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.