Collecting Moulding Planes

Currently, there are 11,500 moulding planes listed for sale on eBay UK. There are a couple of Japanese versions and a half a dozen from the USA, other than that, they are all UK made between 1750 and 1950. In some ways they are collectable and in some ways, they are not. The demand for them is quite low. In times past, the late 70s, early to mid 80s, I scoured the newspapers for people selling ‘Dad’s old tools for sale in wooden toolbox.’ A drive to some lost village in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire would take an hour or two over the weekend or on a cold, dark winter’s night and you never knew whether the box would be full of rusted junk or a treasure trove of vintage tools. It was on nights like this where I found some of my vintage moulding planes. Hit and miss though it was, and mostly miss much of the time, I enjoyed rooting in someone’s cellar for the tools I loved and they just wanted rid of.

Here in the UK, you can buy planes like these for around £10 and less if you buy them in lots of 10 to 20 which might sell for £40-70 that way.

Moulding planes are exceptional value for money. They sell generally for between £10-20 and occasionally go higher if they are collectable and made by known makers. Almost all of them will be handmade in the 1800s, so you can indeed own an antique tool in excess of a hundred years old for very little money and that will usually lead to you owning a working model to boot. With the advent of eBay, I made my first bid in the UK for a gathering of 100 moulding planes with a starting bid of £1 in an isolated part of the Welsh Snowdonia mountain range where you might find it hard to imagine anyone might live. That was in 2010. They listed it as a “buyer collects” and it was midwinter with snow and ice on the ground many inches deep at the timing when the bidding ended in an hour’s time and no one had so far bid; it was most unlikely that anyone would want to do a remote drive and all the more in that kind of weather. At two minutes before, I put in my bid of £1 and the 100 moulding planes were mine. Of course, seeing 100 moulding planes stacked in a box did not really identify what I got. Many of the planes were in good to excellent condition and at a penny a piece I had no complaints. The seller was as happy as I was and I did give some extra money to him. All they had really wanted was two things, the freed-up space, and for someone to use them.

This moulding plane is my Madox, an English maker between 1748 and 1775. It works perfectly well and even at 2″ wide, it cuts the profile perfectly.

eBay has indeed simplified buying tools of every kind for those of us who use hand tools and especially those no longer made. To me, it seems one of the fairest of ways for sellers, users and collectors to exchange them for cash and also to generally keep them in circulation by cycling them through our hands and lives. Dealers too play their part in this, of course, but that’s not at all a negative. Collectors and users will find their specific descriptions useful for buying a particular tool type to suit their woodworking or collecting. With 11,500 moulding planes out there right now for sale on eBay, we can hardly be touching much more than the tip of the iceberg. My buying is first for user-planes and then, possibly, collectability. It is nice to collect specific makers and many of us amateurs will always use them in place of setting up power routers because, well, all we want is a simple groove or two or some moulding to trim or decorate an edge and corner of our project, perhaps to make a picture frame or gift for `Christmas. We’re not looking for two hundred feet of anything. If we were, surely we would indeed use a machine of some type. Another thing I like is finding one of the good and well-known makers from the past who were prolific makers known to make quality planes. You can still research and pick a style to your liking, which is a way of getting the best value and the best collection too. Collecting planes is very interesting anyway but collecting them to use just adds icing to the cake and it is great fun too.

20 thoughts on “Collecting Moulding Planes”

  1. In North America, I can recommend without reservation Larry and Carole Meeker’s online sales of antique tools, including wooden molding planes:

    Here in the United States, I have purchased a very few wooden planes off ebay, and have come to prefer the Meekers as sellers because it appears they have pre-qualified the tools they are selling,pointing out “the warts and all” so you know what you are getting. And I think their prices are reasonable.

  2. Donald L Kreher

    In the U.S. I have collected a 300 or so moulding planes, around 100 I have restored, 100 more still need a good cleaning and 100 are in pretty bad shape and will need very serious work — bodies may even need to be replaced. I have paid between $8 and $15 (USD) each. But it seems now on US ebay the price has risen to $25-50 about twice the £10-20 you mention. Although if you buy them in lots you can still find some reasonably priced. And as you know ebay sales affect the sale price of antique malls, fairs, garage and boot sales. So, around here, it has become increasingly more difficult to find them in the $8-20 or £10-20 range. I still love them though.

  3. Long ago, when visiting New Zealand, I visited antique stores and purchased about 20 mounding planes. Flew them back to the US with me.

  4. Over recent years I have brought a couple of dozen from various NZ regional town junk shops, and I got given a box of 11 rear ones as thanks for a job I did!
    They are in good condition except one that was heavily borer eaten.
    I use a few for restoration projects.
    They are mostly Scottish made and would have come to NZ during colonial times to be used building houses and furniture out of Kauri.

  5. I’m slowly moving from power tools to hand tools and as you said, collecting planes is fun, but restoring and using them is even more fun!
    I have yet to try a mounding plane, but they sound intriguing.
    Setting up and using a router is time consuming, loud and messy.
    Thanks for the personal insight as alway!

  6. At last Paul….you talk of moulding planes and with the enthusiasm I do for mine.
    I have about 60. Some really old and still working perfectly to give s silky smooth finish.
    Thank you John2V

    1. Donald L Kreher

      I thought the same, but they are added. When I don’t see them when I load the page, then I do a refresh and they suddenly appear. Perhaps it is a cache issue.

  7. I like to see the owner’s marks, sometimes several of them, and think of all the things the tool might have made in its journey through time to me. I must say that, here in the US, my luck hasn’t been great and many of what I purchased never really functioned very well, probably because I did not know how to select good ones at the time. For those new to moulding planes, please be aware that you cannot use our modern approaches to fettling them. In particular, do not try to flatten the back. Often, the old irons were rocked on the stone in a manner that makes flattening impossible. You can waste a lot of time and never make things better. Also, it is common for the body to have shrunk, so you’ll often need to change the blade profile to match. I recently purchased a half set of H&R’s at an exorbitant price because they looked to be such fine planes, but it turned out that someone had prettied them up and, in so doing, destroyed the bedding of every iron. Fortunately, I was able to return them.

      1. I should clarify, that the issue is the difference between flattening just a bit of the back at the edge vs. trying to get the entire back flat or even a substantial part of it. I’ve had many irons that appear to have been lifted up when their backs were worked or perhaps were worked on cupped stones.

  8. Paul, how do you stop the borer/woodworm from infesting your moulding planes?
    It’s a problem I have with my small collection.

    1. I don’t do anything to prevent it it just hasn’t happened, Paul. It sounds as though you may have a localised beetle problem but you don’t say where you are in the world.

  9. I have a few mismatched planes, enjoyed the cleaning up and the occasional use for small embellishment – love a small side bead – but don’t have a usable Snipe plane. Any good alternatives to getting a groove going? Mike

  10. Philip William Simpson

    Dear Paul
    Thank you for your chat about moulding planes. I have several and love using them . What i like with some you can see faint finger marks were they have been used it like shaking hands with a past craftsman . I came across a u tube video about the last wooden plane maker in Briton in 1962 from Sheffield i can not remember his name but is worth finding there are two short videos so fascinating the speed he works from a block of wood he turns out moulding planes.

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