For more information on planes, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

P1030959So, if you ever wondered about the #3 smoothing plane you’ll discover yet another Leonard Bailey wonder of plane making. Over the past few days, because we keep a couple for students with smaller hands and less upper shoulder muscle mass, I tried out the plane with the ten ‘musclemen’ in the class last week. I knew what I knew, but I wanted to see how and what they felt. That’s what all the smiles and the raised hands were all about.


In relation to the #4 plane the #3 is slightly smaller, not too much but just a bit. It’s a bit like the #4 1/2 to the #4 but the opposite way in that the iron is 1 3/4” wide instead of 2”. My hands are fairly normal, perhaps leaning towards large, but not massively so. P1040007My thoughts are these. #3 planes are not lesser planes in any way with regard to functionality than say the #4 and the #4 1/2. In fact they equal or even surpass the slightly wider versions because they pack that certain compact punchiness the heavier counterparts often lack.

P1030941I bought this £2 car boot find and restored it while the class was working. It’s the one above. They are not so common as the #4 I know, but they are still common enough to see them filter through eBay regularly enough. Handles and totes are usually a good fit for me so I think they will indeed fit most hands. You will pay a higher price for a number three, but it will be worth it.



  1. Eddy flynn on 16 February 2015 at 10:55 pm

    is it true the #3 was the plane used in school woodshops ,if so there should be a lot of them knocking about after the schools sold off most if not all of their woodworking equipment .

    • Paul Sellers on 16 February 2015 at 10:57 pm

      They were, but there aren’t too many of them around. At least not like number fours.

  2. Jim Chrisawn on 16 February 2015 at 11:33 pm

    I love my no.3’s. I keep two on my bench set to task, trimming end grain. I also keep a 51/4 as well set for the same task. Good stuff Paul!

  3. Steven Newman/ Bandit571 on 17 February 2015 at 12:24 am

    I have a Wards (Stanley) #3 from WWII, and a Millers Falls #8. There is also a Stanley Four Square 5-1/4 in the till. Seem to use all three fairly regularly. Not a bad plane, really.

    • gblogswild on 17 February 2015 at 12:28 am

      Mine are a #8 also, and a Fulton 3709, which is the same plane! Great minds think alike.

  4. gblogswild on 17 February 2015 at 12:27 am

    I like my #3-sized planes. I sent my dad one for Christmas this year, then realized that I’d sent him my favorite smoother! I just got another one to replace it this week!

  5. Brian Anders on 17 February 2015 at 12:32 am

    I have three #3s I use all the time. One an American, one an English, and one with an opened throat and a radiused iron for when a slab door is wanted with a finish reminiscent of an adze finish. Won’t trade any of them!

  6. Larry Jackson on 17 February 2015 at 1:17 am

    I find my #3 particularly superior to the #4 when attacking small areas of errant, stubborn grain, especially when those areas are first prepped with a fine-bladed toothing plane. Its narrower iron width is more adept at focusing the edge of the iron directly over the problem area, and getting to the bottom of it, so to speak.

  7. Ed on 17 February 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Nothing comes close to cutting like my #3 Clifton. I use it whenever I can. When it’s too small, I switch to an old Bailey #4, and the two weigh about the same (because of the Bedrock #3 vs. Bailey #4).

  8. mmelendrez1955 on 17 February 2015 at 4:07 pm

    I also like the #3’s light feeling. I have a couple that I like to use. I gave one to my sister in law for Christmas and she loves it. She has small hands and is quite week from chemo therapy. She love to work wood and was using a #5 and 7 all the time. The 3 is much easier for her to push. I told her to keep working its great therapy.

    • Mike Ballinger on 18 February 2015 at 11:24 am

      That’s beautiful thanks for sharing!

  9. Jacob Hamlin on 17 February 2015 at 10:53 pm

    I love my number Stanley #3. I picked up one that had almost no use, it had never been sharpened and was still in the original box (very old and tattered cardboard) when I bought it.

    I find the a go for my #3 more often than my #4 for most tasks, I just seem to have that extra little bit of control with it.

  10. John Crosby on 18 February 2015 at 2:02 pm

    I love my #3. Planing small projects with the 3 is great, I rarely go for my block planes anymore.

  11. Randy Allen on 20 February 2015 at 6:59 pm

    A Stanley #3 was my first real plane and is still my favorite unless the task calls for something larger or longer.

