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.


Hi Joshua, i know this is an old article… But I wanted to ask for aome clarification about your method of repainting antique planes… In my experience, engine rated primers and even more specifically engine enamels will not fully cure until exposed to significant heat (400F or so)… Would it not be better, and potentially more cost effective, to use an etch primer and big box store “appliance enamel?” They tend to come as a white or black, high gloss finish, and they endure an extreme amount of abuse — think wear and tear on ovens/stoves/fridges as opposed to caustic… Read more »

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