A plane by any other name…

Searching eBay or the web for planes, or plane information is helped if you know what to look for in other languages. Below is a list of potential search terms in other languages. Some of the terms are similar, for example that of a smoothing and a block plane. This is often because “block planes” as a type evolved more in North America – in fact R.A. Salaman’s  “Dictionary of Woodworking Tools” specifies a block plane as being “a range of metal planes about 3-7 in long“. As such this type never really evolved in Europe, not as a wooden plane anyway, and most European words for planes relate to wooden planes. Remember, this is only a guide derived from old European catalogs, books, and information on the internet.


Provenance of cloned woodworking planes

Few Rhykenologists would likely admit to collecting planes with a label such as Craftsman, or Dunlap – cloned planes made for catalog companies such as Sears – by toolmakers such as Stanley, Sargent and Millers Falls. However such planes are often not much different from their company brethren, except they have a different name stamped onto them. Vintage catalog-type planes were quality made tools. The trick with any of these planes is deriving their provenance, more so than branded planes. Provenance usually implies manufacturer, model and date of manufacturer. With branded planes it is more often the case of identifying the version of a particular plane. Often there is very little written about these clone planes, except for a non-descript catalog picture. Tracing the origin of such a plane is not as trivial as it seems, and requires access to vintage or reprint catalogs, and some forensic work. Below is an example of an original Sargent catalog from 1926.


For Stanley planes there is the the ubiquitous Patrick’s Blood and Gore, or for Millers Falls OldToolHeaven, but beyond that online resources can be sparse, especially when it comes to planes like block planes, or combination planes – a great resource for the latter is Cornish Workshop.

Other than catalogs, it’s good to have access to books such as:
* David. E. Heckel, Sargent Planes Identification and Value Guide (2nd ed.) (2004)
* Clarence Blanchard, Antique Trader Tools Price Guide (2nd ed.), (2007) ISBN:978-0-89689-519-5
* Ronald S. Barlow, The Antique Tool Collector’s Guide to Value, (1991) ISBN:0-933846-01-0
* R.A. Salaman, Dictionary of Tools used in the woodworking and allied trades c.1700-1970, (1975) ISBN: 0-684-14535-9

Deriving the provenance of cloned planes requires a knowledge of the physical characteristics of similar planes, often obtained from catalogs.

Classifying the condition of tools – a visual analogy

When buying a vintage tool, how do you classify the condition of the tool? The easiest way of course is via some classification system, such as the one outlined by The Fine Tool Journal. But what do each of these categories look like visually?


It is relatively easy to distinguish the New/Fine and Fair/Poor ratings, the Good ratings are somewhat more challenging. Honestly, don’t buy tools in the Fair/Poor category unless you want to engage in heavy restoration work. Note that the visual analogies below are only an approximation.

New tool is completely functional, the surface of the tool is 100% metal with no rust, any wood has its original finish, no wear or need to repair. Here is an example – a new Veritas Apron block plane.


New : Veritas apron block plane

A fine tool may have a trace of rust, and a finish that is greater than 90% intact. On wood parts there may be some edges slightly rounded, parts may show a dark patina, maybe with a slight cracklature in the finish.  There is minimal wear and no repairs. Here are two examples, a Millers Falls No.206 and a Sargent No.5206. The MF No.206 has a trace of rust on the depth adjustment lever, whilst the Sargent No.5206 has slight wear on the anodized sole of the plane.


Fine : (a) Millers Falls No.206; (b) Sargent No.5206

A good+ rating on a tool means it may need some tuning, has some light rust, and a finish which is 75-90% intact. Wood parts have a well-patinated appearance, may have minor surface stress. Wear is normal with minor or no repair, a few dings and scratches. Here are two examples: a Millers Falls No.7, and a Stanley No.18. The Millers Falls No.07 below has some slight rust in the cross-hatched area of the lever cap, and the blade depth adjustment mechanism. The metal of the body has some patina, yet the Japanning is at least 90%. The nickel plating on the lever cap is nearly 100%, and there are no parts missing (which is often the case in skew block planes). The Stanley No.18 has some tarnishing on the lever-cap, slight rust on the mouth-adjustment lever, and retains approximately 75% of its Japanning.


Good+ : (a) Millers Falls No.07; (b) Stanley No.18

good rating has 50-75% of the finish left, with light rust, and light to moderate use. For this rating there are four examples: a Sargent No.206 (Type 2), a Stanley Excelsior 9 1/2, a Sargent No.306, and a Stanley No.102.  The Sargent No.206 has light rust, predominantly on the body of the block plane under the blade, and regions where the finish has worn off. Regions of the plane that are regularly handled have more patina, a sign of extensive use. Japanning on this plane may be close to 50, especially on the lever cap. There are no missing or broken parts except a few minor chips on the mouth opening, which will not impede its function. The Stanley Excelsior similarly has some regions of light rust, although some restoration and a coating of lacquer seems to have stalled the rusts progress. There seems to be extensive loss of Japanning, and some moderate wear on the screw for the blade adjustment mechanism.


Good : (a) Sargent 306; (b) Stanley Excelsior 9 1/2

The Sargent No.306 has 75-85% of it’s original Japanning, but only 70% of the nickel-plating on the lever cap. The body is generally free of rust, except for the lever adjustment mechanism, which also has traces of red paint on it. There are some traces of rust forming on the underside of the lever cap. Minimal wear, the metal of the body has a dark patina. The Stanley No.102 has a body with near perfect Japanning, yet a lever cap with maybe 10% left,  (lowering it’s overall finish %) yet the plane has only small traces of rust.


