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Stanley #4 smoothing plane prices continue to rise

It’s true.

PICT0126-422x375.jpgAbout 5 years ago or so I started to blog the truth about the Stanley #4 smoothing plane being one of the best all rounder planes that could be had for under £5 via eBay. Back then I don’t know if many people listened but then we were able to start making videos showing how well they really work and pow. Over the ensuing years we showed other interesting things that you could do with it and people caught the bug. The prices went up to between £12-15 in 2012.

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A dozen or more British planemakers once making heavy infil planes switched to making the Bailey-pattern planes but only Stanley and Record really succeeded.

Videoing led to us making over 500 video films and in just about every one of them I use a #4 bench plane for 99% of the work whether I am working oak, ash, sapele or rosewood. I’m not claiming the whole of it but we have changed hundreds of thousands of people’s minds about the humblest of planes, the Stanley (or its British knock off the Record) #4 bench smoothing plane with its standard iron and no extra-cost retrofitting needed. What’s exciting me this evening in looking on eBay is seeing that plane prices are still gradually rising and it’s because people now believe that these planes are really brilliant. P1030989 - Version 2Tonight buy-it-nows on eBay start around £20 and some bidding goes to around £35. That means people are truly recognising something at last. They are recognising that crafting woodworkers, artisans of the very finest calibre from the late 1860’s through the 1960’s, really new their onions when it came to Bailey-pattern #4 Stanley planes and that they used them as favourite planes for a century and a half. Joiner’s, boat builders, violin makers and guitar makers and of course we furniture makers have relied on them to make some of our greatest work. It doesn’t mean we can’t use better made planes that are heavier or more refined, just that we can make the best with the rest whenever we want to.DSC_0008

So, now, my friends, I am glad to say that you can still buy a good plane and be working wood with me for half a century to come for around twenty quid. How ’bout that.

28 Comments

  1. gblogswild on 10 July 2015 at 11:34 pm

    It was your video series on how to sharpen a chisel and how to flatten a board that lit a fire under me that had been only smoldering for some 20 years or so. I’m in the middle of my first bench build now – slow going with a 17-week old baby girl! – and I’ve rediscovered how well these work thanks to you. Keep up the good work! Doors are opening for us!



  2. lizardbrain on 10 July 2015 at 11:51 pm

    This afternoon I bought-it-now a Stanley #4 Bailey pattern plane for about $65.00 (including shipping) as I was desperate because my cheap Buck Brothers planes (both of ’em) fell apart at the same time and I’m about to start your workbench build.

    By the way, Mr. Sellers, many thanks to you for your incredible generosity in sharing a half-century’s worth of woodworking expertise. I’ve learned that I’m not as ham-fisted as I’ve believed.

    Best regards from Maine, USA.



  3. paul6000000 on 11 July 2015 at 12:04 am

    Growing up, I’d never seen anything but a #4. I was under the impression it was a home handyman’s all-rounder and not particularly well suited to any task. My wife picked a 50s vintage one off a junk shop shelf and it came home with us but never got much respect because it wassn’t flashy, specialized or collectable. A couple years later I saw your sharpening videos and learned about setting the cap iron close; totally changed my opinion. It’s probably my most cherished tool.



  4. Bill Warnock on 11 July 2015 at 12:21 am

    Speaking of eBay, here is an offer for the Aldi chisel set here in the US:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Aldi-Work-Zone-chisels-/361339277477?hash=item54217fd0a5

    They want $27.50. I went to the Aldi store here in Fairfax, VA last month and got two sets for $7 each.

    You should get a commission from eBay–your advice is obviously worth a premium.



  5. Gary Blair on 11 July 2015 at 5:06 am

    Hello, Paul. I watch both eBay in the US and eBayUK when I get a chance. Not only have the #4s risen in price, but I’ve noticed a similar trend in the #5 1/2. This brings a question to mind: I see far more #5 1/2s for sale with the corrugated sole than with the smooth sole. Were there more of that particular model made with corrugated soles? Or are the lucky owners of the smooth soled ones just wisely hanging on to them? I have also observed that while you still see Record and Woden (occasionally) for sale, I can’t remember the last I Sorby I saw listed. Thanks again for your guidance, your teaching and all you do for our craft.