  12. nigel on 22 February 2015 at 8:38 pm

    I have a Stanley No. 3, I received it as a Christmas present in 1973 from my grandparents – I was just thirteen at the time. It has seen a lot of use over the years and it still has the original iron plus a spare, I keep them both sharp and swap the iron when it needs sharpening mid job. I have used it to make window frames, doors and staircases and much more on houses I have renovated over the years.

    • Paul Sellers on 22 February 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Nice to have things like that. Special.

  13. Jeff Polaski on 23 February 2015 at 7:49 pm

    I have a Stanley #3 from my grandfather’s tool chest. He was a small man. It’s now next on my list to rehab, now not only for sentimental reasons, but because physically I am losing my upper body strength. It’s a medical condition I was despairing of this morning; I never know when it’s going to pop up and end my day. What a grand gift you have just given me: hope.
    I am a big man, but my favorite camera is a Minox 8x11mm and my favorite carving knife is a straight forward 3/4″ long. I’ll simply scale down my lumber a quarter inch, and maybe my wife will like more delicate boxes.
    A present down these many decades from my Zada Polaski, via Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. Thank you so very much.

  14. Robert Judy on 19 April 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Paul, thanks to your post, I purchased a #3 vintage Stanley via ebay as my first smoothing plane. I only had a block plane prior to this. You mentioned all the smiles when your students used the #3. You can add me to the smiles and raised hands. I’ve already achieved success as a newbie hand plane user with the #3 and enjoy using it. Thanks for making me aware of its capabilities.

    • Paul Sellers on 19 April 2015 at 6:35 pm

      Yes, it’s a neat and compact plane. Plenty of punch and gutsy too.

  15. James Lawford on 7 October 2016 at 10:49 am

    Love my £9.99 eBay Stanley No. 3. Original price? £1.79 says the label still on the handle.

  16. Tone on 5 January 2018 at 9:08 pm

    My Record #3 cost £3 but it was in terrible condition, still at the bottom of a very wet bag or box of badly rusting tools. With considerable work, it restored surprisingly well, although darker & uglier than Paul’s. But something is amiss: I wonder if it has the wrong handle (a #4 handle perhaps?), as there is insufficient room to move the lateral adjuster across the top of the handle. This week I filed a little off the top of the handle so that it can move across but it is still v. tight – in pics. on the web, most #3’s have plenty of room above the handle. Hmm I generally have the frog adjusted to the back of the mouth or a little further back.

    • Tone on 2 May 2018 at 7:14 pm

      Update: the problem was a bent iron! Quickly and simply remedied follows Paul’s technique. 🙂

  17. Steve on 23 May 2018 at 3:20 pm

    I’ve had an old Record 3 from some time. Very versatile and much more useful than a block plane. I use it for small chamfer and detail work it’s light and easy to use and I have large hands..

  18. gerald anania on 4 December 2018 at 12:50 am

    Last spring I was at a wood show and looking through a booth that was selling old tools, saws, planes, etc. Noticed a metal plane with a $25 price tag. Was surprised to see it was a Stanley #3 . After looking it over I realized it was setup as a scrub plane. Perfect I had been thinking about finding a plane on ebay and converting it to a scrub plane. It would have cost me much more on EBAY and I would have had to put a radius on an existing iron. Everything was done here. The only thing I could find that was off was the tab at back of the plane appeared to have been replaced. The mouth had been opened to accommodate the radiused blade. It be the mouth was damaged and the previous owner converted it because it would no longer take a normal plane iron.
    Brought it home and went though checking sole, depth and lateral adjustment frog, etc. The plane was well sharpened and iron worked flawlessly. I have been using it continuously for surfacing rough wood and removing large quantities of work effortlessly. If like myself you have never used a scrub plane try one they work great. The plane requires little effort to remove material. One of my best buys. Hoping to find another #3 that I can use as a regular plane. Not finding anything reasonably priced online. Maybe that vendor will be back next year.

  19. RODNEY MAGEE on 17 April 2019 at 11:17 am

    I have 2 #3 Stanley clones, a Fulton and another and after tuning they work very nicely, fit my small hands and are comfortable to use. I just picked up a # 4 Stanley off ebay for 40$ delivered, I’ll get to tuning soon and am looking forward to using it.

  20. Frank on 12 May 2019 at 8:39 pm

    I have a Bailey no. 3 and two more that are just like it, but no name on them. Did they make any and didn’t put their name on them?

    • Paul Sellers on 13 May 2019 at 8:00 am

      I think there were all kinds of surreptitious things went on in Sheffield UK, where the name was filled in in the sand and additional castings ‘knocked off’.

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