Plane restoration - the right thing to do?

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Forum topic by Chipper posted 12-05-2007 01:29 AM 8121 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Chipper's profile


22 posts in 3887 days

12-05-2007 01:29 AM

Topic tags/keywords: planes restoration collection plane

I have a question that may or may not get me kicked out of here for heresy, but the thought (and some contradictions) just will not go away:

I propose that the majority of us here are capitalists (if not, just suppose)

Several times in forums across the WEB I have run into this conversation -
“Hey Bob! I just found a plane in pretty good shape at the flea market! Just the tool I need to work that maple for the chest I’m finishing up”
“Well Jim, is it in pretty good shape?”
“Yeah, it’s in pretty good shape. Even has the original box with it. Says it is a 1898 Super Duper plane”
“Jim!! That might be a really rare plane!”
“Yeah, but it does have some rust on it and the tote is cracked. Probably sand the rust off, flatten the bed and repair or replace the tote. Have a tote off a 1956 Not So Super Duper plane that looks like it will work. I really want to get something done this weekend. The wife’s birthday is coming up quick and I want to put a bow on that chest for her.”
“Whoa pardner! Jim, that might be a really rare plane. You don’t want to change its condition.”

I’m sure you get the drift here. A possibly rare plane with some cosmetic defects is heading for a make over to get it into working condition.

Here is what puzzles me on the “don’t touch that” mantra that I see all the time:

1) How many plane collections are out there now? Is it actually possible that every single unique plane ever made is not represented in some private or public collection?

2) If it is a rare plane – so what?? If it gets “altered” its “collection” value goes down. That means all the planes of the same type in collections actually increase in value! Collectors should want duplicates of their treasures removed from the pool! So Collectors – are you for or against competition??

3) As my Grandpa once told me about a guy who stole his electrician hand tools – “I wouldn’t mind if I knew he was going to use them to make a living”. I am sure that the original makers of the plane and subsequent owners would be happier if their tool was making things rather than sitting on a shelf looking pretty. Does anyone disagree that preserving, building, and expanding wood working skills throughout our society is much more important than setting up another collection?

- Chipper

-- Steve (Plano, TX)

12 replies so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3959 days

#1 posted 12-05-2007 01:47 AM

I guess, if you are a collector you collect and if you are a user you use. If you are buying planes to use it doesn’t take long to tell which ones are collectible. A little study will go a long way. It never hurts to know that a Stanley #9 block plane is worth a lot of money and a 60 1/2 is not worth so much. Most people that use used planes will notice that the ones with big prices are not the ones to buy unless you are really up on values. I wouldn’t pass Up a #9 for $250 but I would pass up a 60 1/2 for $50. It certainly doesn’t take long to check to see if you have a rare plane by looking at a few books on the subject. If you are just using you don’t need that many planes to worry about. Another thing, if a plane is in need of that much work, it probably isn’t that collectible anyway.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4060 days

#2 posted 12-05-2007 07:53 AM

And then there are the guys that have a whole stable of Lie-Nielsens that never touch wood. Maybe they want to have one of every model released so that they have a full collection for posterity. It’s their money, and they have a right to do as they see fit. To me it just seems a waste. They have more dollars than sense.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3959 days

#3 posted 12-05-2007 04:30 PM

Something else to not try is buying cheap planes thinking you can refurbish them and make money reselling them.You’ll never get your time back. I thought it would be a way to turn some cash until I saw a guy trying it on E-Bay. I know he wasn’t making 4 bucks an hour.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Paul's profile


660 posts in 4089 days

#4 posted 12-05-2007 10:04 PM

My response would be similar to Thos. – a little general knowledge of what’s valuable and what’s not, doesn’t hurt.

There’s a whole lot of collectors out there who see nothing but $$$ sittin’ on their shelf. They’re proud of how valuable their collection is. But there’s another group of collectors out there, too. There are those who see themselves as caretakers of, and preservationists of, our national industrial and trades history. If there’s only three known examples of a plane made by early 18th century plane maker and you find the fourth, I say that plane needs to be in a museum and not used.

Even something later like a fine, unused example of a hard-to-find Stanley plane . . . you find it stashed in your great uncle’s attic – still wrapped in the oiled paper in the Christmas box it was given to him in – why use it? when you could probably trade it with a collector for five or six excellent “user” tools? You’re happy and the collector would be thrilled to preserve a bit of unblemished history (for whatever altruistic or selfish reason – but does it matter?).

If I would ever stumble into a stash of old unused tools in their original boxes, I wouldn’t use them. I would trade them with a collector for $$$ or tools that I could use.

Thos. is right though – a little knowledge is helpful and unless it’s exceptionally rare – if it needs work, it’s a “user” anyway. So use it. Most collectors want original, not restored.

-- Paul, Texas

View schwingding's profile


133 posts in 3822 days

#5 posted 12-06-2007 06:44 PM

I consider myself both a collector and a user of hand planes. I can’t get enough of them! I use them in most every project, recently completing a project entirely with hand tools after initial thicknessing. (pic below)

I have in mind the tools that I want to complete my “working” tool collection and buy them as I encounter them. I also have a large number of planes that I’ll never use, simply because I love what they represent, years and years of hand tool woodworking. I think they are beautiful tools, and I am collecting them for asthetic and sentimental value, not for their economic value. If I think one can be restored to working condition, I restore it. If I know it is worth a lot of money, as a couple of mine are, I’ll leave them as be and simply display them in my shop. It pleases me to be surrounded by hundreds of years worth of woodworking tools, and for the ones I do restore, I feel as if the original owner would be thrilled to know his tool was still being used 150 years later.