  6. Russell Lowe on 11 July 2015 at 5:55 am

    If you look at the sellerslistings they are actually eBay shops.they have seen this interest andI have personally been watching.they buy planes for say 7pound then sell th with a start price of 25 -35.gone are the days of bargains now



  7. Wm. D. Elliott on 11 July 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Paul,
    Thanks to your influence, I have three Stanley/Bailey No. 4s. My secretary gave me the other day the Montgomery Wards version of No. 4 from her deceased uncle’s barn, which are carried under the tradename “Pinnacle.”. It was in bad shape and I doubted that it would equal my Stanley/Bailey’s, but to my surprise after my restoration the plane works great. Perhaps there are others who might have an opportunity to get a reasonable equivalent to a Stanley/Bailey No. 4, but at a lesser cost by finding other brands.



  8. Randal on 11 July 2015 at 3:06 pm

    What was considered a cheap knock off of the Stanley planes years ago are probably still better made than the new junk selling today. You can probably still get a good price on those ones if you are looking for something cheap and are willing to take a chance but why bother? The shipping costs are the kicker and can easily be more than the cost of the item itself. Even if the price goes doubles again, the value in a good quality Stanley type plane is there. When you find something you like on e-bay check what other items that seller has listed. You can often buy more than one item from a seller and reduce your shipping costs per item that way. I live in Winnipeg Canada (put your finger on a map in the middle of North America and you’ll be close) and shipping is a killer when buying on e-bay. It was cheaper for me to buy multiple items from Britain from the same seller and get everything in one box than it would have been to buy the same stuff from the United States. I was lucky and found a #4 Stanley at an antique store ten minutes from my house. It was rusted (not pitted), loose handle, bad paint etc. I had it working in ten minutes. I bought some new cheaper ones and still can’t get them to work properly after hours of trying to fix/ compensate for bad machining. I would gladly pay a higher price and save the time, which is very valuable to me, since it is hard enough to find shop time at it is. The pictures Paul posted a while back with tables of tools at a car boot sale were like photos of heaven.



  9. theindigowoodworker on 11 July 2015 at 4:58 pm

    I bought a Sargent made Craftsman no. 4 a few years ago. It works just as well as any Stanley or Record that I have owned.



    • John on 12 July 2015 at 7:36 am

      Sargent is my first choice, so i guess that includes Fulton and Craftsman.



  10. Ian West on 11 July 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Hello Paul,

    The Stanley/Bailey No 4’s are not the only items holding, but increasing in value.
    The Stanley/Record No 71 hand routers seem to be flying off the shelf at an alarming
    rate.Is this coinciding with your articles relating to this piece of equipment, one asks.
    The ebay prices may start off low but quickly rises to well over £50-£60 with one reaching over £100 depending how many cutters are include and it’s condition of course. Judging
    by other peoples comments it most certainly seems to an upward trend



  11. John on 12 July 2015 at 7:34 am

    Stanley…..Let’s hear it for the Sargent 409 planes!!!!!!!



    • Paul Sellers on 12 July 2015 at 8:35 am

      That limits it to one country alone though. I doubt anyone has heard of Sargent planes outside of the US.



  12. gav on 12 July 2015 at 11:56 am

    I must admit I had not heard of Sargent until I purchased an old carpenters chest from a client. We are in an interesting geological and historical position in Australia with the secondhand tools we have access to and how they came about. Suffice to say that English, Irish, American and Canadian manufacturers were all present, some stamped with two or even three previous owners. The Australian Pope No 4 smoother is quite a satisfactory option as well.



  13. jannekarkkainen on 12 July 2015 at 8:00 pm

    In Finnish web auction Stanley Bailey #4’s, produced in the UK, costs well over 20 euros for a long time now and those are not in a good condition at all, and required quite much refurbishments very often. Some #4’s that are very good condition or that are produced in the US, costs usually more than 30 euros. On the other hand #4’s could cost some euros in a flea markets, if you are lucky.



  14. hentzant on 13 July 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I have 2 No 4 stanley planes, one being about a quarter of an inch longer than the other with a thicker casting.These were both bought second hand so I don’t know how old they are.I wonder at what point in time Stanley changed their castings.
    The lighter one is a joy to use and I can only say that it sings when in use.



    • Paul Sellers on 13 July 2015 at 7:39 pm

      I have never been interested in dating planes so I don’t have this info, but there are others who will read this will often jump in to help.



