I picked up a Harbor Freight #4 as a start into hand tool woodworking. I got the sole flattened out and sharpened up it does work decently doing some basic smoothing. That said it seems fiddly to keep dial it in each time I use it and it seems to dull fairly quickly so much so that it just won’t do it though I’m new to planes and aside from a modern stanley block plane it’s the only plane I’ve used.
My question is has anyone managed to use one of these reliably? I’m considering getting a thicker iron as my block plane cuts significantly better and has a significantly thicker iron but I’m also afraid it’s wasted money as the planes only value is really the time I’ve spent flattening the sole. For what it’s worth I’ve been searching for a more vintage #4 to restore that isn’t selling for collector money but have come up empty so far.
Quick eBay search brings up several Stanley #4 planes in the $10 to $20 plus shipping range. Almost any one of them would be better than the HF plane with a little tuning, IMO. I use several vintage planes, Stanley, Rockford, Millers Falls an even a Dunlap. All needed tuning and some needed totes repaired, etc. Save yourself some trouble and get a vintage plane. Just my 2 cents worth.
‘Matt; I too went down the Harbor Freight path when I first started. I spent lots of time trying to get the plane to work like I saw on Paul’s videos. I finally gave up and was fortunate enough to get a Stanley #4 from eBay. Knowing what I know today, maybe I could fettle the Harbor Freight plane to get it to work. Even with the #4 I got from eBay, it was challenging since there was no one to bounce ideas or questions or check that I was doing things right. Was it the plane or me? One of the best things I did was build Paul Seller’s garden bench. Lots of planing. It was good for me to learn how to read/feel (physical & mental) the wood. I’m still learning how to do that. One thing that did help me was I was fortunate enough to attend a Woodcraft demo where they were sharpening a WoodRiver 5 1/2. As part of the demo they let us each try the plane after it was sharpened. I realized I had been doing just fine with sandpaper on glass and eventually diamond plates. I could ‘feel’ the sharpness. It was a great confidence booster because I realized that ‘some’ of what Paul was teaching was getting through. Today I was planing the top/bottom of a chisel box I’m making for my son. Those shavings were coming off just like in Paul’s videos (no I’m not near as good as he is – just an old man making progress). I still have issues sharpening, i.e., keeping the edge square, but I’m working on that. Hope this helps in some small way and keep your eyes on eBay and local estate sales. There are good buys out there.
Price is not an issue infinding old planes if you just look a little.
Not only are there inexpensive Stanley’s out there, but you can find competitor or secondary market planes from the 30’s and 40’s even cheaper and all will be a better buy than a HF paperweight.
With a Stanley, you might have to do some derusting, painting, and maybe fix a tote. Collectors pass these by.
Sargent made good planes that differed from Stanley’s in minor details, and Stanley bought out Sargent and kept producing them, eventually just using Stanley castings, and made price competetive planes for major retailers like Sears, J.C. Penny, and Montgomery Ward and I find these for $20-$25 on EBay and for as little as $5 in thrift stores.
As an example, I recently picked up a WWII era Wards Master #3 made by Stanley that differs in only cosmetic details like lack of chrome on the lever cap and a twisted lateral adjuster instead of the Stanley 3 piece version. Stanley didn’t even Chrome much of its top of the line products during the war.
I paid under $5 for this Wards master #3. After derusting, refinishing totes, and a couple hours of serious fettling, it’s a great plane. It differs from a #4 by this stage of production by 1/4” in iron width and 1/8” in length from a #4.
All the totes and screw parts are interchangeable with the WWII Stanley #4 in the background ( I picked up the #4 in rusty condition for under $20). The castings bear the correct Stanley foundry marks, and the “Bailey” has been ground off. Otherwise, they are the same era Stanley parts, same proprietary threads, …everything. Note the No 3 marking on the nose that mirror the #4 markings on the Stanley.
The secret is familiarizing yourself with what secondary market items Stanley produced. Functionally they function just like a Stanley. They are always cheaper. Collectors hold their noses as they pass them by.
My advice is to keep looking, you are just throwing good money after bad with the HF product, as you have already found out with the iron.
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I’ve got some bids and watches on a number of them. My luck has been to have them stay low until the last hour or so. The other day I saw a #6 jump from $30 to $130 in the last 30 minutes.
I knew getting the HF wasn’t going to be a high performer but it got me started and if I can make use of it it’d be better than chucking it in the bin. I’ve yet to find any hand tool woodworkers in my area to actually get hands on. I discovered the local Rockler had hand planes on accident they were that well hidden in the non-descript locked cabinet in the corner.
