Antique Wood Planes (Identification & Value Guide)

Are you new to the world of antique planes and you have a strong passion for old wooden planes? Or, are you a veteran collector of antique planes who frequents online auction sites, garage sales, and thrift stores in search of antique wood planes?

Antique wood planes are one of the most exciting finds for most woodworkers among all antique hand planes. They were originally designed to smooth wood, but collectors now admire old wooden planes for their beauty and intricate craftsmanship.

However, even the most knowledgeable collectors of woodworking tools can have trouble identifying them. This is because all antique wood planes share a similar design, which makes it difficult to focus on the individual characteristics of each piece.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about antique wood planes and how to identify them for both newcomers and  experienced collectors.

A Brief History of Wooden Planes

A black vintage Stanley Bailey hand plane
A black vintage Stanley Bailey hand plane Source: eBay 

Carpenters and other woodworkers have been using planes for shaping and smoothing wood for centuries. They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.

They can be traced back to the Roman Empire, where they were used for construction. There are even claims that they were used by the ancient Egyptians, as their tombs have a smoothened appearance that can be attributed to wood planes.

Antique wooden hand planes were constructed with a metal blade and wooden handles or knobs for grip. They became very popular and were mass-produced in the mid to late nineteenth century.

During that time period, a few notable manufacturers took the bull by the horns with their unique styles. Manufacturers like Stanley Tools, Belknap, with their superior construction, Sargent, with their distinctive styling, and many other greats.

Types of Antique Wood Planes

Antique hand planes were available in a wide range of sizes and shapes each of which served a specific purpose. In this part of the article, we are going to talk about a few of them according to the categories in which they fall.

Smoothing Planes

A Wooden Fore Plane
A Wooden Fore Plane Source: Dreamstime.com

Smoothing planes, as the name implies, are the final planes used on wood to give it a finished appearance. They are typically short and wide, and they are useful for trimming unwanted parts and smoothing out undesirable features..

The following are antique hand planes that are used for smoothing wood surfaces:

Fore Plane: This plane has a curved blade that can quickly and easily cut through thick wood. It measures between 16 and 20 inches in length.

Try Plane: After using the fireplace, the user can use the try plane, which is approximately 12 to 18 inches in length and has a blade that is slightly curved, to smooth out any remaining planing marks.

Smoothing Plane: The smoothing plane is a small hand plane with a nearly flat blade that was used to complete the process of smoothing a wooden surface.

How to Identify Antique Wood planes

These planes can be easily identified in two ways; wooden planes with markings and those without. Methods of identifying antique planes without markings will be discussed.

There are also some great books that can help you on your way to becoming an antique wood plane collector.

● Wood Planes With Manufacturer’s Marks:

The mark of the original manufacturer is the most reliable method for determining the age of antique wood planes. These marks can take the form of a logo or the manufacturer’s actual name. Other information such as the production date may be included.

They are used not only for identification, but also to determine the value of antique planes and how old they are. However, this varies because not all marks are valuable.

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Leonard Bailey and Company’s trademark is a good example of a well-known manufacturer’s mark. It was founded in the mid-1800s and is still one of the most well-known manufacturers today.

Antique Bailey Wood Plane Manufacturer's Mark-Side View
Antique Bailey Wood Plane Manufacturer’s Mark-Side View              Source: Leonard Bailey and Company
Antique Bailey Wood Plane Manufacturer's Mark Bottom View
Antique Bailey Wood Plane Manufacturer’s Mark Bottom View Source: Leonard Bailey and Company

Another popular brand among woodworkers is The Stanley Rule and Level Company. Since its founding in 1857, the Stanley brand has been renowned for the durability of its products as well as the quality of its craftsmanship. They also produce a wide range of other tools, including screwdrivers and hammers.

Close-up View of Vintage Stanley Rule&Level Circular Compass Wood Plane Manufacturer’s Mark
Close-up View of Vintage Stanley Rule&Level Circular Compass Wood Plane Manufacturer’s Mark Source: The Stanley Rule and Level Company
Side View of Vintage Stanley Rule&Level Circular Compass Wood Plane Manufacturer’s Mark
Side View of Vintage Stanley Rule&Level Circular Compass Wood Plane Manufacturer’s Mark                                      Source: The Stanley Rule and Level Company

● Wood Planes Without Manufacturer’s Marks:

Even without a manufacturer’s mark, two factors can aid in antique wood plane identification. They are also trustworthy methods of identification.

Parts of the Wood Plane:

Certain features of a wood plane can reveal whether it is antique or not. Wood planes with horned lever caps were most likely made before the mid-18th century, indicating their antiquity. Curved totes and hand-cut screws are other tell-tale signs of antique hand wood planes.

In addition, one factor that most aged items have in common is wear. Some areas of the wood on antique items would have scratches, nicks, and roughness. In contrast, modern aircraft have a fresh, newly-finished appearance and feel.

