Tool Overview #1: Stanley 12-920 Block Plane

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 09-06-2010 08:57 AM 6124 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Tool Overview series Part 2: Record Marples no. 4 Smoothing Plane »

Evening Folks,

Like many of my fellow LJ’ers, I started out with power tools and have started to develop an interest in hand tools. I have been picking up some odds and ends, when both the wallet and the need permits. I received an early birthday present from the wife, partly as a thank you for helping her with all of the cleanup and move after the apartment fire. I have been looking at the Stanley 6 1/4 contractor block plane at Lowes and have been himing and hawing on whether or not to buy it. It is a mid-level plane with very mixed reviews and I have been leaning towards picking up a LN when I had the money. Fate lent a hand and my wife noticed that I checked it out a few times and bought it for me.

Stanley 12-920 block plane

I have not used it enough to feel comfortable putting my name to a review but I did spend a few hours today tuning it and checking it out. I can tell you that, out of the box, this plane is not ready to go. Nor, for the price, should anyone expect it to be. One thing I have learned when it comes to reading user reviews is that much depends on their expectations, experience, and abilities when it comes to evaluating a new tool. I can tell you that some complaints that I have read were that the plane didn’t cut well (a good deal of chatter), that the locking mechanism would jam or not work at all, and that the blade was difficult to align.

In regards to the complaint involving chatter, I would attribute this to the lack of tuning before use. The blade is stamped “Made in England” and judging by the time I spent flattening and lapping it, I would say the steel is fairly hard. To what grade, I cannot say. I know it isn’t A2. It is listed as hardened chrome steel. When I sharpen, if a blade that has machine marks is flattened quickly, I have doubts that the steel will hold up to any use. It took me about 15-20 minutes of steady work on the worksharp to get the machine marks off, the blade flattened, and a nice honed edge on it. I kept the angle low, set it for 20 degrees with a 30 degree micro-bevel.

One thing I like about the plane is the adjustable throat. Again, it took me a little while to flatten the sole. Upon opening the box, the sole was a gray color with machined marks. After a good deal of time, I was able to get a decent shine on it and flatten it. The knob in the front loosens and allows the throat to adjust the clearance to reduce tear out that can occur with a low angle blade.

Stanley block plane sole

The locking mechanism feels flimsy, more like pot metal, and I will be careful when it comes to flipping the lever. How much pressure is required depends on the set screw that the frog slides on to. The screw was very tight when opened and would not allow the lever to slide all the way to the locked position. What I discovered is that if I loosened the set screw, adjusted the frog, set the locking lever, then tightened the screw, I was able to lock the blade in effectively and not put too much pressure on the lever.

Aligning the blade I didn’t find overly difficult. There is a lateral adjustment bar that the blade rests on. It is sloppy and you would find that you would have to move the bar pretty much all the way to the left or the right to keep the blade parallel to the throat. The knob in the back sets blade depth. I found it fairly simple to adjust the blade depth and the knob provided enough control to let you make micro adjustments for the depth. Past that, it was a matter of testing cuts on scrap pieces to set depth and throat adjustments that provided nice thin wood wisps to glide through the plane.

I am new to hand planing. It took a little time to figure out placement, direction, rhythm to make decent wood shavings but I am getting there. Just a matter of technique and developing it.

The skinny – If your pocketbook is limiting you to a mid-range block plane and you have the patience to tune it, I think this plane would work for you. Other planes I have seen in this price range were the Buck Brothers models at home depot and the footprint versions at Sears. These models are made in China, the Stanley had English steel but components from Mexico. Personally, I think the steel is better for the blade on this plane than the Chinese knock offs. I don’t think the plane compares to the Stanley’s of yesterday, but it seems to work well when after investing the time and effort to tune. I know the general advice is to find old used planes but I don’t run across them in my neck of the woods. The ones I see on ebay are usually scooped up quickly by collectors or the bidding is at a level I can’t (and won’t) compete with.

Happy woodworking all,


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

9 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3071 days

#1 posted 09-06-2010 09:00 AM

had the same plane, took some time to get the sole flat, but after that, and some fairly quick blade sharpening/honing and the usual tune up – it performed like a champ! and at a bargain price as you mentioned! has nice features on it too.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View helluvawreck's profile


22697 posts in 2289 days

#2 posted 09-06-2010 02:04 PM

You can get some really nice older Stanley planes on Ebay. You might want to check it out.

