Buying a vintage hand plane for the first time can be a little daunting. There are very few folks who buy planes that haven’t unknowingly come home with a dud. You can be successful at finding a good set of vintage planes if you know what to look for. Having bought hundreds of vintage planes from all sources from flea markets to ebay, here is what I’d give for advice.
There are many brands of vintage planes that are restorable and serviceable that you can find. Stanley/Bailey, Bedrock, Sargent, Record, Union, Ohio Tools, Millers Falls and Keen Kutter just to name a few. But even these companies made some planes you want to avoid.
Handyman is a Stanley made line that I avoid at all cost. I won’t pick one up if its $5. Yes, they can be made to work sometimes, if you want to risk it, but it’s just not worth it. It’s a good plane to help hone your restoration skills however. I just wouldn’t recommend making it your first one.
Store brands like Defiance, Dunlap, Craftsman, Wards Master, Fulton can vary with vintage, just like their parent manufacturer. The older ones are typically good quality planes but as time pasted, so did the quality.
A few things to look out for:
Watch out for the presses steel frogs. You want your planes to have a real frog.
Next, look for cracks and breaks, Cracks and breaks can hide under the dirt and grime on a plane. Look it over closely. You don’t want any signs of a crack or break unless the plane is cheap enough and you don’t mind finding a replacement part. The problem being, sometimes the replacement part will run more than the plane itself.
Some common areas are on the sides and around the mouth. You’ll also see chips out of the side on a lot of planes. The common chip out of the front or back doesn’t effect performance and will not hurt anything except the overall value of the plane.
Holes and pitting are another are to look out for. They usually will not hurt the performance , but will have an effect on the resale value.
Pitting on the cutter can be a different story. The back side of the cutter needs to be free from pits at the cutting edge. A few pits up high, or if you can grind past them, then the cutter is salvageable. If not, you’ll need to consider the cost of a new cutter.
Another good quality indicator is the lateral adjuster. The better planes had better lateral adjuster.
Check out my Quick Plane I.D. site for more info on brands of Laterals. Note planes like the Bailey, Millers Falls, and Sargent have heavier built laterals.
It’s not the lateral that causes the lack of performance. The lateral will work fine, its just an indication of the quality of the hand plane.
These first two images just show a Stanley/Bailey and a Sargent plane as an example of the heavier lateral.
Note how the planes like the Defiance and the later Stanley’s have a more flimsy lateral. That’s not to say you can’t make them work, its just going to be more work during the tuning, and probably not a good first plane to tune.
Any of these, I would avoid. The pressed steel cap, or cheesy almost plastic type caps.
The type of wood used for the knob and tote doesn’t affect performance, but does affect the value.
Rosewood is the most common for the better planes. Several hardwoods were also used. Mahogany was also used quit a bit. Sargent and Union both used mahogany extensively.
I don’t worry to much about the wood condition, but if its broke or missing it should be reflected in the cost. Most can be repaired or A new set can be easily made. How to make a tote help is here
And some good references here