By Joshua Farnsworth

Traditional woodworking handplanes are the rock stars of hand tool woodworking. Tool lust oozes all over these historic tools. And rightly so! Handplanes make the most exciting changes to your wooden work piece. And that high-pitched Swoosh sound is music to an artisan’s ears.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

In this buying guide article I’ll be discussing the handplanes that you need when starting out in traditional woodworking. Handplane bodies can be all wood, all metal, or a hybrid of both.

In my mind I divide handplanes into three general categories:

(A) Bench Planes: planes that are used so often that they usually “sit on the bench” and are used for flattening, dimensioning, & smoothing wood. Examples include Jointer Planes, Jack Planes, Smoothing Planes, and Block Planes (I include them under bench planes for ease of categorizing).


(B) Joinery Planes: specialty planes used for creating or finishing joints. Examples include rabbet planes, plow planes, shoulder planes, tongue & groove planes, router planes, etc.


(C) Moulding Planes: wooden planes used for cutting decorative profiles. Examples include dedicated moulding planes, hollows & rounds, snipe bills, beading planes, etc.


The majority of the planes that I’ll discuss are vintage and new metal “Bench Planes”, which include all the planes that are typically “on the workbench” or close by. I won’t be discussing wood handplanes much because they weren’t manufactured in the quantities of the metal planes. In this buying guide I’m going to focus mainly on:

(1) Stanley-style pre-WWII metal body bench planes, because of the sheer number of vintage Stanley planes still available in the market. They are much more affordable but may require significant time to prepare for use.

(2) New heirloom quality handplanes from modern manufactures (like Lie-Nielsen Toolworks) because, though more expensive, they come to your door in beautiful condition, lapped flat, and razor sharp.

***How do you know the age of a Stanley handplane? Here are a couple resources: here and here.


In summary, Stanley bench planes sizes include (from smallest to largest):

“Smoothing” Bench Planes (for preparing for finishing)
  • Stanley No. 1 Smoothing Plane: This tiny smoothing plane is fairly useless, but highly sought after by collectors who want to “complete their entire collection”. It’s just too small for adults hands, but may work well for rich children.
  • Stanley No. 2 Smoothing Plane: This small smoothing plane is also too small for adult hands, but a bit less expensive than the No. 1.
  • Stanley No. 3 Smoothing Plane: This small-ish smoothing plane is perfect for some tight spots & difficult grain, and fits in adult hands.
  • Stanley No. 4 Smoothing Plane: This is the standard smoothing plane size and provides a superior finish.
  • Stanley No. 4-1/2 Smoothing Plane: A tad wider, longer, & heavier than the No. 4, this plane is preferred by some woodworkers who prefer a bit more weight and a wider blade.
“Jack” / “Fore” Bench Planes (removing course material)
  • Stanley No. 5 Jack Plane: The most common size of hand plane because it can be stretched for several uses: removing a lot of wood (like a scrub plane), jointing edges & flattening faces, and even smoothing.
  • Stanley No. 5-1/4 Jack Plane: Shorter & lighter than the No. 5 Jack plane. Not very common.
  • Stanley No. 5-1/2 Jack Plane: For historical reasons, some people categorize this plane as a good multi-purpose smoothing plane, but I’ll just leave it under fore planes.
  • Stanley No. 6 Fore Plane: A traditional size for a fore plane, which is used to flatten the surfaces of boards. It also makes a nice edge “jointer” for people who find the No. 7 to be too heavy.
“Jointer” / “Try” Bench Planes (For flattening & truing edges)

Here’s a great article by Christopher Schwarz that dives into much greater detail about bench planes.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

What are the Best Brands of Hand Planes?

So in addition to Stanley, what are the best brands of hand planes? Below is my list of top hand plane brands (bigger manufacturers), with special ebay search links to each brand. Tip: click “show only sold listings” so you can see which models of each brand are more desirable. This is a great way to research. But remember, you don’t need to start out with the rarest or most expensive tool models…just models that were built well. 

