Old Hand Planes vs. New Hand Planes
Many people ask questions on forums about choosing old hand planes and refurbishing them or just buying new ones that are almost ready to go out of the box. I have done both, but I am still no master when it comes to making my decisions. I still go both ways, but these are my thoughts about the topic. I’ll give some pros and cons about each option and elaborate on them a little bit
Old Hand Planes
1. You cannot always find the one you want when you want it, especially if it is a specialty plane. There are lots of planes to be had out there, and while ebay has helped in dispersing them to loving owners, there are still some that can take years to find. Luckily, many of the most common and useful planes are relatively easy to get your hands on.
2. They are going to take some tweaking. Some used hand planes that you pay anywhere from $60 to $100 for will likely be in pretty good shape, and someone probably already worked on them a bit to get their bid price higher. Cheaper ones will take de-rusting, oiling, probably some sanding, etc. They’ll need a full makeover. On any used plane, you are very likely going to have to flatten the sole and dress the blade and chipbreaker, which brings me to number 3.
3. The blades in used planes are typically in bad shape, as are the chipbreakers. I have tuned up and tried to use original blades in old stanleys and millers falls planes with marginal success. I know that some guys out there can tune these blades up perfectly and get great results with them. I would venture to say that most of us cannot do that. We can get good results, but not great results. When it comes to using old planes, I just gave in and bought a good thick aftermarket blade and chipbreaker. It made a world of difference. The only problem is that they cost between $60 and $100. Your cheap plane just turned into a not so cheap plane.
4. You can get 98% out of them. But they will never be Lie Nielsens. You can make old planes work very well. So well, in fact, that there is often no discernible difference between them and a new high-end plane. Some would argue that the 2% performance difference isn’t worth the extra cost. Sometimes it isn’t, sometimes it is, and much of it probably depends on what you expect out of your hand planes. But if you need a Ferrari of a hand plane, it is very difficult to get an old plane to that point.
1. They are cheap. You can typically get a good pre-WWII Stanley or Millers Falls (or others) that is clean for $50 to $70 on ebay. I know you can get them cheaper and rustier at yard sales and such, but ebay is the route I usually go.
2. Many of the better brands do have solid bones, so if you know what to look for, you won’t be getting a piece of junk.
3. They are nostalgic. It is fun to get an old plane and think of them men before you who have used it, or that it rolled off the production while Woodrow Wilson was President.
4. Considering how old they are, you really can get them to work very well with some elbow grease.
New Hand Planes
1. They cost more. This is the biggest deterrent for people considering a new hand plane. Right now, a Wood River #4 is about $150. A Lie Nielsen #4 is $350. Wowee! That Lie Nielsen is pretty expensive, even considering how well it performs. I have heard good things about Wood River and would expect them to perform similarly to a well-tuned old Stanley with a replacement blade.
2. No nostalgic fun. These planes don’t really have much history. Lie Nielsens have some history as they are made in the USA by a small shop, but you will obviously be the first one to use any new hand plane that you buy.
1. They take a short amount of time and little tune up to get working. A Lie Nielsen probably would take 5 minutes of honing and it would be ready for work. A cheaper plane such as a Wood River would probably take something like an hour or so to get ready to work. Either way, that is typically faster than fixing an old rust-bucket plane. I will say that I have gotten some Stanleys in working order in an hour or so, if they were in good shape when I bought them.
2. They typically are very well tuned and perform extremely well. I am talking about Lie Nielsen in specific here. I have gone to some of their shows and their planes really are a notch above. They feel great in the hand and their performance is really top notch.
3. You don’t have to know much to know that you are getting a good hand plane. When it comes to buying used, there is a learning curve when it comes to knowing what to look for and what is important in a used hand plane. If you buy new, you typically don’t have to worry about that as much.
Funny – when I started writing this, I was thinking that in the summary I would say that my next hand plane will be a Lie Nielsen, but I think I have changed my own mind. The price difference is just so gigantic that I cannot really justify getting that 2% of extra performance for an extra $200. Lie Nielsens are awesome planes (I do own one of their block planes) and someday I would love to have a set, but as of now, I will stick to older planes with upgraded blades. A cheaper, mid-grade plane, such as a wood river is an interesting option, especially for a starter plane to help a noobie get the feel without needing a large knowledge base of which used planes to look for and without having to do a bunch of tune up.
Hope you all enjoyed it, feedback welcome.
-- The Wood Is Your Oyster