Although identifying antique wood planes is often difficult for a novice collector, there are also times when a particular piece can give even a seasoned antique tool collector some difficulty. Thanks to their rather universal basic design, antique wood planes and their unique styles and manufacturers aren't always immediately identifiable to newcomers to the tools trade. However, with if you have a few guides on-hand and a cursory knowledge of the historic carpentry market, you'll be able to make out a specific model in no time at all.
Antique Wood Plane Collectors
Of all the antique hand tools made, the wood plane is one of the most highly sought after by tool collectors. Woodworking fans browse antique shops and online auction websites, search through the tools at thrift stores, and rummage through boxes of old tools at garage sales and flea markets hoping to find a hidden treasure that would be a perfect addition to their growing tool collection.
For many of these collectors, coming across an antique wood plane during one of their treasure hunts is an exhilarating prospect. The excitement can build as they wonder if the tool is a rare Stanley woodworking tool such as a Stanley No.11 bull nose wood plane, a valuable Zenith Marshall Wells No.2 smooth plane, or a No.50G wood plane made by Thomas Norris & Sons. Of course, these collectors have to be careful about the pieces they add to their collections since there are many factors that can affect an antique tool's rarity and value.
Thanks to the wood plane being such a vital tool in all sorts of construction practices for the past few hundred years, there are a vast number of antique wood planes in existence, which can often cause confusion surrounding their identification. Unfortunately, the more common resources that appraisers use to identify an antique tool like makers' marks, company names, or other identifying characteristics, have worn away with time and use, making this identification a daunting task.
Antique Woodworking Plane Manufacturers
Antique wood planes experienced high-yield production years between the mid to late-19th century, with some notable manufacturers taking control of the market with their superior designs. Due to this, wood planes from specific manufacturers can be valued at higher prices than lesser quality or handmade antique planes can.
Stanley planes are considered by many to be the premiere type of antique wood plane available. Beginning in 1843 and going through several mergers and acquisitions later, Stanley grew into a tour de force of the hardware industry, and only grew in popularity thanks to purchasing seven design patents from Leonard Bailey in the mid-century (whose planes feature a stamp mark reading Bailey's Patent). That being said, there're about thirteen different types of antique Stanley wood planes that you can find in collections around the world (easily identifiable by their patented numbers that've been pressed into the metal), all of which vary in size and price.
The Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company began in 1840, and grew to become one of Sears and Roebuck's major competitors. Blue Grass was one of Belknap's most identifiable brands, and many of their woodworking tools featured this name. While these wood planes are similarly designed to Stanely's planes, many people preferred Blue Grass' hammers and axes to their traditional wood-working tools, so you'll find fewer of these items going for substantial amounts at auction.
Another contemporary to Stanley and Belknap was the Union Manufacturing Company, a tools manufacturing business that was founded in 1866. Despite having made their debut in the 1860s, the first documented evidence of them producing woodworking planes comes from the 1880s, and the first planes bearing Union's marks date to 1898-1899. These early tools don't actually say the Union name; rather, thanks to an acquisition that gave them the resources to enter the woodworking industry, they reflect the Birmingham designs and bear the name "B plane." However, later planes reflect the company's arched eponymous logo.
Resources for Identifying Antique Wood Planes
Excellent resources exist both online and in-person to help you with acing any antique plane identification you find yourself undergoing.
Price Guides and Identification Manuals
One of the most useful types of books for antique plane identification is a good price guide for antique tools. Price guides generally have excellent descriptions, pictures or drawings of the various wood planes, and the current retail prices of the planes. Interestingly, there are price guides written expressly for wood planes; however, other antique tool price guides have generalized sections on woodworking tools or a specific section on wood planes, meaning that you don't always have to shell out the money for a hard-to-find guide if you've got a fairly common plane in your possession.
Tool price guides from past years shouldn't be overlooked as they can still be valuable sources to help you with wood plane identification. These price guides are often found at garage sales or online auctions at more reasonable prices than current collections can be. Although the retail prices listed aren't current any longer, rest of the information generally remains the same.
Tool identification manuals don't include the current retail value of items, but they do offer excellent information regarding specific tools, including wood planes. Pictures, sketches, and parts drawings are often included in these books as well. Many also include patent year charts and tool manufacturing company information that can be super helpful for someone who doesn't know quite where to start with plane identification.
The following are several price guide and identification manuals that you can utilize:
- The Stanley Rule and Level Company's Combination Planes by Kenneth D. Roberts
- A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planesby Martyl Pollack, Edward A. Fagen, and Emil Pollack
- A Field Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes by Thomas L. Elliott
- Antique & Collectible Stanley Tools Guide to Identity & Value by John Walter
Online Identification Resources
You can find a mind-boggling amount of information relating to tool curation, identification, and history in the depths of your favorite search engine. So, if you're looking for more information relating to all sorts of facets of antique wood planes, then head on over to these various websites.
- Super Tool - Although this resource is currently under construction, it houses an extensive amount of information on all types of antique woodworking planes. Organized in a way that even the newest carpentry student can follow, this website is the go-to for finding information on specific planes based on their individual design (such as width, weight, and manufacturing years).
- Antique Mystique - Antique Mystique is a great place to go if you're looking to add both antique and vintage woodworking tools to your toolbox for a reasonable price. Their inventory is a bit of a hodgepodge of manufacturers and types of woodworking tools, meaning you should check back in relatively frequently to see if they've added something that you've been looking for to their collection.
- Union Hill Antique Tools - Union Hill Antique Tools is similar to Antique Mystique in that it also offers antique woodworking tools for sale. Unfortunately, they don't have the largest inventory, so they might not be the best resource if you're looking for variety.
- Falcon-Wood - Falcon-Wood has a great collection of Stanley tools for sale, many of which are antique and vintage carpentry planes in good condition and at reasonable prices.
- Antique Buyer - A vestige of the y2k internet days of yore, Antique Buyer buys and sells antique wood planes to people just like you. While their main site hosts their past sales, you'll have to head over to their sister website, Antiques of a Mechanical Nature, to find out what they currently have for sale.
- Museum of Woodworking Tools - The Museum of Woodworking Tools is an interesting digital collection of permanent exhibits found at the brick-and-mortar museum that was first launched in 1998 which explores various topics relating to global woodworking. Some of their exhibits include ones compiling Stanley combination planes and the 'Planes of Cesar Cehlor.'
- The Mid West Tool Collectors Association - If you're interested in getting involved in a local woodworking community, then the Mid West Tool Collectors Association is a group you should consider joining. Featuring newsletters, meet-ups, and hundreds of people with unique woodworking experience and knowledge, this collector's association can help you turn your personal pleasure into a communal activity.
Additional Places for Antique Wood Plane Identification
If you have an antique wood plane and need assistance with its identification, there're several other options available to you.
- Most antique shop owners will offer help if antique tools are one of their specialties.
- Many communities hold antique appraisal events where identification and appraisals are provided free or for a nominal fee.
- Check out Antiques Roadshow or similar antiques organizations to see if there's going to be any appraisal services in your area.
Take Your Woodworking to the Next Level
Turn your thrift store haul into a treasure hunt by testing your collector's limits and identifying an antique wood plane or other woodworking tool. Even if you don't figure out the exact manufacturer, design, or date on your first try, you'll still have loads of fun doing some at-home detective work.