  • View new Lie-Nielsen Hand Planes (view)
  • View vintage Sargent Hand Planes (view)
  • View vintage Record Hand Planes (view)
  • View vintage Millers Falls Hand Planes (view)
  • View vintage Clifton Hand Planes (view)
  • View used Lie-Nielsen Hand Planes (view)…not vintage
  • View new Veritas Hand Planes (view)
  • View used Veritas Hand Planes (view on ebay)…not vintage
  • Any others that I’m missing? (Email me here)

Scottish Infill Planes: the Very Best Metal Hand Planes

If you’re looking for the best antique metal handplanes I would recommend buying Scottish Infill Planes (a smoothing plane and a larger panel plane):

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Scottish-style infill planes are definitely more expensive than the normal vintage Stanley Bailey handplanes, but they’re usually less expensive than buying handplanes made by newer companies (e.g. Lie-Nielsen & Veritas). Scottish Infill planes (like this panel plane) have a great weight and amazing balance & sweet feeling handles. They are kind of the Cadillacs of metal handplanes. They’ll turn heads and draw attention from your fellow woodworkers. Spiers and Norris are the two most recognized brand names.

How to Avoid Buying Bad Hand Planes


Before you start buying hand planes, make sure you read my two articles on the pitfalls to avoid when buying vintage hand planes:

My list of urgent, semi-urgent, and non-urgent hand planes may vary for you depending on what items you choose to build. But this is a pretty good reflection of my experience:


1. Urgent Hand Planes (Buy these First)

This is my list of hand planes that I feel would be the first hand planes that you should buy to get started in traditional woodworking. Other woodworkers may have slightly different priorities and terminology (plane names can vary), but this is from my perspective.

Buy a Jack Plane


If you can only afford to start out with one “bench plane”, then I’d recommend buying a jack plane, specifically a bevel down Stanley No. 5 metal Jack Plane (“Bailey” style or “Bedrock” style, if you can afford it) or a Lie-Nielsen No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane (bevel up…additionally works on difficult grain, end grain, and in concert with shooting boards). Read this article by Christopher Schwarz to choose between Bevel up vs. Bevel down hand planes.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

A No. 5 (bevel down) and No. 62 (bevel up) can serve multiple purposes. To remove a lot of material quickly with the No. 5 you simply use a highly-cambered blade (8-10 degree radius) and open the mouth wider.

Stanley 5 jack plane cambered blade

With the Low Angle No. 62 you use a “toothed iron” and also open the mouth wider. This empowers these planes to be used instead of a scrub plane to remove a lot of material really quickly (across the grain then diagonally).

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

If combined with a straight  blade (or even slightly arched/cambered), with the mouth closed down tight, it can also be used like a smoothing plane. You can also use it for flattening and truing the edges of shorter boards.

I prefer Stanley Bailey or Stanley Bedrock planes made prior to World War 2, when the quality standards were higher.

How do you know the age of a Stanley handplane? Here are a couple resources: here and here.

Here are some Stanley Handplane searches to check out:

As your skill level improves you can also branch out and buy (or make) an all-wooden jack plane or a still-affordable “transitional” jack plane like this Stanley No. 26 Transitional hand plane (a hybrid – like a metal jack plane but with a wooden sole):


Some traditional woodworkers love the feeling and light weight of an all-wooden jack plane or a transitional plane. Some smaller manufacturers still make beautiful reproduction planes, but vintage wooden jack planes are much less expensive. The only problem is that many of the older wooden planes are in very poor condition, with splits, cracks, and missing parts. If you’re looking to purchase a vintage wooden hand plane, check out my blog post first:

Now you can search below for some vintage and new wooden jack planes:


If you want a step-by-step video guide for making a traditional 18th century wooden plane, then buy this DVD where Bill Anderson shows how to build an 18th Century Jointer Plane. Here’s a video preview:

Buy a Smoothing Plane

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Smoothing planes are the traditional “bench plane” of choice for leaving a finished surface that is vastly superior to sandpaper. And there are several options, including the all-metal body, all wooden body, or “transition” smoothing planes. I recommend starting out with a vintage Stanley No. 4 or No. 4 1/2 smoother or (if your budget permits) a new Lie-Nielsen No. 4 smoother:

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Buy a Jointer Plane (i.e. “Try Plane”)


A jointer plane, or “Try” plane, is an essential “bench plane” for truing the edges of boards, especially for gluing them together or using as a reference face for marking & measuring. You can also use it as a “Fore Plane”, to flatten board surfaces if you don’t want to purchase a dedicated No. 6 Fore Plane. Wood bodied jointer planes are excellent if you want to spend the time making or refurbishing one sufficiently.