Good : (c) Sargent No.306; (d) Stanley No.102

A good- is probably usable, has moderate rust and pitting, and only 30-50% of the finish left. If the plane has wood it is likely refinished or has warping, chips, minor splitting, some patination, prominent staining or discolouration. The wear is moderate to heavy, repairs (if present) are correct. Below is a Fulton block plane, with significant loss of finish, and semi-moderate rust. The finish on the wooden knob is cracked and chipping off. It is possible to restore this plane, but it will require restoration of the entire finish.


Good- : Fulton block plane

A tool rated as fair has a maximum of 30% of the finish left, but more often than not 10-20%. It is likely not usable, has moderate to heavy rust and serious pitting. The wood shows poor refinishing; extreme discolouration with warping, splits, major cracks, or chunks missing. The plane shown below (Capewell), would require serious restoration of every component. There is very little finish left on the lever-cap, the plane body is encrusted with a heavy layer of rust, and pitting.


Fair : Capewell block plane

A poor rating usually implies that the tool is not usable. There is no finish left on the tool and the metal has major rust and heavy pitting. The wood has rot, and a rough surface. Wear is excessive, the tool is damaged or missing major parts. Here is a case in point.


Poor : A Stanley No.103

Woodworking tools and handmade knives in Iceland

There is one place to buy tools in downtown Reykjavik – an old fashioned hardware store that had a bit of everything. Open since 1919, BRYNJA is a mom-and-pop type store that sells everything from scissors, and hinges to “exotic” knives handcrafted by local artisan and Iceland’s only professional knife maker, Palli Kristjánsson. Kristjánsson has a workshop in Álafosskvos, Mosfellsbær, about 15 minutes north of Reykjavik. He uses high quality imported blades such as Damascus steel, and handcrafts handles from reindeer antlers, hooves and bones from sheep and cow, whale tooth and bones. The workshop is located in a small community of artisans – there is also a great cafe, and the Álafoss Wool Store.


The rarest of block planes?

So you’re a block plane  aficionado as well? Here is a list of some of the rarest which fall into the “collector” category. Hard to know what the value is on some of them. Here are some value indicators from Jim Bode Tools:

  • Bailey Defiance No.B (100% japanning) – $3000
  • Bailey Defiance No.B (60% japanning) – $525
  • Victor No. 1 1/4 block plane – $730
  • Victor No. 000 – $351
  • Bailey Little Victor – $341
  • Metallic Plane Co. EXCELSIOR – $481
  • Birmingham No.102 – $201

And also some from Antiques of a Mechanical Nature:

  • Victor 12 1/2 – $650
  • Victor 12 – $695
  • Victor 0 1/2 – $395
  • Stanley Type 2 No. 110 – $395

Bailey Tool Company: Defiance Planes

  • B, D, E, F block planes

Fig.1: Defiance B/D block plane


Fig.2: Defiance E/F block plane

Victor Planes (Leonard Bailey)

  • Block planes: 0, 0-1/2, 00, 000, 1, 1-1/4, 1-1/2, 1-3/4, 2, 2-1/4, 2-1/2, 2-3/4
  • Pocket block planes: 12, 12-1/4, 12-1/2
  • ‘Little Victor’ block plane: 50, 50-1/2, 51, 51-1/2, 52

Fig.3: Bailey “Victor” block planes

Ohio block planes

  • 9-5/8, 15-5/8, 9-3/4, 15-1/2, 16, 17

Preston block planes

  • 1343, 118, 1120, 1110, 1220, 1339, 1356, 1360

Sargent planes

  • Type 1: 106, 107, 206, 207, 316, 317, 1316, 1317, 4306, 4307, 5306, 5307
  • 316, 317, 1316, 1317

Fig 4: Sargent type 1 – 306/307

Birmingham Plane Co. (1885-1900)

  • Iron block plane: 3-1/4″, 4″, 5-3/8″
  • Adjustable iron block plane: 5-5/16″, 7″

Metallic Plane Co.

  • 6, 6-1/2″, 7, 8, 9

Boston Metallic Plane Co.

  • Iron block plane: 6-7/8″, 8 -7/8″

Knapp Iron block plane: 7″


Meriden Malleable Iron Co. (1883-1888)

  • Adjustable iron block plane 5-15/16″
  • Novelty toy size iron block 4-11/16″

Meriden Planes (Otis Smith)

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


  • #0, #1/2, #1  block plane
  • Model Maker’s block planes (#0, #1/2, #1)

Standard Rule Co. (1883-1888)

  • Iron block planes: 102, 103, 110, 120

Fig 5: Stanley “iron” block planes


  • Iron block plane 5″, adjustable iron block plane 6 1/2″

Fig 6: A pair of Spiers block planes (http://www.antiquewoodworkingtools.co.uk)

Companies like the “Birmingham Plane Co.” were in business for only 15 years, so it’s not surprising that their planes are rare. Knobs and lever caps are often quite ornate in older planes (pre-1900), as in the case of the Victor planes.


Fig 7: A knob from a Victor block plane.

The first metallic vise flange

Where did the metallic flange on wooden Vises come from? A copy of Building Age from March 1885 describes a “Patent Metallic Vise Flange” from Ohio Tool Company. It claimed the following advantages:

  • Negates the necessity of mortising the jaw of the vise which would weaken it.
  • Does away with the friction  and wear of the end of the head of the screw against the jaw of the vise.
  • Less strength is required in tightening.
  • The jaw is carried squarely and firmly.
  • The flange adds strength and durability to the vise.