Buying good tools cheap – About Smoothers

Ebay and smoothing planes

I am sure for every good thing I say about eBay smoothing planes there will be someone who can counter what I say, but I have bought about a hundred smoothing planes on eBay in the past three years and only one had a real problem that I fixed and got on with life after an hour or so. Anyway, here’s the thing. If you look back in my past blogs you’ll find tons of info to help you fettle them and fine tune them and get them into the daily program of working wood for you and yours. And there is also a video we did here that will help you too. Oh, and here is another we did.

I took a lot of stick about recommending this plane type over its modern-day counterpart heavyweight as a Bed rock but when people come to my classes with their heavyweights and use the ones I have in the school they stay with the plane-jane Stanleys and rarely pick up the heavyweights at all if ever.

No matter the different makers, apart from Anant and Groz, these planes work exceptionally well.

I have had one of mine, actually two of mine, a #4 and #4 1/2, since 1965 and 1966. I doubt you will ever meet anyone who has used these two planes more than I have. I have used them every single day of my working life, hour on end most of the time for 46 and 47 years. That works out at about 13,824 days. I probaby pick them up and use them for long and short periods at least twenty times a day. Perhaps two and three times that many. So I have used them 276,480 times. Now I am not talking about planing a stick of maple 1 1/2” wide 14” long to get a full length, full width shaving at shows and on TV. I am talking about real woodworking making boxes and doorframes doors and stiles, window sashes and stair treads. I am talking about oak and ash and rosewood and boxwood. Spruce and cherry and two dozen others.That’s quite a lot of shavings. So when I say that these planes are heavy enough, work well enough, last long enough and that they deliver the goods, I can say it with meaning.

On eBay I look for a couple of important things. I look for a length of the plane iron and the only way I can do that is by looking at the top of the cutting iron in relation to the distance between the top tip of the lever cap and the end of the cutting iron at the top edge. I can also see how it relates to the top of the lateral adjustment lever and the top of the cutting iron. The picture show me that the iron is long or short. I want as long as I can get. If I have to retrofit with a new iron I lost my bargain price on the plane. The third from the left has much less life left than the others.


Drawings from my Journal

Another important thing I look for is broken off parts. This is especially so on rosewood totes and knobs. These rarely glue back successfully and so I usually don’t buy broken or split handles.








Broken castings around the mouth usually result in a partial or complete crack. This then transfers all pressure to the opposite side of the mouth of the plane and can overstress the sole and increase flex that will distort the registration of the plane to the material being worked. I would not recommend buying such a plane except for spares. They can be brazed and that works well but often results in a twisted sole that then needs flattening.



The last place I look is at the shipping price. Some people guess at this and charge way more than they should.

I have noticed how much higher the price these planes are on the US eBay; In the UK they are much cheaper and shipping seems fairly steady at around $9-10. In the UK we get delivery the next day for that. The #4 sells for between £10-35 whereas in the US they sell for much higher for some reason. There are usually about 300 planes available at any one time in the UK. Most UK planes have beechwood handles and only occasionally with rosewood. As I said somewhere, most of the rosewood handles always seem to be broken. Remember that when I bought mine in 1965 it cost me a weeks wage. Not cheap Who would pay a weeks wage for a hand plane today?

This video here will show one thing you can do with a well sharpened and well set plane that you may never have seen before. Enjoy!

15 thoughts on “Buying good tools cheap – About Smoothers”

  1. Well said mate.

    I missed out on a record 44 today as I didn’t hear my phone tell me there was 4 mins left. It went for 16 quid with 22.70 shipping to the USA…bugger.

  2. I don’t actually understand the reasoning in it. There are likely more of them lying around on shelves here than the UK and perhaps that’s the reason. I wonder if people just don’t or can’t be bothered to sell them.

  3. I’ve noticed that a lot of the old Bailey planes are rather overpriced on the US ebay. I’ve had good luck looking for planes in sets and lots. For instance I paid less than 20 USD for 2 No 4 planes, one with a broken tote and chipped lever cap. The other was perfectly fine and has cleaned up nicely. Also, I’ve noticed that people value the corrugated sole planes and have picked up a couple of those cheaply. They seem to work just as well as the smooth soled models. Just a couple of tips.


