Wednesday, October 14, 2015

About wooden planes restoration, Step 1 Identification

As you probably surmised from my latest posts, and pictures, I have a "few" wooden planes to rehab, before they go reside into my plane tills.

So, at Gerhard request, I thought I shared with you how I go about it.

First, and probably most important, get as much info's as you can about this plane in your hands.

Why? Because, depending on its rarity and condition, I would change what I am willing to do to it.  It's the collector thinghy in me.

But nonetheless, if its very common, I would not hesitate to do more drastic repairs, such as: Strip, sand and refinish, wood patches as required, make new parts such as wedges, replacing the blade etc.

If it is more rare and or valuable, I would think twice before doing more than a careful cleaning, not wanting to deface it, just preserve it.
But at any rate, I always document the tool both with pictures of before/after and the results of whatever I found about it and its maker history along with its provenance and how much I paid for it etc...

I treat my old tools not just as users but as their caretaker for future generations.


First you need to establish its identity, most plane makers signed their work, most often by stamping imprints in the toe of the plane.  You will sometimes encounter various names stamps here and there, often repeated, but those are owners stamps, not maker stamps.

Often times, the maker stamps will include a location (Town) where it was made;
E.G. Glasgow, Kingston, Montreal, Roxton Pond, Philadelphia, etc.
This often create some confusion as the same name town exist in the UK and Canada, such as London (Ontario) and sometimes the same name is to be found in the US also.
Sometimes besides the name there is a State or Province with it, or a full address.

Thomas L. Appleton (Inc), Boston (Zb)
AS Lunt, 287 Hackney road, London.
The other stamps are owner marks.
These two examples above are what is know as Incised, or Incuse marks.

As a general rule, stamps before 1850-60 are likely to be embossed stamps (the letters are raised, denoted as ZB in some guides, because often found with a Zig Zag border) while after these dates they are mostly incuse (INC) or dug-in (depressed)

These stamps can be hard to see or read for various reasons. Long time ago, moulding planes were 10 to 10-1/2 in long, they finally standardize at 9 inch in the early 1800s.   Some of the older ones were later saw off to make them fit with the rest in the toolchest.  In which case, the makers stamp could have been sawed off.

Other times it is literally obliterated by lots of heavy coatings applied thru the years, it is still there, you just can't see it, hardly.

The Brits especially, used lots of Mutton Tallow on their planes so they tend to look darker woods than North American made ones.

Other times they were simply weak stamping to start with and were almost worn off.
Weak stamp, almost worn off.
_. MASON (ZB) Is it R or B. or E?
Hugh Evans is an owner name.
I haven not determined yet if it is British or American.
If you recognized it, please chime in

Uneven maker stamp.
Arrowmammett Works, Middletown N.J.
The black goop is typical of old dried up tallow. 

 There are many tricks used to "lift" the maker imprint or stamps off the plane.
One of the last thing you want to do at this point is to resort to sandpaper, you could literally sand off whatever details are crucial to its correct identity.

A good example of a Talcum powder enhanced stamp.
Confusing us even more, are the retailer stamps, often large hardware retail store.
But sometimes, if you know the years the retailer operated, it is a  bonus clue.

One of my new favorite is to simply use digital photography.
Once you have a clear picture of the toe, often the flash would create shadow that would make the stamping stand out, or sometimes just by reversing the colors, it stand out better. Of course you can also zoom on it and etc. Many a barely visible markings were uncovered with my trusty camera.

The point of other older methods was always trying to enhance the contrast, by using, talcum powder, dry rubbing on paper with a pencil etc.
It's easier, faster and you don't have to do anything to the artifact, if you are working in the digital format.

Typical maker stamps illustration in guides.
From my copy of American wooden planes.

Many reproductions of plane imprints have been collected thru the years, chance are yours would appears in one of them, but which ones?

