Buying a Plane
Paul Sellers recommends the Bailey-pattern #4 as it usually suits the build or stature of most people, if you have a slightly smaller stature, the #3 might suit better. Paul uses the #4 and #4½ the most. The ½ refers to the extra width, so these planes are both the same in length, but the #4½ is slightly wider. Refrain from buying any with previous breaks in the handle. Although these can be repaired, the fix is very rarely permanent under heavy use. When looking for breaks, see if you can see any horizontal split lines, these will most likely be nearer to the base of the handle but not always. Also, the horn at the top of the handle needs to be fully intact as this prevents the hand from slipping upwards under heavier planing thrusts. eBay is often a good place to find planes secondhand. It is wise to buy a bevel-down plane as these can do all the same things as a bevel-up plane (but not vice versa). The most common one is a bevel-down, however if it is a bevel-up then it will likely specify this in the name/description. The bevel-up plane is sometimes preferred for more refined work and although used the same way as bevel-down planes it has more limited uses. They are also often more expensive than bevel-down planes which are more widely available on secondhand markets. Stanley planes are a good make recommended by Paul Sellers as are Record. When purchasing a plane, look for the length of the blade, if it is roughly the same height as the handle, you will have plenty of life left in it that way. If it is short then you will have to replace the blade sooner or even straight away which adds costs.
To view the parts of a plane, click here.
We purchased this Bailey #4 secondhand from eBay for £29.50 with £3.50 delivery*.
*Prices correct as of December 2017
Update January 2022
We purchase the Spear & Jackson CSP4 No. 4 Smoothing Plane from Amazon for £19.16* with free shipping in January 2022. When it arrived Paul sharpened the blade and the sole was flattened. Paul would also add a bevel to the back edge. This plane doesn’t work “out of the box” but with some setting-up it looks to be a good working plane.
*Prices checked October 2022
Setting Up and Sharpening a Plane
Note: Be careful when sharpening as the tools will become very sharp, always face the blade away from you when sharpening. To jump straight to ‘Sharpening’, click here. Setting up If your plane has plastic handles, you might be able to feel a seam down the middle where the two halves of the handle are…
Using a Plane
Note: When the plane is in between uses, Paul recommends that you should keep it upright with the blade against the benchtop, contrary to popular opinion. This way is not considered the norm, as they often used to teach in schools to lay it on its side. This was thought to protect the blade from…
The Plane Guide
There are many different types of tools under the term plane which all have a blade fixed at an angle inside a metal or wooden body, some of which include: Over time the term bench plane has been shortened to be known as ‘plane’, however it is important to remember that this is in fact…
To read more on planes, we recommend the following from Paul’s blog:
Before I found you I purchased a #5 Stanley plane that had the manufactured grooves in the bottom and one of the wings broken off. It there any way to make it a usable plane again?
Thank you for your comment. I have passed this onto Paul and put his reply below:
My suggestion for corrugated soles is to not use them. Unfortunately the idea was good but in practice it grabs the shavings and they wedge in the grooves and often damages the very surface you want to make smooth. You can use just about everything on the plane to retro fit on other planes or you could just find a plane sole on eBay as they often come up for sale. The broken wing really confirms it for me that you should replace the sole.
I am asking for advice. I’m thinking about buying a new Stanley # 4 (it’s cheaper than being used on eBay). In the guide you recommend buying used. Are the new Stanley planes poor in quality? I know that their hinges are plastic and that’s the only difference to my eye. Best wishes.
I asked your question to Paul and his answer is below:
No you can get these to work just fine. They just feel tinny because of the plastic handles which can be replaced with wooden ones. (See Paul’s blog on it here)
Now everything is clear to me.
Thank you for the explanation.
Using an ECE Try Plane freshly sharpened, I can’t get a long wispy shaving on my plank for my white oak bench top build. It just digs in an the plane stops. I back off and the plane won’t take any shavings…very frustrating! I can go diagonally to the grain with the ECE Scrub, a narrow bladed 1 inch wide or so and heavily rounded edge. The board is heavily crowned and I’m trying to remove the crown to flatten the wide face. The board is 12 inches wide, 2 inches thick and about 66 inches long.
