Where to find decent user planes?

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Forum topic by stroml posted 04-27-2012 09:51 PM 1802 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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21 posts in 2249 days

04-27-2012 09:51 PM

So where should I be looking for good user planes?

A month ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to buy a saw, and now I’m looking at hand planes! Oh well, I figure it’s good to have the ones you need to untwist and square stock.

I’ve decided, after some research and reading a comprehensive book on dovetailing, that I’ll acquire a #4 1/2 (10”) and #7 (22”) plane. I picked these 2 because that’s what the author of my book recommended, and it’s also nice that they have the same blade width. I’ll be using them mainly for projects that are no bigger than 3-4 feet in any dimension.

The only requirements for a plane are:
  • It can be tuned up and used without too much effort, as I just want to get to the woodworking part. I suppose every plane needs to be lapped flat, polished, and the blade honed. What I want to avoid is having to replace handles, frogs, levers, totes, or anything on the plane due to wear, rust, or abuse from the get go.
  • It has an easily replaceable blade and chip breaker. I would like to be able to have these planes for the better part of my lifetime, and I expect the blades will need replacing at some point. Not sure about chip breakers, though.
  • It has to be no more than say $50 for the #4 1/2 and $80 for the #7. I’d like to keep the costs down and just use the things.

I’m looking on eBay, but there’s a lot to sift through, and a LOT of collectors to fight. I’m also not sure what is a usable plane, as I think my only experience with one was maybe 10 years ago. Maybe I need help on what to look for.

So far I have seen that Stanley, Millers Falls, and Keen Kutters seem to have interchangeable parts, Union X’s are supposed to be solid, and Sargents may or may not be worth your time but have their own chip breakers and blade dimensions.

I’m trying really hard to avoid getting sucked into tool restoration, as my original goal is to get working on wood.

-- Strom

23 replies so far

View KenBry's profile


484 posts in 2442 days

#1 posted 04-27-2012 09:56 PM

My Local antique Mall has a Bedrock #5 1/2 that needs a new tote and clean up for $43.00. Also the base has 4 holes drilled in the vertical flanges. 2 on one side and 2 on the other. This plane would not be worth much in the collector market but it would be a fantastic user.

You can get great planes if your willing to put a little effort into them. The idea is Antique shops do carry great tools at fair prices. Also you can bargin with them.

-- Ken, USAF MSgt, Ret.

View knotscott's profile


8008 posts in 3370 days

#2 posted 04-27-2012 10:32 PM

It varies, but I’ve had luck with Ebay, antique stores, garage sales, and folks selling them on woodworking sites.

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

View Tyrone D's profile

Tyrone D

314 posts in 2328 days

#3 posted 04-27-2012 10:47 PM

Flea Markets. I’ve never found anything good at a garage sale yet, but I like to go to ones in retirement communities, farms or places where I know old people have lived. Estate sales are very good places as well. The guy who I buy all my planes from at the flea market gets all of his stuff at auctions and estate sales.

-- --Tyrone - BC, Canada "Nothing is ever perfect, we just run out of time."

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2562 days

#4 posted 04-27-2012 11:39 PM

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2993 days

#5 posted 04-28-2012 02:36 AM

Ok, you are looking for a smoother and a jointer. Not a bad place to start. But…

The surprising thing is the absence of a jack plane and low angle block plane. They are going to be your go-to planes 95%-99% of the time. The smoother and jointer are specialized tools that you bring out for special events. You can do just fine without either.

A better budget choice would be:

Get a good quality low angle block plane and a jack plane and keep an eye out for a bargain on a jointer and regular angle block plane. A low angle block plane can handle endgrain and can smooth as well as anything else. The jack plane isn’t that much longer than a smoother or that much shorter than a jointer. The proverbial jack of all trades. (Yes, that is where the expression comes from.)

The interchangeability of blades is a non-issue. Wearing out a blade is not an issue either. Under normal use, they will last several lifetimes. A 4-1/2 is an unusual plane. Not much to recommend it over a plain old common #4 unless you are trying to fill out a collection. The jointer, in the size of work you are specifying, is not going to be much of a difference from #6 to #8. Whichever you come across first will work.

All the stuff about lapping planes goes into the realm of religion and I will stay away from that topic. Go for it if it makes you feel better.

If you don’t feel like spending your time kissing all the frogs or paying premium price for one of the new versions, I suggest you contact one of the friendly online tool pushers. Patrick Leach is one of my favorites. Tell him what you are looking for and he will have it at a fair market price. No, it won’t be the cheapest, he knows his merchandise.

I have heard good things about the newer high end line of the Anant planes but have no personal experience.

Also, don’t forget that wooden planes exist. I have had every size of metal bench planes except a #1. I now have a grand total of 2. One that is just a collectible toy and a hardware store house brand #5-1/2. I don’t miss them.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3276 days

#6 posted 04-28-2012 02:46 AM

I don’t know where you live, Strom. If you can, join a tool collectors’ group. At meets, you’ll find a lot of woodworkers and other knowledgeable people. There will be a lot of tools at meets and prices are better than you’ll find at eBay and places like that. You’ll be able examine the tools over before buying, compare different tools and bargain for a good price. With most dealers, the first price is mostly what they’d really like to get but not necessarily their bottom price. It’s Spring and most meets are in the Spring or Fall.

