On the Stanley #4 1/2 bench smoothing plane and others

I have relied on a Stanley #4 1/2 smoothing plane for forty years plus. Next to the #4, this plane sits squarely in my tool chests where ever I go and work. I need them both, but can manage adequately with either one. I like the light, versatile weight of both, but choose the lighter-weight #4 for my usual lightweight work and the increased width of the #4 1/2 for wide work and work that needs a little more strength without too much heft; but, as I say, not too much. If I need even greater power, say for wider edge work and greater lengths, I reach for my #5 1/2 or, for narrower stock, my #5. All of that said, the Stanley #4 is still my foirst choice in the order of planes. The nice thing about the four planes I mention as my essential bench planes is that I can buy all four on eBay or from secondhand dealers for under £100 or even $100. The work in perfecting these planes is about one hour a piece. So, in just about four hours I have a full compliment of bench planes at my service for a lifetime of working wood. Now that’s value for money. This week we will be working through two of these planes to help you to get the best out of them. We will start with finding and fettling them and then we will be working on some technique methodology that will help you to better understand what you can and cannot expect from these incredible tools. We will compare them to the wooden ones we have and assess how the perform in the hands of an expert, which I present from almost 50 years of working with them. If you have any questions about planes that your are struggling with, please let me know as I am working on a new insights publication for bench hand planes and your questions will help us to present a fuller offering for hundreds of thousands of your fellow woodworkers worldwide.

19 Comments

  1. David Kirtley on 6 December 2012 at 3:31 am

    Just to mention one other factor for choice of a plane is the user’s stature. This is even more important as women get into woodworking and might consider moving down to a #3. It’s not as important for specialty planes but the plane that you do 95% of the work with should be comfortable. The #5-1/4 is really nice as well for something longer but a lot harder to come by.



  2. Scott Kidd on 9 December 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Mr. Sellers, is there a good purpose or benefit to a steel plane with a wooden sole? Could you do a blog on that too, and maybe show the ins and outs of it including how it should be flattened?



    • Paul Sellers on 10 December 2012 at 5:22 pm

      In the UK we don’t have the wooden transitional planes made by Stanley who made a wide range to compensate for those who would not change to all metal planes. I love these wooden-soled planes. They are very effective and wonderful to use. The soles are readily replaceable if wear becomes an issue and once you’ve used them for a little while you will realise their fine attributes. I wish they were available here without paying the silly money US dealers want for them. I recommend that US buyers buy them while they are available.



  3. William Swinyer on 28 November 2013 at 4:01 am

    Paul,

    Have you ever used any Millers Falls hand planes? If so what did you think of their quality? Thank you for your time.

    Bill



    • Paul Sellers on 28 November 2013 at 10:37 am

      I never owned one but I had a friend who owned one for years and he loved it. He said it worked perfectly well alongside his old Record and he could see no difference.



      • gblogswild on 20 September 2014 at 2:31 pm

        I have several, an 18C, 14, 9, and coming this Monday, a store-rebranded 8 (#6C, #5, #4, and #3 respectively). They made very good tools; in many ways I wish they were still around.



  4. BillS on 28 November 2013 at 4:06 am

    Paul,

    Have you ever used any Millers Falls hand planes? If so what did you think of their quality? Thank you for your time.

    Bill



  5. Al Gonis on 9 August 2014 at 3:19 am

    Hello Mr Sellers.

    I’m a beginner in this of the wood working and I’m thinking to buying my first (Stanley) plane, but I have two questions.
    What number is better to start #3 #4 or # 5?
    And I read some articles in the internet about planes from ww2 days, which are better than modern manufacture planes, because the steel used in those days were better than the one used actually. So, do you recommend an used but functional old plane than a new factory plane?
    Thanks.



    • Paul Sellers on 9 August 2014 at 9:05 am

      The #4 is the most practical for everyday use but if you have small stature or small hands the #3 can really help. Many children and smaller men and women prefer the smaller #3 plane because of this. I am actually surprised it hasn’t come back on the market as it’s well suited to younger teenagers as they are still growing.



      • Tone on 21 June 2017 at 8:53 pm

        FYI The Faithfull #3 was being sold for just £16 inc. free shipping (if you spend more than £20 total) until recently. Recently I saw it listed at £20, still great value. A retired old carpenter wrote a review saying it was as good as any other he’d used (he went through the same set-up procedure he had used on all his planes) and was delighted with the price. I was tempted but already have an old Record #3.



  6. Ben F on 12 May 2015 at 5:16 pm

    These days the 4 1/2 is rather expensive – eBay buys are well over $100 just for that one alone. Going to have to hunt for a decent price on one.



    • Paul Sellers on 12 May 2015 at 6:31 pm

      Cost about half that here in the UK.



      • Ben F on 12 May 2015 at 7:29 pm

        Man you guys are pampered. 🙂 Cheapest I see is $138 USD and that’s one that needs a complete overhaul — not a speck of steel grey in sight. Decent shape is about $165. I’ve got #4, 5, 5-1/2 off there without too much fuss though, odd that the 4-1/2 is like this. I’ve bought from UK on occasion but usually the $40+ shipping is not worth it.



        • Ben F on 12 May 2015 at 7:32 pm

          I forgot to add — I’m skipping those that were made WWII and after, such as the ones that say “Made in England” and the Type 16 / Type 17 etc. The quality decline from Stanley seemed to occur right around WWII.



          • Ben F on 12 May 2015 at 7:33 pm

            Oh, and corrugated bottoms. There’s a few of those in there. I don’t like those.



  7. Steve on 6 July 2016 at 6:37 pm

    Paul I own a Stanley no.4 1/2 plane and the handle/bolt broke in half today do you know where I can get a replacement?



    • Paul Sellers on 6 July 2016 at 6:52 pm

      ebay will most likely be the quickest.



    • Tone on 21 June 2017 at 8:56 pm

      Plane handles often split along the grain. If that’s the problem, you can just glue them back together using regular wood glue (which is stronger than wood). Or make one? 😉



  8. Chris on 25 January 2017 at 9:04 pm

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about withall these real expensive planes, I have a range of Stanley’s and records from a no 3 up to a no 8 and use all of them I work a lot of oak on grade 1&2 listed buildings so my work has to be right.
    I could not agree more with Paul Sellers comments re Stanley’s and records buy them cheap, spend time on fettling sharpening and honeing set the plane up correctly sharpen sometimes 4 times a day if you are working it hard and you have a plane as good as anything out their produced today, my old no 8 is a model 6 and was made around 1896 and still works a dream I’m 72 now and have had that plane for over 10 years its trued a lot of oak and will still be going strong long after I’m gone if whoever it goes to looks after it, and that goes for the rest of my Stanley’s and records which have served me well for many years.