    1. Thanks for this, Rich. That was a good price and it will enable you to pick up others and cannibalise the one spare that you have to restore another. I keep three or four #4s for different tasks. I have one where I opened the throat with a flat file , which I use as a scrub plane. This has a cambered iron. I have another really finely tuned for ultra-fine work and I have another for heavy work. These I probably paid $30 for. I pick them to task and switch from one to the other. Even if I paid $30-40 a piece I wood still be ahead. I know when I post the prices go up but if people hang around a little the prices go back down. And of course there is always the secondhand market of garage sales and flea markets. secondhand dealers and such. I think that some dealers have really fair prices.

  4. hello Paul, please i have one question for master of wood. One week ago i bought Stanley plane #4 on EBAY, but my plane has plastic grip. Please do you know how old is plane (Made by England). Thank you for yout web and blog 🙂

    1. You have good and little used plane from the late 1960’s it looks like. Yes it has plastic handles but these were OK handles and I like them. More recent Stanleys have the plastic that breaks and are thin walled. They last a year or so before needing replacement unless you drop them and they always break if dropped.
      You have a good plane. Enjoy it.

  5. Hi Paul: just an FYI but it seems that shipping to Canada ranges from $25C to $80C. Most are around $40C. I see a few planes of interest and looks like with shipping I’m looking between $50C and $100C. Is that still worth it? This will be my first plane as I plan on building the workbench in your book/dvd. Thanks

    1. I have lost the thread on US #4 prices. They are just as good but I think they sell higher. Yes I think if you can buy a number 4 or 4 1/2 for the same price as the heavyweight planes by modern makers you should do it. They work just as well, will last your lifetime and be more versatile. Seems to me you should be able to get a 4 or 4 1/2 for under $100 C so that would be within budget for something that will last for so long a time.

  6. Hi Paul,

    I’ve spent a lot of time this week clearing out my parents shed and I was hoping to find some decent old tools I could make use of. Amongst the copious amount of junk I did manage to find a Dronfield #4 Plane that should clean up well. I’ve never heard of Dronfield and I can’t seem to find any information regarding the company. It does say it’s made in England but there seems to be no trace of any such tool company (which I can only presume hasn’t existed for quite a while).

    I wondered if you could shed any light on the subject and if Dronfield planes are any good?

    1. You know that there is not much to the Bailey or Bed Rock pattern plane. Modern-day knock-offs have only added more weight and different metals, but they perform no differently despite the endeavour of engineers, salesmen and magazine articles to tell us differently. I am sure the Dronfield will make a good plane. I wondered if it was named after the derbyshire town of Dronfield???

  7. I found this on the Australian forum “woodworkingforums” posted by “Matt”-

    …………………………………..I have several planes from the 60’s and 70’s with some being marked Stanley and the ones marked Dronfield being Marples in origin as Marples works in Dronfield did what most other companies have done over time and largely copied Stanley designs but rarely put the name Marples on them, using the place of manufacture, Dronfield instead.

    Marples traded from 1950-1983 in Dronfield before becoming what we now know as Irwin Marples via the Record Ridgeway name from 1983 onwards.

    Planes I have are all dark red in colour but I have no exact dates of mine as I have never asked my sister and they were passed to me only recently by my Dad.

  8. Apologies – I should not have edited the post by Matt so carelessly – he grew up not far from Dronfield and his sister worked for Marples.

  9. “Who would pay a weeks wage for a hand plane today?” – lots of people do, it seems. Lie Nielsen, HNT Gordon, Veritas, etc are quite happy to supply them :-).

    Whether you really need to spend a week’s wages is another story!

  10. People spend more than their weeks wage on these high end branded planes, I know I did. However, people do so because they don’t know or don’t want to refurbish old planes. There is a lot more to refurbishing them than just flattening the sole as Paul has demonstrated in some of his video’s. Rob Cosman goes into much more detail if you want to get into that. To be blunt I don’t like the mass of modern planes, they tire me quicker than an old record or stanley would. I also don’t like the thick A2 blades that come with it, try sharpening one regularly and you’ll soon see as to why. Other than that, they are great planes and do the job their intended to do. I can overlook the mass, but I curse every time I sharpen.

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