As I mentioned earlier, my foray into buying used bench planes on ebay is inspired by Paul Sellars, a British woodworker who writes eloquently about the value still to be found in old hand-planes and other tools. He puts his money where his mouth is too, by routinely using an old Stanley 04 he bought in the 1960s despite owning a number of premium planes.
His thesis is not that the older planes are better than the new premium range from Lie Nielson et al, on the contrary he knows full well that the technology advances in the last 70 years mean that the new high-end planes are produced to more exacting standards than ever. Rather his point is that the older planes were made to the highest standards of their day and just as they were good enough for the tradesmen who used them then, they can be good enough for us today.
He goes on to provide ample evidence for this view, including providing practical demonstrations on how to set them up and advice on what to buy. You can read and watch him here.
In the 1930s there were still several Sheffield based firms producing planes, and two of the most popular makers are names familiar to us now – Stanley and Record – brand names that live on, although arguably the craftsmanship and innovation that made their tools successful originally has long since gone.
Due to the popularity of these makes – 100s of thousands must have been made in the UK – they regularly show up on ebay (sometimes dozens in a single week) and generally go for between 20 and 30 GBP depending on age and condition. This is an astonishing bargain, since you are able to pick a high quality tool for the price of a few pints of beer, a plane that would have originally cost a tidy sum.
Given that I had read about the rapid decline of production standards in the 60s and 70s I was keen to find out a bit more of the history of the plane makers (and it turned out this was a fascinating subject in its own right). I decided to focus on Record for the simple reason that I already owned one, and armed with a bit of knowledge I began to monitor ebay, eventually purchasing these over the space of a couple of weeks:
Why was I moved to buy 3 planes when strictly speaking I had no real use for the one I already had? It was because I knew I would enjoy every step of the process, from researching the history; to finding them on ebay; to setting them up, and that this pleasure would be undimmed even if I only ever used them to create pointless but joyful savings from random bits of timber.
I have a similar affinity for the mechanics of gardening, such that although I enjoy the flowers and vegetables I grow, I would keep it up even if they were not part of it and only the manual labour of digging and hoeing remained. I suppose a career that alternates between shuffling paper and tapping on a computer keyboard helps one to appreciate the pleasures of physical work in a way that having it forced upon you thereby to earn a living probably does not.
Anyhow, I digress. The ebay planes, from left to right cost £17, £25 and £25 respectively plus an average of £6 postage each. All of them are clearly better made than the modern Irvin Record, and cost less to buy. What’s more I got 3 planes for a total cost equivalent of 1/3rd of the price of a single plane from Lie Nielson. If you are lucky enough to live in the UK , you can too.
Tune in for future installments on what to look for, why the old ones are good ones, and how to get them to work right.