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Justin from North Carolina wrote in and asked us, “What’s the cheapest way to get a few good, adjustable bench planes without awakening the rage of my significant other because I spent a huge wad of cash.”  Well, Justin, that depends greatly on which tools you consider “good” and how much cash you can throw at them.

Construction, materials, and adjustability largely determine how much a plane will go for.  You can buy a cheap non-adjustable plane for a few bucks.  A fully adjustable high rig, like the Lie-Nielsen pictured above, can run you $300 a pop, which’ll probably lead to the rage you spoke of earlier.

In short, you’ll probably have to make some trade-offs.  If you just want something that’ll work, any number of planes will do; but if you really need the Full Monty (something like the old Stanley Bedrock) you might have to save a while.  Off the tops of our heads we can’t think of any that are super-solid AND cheap — but the Toolmonger readership might be able to help.

Do you know of any planes out there that could fit Justin’s bill?  Let us know in comments.

No. 4 Bench Plane [Lie-Nielsen]
Street Pricing [Google Products]


14 Responses to Reader Question: A Good, Cheap Bench Plane?

  1. Adrian says:

    I’m just getting into woodworking and I bought my used #4 Stanley off ebay for $25. I’ve seen ones with Sweetheart blades in great condition go for about $30. Just make sure you ask questions and look carefully at the pictures.

  2. Jason says:

    I have always found my old planes at swap meets and garage sales. Usually they require some work to get them back onto top shape, but with a little TLC and some elbow grease, I have built a nice little collection of great planes on a fairly small budget.
    Like the previous poster stated, just make sure you ask questions look carefully before buying.

  3. I have a Stanley block plane and a Buck Bros Jack plane. I think I paid $20 for the Stanley and $40 for the Buck Bros.

    Both had to be sharpened right out of the package. After sharpening they worked pretty well but I was disappointed at how fast they dulled. It really made using either plane a pain.

    If this is a tool that you plan on using regularly, save yourself the frustration spend some money on a decent plane. You’re not going to find one at home depot, you might have to go to a second hand tool place or a place like Rockler or WoodCraft, or buy something online

    Forget the fancy features and shiny metal. Go for a plane with flat sole and a good iron that’ll hold a crisp edge for a while.

  4. BT says:

    Try a Groz. It’s India manufacture based on the Stanley design but as the guy at woodcraft put it “nobody told them that they are supposed to make crap”. You’ll need to tune it before use (flatten the sole etc. ) but that’s true of anything short of a Lie-Nielsen or Veritas.

  5. Norm says:

    Any decent bailey/stanley, millers fall or clifton plane found on ebay will serve you nicely. Just make sure you put a decent iron in the plane (buy a lie-neilsen or hock iron for best results). You will get the best of both worlds (cheap and a solid performer)

  6. Kris says:

    The are lots of good articles about tuning and using planes at this index: http://www.cianperez.com/Wood/WoodDocs/Wood_How_To/INDEX_How_To.htm. There are several good books on the subject as well, I have this one: http://www.amazon.com/Handplane-Book-Garrett-Hack/dp/1561581550/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227125177&sr=1-3. Good luck!

  7. bobk says:

    Estate sales and Auctions. Oftentimes, the “heirs” either don’t know the value or simply aren’t interested in anything to do with tools. Having said that, the prior mentioned caveats about asking questions and careful examination apply.


  8. Gary says:

    Personally, I don’t think there is such a thing as a good, cheap plane. Not without investing hours in lapping the sole, potentially the bottom of the frog, maybe working on the adjuster and replacing the iron (Hock or LN) and maybe even the chip breaker. I have a few vintage planes, they all work well (Stanley Baileys – but Miller Falls are good too), but I spent hours fettling them. If you factor in time and parts, vintage planes are no longer cheap, IMHO.

    I’ve bought vintage tools from eBay. No planes though. I like to handle them. There is too much you can’t see in a pic, but maybe that’s just me.

