A Plain Bullnose

I have several bullnose planes. Too many. I’ve used and tested all of them. These low-angle bevel-ups stolid and unpretentious planes are the handiest little tenants on my shelves and in my tool chests. There is no equal for a variety planing tasks because when you need them there is no other plane or indeed tool to deal with the task. Forget magazine articles comparing one to the other in silly Best on Test articles or worse still Editor’s choice! Where any and all tools test out best is on the job in the hands of an experienced user or two. By that I mean someone who knows the tools. Comparison tests are often of little value at all, in my view.

The bullnose plane works especially well for micro adjusting rebates to receive doors and panels, refining rabbets to finesse adding a corner in an alternative wood. But premium of all in my world of furniture making is working on the wooden drawer runners inside a cabinet. Slip this little bullnose along the surface front or back and suddenly the sticking drawer glides like silk into place. Whereas my favourite bullnose amongst my prizes will always be the well proven Stanley #90, there is something about the older no-name versions in bronze and brass and steel that harkens me.

I had bought this via an eBay sellers. It was advertised as an I Sorby but in reality that was just the blade and not the plane. It’s a neat and compact little plane without mechanical adjustment and uses the hammer tap adjustment method which is extremely practical.

The body of brass has a laminated steel sole a millimetre thick. I liked that. But what I really liked and what was not obvious until I started sharpening was the the laminated blade. This is where savvy blade makers take mild steel for the main blade and laminate hardened steel in a counterpoised rake and laminate it to the rake on the main blade. This gives a strong and resilient blade overall with a hardened steel cutting edge that both takes a good edge and one that has good edge retention.

It’s the art of the tool maker to deliver a quality blade with shock absorption and hardness. You can see the arrow showing the lamination lines both large flat face and the bevel edge of the blade. Look out for laminated blades. Even Stanley made some with laminated blades but all too briefly.

19 thoughts on “A Plain Bullnose”

  1. Hi Paul, because I own a steel Preston with wooden wedge for adjustment. I’d like to restore it. It would be a great idea to give us a video with the preparations and the sharpening of an old bullnose.

  2. I need to get an old 90. I picked up an old 75 because it was cheap. I tried to use it while building your winding sticks the other day and took a couple chunks out. I can get the blade super sharp and seemingly adjusted, but the thing seems to have a mind of its own. Maybe i’ll check “the bay” for some other old model with these laminated blades.

    1. I have never altogether understood the 75. I too have never been able to get one of these cheapo planes to work and yet Stanley sold many a thousand of them. They are junk. Best thing is to make a wooden version as a bevel down low angle and benefit from the blade alone.

      1. Great idea. The blade is actually nice and has the old Stanley logo i like. Somebody else said the 75 makes a really cool paper weight. I can salvage the blade and use the body to keep papers from flying away.

  3. Thanks Paul.

    I can’t help but wonder if it would be possible to build one of these out of brass. Or maybe the body out of wood and the sole out of brass. I would enjoy watching such a video. Just a thought. I am sure you have plenty of things planned to teach us. I do so enjoy your tool making videos though.


    1. It absolutely can. You can use the same principles we used to make our coving plane on woodworkingmasterclasses. I have made several low-angle planes from wood and they match the metal ones in terms of functionality.

      1. Thanks Paul. I have made a few tools. I find imense satisfaction in using a tool that I have made myself.

        1. Jack Chidley

          Making tools is definitely on my list too. There’s something amazingly satisfying about making things using tools you’ve made or restored.


  4. I have been on the lookout for a #90. They are difficult to find and go for more than I’m ready to spend (that may have to change). I picked up a #75 and it appears that most do not like them at all. I dressed the sole to match elevation with the nose piece and then broke the leading edge of the nose piece to not catch the wood ahead of the blade, it now is acceptable. I had also picked up a #6 Stanley plane several years ago and when sharpening the iron was pleasantly surprised to find it was a laminated steel blade. I have several Japanese chisels and that is very typical for those and also their hand planes (kanna). I enjoy using the wooden Japanese planes but my main work planes are of the western design which, in all work sense, do as good or better. Both styles are enjoyable to use and accomplish the job.

  5. Many, if not most, of my wooden planes have laminated irons. I thought it was just the manufacturer’s way of reducing costs. I stand corrected….

    1. It was common practice on wooden planes to provide laminated irons. A lot of this was because they are hammer tapped for adjustment and also wedged hard for retention, which in totally hardened steel can result in blades cracking or breaking.

  6. I’ve got a Stanley #90 that I bought over 30 years ago. Never used it much, but now that I’m more in to working more with hand tools and have a decent sharpening system, I’ll re-visit it.

  7. do you do the convex camber like planes and chisels when sharpening these paul, or do you keep the bevel flat? same question for plough plane cutters.

  8. Almost all Stanley plane blades (and chisels, too) are laminated until you get to about WWII – I say almost because I have seen a couple that you just can’t see the line even after grinding/sharpening the bevel, but they still may be. Must have been technology that making war stuff brought to Stanley that allowed the change. The laminated portion was high-grade steel made in Sheffield perhaps from 1900 til WWII. You can’t always see the line, but in many it is visible up the two thin edges of the blade, as well as where Paul shows. The only Stanley blades I have seen from that time that are consistently not laminated are scraper blades. Almost all plane and chisel blades, including woodies, were laminated. In their literature Stanley never mentioned the shock absorption quality likethat built into a Japanese sword with differential tempering. Rather they pointed out that when you clamped down the lever cap the softer steel made for a tighter fit. I think it was a cost issue and once they could economically produce one-piece blades, they did it.

  9. I have an older steel Marples bullnose with a Ward iron. At what angle should the cutting edge be honed to? I find that with this plane, and a Spiers rebate plane with a very narrow skewed mouth, the normal 25-30 deg. fills the gap, leaving no space for the shavings to escape.
    Your videos and blogs – and philosophy – are great. Many thanks.

  10. Great post, Paul. Could you please provide a novice a bit more information on what context a bullnose plane would be used over other smaller planes (like a block plane)? Thank you!

  11. Hi Paul,

    I bought a Stanley number 90 but the blade isn’t in good shape and is bent. Do you have any idea where I might be able to get a new one? Or if any of the other Stanley/record blades fit?



  12. Jack Chidley

    I just bought a similar no name steel bullnose with an I Sorby blade. It’s laminated too. The tool cleaned up beautifully and works like a charm. I love the superfine cuts it gives. Such finesse.

    Hammer tap adjustment is another skill that I am learning. Using new skills is empowering.

    I feel nothing but pity for those woodworkers sanding everything: I used to do that too. Now I use bladed tools for smoothing and, gasp, sandpaper for roughening.


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