The Numbering System:

Stanley Tools invented a numbering system in the 1800s. It is a numerical classification system for wood planes based on size.

As previously discussed, Stanley Company is a very influential company that has been so for the past 150 years. Their influence was so strong at the time that many other toolmakers adopted this system.

The logic behind this numbering system is that the larger the plane, the higher the number. Woodworkers with experience will recognize that a No. 1 smoothing plane is smaller than a No. 2 smoothing plane.

No. 5½ Numbering On a Plane
No. 5½ Numbering On a Plane Source: Wonkee Donkee Tools 

The numbers are usually written at the plane’s toe, front end, or heel. This is an excellent method for identifying antique wood planes.

● Identification Manuals and Price Guides:

Price guides are very useful books for antique wood plane identification. They include detailed descriptions and clear images of various wood planes, as well as their prices.

You could either get purchase price guides only for wood planes or woodworking tool price guides as those also have sections for wood planes.

If the manufacturers of your wood planes are well-known, you won’t have to buy as many books to find the information you need. Identification manuals are just as helpful in identifying antique planes, but they don’t include retail prices.

These price guides and identification manuals are available at garage sales and online auctions.

Stanley Planes: A guide to identification and value by Hans Brunner

A Price Guide to Antique Tools by Herbert. P. Ken

● Online Resources and Guides:

There are a few websites on the Internet that contain all the information necessary for the easy identification of antique tools.

Antique Buyer:

This is one of the internet’s largest and most well-known sources for antique planes and tools. The website features numerous images and a wealth of information regarding vintage and antique woodworking tools.

Museum of Woodworking Tools:

This is an online collection of exhibits from the physical museum, all of which provide information about woodworking tools.

One of their newest exhibits, “A Guide to Honing and Sharpening,” is an instructional exhibit that is one of the most thorough examinations of honing ever published.

● Other Ways to Identify Antique:

There are antique organizations you could investigate, antique shops where you could ask questions, and antique communities where you could display your antique planes for free identification.

The Rarest and Most Valuable Antique Wood Planes

These antique wood planes are typically the oldest of their kind, and because they are so difficult to find, their value is quite high.

❖ Francis Nicholson Planes

Francis Nicholson Complex Molding Plane
Francis Nicholson Complex Molding Plane Source: WorthPoint

Francis Nicholson was documented in history as America’s first plane maker in the 18th century. His works are quite old, and as a result, they are extremely scarce and in high demand.

It was sold for the price of $5,000 once at an auction. This is understandable given the extreme value of the planes, which easily have the potential to sell for several thousand dollars.

❖ Carpenter Patent Plow Plane

A Wooden E. W. Carpenter Plow Plane
A Wooden E. W. Carpenter Plow Plane Source: Jim Bode Tools 

This plane has a distinct appearance that sets it apart from the other planes that had been created. For convenience, it features a handle on its back, elevating its desirability and value. It was sold for $17,600 at an antique wood plane auction.

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❖ Adams Patent Patternmaker’s Plane

Adams Patternmaker’s Plane
Adams Patternmaker’s Plane Source: Family Handyman

This bench plane was designed by Adams S. M. On June 4, 1872, he was granted a patent number, hence the patent number in its name.

Sections of the sole can be adjusted to form different curves for creating wood patterns. It varies in composition and may be composed of iron or bronze. It was auctioned off for a total of $19,000 at a plane sale.

❖ Norris Jointer Planes

Norris Jointer Planes
Norris Jointer Planes  Source: Pinterest 

Thomas Norris designed the Norris Jointer planes during World War II. Because many of the planes were destroyed during that time, only a few are available now. So, they are very hard to find. They sold for $12,000 at auction.

❖ Miller Patent No. 50 Gunmetal Plane

Stanley Miller Patent Gunmetal Plow plane
Stanley Miller Patent Gunmetal Plow plane  Source: Jim Bode Tools

The Stanley antique plane is also rare and highly valuable. Due to its limited production run in the 1870s, it is now very hard to find. Despite its rarity, it is highly popular in today’s world. It sold for $18,650 in an auction.

Factors that Influence the Value of Antique Wood Planes

In the same way that there are factors that can affect the value of any other valuable possession, there are factors that can influence the value of antique hand planes. These factors will be discussed in this section.

Age

Generally, the older the plane, the more valuable it is. Even though not every old plane is valuable, the most valuable ones are old. Wood planes dating back to the 1700s or even the early 1800s are considered antique wood planes and are extremely valuable.

Condition

The condition of a wooden plane could also influence its value. Typically, this factor goes along with age. This is because, in most cases, age contributes to the condition of an antique.

An antique wood plane may be old and in poor condition. This would be less valuable than one in good condition.

Antiques increase in value as they age. Nonetheless, if this antique has not been maintained in good condition over the years, it may not be as appealing to the public, and its value may be diminished accordingly.