View stroml's profile


21 posts in 2249 days

#7 posted 04-28-2012 03:06 AM

Thanks for all the tips everyone. I’m in the San Francisco/Bay Area, so I’ll be on the lookout for local stuff as well as the sites and people mentioned above.

Lots to consider. The only reason I was looking for 4 1/2 was that it can do what a 4 can and is about the same as a jack plane, plus I could have 2 different blade types to change between that and the 7. Plus, Paul Sellers and a few others I have been looking at swear by some kind of 4.

My first project is going to be a guitar amp and cab, with hand cut dovetails. I suppose I’d only need a plane to smooth the joints and get the box ready for finishing. The jointer was supposed to be for later when I learned how to make rough lumber ready for making other projects.

David I will take a look and do some further research. I have to make sure I’m in “get useful tool” mode rather than “get useful toy” mode :)

-- Strom

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2993 days

#8 posted 04-28-2012 03:35 AM

Also stay away from ebay unless you know what you are looking for (and then be careful). Legit dealers will allow you to return tools (you pay shipping).

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Loren's profile


10377 posts in 3643 days

#9 posted 04-28-2012 03:56 AM

You are not fighting collectors on ebay for common bench planes.

What you’ll notice though is that some sellers know how to list
and shoot a plane to get more money at auction for it. Some
of these sellers also know about planes and won’t sell you
a plane that needs work or parts unintentionally.

Just be a little patient and select several planes that meet your
criteria and bid just prior to the auction closing to prevent
the seller shill bidding his own item. If you get beat in an
auction be skeptical if the seller offers you a “second chance”
because the winning bidder “backed out” because it’s probably
the seller shilling.

In some parts of the country planes are common at flea markets
and estate sales, while in other areas they are quite scarce.
Planes get snapped up quickly by dealers and tool enthusiasts
at estate sales so if you want to do that scene, get up early.
When you look at fuel costs I doubt you’ll save money obtaining
planes by driving around to estate sales though you can
certainly finance your hobby buying old things and selling them
on ebay yourself. There’s more money to be made buying
and selling postcards and undervalued kitsch items than tools
you find at estate sales. Reason being that tools always move
quick at tag sales unless they are overpriced and on ebay
they are a commodity.

Auctions are good for getting tools as well, but you’ll be bidding
against a roomful of ebay dealers in any case. Most will be
looking to “flip” planes so don’t be afraid to bid in live auctions
if you’re just looking for planes to use. Once the price gets
up above $15-$20 per bench plane most dealers will give up
and let you have it.

View willie's profile


533 posts in 2449 days

#10 posted 04-28-2012 04:08 AM

Garage sales and auctions have been my best source for most of my tools. I go to a website that lists local auctions and type in what I’m looking for and they send me a notice of all local auctions that have that item. They usually give pictures so I have some idea what’s available before going. The best prices are at garage sales but it can take some time to find what you’re looking for. Craig’s List is another good source.

-- Every day above ground is a good day!!!

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2562 days

#11 posted 04-28-2012 12:43 PM

I get most of mine from garage sales, antique shops and flea markets. If you are patent, you can get a decent price on ebay once in a while. I just bought a decent #4, just needs some rust removal and tune up for $19 with shipping.

I’d recommend a #4 and a #5 if you don’t them. They are the easiest to find and the most versatile. I have several 4 1/2 size planes, and love them, but my most used smoother is my 604 by far. If you really don’t want any restoration work, you should be able to get each size, A #4 and a #5, fully tuned and ready to go for under $40 each. Go with a brand other than Stanley and even that price drops a little, for virtually the same plane. There are several guys here on LJ’s that tune and sell them. Any one of them will do right by you.

You’ll need to be pretty patient to find a #4 1/2 and a #7, ready to go for under $50. It is possible though, especially if your looking in the wild. I paid $35 for my #7, it however needed restoring.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3475 days

#12 posted 04-28-2012 01:58 PM

I do a lot of anitque collecting…not tools but other items. I agree with many that I see a lot of old planes at antique shops and flea markets.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4213 days

#13 posted 04-28-2012 02:55 PM

It’s pretty hard to find a 4 1/2 cheap on eBay, but 4’s, 5’s, and 7’s are abundant.

Look for a seller with 100% (or close) rating. Next, look for a description of what is broken, if anything. The last thing to worry about is appearance, because that really doesn’t matter, and is easily cleaned up if you want to go that way. I’ve found it pretty easy to find ugly planes, with all parts intact, at reasonable prices.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View helluvawreck's profile


31030 posts in 2861 days

#14 posted 04-28-2012 02:58 PM

The only place that I can afford to get good usable tools is on Ebay. The reason is that I don’t have time to go on any wild goose chases looking for tools. Because I have so little free time my time is very valuable to me.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View TroutStalker's profile


30 posts in 3363 days

#15 posted 04-28-2012 05:49 PM

I highly recommend Brass City Records and Tools. Excellent selection and service. Walt Quanstrom, the owner, is a real gentleman. You can be confident that if he sells it it will work. You can see his current offering at:
He updates his offerings every Monday.

-- The best thing online is a fish

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