One of my favorite planes is an 1858 Auburn Tool Co. coffin smoother. I restored it. Heresy? Probably, but it works better than my LN #4!

Here’s that hand tool table…that top was smoothed entirely with an 1858 hand plane. Shaker Writing Desk

-- Just another woodworker

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3884 days

#6 posted 12-06-2007 07:12 PM


The minimum amount of time, unless you are lucky, it takes to restore a plane to acceptable condition is 4-5 hours. In that time, I can make a wood box or bowl that is worth about as much as a new Veritas plane that is better than an old plane even if in pristine condition.

About your point 3, it turns out that only planes that were not used much (or at all) have chances to be restored to decent condition. The ones that were used are so worn up that they are not worth the trouble. I got an almost new Stanley #5 two years ago (build before 1940 for sure). I could tell immediately that the person that owned the plane had no clue how to sharped the blade or tune the plane. My guess is that he tried to use the plane once than promptly put it in the attic. Even this almost new plane needs a lot of work. The reason is the fact that Stanley did not do the tuning in the factory (to keep the price low). The woodworkers were expected to tune the plane after purchasing it (lap the soles, set the frog properly, etc.). A modern Veritas comes ready to use (maybe less a 2 minute lapping of the blade) out of the box, is dead flat (modern technology at work), very precise and has a number of little innovations that make is a much better plane. The same goes for Lee-Nielsen. My restored old planes are unused since the Veritas Jointer is so versatile and good.

Purchasing anything other than a block plane and the #4, #5 and maybe #7, unless you are very lucky, is a bad idea since they are rare enough to be worth close to the price of a Veritas plane. This is especially true for shoulder planes.

If you do enjoy restoring tools/machinery, than the story is different. There is a lot of pride in taking a rusty piece of metal and making it produce fine shavings (after 5 hours).


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3959 days

#7 posted 12-06-2007 07:30 PM

Alin makes a good point. You will spend a good 4 hours tuning and sharpening a used plane. However, I see it as time well spent in getting very well acquainted with this very simple yet complex tool. By the time you take a flea market special from junk to beautiful thin shavings, you will be on very intimate terms with it. Most of us never had the opportunity to go through the old manual training classes while in school. If we had, we would already know much of what you will learn while tuning, cleaning and sharpening that old plane. After you have learned on the old plane, then buy a new Lie-Nielsen. Now you will know what makes it tick and how to keep it that way. There is a reason that pilots are trained in small, single engine aircraft and then moved through the different models. It is always wise to really understand the tools we use, whether it is a wood plane or a 747.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4033 days

#8 posted 12-06-2007 07:53 PM

I’ve seen the collectors, restorers, people that say they are both and the ones that deny they are either. I understand the position of the restorer/collector, but for the most part I’m in the Alin Dobra school. The new planes from Veritas and LN are just so good, have innovations that make life so much easier, are ready to use right out of the box and are just great to own…I’m not sure what people think their time is worth, but if I just spent an hour fiddling around with a flea market Stanley, I’ve just more than paid for a new plane from LN or Veritas. It’s not worth it to me…I’m neither a collector, nor a restorer…I’m an owner/user. However, that’s just me.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4090 days

#9 posted 12-09-2007 02:18 AM

Very interesting commentary. I bought all my planes, with the exception of one, on ebay. I had good and bad experiences. Mostly good but only because I did my research on Patrick’s Blood and Gore first. I did get hoodwinked once. They adage goes: bad photos, bad purchase. I agree. Shining lights are my #5, #7 and my 60 1/2. All three came at a very reasonable price and they work. After tuning, they work very well. I have three #4s. One good worker, one backup and one that is only worthy of salvage (bad photos). My #90 had an iron issue but that was easily resolved. The one regret I have is my #112. The sole and blade/card are great. However, somewhere along its life the screw for the tote was stripped. It was in a make-do state when I received it. I have an idea of how to resolve this but it is a sore spot because it was the most expensive layout of cash. Buyer beware. Do your research and ALWAYS as questions of the seller.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3884 days

#10 posted 12-09-2007 03:52 AM

I agree with the point Thos is making. Everybody should restore at least one plane to learn how planes work (I actually restored about 3). I was even happy with my planes until I got the Veritas Jointer. As schwingding mentions though, some of the old planes are very good. The price you will pay for those is may LN’s so for the user they are not exactly economically feasible. A good idea might be to get a #4 or #5 from flea market/ebay, restore it and use it as a scrub plane. I actually have one of the old planes (beyond restoring) as decoration in my office. Most people cannot believe that those things still exist.


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View wiltonwoody's profile


1 post in 3818 days

#11 posted 12-09-2007 10:57 PM

Just found your site…thought you might be interested to see this restored Record T5 and a No4 recently completed, all surfaces finished to 1000g and then polished where possible on the leather wheel of a Tormek, handles in English Walnut:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

and if you want to see a nice collection of desirable metal and woodwork, how about this:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

....even one there from JK – Rob

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3987 days

#12 posted 12-09-2007 11:39 PM

Those last ones are beauties! Especially the Record…I can see that’s your favorite.

I guess Chipper, the question you want to ask yourself is: Do I want to use this or sell it? If you’re gonna sell it, then get it photographed and back into it’s box. But if you’re gonna use it, well, it probably needs cleaning and sharpening, etc.

Two things I’ve learned for you to avoid is: #1: The dishwasher is a great place to degrease and clean it, but your housemouse will go freakin’ ballistic when she discovers it there! And sadly #2: The dishwasher will rust the heck out of all the exposed iron costing you countless man hours of steel wooling! So, avoid the dishwasher.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

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