, better fitting chip breaker, etc. When I say labor I mean that they have already done a lot of the tuning or the word Galoots like is “Fettling” of the plane. This involves things like flattening the sole of the plane, flattening the back of the iron, flattening the frog to blade mating surface, fitting the chip breaker to the iron and items such as this. A Lie Nielsen is ready to go right out of the box with nothing to do but to hone the iron just a bit. As for the 5 1/4, that is a good plane to have. It can be set for a heavy cut and used for fast stock removal and yet you can close up the mouth and set it for a fine cut and use it for smoothing work. The 5 series of Stanleys are the real workhorses of the shop. Next you will probably want to get a smoother which would be a 3 or 4 size. I like the number 3 although the number 4 is more common. Then you will possibly want to get a long jointer plane. Of course, no shop, power tool or otherwise is complete without a good low angle block plane. For this one, I personally think that it is well worth the $100-$125 for a high quality plane. Those 4 planes will handle 90 % of the work of hand planing. Anything beyond that is getting into either profiling (I personally still do this with a router) or joinery (shoulder and rabbet planes). I do use shoulder and rabbet planes some. In Stanley world, lean toward the Bailey or even more preferably the Bed Rock series planes. Stay away from the HandyMan planes. They were pretty cheeply made. The Bailey planes are pretty easy to come by. Bed Rocks are more rare (they were made in the late 1800’s), but they are the most desirable both by collectors and users. They have thicker heavier castings and thicker more stable blades. Millers Falls & Fulton also made some very nice planes. Also, although a little trickier to learn to adjust and set up, I really love wooden planes. There is something about wood sliding on wood that just simply produces the best surface on the wood. You can see many fine examples of user made wooden smoothing planes right here on LJ’s. The key with a wooden plane is to start with a good iron(blade). IM me if you have any specific questions. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have tuned up a few stanley planes with good success.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View Luke's profile


545 posts in 3712 days

#6 posted 08-13-2010 06:30 AM

I would like to hear from some people who actually own a few or even one LN plane. I have one and it is in a word, amazing. What’s interesting is that all the comments above are from non LN plane owners. I say LN because in the plane world you’re looking at the best out there still selling new. I also have owned non LN planes and they virtually sucked comparatively. I’m not even sure why but like I say lets let the LN owners say because for me they are well worth the extra money… Can’t knock em till you try em. This is not to say that the others are not good or can’t be good. It’s a learning process getting to know what is quality and what is not. You should do whatever makes you happy because if you are truly going to pursue learning about something you will find the road that leads you where you want to be.

-- LAS,

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 4155 days

#7 posted 08-13-2010 07:06 AM

I own quite a few LN planes and many older Japanese planes with laminated steel blades. There is a considerable difference in the feel and cut. I especially like the magnesium bronze planes in that they are heavier than steel ones and they have a natural lubricant in them. They glide over the wood differently. The blades are thicker and of higher grade materials. I also own some regular Stanley planes. They do get used once in a while. I suggest you go to a woodworking show sometime where LN has a display and try them out. As for the $1,000 and up planes. I have tried a couple of them and they are works of art. The feel is amazing. Again, it has to do with everything being in perfect tune.
I remember while at a local woodworking show spending about an hour with well known craftsman Yeung Chan. We spent quite a while talking about hand planes. He was gracious enough to allow me to try almost every plane and tool he had with him at the show. I was particularly impressed with his small bronze low angle plane that he made himself. He did a great job on the design because it has a very good feel and cuts crisp and smooth. He also made all of the other tools in his case. They are quite comfortable.