But I recommend that beginners start out with a vintage No. 7 metal jointer plane, and as I mentioned above I prefer Stanley jointer planes that were manufactured before World War II. For those who can afford it I also recommend the Lie-Nielsen No. 7 Metal jointer plane (here).

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Millers Falls and Veritas also make good bench planes, but I just haven’t used their bench planes very oftten. I actually recommend that you don’t buy a metal jointer plane with a “corrugated sole”, even though they are more rare and popular. Some people think it was a marketing gimmick.


Either way, I find that the edge of the board occasionally catches on the corrugations (or ridges)…it just doesn’t feel as stable as a flat sole. It’s easier to flatten a corrugated sole, but that’s been the only benefit that I have discovered in my experience. One reader sent me a message notifying me that he discovered that resinous pitch pine is much simpler to plane with a corrugated sole, since there is not as much gum to drag the plane. If you plane resinous wood, then get a handplane with a corrugated sole!

A flat soled 1910 Stanley Bailey jointer plane would be an ideal jointer plane for the novice or expert. You can always buy a No. 6 fore plane later on if you wish. A No. 8 jointer plane is a bit heavy, but also a great option.


Buy a Block Plane

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Often called the workhorse of planes, the block plane is used for truing up end grain on boards ends, creating chamfers on edges, trimming tenons, etc.  It’s not a collector’s favorite tool, but most traditional woodworkers use a block plane more than most other planes. I recommend a low angle block plane so you can work difficult end grain more easily. 

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

I really, really love my Lie-Nielsen low-angle Rabbet Block Plane. When I first attended The Woodwright’s School I was shocked that instructor Bill Anderson would spend $175 for such a little handplane. But he explained that he uses it more than any other plane, which I quickly discovered was true when he let me use it throughout the “bench work week” class. Needless to say, I bought one within a few days, and I really do use it constantly. It gets into tight spaces and can work as a rabbet plane…I love it so much!

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Unlike other block planes, the blade extends from side to side, allowing you to use the plane for many more purposes, such as trimming tenons.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

I also like the Stanley No. 65, No. 60-1/2, & No. 9-1/2 block planes (though not as much as my Lie-Nielsen). The Lie-Nielsen No. 60-1/2 low angle block plane and the  Lie-Nielsen No. 102 low angle block plane are very popular with traditional woodworkers, although they don’t have as many uses as my rabbet block plane.

Buy a Combination Plane


Cutting rabbets, tongues, grooves, shoulders, dados, beads, & moldings  is such a huge part of traditional woodworking and joinery. Think drawers, boxes, frame & panel doors, etc.


So should you buy a dedicated rabbet plane (rabbet joint down the grain), a plow plane,  a tongue & groove plane set, a dado plane, a moving fillister plane (across grain for shoulders), beading planes, and molding planes? Or should you buy the Swiss Army Knife of planes: The Combination plane? A Combination plane uses a multitude of interchangeable cutters, or blades with different shapes.

In this episode of The Woodwright’s Shop, Roy Underhill runs a combination plane side-by-side with each type of dedicated plane to see how good a job a combination plane can do at replacing the other planes:

He concludes that even though the combination plane isn’t always a perfect substitute for all of the above-mentioned planes, it is certainly suitable for many of them…a good solution for beginner woodworkers.

***If you can afford multiple dedicated planes, then I recommend that you actually purchase the dedicated planes over a combination plane (especially a plow plane, rabbet plane, & matched planes/tongue & groove plane). They do a better job. But if you don’t have a ton of extra cash, then you can learn how to make the combination plane work.

