FIrst Hand Plane Selection- What should I buy?

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  • #121616

    I am preparing to purchase my first plane (aside from a block plane). Many experts seem to suggest going with a jack plane initially, but I see Paul using a number four smoothing plane as his primary on almost every project. Money is a little tight. I can afford to invest between 75 and 100 dollars in planes right now. Any suggestions on what I should be looking for. Also I have a sharpening stone (Norton wet stone/double sided 600/1000 grit), and lots of variety in sand paper to get me started in sharpening.

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  • #121617
    Dave Riendeau


    Scott, number 4 or 4 1/2 stanley or record is a solid first choice, next would be a jack no. 5 or 5 1/2. If you look around you might just get both for your budget. The 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 have wider blades and are heavier planes and take a bit more effort to use.

    If you are going to use predimensioned lumber aka pine from homedepot etc then a no.4 is really all you need atm. As you grow in this endeavour your going to eventually get several planes and a jack plane in either size is likely to be your second when you start using rough sawn lumber. Next would definitely be both a router plane and a plough plane.

    Your sharpening system is sufficient but I’d suggest making a strop ( 3 inch x 12 inch piece of leather glued to a piece of wood. Charge it with chromium oxide and your good to go, it will polish your irons and take them to another level of sharp.

    Refining the old planes is a fun and you can get these old tools to work beautifully. I just have to show this photo, bought this old Bailey no.4 a few weeks ago and got the iron all tuned up and was playing with a piece of mahogany 🙂


    Matt McGrane


    I’ll second the advice above about #4 and #5. My first planes were flea market finds, a very worn block (practically unusable), two #3 smoothers and a #6 Stanley fore plane. Eventually I found a Stanley #4 smoother and it’s my go-to plane now. I have a couple #5’s, one set up as a scrub plane. I got lucky at a garage sale last year and got a Lie-Nielsen #8 jointer for $100 (I was skipping a jig on the way home from that!).

    The number 4 is a great way to start. But you will eventually want something longer to straighten long edges.

    You don’t have to pay a lot if you have patience. I know, it’s not always easy to have patience when you need some tools for your projects. Garage sales are great places to find things. I got my first four flea-market planes for $60. Much later I got my two #5’s and my #4 for free from putting a request on a “free-cycle” website. I have also paid full price for a few specialty planes -router, plough, rabbet and shoulder planes. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get quality tools of these types on e-bay or other sites.

    It will come with time. Be patient.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016:

    mike forbes


    Third on the #4. I picked a old Bailey #4 from craigslist for 20 bucks. Check around for a tool collecting club in your area as members can be a great resource. Dealers are not bad either if you are looking for a user. Jim Bode Tools I have used for spokeshaves and plough planes in the past and I have seen #4’s go for 50 bucks there. Yes they carry the pricy ones too but many he has are affordable and you have better chance than on ebay if there are issues. Ebay also is not a bad place to look but quality can be questionable and pricing sometimes makes the dealers look good.

    I use a 1000/8000 and recently added a 4000 waterstone to the mix. I hollow ground on the bench grinder with the norton 3x super cool grinding wheels and then free hand hone with the water stones.

    I need to add a strop to my sharpening tools next.




    No 4 to start to get a feeling about using a plane. If you’re like me and start with small boxes, that should get you going.

    Next a no 5 and possibly another no 4 really cheap to turn into a scrub plane. That really got me going on rough lumber.
    Just a few days ago I made some handles out of a log of firewood. Last year the same thing with only a no 4 took me several hours, now I got my blanks foursquare in under 40 mins using my scrub and a smoother.

    I went for the smaller version of the ezelap diamond stones. Do get some good chromeoxide polishing compound, it made stropping a hell of a lot easier. I got mine from ‘bay.

    Just my opinion.



    I would start with a #4 ( and is my favorite I use it 99% of the time. ), next I would look to get either a #6 or #7 then the #5 jack plane. Just my $.02 and works for me, I have all the planes including 1/4 and 1/2 sizes from #3 thru #7 and rarely use anything except my #4 thanks to Paul.


    Steve Massie, I live in the great State of Florida, US



    Many people recommend the #5 as the first plane you should acquire. I have one, but my “go to” plane is a 1910 patent Stanley #4. As Paul says: There’s nothing it won’t do. I also have a 4 1/2 that I enjoy using on wider stock and a #6 that I primarily use as a jointer. Though unmodified except for the iron, my #5 is set up to use primarily as a scrub plane. That said, I do believe the one plane I’d hate to do without is my old #4.



    Hi Scott. I spent a lot of time and money on this one, probably like a lot of other people. After following Paul for a while I am convinced that I can’t add much to what the others have said, they’re right about a smoothing plane as a first choice. Something to consider though, buying vintage tools can be a real learning experience because you have to prepare or repair them before you can use them. It may save some money, but the frustration of not knowing if it is the tool or the user causing poor results is not really worth it for the beginner in my opinion. If I had to do it all over again, I would opt for a new E.C. Emmerich jack plane. I finally bought one after years of waffling. Out of the box, no fettling. Razor sharp after ten minutes of polishing the iron back and honing. See through shavings after five minutes of learning to adjust a wedged plane. In the U.S. I was able to get this plane for something like $115 plus shipping. I’m pretty sure it will replace my late production Stanley which works okay now, but took huge amounts of time to get there. The satisfaction for a new woodworker with this plane would probably be inestimable. Food for thought.



    P.S. The plane i got is the wedged jack plane with the cap iron. I did not get the fancy shmancy Primus plane. The smoothing version is shorter with a higher pitch for the same price from Traditional Woodworker. If you’re interested.

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