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3945 posts in 2587 days

#3 posted 09-06-2010 04:18 PM

Thanks for the review, David. Yesterday I spent 5 hours designing a gizmo for the shop, I am going to try and make it today. 5 hours is about my limit for intense work of any kind right now just due to an overload of stess the last 6 weeks or so in the job. Looking forward to vacation later this month….................


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2136 posts in 2531 days

#4 posted 09-06-2010 04:53 PM

Purplelev – I am glad you had similar positive experiences with the plane. Once tuned, it is a decent working model and definitely worth the price. I don’t like to buy cheap but I tend to look for what my money is being spent on. The LN planes are obviously solid models but part of the price includes the tuning. I don’t mind investing a little elbow grease to save a few bucks. Actually, in some ways I prefer to buy things of this sort without pre-honing and fine tuning. No matter how well honed a chisel or plane iron is out of the package, there is a point where you are going to have to sharpen, adjust, or otherwise fix the tool. The tuning might be redundant, but I find it teaches me a great deal about the tool at the get go and my comfort level with the thing is much higher.

helluvawreck – I agree that used planes are a good way to go. I have checked ebay on a number of occasions, though, and have found most of the planes I would be interested in would fetch close to high end new tool cost, and those that are on the cheaper side often look suspect to me. I am sure some good deals come by when some of the collectors are caught sleeping but that seems few and far between. Most of the prices look good until about 5 minutes before the end of bidding, then everyone throws in the last minute bids hoping to keep the price down but not lose the prize. Flea Markets and antique shows would probably be the way to go, but I don’t run into those too much here. I keep an eye out, maybe someday I will find a bargain.

Jim – Does any project in your shop not start with the word “gizmo?” :) I keep waiting to see one of your contraptions in one of the woodworking mags. Nice to see you out here.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 3669 days

#5 posted 09-06-2010 05:30 PM

That sounds like me trying to figure out how to make dovetails, I finally got there it just took a long time.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View dfdye's profile


372 posts in 2459 days

#6 posted 09-06-2010 05:53 PM


Your experiences with this plane are spot on with mine. I spent some time tuning mine up when I got it, and it works quite well. In my experience, the stock blade holds up fine for light duty work, but it is by no means anything special. My benchmarks for durability are the A2 Cryo blades in my #4 and #7, and they hold up a LOT better than the Stanley blade (then again, each of those blades cost twice as much as this plane did, so I’m not really complaining). I have been quite happy with the performance of this block plane once I got it tuned up, but a better blade would be a nice improvement if you plan on using it for heavier planing. I have used mine for chamfering edges and cleaning up end-grain cuts more than anything else, and I haven’t had any complaints about how it does these jobs. I don’t notice any chattering unless the blade is dull, and then a quick honing gets things back in shape rather quickly.

I honestly don’t feel the need to upgrade this tool any time soon, though i will admit to being tempted by the Veritas skew block planes. :)

The irony, as always, is that a cheap plane can be tuned to work like a champ, but the folks who know how to do it properly often go for a higher-end plane. The folks who aren’t very experienced with planes, and who would benefit the most from factory tuning of a plane, are those most likely to skimp and buy this plane that needs a ton of tuning to work its best! I’ll agree that the reviews dogging this plane are most likely from folks who haven’t spent the time tuning the plane, or who haven’t tuned it properly. Still, this should be a big consideration for anyone considering this plane—if you don’t know how to tune it, it probably won’t work well for you, and you are quite likely to be disappointed.

-- David from Indiana --

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2363 days

#7 posted 09-06-2010 08:46 PM

I’ve had the same plane for a number of years now. Same story, once I tuned it, works good. I use it almost everyday. I have used it so much, I am already on the second blade! The adjustable mouth is a nice little feature.
LN not an option where I am, but I do drool over the photos!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 2537 days

#8 posted 09-06-2010 10:33 PM

congrat´s with your new toy ,have fun in the play with it .-)
thank´´s for the rewiew and the explaining both from you David and everybody ells about
what to look after and how to get them in good shape :-)

take care

View swirt's profile


2107 posts in 2394 days

#9 posted 09-07-2010 05:35 AM

Nice account of the plane. I have the Bailey version of the same plane that I bought new a couple of years ago. From your photos, I can’t say as I can spot the difference between your plane and mine. It took a while to tune and get the plastic or enamel coating off the blade, but once tuned. It works just fine. It is the youngest plane in my employ, but I probably use it more often than the others.

I have no real complaints with it.

-- Galootish log blog,

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