The quintessential combination planes are the Stanley 45 and the Stanley 55 (can do 10 more things, I think). I own several Stanley 45 combination planes (a couple are being restored) and I like them, but don’t love them. It can be used for cutting grooves, rabbets, shoulders, and other tasks, but I still recommend to start off purchasing a dedicated tongue & groove plane, molding planes, & beading planes (all mentioned below) in addition to a Stanley 45 combination plane.

If you want to learn how to choose, refurbish, and use combination planes and many other joinery planes, then purchase the DVD that I released with Popular Woodworking Magazine called “Choosing, Refurbishing & Using Joinery Handplanes with Bill Anderson” (click here to purchase):


Here’s a preview of the video:


Buy a Tongue & Groove Plane

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Above I mentioned that a Stanley 45 combination plane can certainly cut tongue & groove joinery, but a dedicated tongue & groove plane, like the Stanley No. 48 Tongue & Groove Plane, saves a lot of time and frustration. I love my Stanley No. 48, especially because the fence flips when you’re finished with cutting the groove and allows you to seamlessly cut the tongues! I’ve also used the Stanley No. 148 “Come & Go” Tongue & Groove Plane, but didn’t like it quite as much as the Stanley No. 48. Good think too, because they’re rarer & a bit more expensive. You can also checkout the antique Stanley No. 49 planes if you’re planning on using 1/2″ thick boards.


The Lie-Nielsen Tongue & Groove Planes are based off the Stanley No. 48 and No. 49 planes. But the Lie-Nielsen planes are $195 each and a vintage Stanley No. 48 or 49 plane will sell for around $20-$100. Besides, it’s super easy to restore a Stanley No. 48 or 49.

Buy a Large and Small Router Plane


I use router planes all the time to cut dado joints (see my tutorial here) and clean up tenon cheeks. In fact, this plane could easily be placed in the “urgent” section. No, a router plane is not similar to a power router at all. Router planes are very useful and necessary for cleaning out dado joints (for shelves) and mortise bottoms, for creating a level base for decorative inlays, leveling tenon cheeks, cutting out mortises for hinges, etc. I use a beautiful 1901 Stanley No. 71 Router Plane, and have really loved it. It was also simple and enjoyable to restore. There isn’t a lot that can go wrong with a router plane. But it has shown some limitations. The blade wouldn’t reach to the bottom of my 1 inch deep mortise that I’d chiseled on a 17th century jointer plane I was building. So I used a friend’s Lie-Nielsen large router plane and it reached just fine. I’m not sure if a longer blade is available for my Stanley No. 71 because they’re not super easy to find. A lot of people struggle to find different size blades. But the price may be worth the limitation. One funny note: my collar kept coming loose, so I did some research and discovered that it was upside down! After flipping it over, the problem was solved. So if you own a Stanley No. 71 router plane and your iron keeps coming loose, just flip the collar over!


But fortunately the new Lie-Nielsen Large Router Plane is fairly affordable at $140 (at least compared with their bench planes). Just make sure you buy the closed throat version so you can use the router plane on board edges. Many of the Stanley No. 71 router planes are selling for not much less than that. I have yet to test out the Veritas router plane, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it has a better selection of blades than Lie-Nielsen. The Veritas blades are also less expensive than Lie-Nielsen’s router plane blades.


I also use a small Stanley No. 271 small router plane. It’s perfect for routing out shallow mortises for hinges and inlay. You can buy them on eBay here (for around $30-$50). Another new option is the Lie-Nielsen No. 271 small router plane. You can buy it here (for around $80). You can also buy vintage wooden router planes (called “Old Woman’s tooth” or “Grandma’s tooth”) here on eBay or at a flea market.


If your skill level permits, then you can always try to build a wooden router plane with this tutorial.


Here are the best prices that I’ve found on router planes:

2. Semi-Urgent Hand Planes (Buy these next)

This is a list of  hand tools that are very useful, but that may not be absolutely necessary for beginner’s projects.