Rarity

When it comes to antiques, age typically equates to rarity because it becomes difficult to keep track of items that date back centuries, making them hard to find. A rare wooden plane would be worth more than a common wooden plane.

Given that “rare” is likely to be interpreted as “very old and limited in quantity,” a rare wood plane would be highly sought after, thereby increasing its value.

Demand and Desirability

An antique wood plane must be in higher demand than its counterparts in order to be more valuable. When something is in high demand, it gains value because everyone wants it but not everyone can afford it.

The value of an antique wood plane or any other tool is heavily influenced by its age and rarity. People will always desire what is only available to a select few.

Origin/Provenance

The provenance of something refers to its history of ownership or origin. This is another important factor that may influence the value of an antique wood plane. Knowing the history of a wooden plane can increase its value.

An antique wood plane that belonged to a famous person or a well-known early craftsman gives a bonus to its value. The antique wood plane’s value and desirability will increase if it is marked with the logo of the manufacturer or the initials of a well-known person.

Another factor influencing the value of a wood plane is whether or not it has been refurbished. For many collectors, the antique’s original state is preferred and will increase its value.

Resources for Antique Wood Plane Price Guide  

Online sites, books and write-ups, and even onsite at auction houses can all be used to determine the value of an antique piece. We’ll provide a list of resources below where you can find antique wood planes. Some guides focus solely on antique wood planes.

The majority of woodworking guides, however, cover all types of woodworking tools, not just antique wooden hand planes.

In any case, you should exhaust all identification methods to determine the rarity of your tool. You should not purchase an expensive price guide for a less valuable tool.

Most importantly, the condition, age, and rarity of your tool must be taken into account, not just the guide price. This hand-carved cabinet maker’s plane with the date, which sells on Rubylane for $479, is an example of an antique with which you can compare your own item.

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Hand-carved Cabinet Maker's Wooden Hand Plane With Markings
Hand-carved Cabinet Maker’s Wooden Hand Plane With Markings Source: Rubylane

Also, because some of these price guides are out of date, the retail prices differ from the current ones.

Fortunately, the price guides include images and details that you can rely on to be correct regardless of the year. These identification manuals are your best option if you’re new to collecting wood planes.

Here are some price guides for Norris planes gathered by Tony Murland Antiques. It was last edited in 2013 and gathered on this site.

Pricing Estimates for Some Common Antique Wooden Planes

  1. The Stanley No. 3 smoothing plane goes for this range of prices on eBay: $50-$800
  2. The Millers Falls No. 8 smoothing plane will sell for prices between $120-$350 as seen on ebay.
  3. On eBay, the Stanley No. 4 smoothing plane will sell for prices between $65-$160
  4. The Millers Falls No. 24 jointer plane goes for prices within this range on eBay: $120-$250
  5. The Stanley No. 5 jack plane will sell for prices within this range on eBay: $75-$140

Value Guide Resources

If you enjoy using book guides, these books will be useful for determining the value of your antique wood planes. But there are websites that specialize in price guides for a variety of tools. These have a broader range of options. Here are some reliable resources for your value guide:

Online Sites for Antique Wood Plane Value Guide

Carter’s Price Guide to Antiques

This online resource for price guides provides a plethora of options for users to look through and choose from. They describe the tools in great detail and keep a list of previous buyers as well as the amount and date a tool was sold for.

Jim Bode Tools

Simply look for the desired section by conducting a search. The antique wood planes, along with their prices and images, are displayed. They also display their past prices and sales figures for customers to view and evaluate. This retail store was opened in 2006.

Worth Point

Worth Point’s subscription plan may be more expensive than the others listed here. They are your typical online resource site. Worthpoint has books from their library, articles, and expert takes on antique tools in their newsletter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Older Hand Tools Better than Those That Were Made Recently?

This is purely subjective. Some woodworkers favor the aged feel of an older plane. Aside from the thrill of employing an antique tool crafted by woodwork masters, there are new and improved tools that can outperform older ones in terms of functionality.

Will Use Reduce the Value of Antique Hand Planes?

No. An antique hand plane will appreciate in value if properly maintained. Although preferences vary, woodworkers will prefer a slightly used hand plane over a new one. This is especially true in the case of antiques. The patina and wear add to its appeal.

Should I Restore My Antique Wood Plane?

Yes. But before proceeding, confirm the age and rarity. A restoration would be unnecessary for any common, previously used wood plane because you need your tool to be efficient. Older tools with collectible value must be restored gently. This will preserve its value for future sales.

Conclusion

Antique wooden hand planes and the other types of planes mentioned here were made during a period of increased interest in woodworking.

The planes that are rare today were produced in fewer numbers. Those which are more common were mass-produced with the advent of technology to produce them. If you are familiar with the manufacturer’s and maker’s marks, you can easily identify a valuable antique.

Price guides are useful in cases of wear. We hope this article has provided you with all of the information you need to identify and value antique wood planes. Kindly leave your comments and enquiries in the comment section!

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