Something I have wanted to post on for a while. Next week I will be using a Stanley #4 at the Baltimore MD Masterclasses I will be teaching for The Woodworking Shows show. It’s an eBay find for £8 – $12. This plane is and always was an amazing tool in and of itself with no retrofits of metal components at all.

Prepping your plane

Here is my technique for prepping a number four and other Bailey-pattern planes you may own. I hope that this knocks your socks off. No body’s done it before so watch carefully.

First off, how many of you know that you can easily bend most metal-cast planes by merely flexing the handles? This then changes the shape of the sole and many craftsmen I grew up with did this all the time when they were jointing the edges of boards. None of the planes were straight just as many new models made with heavy castings may not remain flat even though factory tested before being shipped. Truth is steel changes according to exchanges of heat and exposure to extreme temperatures is when the greatest change takes shape. Pun intended.

What we aim for is a general goal of flatness and then we work with our planes at a personal and relational level. That’s why it is a rare occurrence to pick up someone else’s plane and feel comfortable with it straight off. Now all of that should help you understand your own plane and the need to develop a thorough and insightful relationship directly through working it.

Following are the steps guaranteed to flatten the sole based on the fact that soles flex with even hand pressure. That is why, when Clifton flattens the soles of their planes they never apply more than 12 pounds of pressure to any part of the plane.

Flattening the sole needs to be done from time to time because they wear in different parts of the sole depending on use and user. This must be

Testing your plane for flex

If you want to test your planes flex, here is a simple enough test I put together simply to show that they do. Suspend the extreme ends of the plane on two hard, non-compressing surfaces. Here, I am using two steel-stocked squares.



Cut a wedge that tapers shallowly and is wide enough to engage the under edge of the plane as shown. With no pressure, slide the wedge under the plane until you feel engagement and with a sharp pencil make a mark.






Now, having removed the wedge, press the plane in the centre and slide in the wedge. Now you can see that it doesn’t take a lot of pressure to alter you sole and you will understand why I am emphasizing this key point in both sole flattening and plane use.










Actual flattening or lapping

The plane must be fully loaded with the cutting iron assembly and under the same general pressure you use in daily use. This varies from craftsman to craftsman so there is no torque-wrench test to govern you.

If necessary, clean off the surface of the sole using abrasive paper on a flat plate of thick, float glass or a dead flat tile. Here, I am using 120-grit paper, which is enough for flattening. I also use my diamond plates for this and they work well too as long as they are truly flat.



Mark the sole across its width and intermittently along the length with a sharpie and return to the abrasive.





Instead of gripping the fore-knob and the rear tote in a bulldog grip like this…






…hold it firmly at the fore part and rear of the sole. You can use the handles, but this must be done sensitively as the extra leverage from the extended handles will readily flex the sole. I learned this years ago when after flattening soles they all somehow seemed to be slightly hollow after checking with a straightedge.


Continue until the lines become so feint you can scarcely see them over the whole width.





Feathering the sole edges

Now if you read my earlier post you will know that older planes and new planes work best if the perimeter edge is well worn so that it feathers in to the flat face of the sole. This allows smooth transition over the surfaces of boards being trued and also where two or more adjacent surfaces intersect. The rim of a box or a framed door are good examples.

Here is the new step that gives the Paul Sellers’ ‘glide-slide’ you want in a plane sole.

Having flattened the sole as directed, tape a steel rule to the surface of the plate so that the plane’s sole glides on the duck tape and the plane sole is slightly angled into the abrasive paper. Keep the sole corner parallel to the ruler and simply move back and forth about twenty or so times. It’s also handy to remark the sole with the sharpie just to make certain you are working evenly.





Do the same to the fore end of the sole; Following the arc.







See now how the edges are gently chamfered uniformly.






File off the heel of the plane if this has not been done previously. This heel is notorious for damaging the corner edges of work on the reverse stroke of the plane in use. Sand off any unevenness from the file.

If you want to you can use finer grit of #240 to give an overall smoother finish, but this doesn’t add anything to the sole’s flatness.

I use furniture wax after abrading. When the surface is newly opened by abrasion it is highly prone to rusting.


  1. Anonymous on 31 December 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Great demonstration, Paul.

    • Paul Sellers on 31 December 2011 at 7:28 pm

      It’s a long post but i wanted it to give clear direction for everyone to perfect their #4s and 4 1/2s. The most critical thing for all to understand is that bulldogging force is not what’s really needed but sensitive patience and care.
      Thanks for your comment and best regards for the New Year Chris.

  2. Jeremy on 2 February 2012 at 12:57 am

    Hi Paul, what should I be looking out for when searching ebay for a Stanley No.4. Is there a certain year(s) to look for or stay away from? I see different types as well. Any info is appreciated. Thanks.

    • Paul Sellers on 2 February 2012 at 11:49 am

      Not too much. First trust your overall feeling about how the plane looks. If it is full of rust then the plane may have rust internally between the blade and the cap iron resulting in pitting. That’s something the photo will not show and the seller most often cannot be expected to tell you because they don’t know.
      So overall condition if poorly maintained can be a deciding factor straight from the getgo.
      Look at how much the cutting iron sticks out above the lever cap and compare to others. If it’s quite short that can mean there isn’t much cutting iron left and you will need to buy another which might cost between £10-12 and so your bargain suddenly becomes expensive.
      Look at shipping and handling – they vary between £4 – £8.
      Think how much you want to pay and set that limit.
      Look for any crack or discolouration around the mouth area of the plane. Especially on the side walls of the plane. This can be rep[aired but there is no need to buy a cracked plane and it will never be as satisfactory as a solid plane

  3. Jerry Honeycutt on 5 July 2016 at 4:25 pm


    Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise with others! It is truly appreciated.

    Best Regards,


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