Buy a Low Angle Jack Plane

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

If you’re interested in working difficult figured wood grain, planing a lot of end grain (like on butcher blocks), or using a shooting board to true your ends & edges, then this simple hand plane should move to your urgent list. Even though it’s a professional plane, the low angle configuration is simpler than the complex frog on bench planes. It is actually a good plane to start out with.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

It can also do most everything that your normal jack plane can do. Rather than spending $200-$400 on the vintage (and highly sought-after) Stanley No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane, I’d recommend just buying the beautiful Lie-Nielsen No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane for $245.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

It arrives in perfect condition (and sharp) and costs less than the vintage Stanley No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane (what the Lie-Nielsen plane was inspired by). Plus, the Lie-Nielsen is an improved-upon version of the Stanley No. 62. Mine planes like it was made by angles.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Buy Molding Planes

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

Antique beech wood molding planes have recently become one of my greatest obsessions. Molding planes are the traditional method for cutting decorative figures into furniture, tool box skirts, baseboards, crown molding, etc. I couldn’t believe how satisfying it was the first time I planed a molding into a board! Here’s the two planes that I’d recommend starting out with (don’t worry, they’re just the “gateway drugs” to buying more molding planes):

  • A 1/8″, 3/16″ or 1/4″ “Side Bead” Plane for creating decorative beading along an edge. I use it for creating the “bead board” look on tongue & groove box bottoms & cabinet backs. Read Megan Fitzpatrick’s great article on Side Beads.
  • A complex molder (e.g. Ovolo, Ogee, or Sash profile). Just choose a molding profile that you like.


There are so many companies & individuals that used to make molding planes in the 18th & 19th centuries, so I’m not going to list any here. Just keep your eyes open for any major splits, cracks, or smashes. Also look at the thin boxwood inserts on the bottom of the plane to make sure they’re not coming loose. Finally, make sure that the parts are all present (plane, iron, wedge) and that they fit snugly into the plane body. Here are some good places to find these molding planes:

Buy a shoulder plane


Shoulder planes are used for trimming & improving cut joinery (e.g. shoulders, tenons, grooves, & rabbets). I had been warned from multiple sources to not purchase vintage shoulder planes as their machined bodies may be “out of true”, and difficult to refurbish. So I purchased a Lie-Nielsen medium shoulder plane and enjoyed it…for awhile.


However it wasn’t versatile enough for cutting larger rabbets & tenon shoulders, so I sold it and purchased the Lie-Nielsen No. 73 Large Shoulder Plane, which has given given me better surface coverage on tenons and wider cuts when making moldings.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

I also have the Lie-Nielsen Rabbet Block Plane which also works for trimming tenons.

Buy a No. 3 Smoothing Plane

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

I really like the size of the No. 3 smoothing plane. It allows me to get into some tight spots and may not skip over some difficult grain that a larger No. 4 smoother may miss.

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

An adult man can grip the handle with ease (unlike the No. 1 and No. 2 Stanley smoothers). They’re pretty affordable, so give one a try:


Buy a Dedicated Plow Plane


Grooves are one of the most common joints that you will cut on many furniture projects (drawer & box bottoms, cabinet backs, etc.) so I recommend buying some sort of plow plane. Fortunately, everyone used plow planes, so they can be found for very low prices. In the “urgent” section I suggested that you can purchase a popular “Combination Plane” (like theStanley No. 45) which performs many functions. But if you cut a lot of grooves, a dedicated plow plane does a better job.


You you look into buying a simple metal plow plane (Stanley No. 248, Stanley No. 46, or Stanley No. 50), or a beautiful antique wooden screw arm plow plane (my favorite because the fence stays rigidly in place after you set it).


Just make sure the wooden screw threads aren’t overly damaged. If there are a couple dings in the threads, then it’ll work fine. But if 3 or more consecutive rows of threads are damaged, then it will not tighten and will be too difficult (for most people) to repair. Before buying a screw arm plow plane, make sure you inspect the threads that are hidden under the screw knob. Often broken threads are hidden close to the plane. So if you buy online, ask for photos of all the threads.


If you’re on a tight budget, then go with one of the simple antique Stanley metal plow planes (No. 248, No. 46, No. 50, etc.). Most vintage plow planes will do a great job plowing grooves. But if you want a fantastic plow plane, go for a wooden screw arm plow plane with a variety of cutters. It shouldn’t cost you more than $150, unless it’s made of some exotic wood.