    BT mentioned Veritas. These are the Lee Valley planes. All of my non-vintage are Veritas. I do lap and sharpen the irons, but the soles were dead flat on arrival. They aren’t as attractive as the LN planes and they do diverge from the classic Stanley designs, but that’s ok. They’re tools. They’re also cheaper than LN. But I do keep looking at the LNs. Some of those bronze models…

    Veritas doesn’t offer all of the models Stanley produced over the years, so I may pick up a vintage here and there – dado planes for example. But I hope they’re working on it. Hmm. An adjustable Veritas dado plane with various width irons. I’d buy that.

    I used a Groz a friend bought and was not impressed. I think you’d have to spend as much time fettling a Groz as a vintage plane, but that’s just my opinion based on one plane.

    Tuning a vintage plane would be good for a new neander. Learn how the tool functions and make it better.

  9. aaron says:

    norm – i thought those old bailey blades were good?

    I’m also just getting into woodworking and just got a Bailey #5 off ebay (yet to arrive). I suppose I’ll see first hand how it goes. The Stanley 220 block I got was ok – needs a bit of lapping to get the mouth planed, but the sides seem square to the sole… have only used it a bit though, so I can’t say anything about how quickly the blade dulls.

    i don’t mind spending a bit of time fiddling with it to get it right, since I dont have $200+ to spend on these fancy (beautiful though!) new planes from veritas, LN, etc.

  10. Patrick says:

    Beginner woodworker myself, I picked up 3 Footprint (the British brand now India I think) from Sears online. I’m no stickler for perfection, but they are well constructed, variable angle planes, all around serviceable for my needs. And with a little tuning, I’m dead certain they’d be great planes. Not too expensive for the set either.

    But the minute my kid enters college, I’m blowing his inheritance or his mother’s retirement fund on some LNs & Veritas planes.

  11. Norm says:

    aaron – The old bailey blades are fine if you can find a stanley sweetheart iron or prior. The only real stipulation is that they must be free of pitting and the back must not be warped (try to lap that iron!). The quality of those irons very quickly degraded after the sweethearts, so you must know the age of your plane.

    Here is a great source on dating your stanley/bailey planes:

    With that said, the hock and LN irons/chip breakers are thicker and come in A2 and O1 treated. You get a superior chatter free cut with a great edge that lasts longer.

    Personally, I enjoy fixing up an old rusty plane and making it a solid user. If you factor in the amount of time it takes to get it fit for everyday use, you don’t save any money (time=money after all), but its a labor of love, right?

    Definitely avoid the Groz, Buck Brothers, Grizzly and Anant planes.

  12. Ted says:

    I bought a Bailey/Stanley block plane. I did not have to tune it much. But the blade was soft as butter. It was only bearable on soft pine. I would have to sharpen it after any use on hardwood. Before trying a replacement blade. I decided to try and heat treat it myself. Got it red hot with a torch and dropped it in water. The results were pretty good. The heat treatment caused the blade to cup a little. So the first sharpening took some time to get the edge profile back. But the blade is very hard now. Maybe a little too hard. If I were to do it again I would drop the red hot blade into oil instead of water for a more balanced treatment.

  13. Claud says:

    I bought a 6″ Buck Brothers Plane and it wouldn’t plane.
    It took a while but I found out that it was assembled wrong at the factory.
    If you bought one and it doesn’t work. Take it apart.
    check the blade and the other part screwed to it.
    If the bevel on the blade faces the other part, Turn the blade over and reset distance on holder.
    Reinstall unit and check for even on both sides of blade assembly. Put clamp down on and make sure it is snug. Then push down lever. Set depth of cut and try it again. It should work fine.
    Mine now works like a gem.
    Also, sharpen blade before use, using water stone or very fine grit sandpaper, stone is much better.

  14. Bill P. says:

    Here’s what I did.

    1. Bought an inexpensive Smoothing Plane from Grizzly on Amazon for about $45 (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000E326ZK/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1)

    2. Bought a Hock iron (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003ETTW9Y/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1) and chip breaker (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003373VBM/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1) for about $88.

    3. Put #2 into #1. I guarantee you, I now have a $130 smoothing plane that will stand up to just about anything you can put up against it.

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