Here in North America, the vast majorities of wooden planes were of English, American or Canadian manufacture.   There are over 3000 known British, American and Canadian plane makers alone.  You then need some sort of catalog or repertoire of plane makers of these three countries.
And they are:
A guide to the makers of American wooden planes by Emil and Martyl Pollack

My copy are the first editions, 1983 plus an 1989 update.
One of these days, I'll buy the latest edition.

The best compendium written so far was by the MacLachlan Museum of woodworking in Kingston On

The third revised edition, 2003, 5th printing 2010.

Here is a small sample of their wooden planes collection.
You may be able to pick up my nose imprints on the glass :-)

And you even get to play with some of them,.. How is one to resist :-)

"The" book is by WL Goodman

British planemakers from 1700 by WL Goodman

2nd edition 1978 

Later revised by Jane and Mark Rees
1993 edition

But I do not own a copy yet. So I have to refer to On line research.
Here are some sites I found.  If you know of more comprehensive ones, love to hear about it
Mathieson planes ID and value
British planemakers 

Other European plane makers see

Sometimes these guides will also give you some indication of its rarity:
From Common, Frequently Found to Seldom Seen, Rare etc.
Please note that most of these guides were written before a thing called EBay, since then, many previously believed rare planes have surfaced, causing major revisions to these guides. Check which revision you have in hands.  And even then, these guides are revised for other reasons, such as previously unknown makers, to incorrectly identified maker nationality. It becomes sometimes somewhat nebulous between British/American/Canadian makers, some are the same that moved around, some are not related. And then there is that little thing about town names...


Another good source of info are the markings on the blades, if found.

Typical stamps found on some of my bench woodies

Sometimes, but rarely, there is a name on the small tang of molding planes

Keep in mind, that some plane makers outsourced their irons, you will have to look at the history of a given maker to find out which ones they were using.
And in some bench planes, as the irons get used up, they were replaced thru the years.


For most of us, the wedge serves no other purpose than to hold the blade in place, but to some collectors, it can aid in identifying its maker, region, age and etc.

After the mid 19th century wedge shapes became largely standardized, because of mechanization. Earlier wedges were highly individual, reflecting their maker, styles, and training they received. We can then sometimes used the wedge shapes as a clue to its maker, provenance and date. Just remember that just like furniture style, some wedge shapes lasted longer.

Notice how some are relieved at the top, that is to facilitate adjusting the iron without hitting the top of the wedge. That is a nice feature to have.


Another source of great info are original or reprints of old catalog from past makers and collectors guides.

Seminal work by Kenneth D. Roberts
Lots of good info and reprint of old catalog pages etc.

Sargent planes by David Heckel
Sargent made lots of wooden planes, including H&R

Their H&R are model No 663 and they came in size No 1 to 15

V.A. Emond & Co
Often the cuts were actual size in the various catalog for easier identification.
Most often their planes have the actual size stamped, such as 1-1/2 on mine, instead of arbitrary sizing Nos

Sandusky Tool Co

Sandusky H&R were labelled as such:
No 92 are their regular H&R from No 1 to No 9
No 93 are the same thing but with skew irons
and finally No 94 are H&R (regular) No 10, 11 and 12

And of course, since the days of the Information Highway (the Web), lots more information is coming out and is accessible. But I still like to turn to my books for information.

So once you have identified your plane and have some idea of its rarity and value, we can now assess its condition and determined how much work we are willing to do to it.

And that would be part 2...

Bob, the old tool guy


  1. Nice post Bob. Thanks for giving me a yen for getting more plane books. I don't have any of these

  2. Your'e welcome, anything to push you down that slippery slope he he.
    You will find that some of these older editions command ridiculous prices on the market, but you can sometimes find them cheap in used book store.
    On of these post, Ill show you my favorite and must have books on tools. I have a "few" :-)

  3. Great series on wooden planes. I had no idea there was a WW museum in Kingston. A bit far given I've recently moved to Vancouver Island.

    Jim B

  4. HI Jim
    I knew about it for a while, but never had a chance to visit until last Sep.
    Small, but cramp pack with planes on a rotating basis, depending on the exhibit themes. Highly recommended, If I lived next door, i'll be a volunteer for sure :-)