Paul says: It’s really hard to say without having the plane in my hand. You may be backing it off too much and over correcting, sometimes it’s necessary to practise more with some tools than others.
Hi Paul and Izzy,
I’ve bought a second hand Stanley Handyman n°4. I had quite a hard time planing the sole. Therefore I’m considering converting it into a scrub plane.
I’m looking for another n°4. In France, where I live, you can find new Stanley Bailey n°4 for around 55 to 60£ not that much more expensive that what you can get on second hand on eBay once you consider the delivery fees. Indeed, most planes come from the UK. I have heard that those new planes are not quite as good as the old models. Would you recommend to buy it ?
Thanks for everything
I feel the same way about these newer models, the older ones are definitely better and of course the Stanley Handyman range was a dumbed down version that should never have emerged. Personally I would go for a mid 20th century or earlier Stanley because they will last you for your whole lifetime. I doubt that anybody has used a no4 plane anywhere in the world as much as I have and I’m still using mine 55 years on. It’s a great investment.
Thanks for the answer. Is a conversion to scrub plane a suitable end for my handyman or should I just get rid of it and buy two number 4 and convert one?
Thanks again for the time you take to answer us.
You have nothing to lose using the handyman plane because it’s of little value or use to you anyway. Just try it and see how it feels.
I’m glad I’ve found all this infos and first of all I want to thank you for your hard work.
I have an issue… As other wrote above, I’ve seen the Stanley Bailey but reviews are a chorus of “it’s much worst then the old ones”. A new one is about 80 euro here in Italy where I live.
Now I have two options:
1) buying a Stanley 4 premium (about 125 euro)
2) buying an old Stanley Bailey on ebay and hope to “fix” it to work properly
I’m an absolute beginner. I’m scared I won’t be able to do the last thing or judge if I have done it properly.
I really like to have your opinion: it would be my first woodworking tool ever.
Are there other brands you would recommend?
Just do the latter. You won’t regret throwing yourself in the deep end. You can do this.
Hi, I would like to start buying some second hand planes and build up a collection. A little confused when I see adverts for Stanley No4 smoothing plane, and then others as a Stanley No4. (Were they built and marketed specifically for a purpose, ie Smoothing or Scrub?) I appreciate that a No4 can be used also as a scrub plane. But is this all to do with how they are set up, and the blade? In which case, it would make sense to have one for each purpose, not change the settings each time? Thanks and hope the questions make sense?
I prefer the two set ups. They are one and the same plane with a modified blade transformed by the owner.You can also just buy a spare blade too and use the same plane body.
Izzy and Paul!
I have a question about buying a Stanley planer. Above Paul said: “Personally I would go for the mid 20th century or earlier Stanley because they will last you for your whole lifetime.” And how do I know I’m buying a planer from that period? On Ebay, they usually don’t report the date of manufacture.
There really isn’t any point in looking for a specific manufacture date. Paul probably meant that the pre-war Stanleys were made in the USA and had rosewood handle and tote. They really are lovely to use but the newer Stanleys (beech handle) work just as well. We usually refine the handle a little to get rid of the hard corners, and the varnish tends to be flaking off so we refinish altogether. The vast majority that come up on ebay will have the beech handles and that’s what I personally go by when looking for a bench plane.
Hope that helps!
Sorry for my below average English. I’m looking for advice on a second hand plane I spotted. It’s a Stanley-Bailey No 4, and looks interesting to my untrained eye. The plane is posted on a Belgian second hand site. I’m not sure on the best practices concerning including links to other sites, so I won’t include that here. If anyone could spare the time to take a look at the pictures I will happily provide the link to them.
About the now reccomended Spear & Jackson plane.
Would it be superior in any way to the Silverline nº 4 Paul reviewed in his blog (Import planes I-V) or just about the same quality.
Hi Paul & Izzy
I have it in my mind that I saw some video footage about a month ago of Paul working on the S&J No4 Plane which you refer to above. Is this still available, please? Or have I imagined it? On the strength of the video I bought one on Amazon 2 weeks ago and wanted to show my son how to get a basic plane in working order as his first plane.
Thanks for these basic guides, they are really helpful for me, and others by the sound of the comments.