Here is a link to his site. The tools are in the photo.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 3370 days

#8 posted 08-13-2010 07:08 AM


DochHolladay hit it well. LN, Veritas, etc manufacture their planes to higher tolerances and quality which saves you time spent getting the plane to perform properly. Soles are flat and don’t require lapping, frogs and their mating surfaces are ground precisely and don’t require fitting, the blades are thicker than standard issue Stanley, Record, etc. They are also flat on the non-bevel side and although not quite sharp enough for use, only require a micro-bevel out of the box. I have a LN plane and mine came exactly as described. Took it out of the box, inspected it, and only had to work the blade before use. I polished the back and put a micro bevel on it and put it to work. Big time saver for sure as anyone who has ever lapped a jack plane sole will tell you. I don’t think you pay for the “name” per se, you pay for the work that went into manfacturing the tool by that company.

The 5 1/4 plane you purchased is probably from the time when Stanley manfactured their planes with quality in mind. And it was taken care of during it’s lifetime. What would be the difference if you spent 15 times more? In performance: NONE. Most of my planes are old Records and they are just as good as any others out there once they were tuned and set up properly. A new LN or Veritas would have saved time on that process, but would not perform any better than my old ones once they were ready to work.

-- Mike

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18599 posts in 4094 days

#9 posted 08-13-2010 07:28 AM

I was told a few days ago that Stanleys made before WWII have brass screws in the knob. After WWII, they were steel. Is that true?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View knotscott's profile


8296 posts in 3793 days

#10 posted 08-13-2010 01:53 PM

Rich – I have several good quality older planes (Record, Bailey, Millers Falls), but haven’t yet made the plunge to the modern high end LN or Veritas planes. The planes I have seem to suit my needs pretty well. That’s not saying I wouldn’t appreciate better planes, but I’m just not there yet. Like any tool, setup and cutters dictate the end performance. I do know that planes like the LN basically come ready to use out of the box, or close to it…they also hold their value really well.

TmaxSurvivor – I don’t think that statement’s true in absolute terms. Some things may have started to get cheapened post war in some of the Stanley planes, and there may be some post war Stanley planes that had steel knob screws, but some also had brass screws well into 1960’s. Like many brands, Stanley had a couple of different lines that had different quality levels. Study

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3613 days

#11 posted 08-13-2010 02:25 PM

Topamax, I have three Stanley hand planes, two from before WWII. Both of those have brass screws in the knobs. This picture shows the No.7 from 1880’s and one from the 40’s or 50’s i believe, the other pre WWII one isn’t in this shot but is brass. But you can clearly see its brass screws in these two knobs.

Rich, I’m not positive as I only own old Stanley hand planes, but from what I’ve heard, the difference is really about the state that it comes in brand new. The newer cheaper planes might not have a perfectly flat sole or 90 degree sides, or the mouth and frog might need some filing to get it flat whereas the LN’s and other high ends are basically pre-tuned. I could be wrong though but thats what I’ve heard about the difference between cheap and expensive planes. I would love to try an LN though, maybe at the next woodworking show in Indy I’ll get a chance since LN brings them for trying out

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3492 days

#12 posted 08-13-2010 02:38 PM

I’m so impressed. So many of you were willing to take the time to provide some excellent information and I really appreciate it.

I just bought The Handplane Book by Garrett Hack and I am going to spend some quality time reading about tuning and using handplanes.

Thank you again.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3613 days

#13 posted 08-13-2010 02:47 PM

Excellent book! The Christopher Schwarz one is really good too.

There are some very good videos too on tuning them on youtube and FWW online (some are free for non members).

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View Rileysdad's profile


110 posts in 3696 days

#14 posted 08-13-2010 03:05 PM

Rich, one of the posts here advises you to build your own plane and I think that’s good advise. I did it and I have a much better understanding of what the difference is between a rough tool and a precision instrument. I built a 13” Krenov style plane which will take the slightest whisper of wood from an edge and leave the face of a board almost glossy. Way better than any of my Stanley/Baileys.

The book Making and Mastering Wood Planes by Davis Finck is a great book if you’re thinking of building one.

-- Measure twice, cut once, buy extra stock.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3492 days

#15 posted 08-13-2010 03:09 PM

I think building my own plane is a good idea. I’ve seen a few hand made planes and often thought “I could do that”.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

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