Buy a Rabbet Plane or Moving Fillister Plane


When cutting rabbets, a dedicated rabbet plane is superior to a combination plane, especially if it has a skewed (angled) iron for cross grain cutting. Below you’ll see a rabbet plane with a straight iron (on top) and a rabbet plane with a skewed iron (on bottom).


But, in my opinion, a moving fillister plane is superior to all other rabbet cutting planes. Why? Because it has an adjustable fence, a slicing nicker (slices the cross grain fibers just ahead of the iron), and an adjustable depth stop.


I own a classic wooden moving fillister plane, but there are a couple vintage and new fillisters that are highly popular. Those include the vintage Stanley No. 289 Moving fillister plane and the modern Veritas moving fillister plane (called the Skew Rabbet Plane). You can read Chris Schwarz’s review of this new plane here and buy it here. I have not yet tested out either of these metal moving fillister planes, so search around to see what other people say.

3. Non-Urgent Hand Planes (Nice to have)

This list of non-urgent hand planes reflects my experience getting started out. You may find that you need some of these tools earlier on, depending on the projects you decide to build.

Smaller Bench Planes (No. 1 & No. 2)

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

These smaller & lighter planes are either for youngsters or very specialized small work. They’re pretty much useless, unless you’ve got a very niche job for them. Vintage No. 1 and No. 2 Stanley bench planes are very expensive because they were not produced in the large volumes of the other bench planes. Collectors like to “complete” their set of planes and so the price goes up. But the price doesn’t reflect how much you’ll use these planes. Yes, I’d be thrilled to receive a No. 1 or No. 2 Stanley plane as a gift, but I probably wouldn’t use them…or I’d let my kids use them. If you want to see the absurdly high prices on these planes, then here are some links:

Fore Plane (No. 6)

© Joshua T. Farnsworth

As previously mentioned a “fore plane” is just the right size for flattening the surface of a board. It’s a strange size between a Jack plane and a Jointer plane. In fact, a Jack Plane is sometimes considered a fore plane. It can also be used as a jointer. Uh, anyways. If you don’t want to use your jointer plane for flattening boards, then go ahead and find a fore plane (which is shorter than a jointer plane). If all you can find is a Stanley No. 6, then I’m sure it’ll work just fine as a jointer plane, and perhaps a Jack plane. Confused? Me too.

Scrub Plane
Photo courtesy of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

Photo courtesy of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

Scrub planes are very useful for removing a lot of wood very quickly with their highly cambered (arc) iron/blade. Christopher Schwarz has a good article on scrub planes (here). The reason why I am including a scrub plane under the Non-urgent section is because you can easily use a jack plane for the same purpose, and all you have to do is buy an additional blade for cambering. This is why I don’t own a scrub plane. But some people still really prefer to have a dedicated scrub plane. Here are a couple scrub planes that are popular among woodworkers:

Hollows & Rounds Planes


Wanna go totally traditional and create your own moldings from scratch? I’ve been lusting big time over a half set (18 planes) of even sized Beech Hollows and Rounds! Now you don’t need to buy a half set, but that’s the dream…right?

In this Woodwright’s Shop video Bill Anderson shows Roy Underhill how to cut beautiful moldings with hollows & rounds:

Descent vintage half sets are fairly difficult to find (full sets are even more difficult…but you don’t really need a full set) so I just have my sites set on a making a half set, looking for obscure collectors, or eventually buying a half set from M.S. Bickford (one of the few people who make hollows & rounds now). The reason I don’t have a set yet? They cost $3,750 for a new half set and around $1,000 for vintage. It would probably cost me more if I decided to take time to make them myself! But I bought this DVD (“Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes“) in hopes of learning how to make them. Here’s another great article on molding planes.

Other Non-Urgent “Special Purpose” Hand Planes


There are a vast amount of other special-purpose hand planes that I don’t have the time to mention in detail here. I will however compile a list of them below as they come to mind (let me know if you think of some). As you progress in your skill level you’ll encounter projects that require specialty hand planes (or may just make a project easier), and you can conduct further research at that time. Until then, my above fundamental list should give you a great head start!

List of some other specialty hand planes:



Next I’ll cover buying hand saws…

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