How to Choose a Vintage Metal Hand Plane

//How to Choose a Vintage Metal Hand Plane

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Buying an antique metal hand plane not only provides excitement & nostalgia, but also a huge potential financial savings! Below you’ll see what I look for when buying old hand planes from flea markets, junk shops, farmers, or eBay. You can also read my separate article on choosing wooden hand planes.

  • MISSING OR BROKEN PARTS: When I first started buying old metal hand planes I didn’t understand the parts of the planes very well and occasionally came home with planes that had broken metal frogs, missing blades/irons, missing screws, or broken wooden totes & handles (not easily or cheaply replaced). Definitely steer clear of planes with cracks in the metal.


  • RUST: Surface rust is okay when buying an antique hand plane, and can be easily removed. In fact, rust usually lowers the price and gives a great opportunity for value. Just make sure that you avoid “pitting”. Pitting is a result of rust eating away at the metal over time. It looks like the metal has been hit repeatedly with a nail. Some people remove the rust from the pitting, so keep an eye open for shiny pitting!


  • JAPPANING: “Jappaning” is the paint that plane makers used to apply to plane parts. Most older planes are missing some japanning, which is okay…especially if you’re only concerned with function, not performance. But I really love beautiful planes. When I do substantial plane restorations I usually remove bad japanning and re-spray the parts with engine primer and black engine enamel. Or you can do some research on how to conduct traditional japanning to your plane (difficult).

I think those are the major pitfalls to look for when choosing an antique metal hand plane…please let me know if I missed something!

What models to look for? “Patrick’s Blood and Gore” website is a great resource for old Stanley hand plane model identification. You can also check out my Stanley bailey hand planer type study here.




About the Author:

Joshua loves mixing his passion for traditional hand tool woodworking with his ability to teach in a simple manner. He lives on a small farm in Earlysville, Virginia with his wife and four children, and builds furniture in his workshop / woodworking school.

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I usually take a ruler or piece of wood that I jointed and check the soles of the planes. Small hollows are no big deal but twist and convex deformations are more difficult to remove.


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