  15. Andrew Wilkerson on 18 July 2015 at 5:18 am

    I’ve almost finished getting the full set of Falcons. Made in Australia at the end if ww2. Fell in love with them years ago after having an F4 passed down from my Grandfather. Used to be alot cheaper than the Stanley equivalent but now even the Falcon/Popes are rising in price. Still great value though for a lifetime tool. Went too a tool sale here in Melbourne last week and was surprised by the variety of unknown brands. I bought a gouge that looked good and was only $7. Got home and looked at the stamp. I think it’s Newbould. Possibly from 1700 -1800’s I look at it in amazement as I wonder the history this small piece of steel has been through and how many owners it’s had. How it got all the way down here in an owners toolchest on a ship. Sharpening it this afternoon for another lifetime of use making spoons.



  16. Balint on 5 April 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Hello Paul,
    We can get now a brand new Stanley no.4 for ~£45. Some second hand ones sell for much more. Just by the naked eye they do not differ at all. So why bother? Did Stanley change their internal quality standards at some point in the past; do they make now cheapo planes in China?

    Thanks in forward! This is a very good blog, very educative, thank you for it.



    • Andrew Wilkerson on 7 April 2017 at 8:03 am

      I can’t speak for Paul, and I’ve never used a new Stanley but I would say yes, the quality of Stanley has dropped considerably in my opinion, just like nearly every other tool maker, they wouldn’t be able to stay afloat if they didn’t drop their quality at some point. Many good tool makers have disappeared over the years, many others were bought out or taken over by Stanley and then the great tools that were made well disappeared. They mainly just rely on the name ‘Stanley’, everyone knows them and thinks they are good so that’s how they can keep selling rubbish tools and get away with it. Some tools are ok but I’ve bought some really bad ‘modern’ designs from Stanley over the years.

      Also, by working with an old one and restoring it to glory you will learn a lot. Learning as much as you can about your tools will help with your woodworking and that’s a good thing. Plus you won’t be contributing to landfill by buying cheap tools that don’t last, something that’s becoming a huge problem worldwide.



    • Paul Sellers on 7 April 2017 at 2:44 pm

      I am sad and sorry about the demise of many European makers and especially those in the UK Stanley fold. It all began in the 1960s when arrogance and smugness and a lack of competition led to a great decline in the manufacturing standards of Stanley. There is no doubt that plastic handles were a cheap replacement but at least the old plastic ones held up. Today they ALWAYS crack and break. Wooden handles absorb stresses, shock and vibration and this indeed affects the functionality of the planes. Thankfully there will always be enough pre 1960s versions cycling through eBay so we will never be without as demand is still lower than supply via the secondhand supply chain. Stanley UK should be ashamed but they are not and never will be. If it hasn’t happened in the last 70 years it most likely won’t.



  17. Michael Policella on 29 November 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I wonder what Stanley would have to charge if they made their planes according to the designs that worked so well for so long..
    Mr Sellers I want to tell you that it is a pure delight to watch one of your videos. I lived in Scotland many years ago and remember some of the craftsmen who could discuss philosophy with you while executing their craft with such easy and elegance. They were a joy to watch. You remind me of them. Thank you



  18. Douglas on 13 June 2018 at 3:15 am

    Ah, yes. The wonderful Stanley #4 smoothing plane that allows woodworkers to use this wonderful tool with their feet about half a metre above the ground. Let’s put our feet firmly back on the ground and consider this rationally.

    I could buy a Stanley #4 on eBay and spend a lot of time working on the frog, the bed, the sole and all the other stuff that goes with bringing an old decrepit hunk of iron up to scratch. If my interests were in the line of restoring old hand tools this might make some sense. If my interests are in woodworking then it seems like I’m spending a lot of time and effort on not working wood.

    When I decided to buy a smoothing plane this is what I found available to me in Australia. Lie-Nielsen $545; Veritas $348; Luban $199; Stanley $89. According to the logic on your website discussions I should buy the cheap Stanley from Bunnings and spend time making it work properly. On the other hand, I could buy a good #4 and use it (almost) straight out of the box. If I bought the Lie-Neilson, instead of the Stanley, and used it for twenty years, it would be costing me an extra 44 cents per week. Paying 44 cents per week for the pleasure of using well-made tool seems to me like a sensible proposition.

