When I say I am a tool junkie, I am not kidding. I love them.
More importantly, I love old tools.
Now, it has been some time since I have written on tools, tooling, or the like. Moreover, it seems like anyone who has ever swung a hammer has something to say about hand planes.
I am no exception it seems. Though I would like to point out that it has been nearly two years that The Madcap Woodwright has been a blog and I can’t for the life of me remember if I had EVER written about hand planes. I know I can scroll back through my previous posts and try to see if I had done a piece on them, but that seems too much like work. More to the point, it would require me to revisit some of my earlier, less finessed, pieces and I just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do that.
The above picture is of my beloved “Daily Driver” hand planes. Each is vintage. The #7 (the jointer plane/Longest plane) being 106 years old. The #5 (Jack plane/Medium length) and the #3 (Smoothy Plane/Smallest plane) are both from the early 1930’s
Each one is in superb condition for having such a long life thus far. Each has a flat-bed and complete complement of hardware. This is important as over the years these pieces sometimes tend to be modified and parts can sometimes get lost.
For example, My #7 Jointer plane is actually somewhat of a “franken-plane.”
It has a replacement front knob and also rear tote. The cap lever is also non-original as it is obviously japanned/painted from a previous owner and bears no manufacturer marking. Little things like this often driver collectors bat-shit-crazy. However, at least in my example above, a more than century old tool is still alive and kicking. Plus, either by happenstance or by design, the original cap lever’s replacement is actually of heavier, better quality. So since I have these planes to shave wood and not to collect or turn profit on E-bay, I appreciate the “up-grade.”
With the advent of foundries like Lie Nielson and boutique makers that hand craft superb tools, there are plenty of folks who ask why someone would ever consider buying such seemingly antiquated tools to work professionally when there are so many newer, and purportedly better, tools available.
It is for a number of reasons actually. Some practical, and some more romantic.
The first reason that comes to mind is that, despite their antiquity and implied rarity, these planes can be had for far, far less than their modern counterparts provided you are shopping for tools that are in “user” condition rather than “collector” condition. The above examples were acquired for the miserly sum of $150 for the trio.
I got lucky with the find, to be sure. They were found in exceptionally fine user condition. No collector would be all that interested as they show signs of having been refurbished/cleaned/modified. In other words, they had had their patina cleaned off, and had been modified for improved performance. These are working class antiques, not shop display queens.
Another reason to seek these out is the same as I had described with my early Delta stationary equipment. The materials used are of very high quality and crafted by old world plane makers, using traditional techniques, from an era when tools were developed and manufactured with long service life and durability as a primary selling point.
Lastly, there is just something about the feel of tools of this vintage. They just feel good in the hand, and are obviously happy to be put to work the way they were designed. It is a little difficult to describe, but tools this old just feel more willing to be used. They don’t have the feel of a tool that was made to be admired and put on a shelf to be looked at. A tool to only be used sparingly for fear of any sort of damage. At the risk of anthropomorphizing the planes any further, they are just so willing to be used that they beg for it.
The notion that modern planes are better and much better than their ancestors is , in my view, a bit subjective. Given the relative low-cost, the comparable material and build quality, and the intangible benefits of keeping these tools working and useful, I fail to see any reason not to keep them as primary day-to-day tools.
Sure, I would love a full complement of Lie Nielson Stanley Bedrock clones to admire and show off. What self-respecting tool junkie and woodworker wouldn’t? But for my needs, my daily forays into Neanderthal woodworking, I like my very vintage Stanley Bailey #3-#5-& #7 just fine thank you very much.