O have one of the planes you are talking about from HF about 4 years ago. It is called a Windsors something or other plane.
Anyway, what I bought it for the purpose of converting to a scrub plane as per this Paul Sellers video.
or go to youtube and search for “sellers scrub plane”.
Don’t know how well it would work as a #4, I suspect not very good. As a scrub plane it works good. Oh, my hand is too big for the handle, I suppose many Chinese hands are smaller than mine, so I rasped off most of the top horn.
Someone else on here has done the same thing as I and he liked it as a scrub plane too.
In case you are not up on what a scrub plane is for, it hogs off lots of wood real fast to either make a board much thinner or take the warp out of it. Then the ripples are removed with a #4.
I also went the way of the cheap plane as many did but the fact is that most of the stanleys on the market today are there with the current market value on them and after having wasted time hoping to get one on the cheap, I resolved to buy a good new one. I went for the Stanley Sweetheart plane #4. It took a bit of getting used to the advancing mechanics but it has proved to be a plane I would recommend to anyone just starting out. It is a high quality plane with excellent steel in the iron ( keeps an edge well), the craftsmanship is very good and it cost about $130 ( just a few dollars more than they are asking for the used ones now).
Good luck with your woodworking.
If you insist on shopping for common tools like Bailey No.4’s on ebay, where you’ll be hit for $15-20 for shipping (as opposed to going out to local flea markets, estate sales and antique malls) here’s a tip:
People who actually win ebay auctions NEVER submit their bids until the closing seconds of the auction. This can be done manually or through services like esnipe dot com.
- This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by Dave Ring.
Since you already have some time invested in this tool, you can always tweak it more.
I have gotten a couple of these and also Buck Bros. which are no better.
The problems I had:
1. The frog and how it is bedded to the body of the plane does not rest flat and the casting was rough not machined. I resolved this with some small files, ensuring the bed of the plane body was parallel and level with the bottom edge of the plane.
2. Sand both the base of the frog and the top on flat surface to increase the contact area of the bed and the iron to the frog.
3. Clean the mouth of the plane with a file to insure it is perpendicular to the body of the plane. Check the mouth of the plane where the iron rests and be sure that it is not flexing the iron off the bed. The back angle on these weren’t machined and had grainy blobs of casting that would skew the iron. This can cause lots of inconsistencies when trying to reset the blade depth and skew and makes it very frustrating to set the blade.
I’ve tracked down one #4 so far that’s still on it’s way but I did get a #6 that was advertised as in restorable condition and just for fun I took it to some scrap wood and without doing anything including not sharpening it I’m getting way better results than my HF ever did so that makes me a believer.
I think I’m going to try the HF as a scrub plane but even then I’m watching a few other #4s so maybe I won’t even use it for that.
Thanks for all your replies!
The first plane I bought, in 1985, was a Master Mechanic plane from my local hardware store.Couldn’t figure why it wouldn’t work like my dad’s plane and figured it must be me. I still have that plane on my shelf and even after all these years of tuning and using hand planes I still can’t get that one to take a decent shaving. Some of these “tool shaped objects” just aren’t worth your trouble. Many people start with these tools like the HF, and give up hand tools thinking they just don’t work. I agree with the other writers-an inexpensive vintage plane will be a much better bargain for you. Best of luck with it!
My Stanley #4 arrived today, didn’t even stop to take pictures of it before I started cleaning rust off. I didn’t have time to sharpen it yet (and have diamond stones coming soon so waiting for that) but it was still sharp enough to make some shavings.
I’m guessing it’s a later production with the plastic adjustment wheel and it doesn’t have a frog adjustment screw thing.
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An update in case anyone stumbles on this in the future. If you still have your receipt just return it back to the store.
I did a quick sharpen on my Stanley #4, not even a full sharpen as I’m still waiting on new sharpening stones. I just usef some sand paper to get it down to flat on the back and correct bevel and then polished it with a fairly coarse wet stone and strop and I was amazed at the results I got.
I’ve spent maybe 30 minutes removing rust and another 30 on a quick sharpening up and I’m getting better than anything I ever got out of my HF #4 after hours and hours of flattening, sharpening, and adjusting, and resharpening and readjusting on and on. I paid a little more for the Stanley since it came from eBay and was shipped but it’s night and day difference.
This isn’t hyperbole, it’s really just that much better.
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