    For other reasons, based on my knowledge and experience as a professional engineer, I bought the Veritas smoothing plane. It does all I want it to and does it well. If I had wanted to save money in the initial expenditure I would have bought the Luban plane. I would never buy the Stanley plane.

    If you tell me that the Stanley planes of 40 years ago are better than the new ones today, I wouldn’t argue. If you try to tell me that these old Stanley planes are as good as the good planes of today then I’ll walk away – it’s not a proposition that is worth discussing.



    • Paul Sellers on 13 June 2018 at 8:30 am

      Being an engineer you will realise that your presentation assumes that all people have up to $545 to spend on a single plane right from the start. I can’t assume that, even if the high dollar planes do work “straight out of the box” because I would argue that not everyone can afford it. I can however assume that 98% would be put off by so high an amount and find it prohibitive to their starting woodworking for the first time. I provide the knowledge to show people how to restore and use and sharpen their plane no matter the plane or the maker, high dollar or cheapo. In a about an hour, no more usually, they have not only restored a plane to total functionality, but they have learned all they need to know about the plane for a lifetime of use. I bought my “cheap Stanley” in 1965 and fettled it under the guidance of my mentoring craftsman. The working knowledge has stayed with me for over five decades and the plane’s as good as any of the high dollar planes you cited bar none; and that’s after a full lifetime’s use six days a week and ten hours a day. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be in your position so I think my argument is justifiable in the one fact that hundreds if not thousands of woodworkers are now enjoying real woodworking using the basic Stanley or Record models of the #4. So the proposition has been well worth discussing. Oh, and the high dollar planes you cite do no more than my £3.50 Stanley #4.



    • Mike on 3 January 2019 at 6:17 pm

      Pardon me Douglas, but you come across very arrogant. I appreciate the information that Mr. Sellers presents in his blog and his videos, and if I can save some money in the process, all the better. Thank you Mr. Sellers for your time and effort. I have learned a good deal from your videos and look forward to upcoming ones.



  19. Andrew Wilkerson on 13 June 2018 at 9:12 am

    I have both old and new tools, I find myself reaching for the old ones more often. Paul has been a great help over the years, I’m so glad I spent the time fixing up my old ones, once you’ve done it and have the choice of both you can truly understand the benefits. I am starting to hate the new hard steel in all the new chisels, plane irons that cost a fortune etc, you don’t need all that. If anything they just stress me out because I feel like I have to justify the expense by using them and keeping them sharp for that ‘special project’ where I really need the highest quality. But at the end of the day I could do without them. My 3mm chisel is great because I had trouble finding an old one in good condition for many years. Now that I finally have an old one restored I use my Lie Neislon less and less, it feels hard, brittle, too thick, unbalanced in my hand and the handle drops off all the time. For a $70 chisel I should be happier with my purchase but I’m not. So I reach for the old instead.
    That’s my two cents worth anyway, in a real life workshop.
    I wouldn’t buy another one put it that way, or any more new planes.

    I”ve seen this argument time and time again, all comes down to personal preference I guess but there are some facts there in a real life workshop that can’t be ignored in my opinion.



    • Paul Sellers on 13 June 2018 at 12:35 pm

      I often think, it seems to me anyway, that the words like engineer, engineered and highly engineered, together with other such terms, seem to somehow conjure up an image that whatever is produced is somehow flawless. Thick and heavy planes from highly engineered steels were never the better mousetrap in my view. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It was and always has been disingenuous to state that thick irons prevent the chatter in thinner ironed planes when the thinner irons in planes didn’t chatter. The perspectives of engineers and any other profession can be as flawed as anyone else’s. Being an engineer doesn’t mean a degree-qualified person understands all of the nuances of the woodworking craft they enjoy, though of course they may. Heavy planes remain heavy on light wood and in light strokes. I have indeed worked extensively with thick-bodied, highly engineered, thick-ironed and overly hardened steels too. Jumping through all of those hoops was very exhausting. I’m done with it as are thousands of others. We love our Stanley #4s,4 1/2s, 5s, 5 1/2s and our mini number 3s too. Oh, I would love a Stanley #1, but I’d take a Lie Nielsen #1 for my office desk too!



      • Bali Indonesia on 16 November 2018 at 1:37 pm

        Haha.. 😂 “but I’d take a Lie Nielsen #1 for my office desk too!” 👌 clever people must know this 😉



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