The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Sticker shock.


With the year coming to a close, I kept the promise I made to myself and did not purchase any new woodworking tools this past year. For the record, I have no problem with purchasing new tools, old tools, or any tools. As I’ve said many times before, whether you prefer working with five tools or fifty, that is nobody’s business but your own.

In any event, I do have a bit of guilt free woodworking money, though I didn’t really plan on spending it for a bit. Though last night I did try and was quite shocked at what I found.

To begin at the beginning, my Father-in-Law has some land in upstate Pennsylvania, and on that land is a lot of trees. From time to time those trees need to be felled, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind bringing me home some hickory and ash the next time they happened to take them down. A few weeks back when my Father-in-Law visited he dropped off two large pieces (logs) of Hickory and a smaller (but still nice sized) ash log. I promptly split the ash log with my somewhat sharp axe (more on that in another post) and sawed in half one of the hickory logs. Because I only have limited experience in working with wood “from the log”, I was at a bit of a loss as far as how to further proceed.

Ideally, I would use a band saw to cut the logs to rough size, use a jack plane to get the boards somewhat true, then run the boards through a surface planer to get close to final dimension. Since I don’t own a bandsaw, that plan is out the window. I could go the really old school route and rough shape the boards with a hatchet, however, this past summer I dealt with tendonitis in my right arm, and it was not fun. Tendonitis cannot be cured with exercise, though stretching seems to help, and after splitting some boards with an axe for 30 minutes I fully realized that axe work is not a long-term solution for me. After doing some research, it seems that one agreed upon method is using a bow saw to kerf the wood to rough size, chop out the waste, and using a scrub plane to hog the board down to rough dimension. Why a scrub plane and not a jack plane? Apparently the “experts” say that the physical size and weight of the jack plane is not conducive to this type of work, and it will simply take too long and be too tiring to perform any meaningful work. So I turned to the idea of purchasing a scrub plane.

For those who may be unaware, a scrub plane is simply a small bench plane containing a thick iron with a heavy radius to quickly hog off material from rough sawn boards. When I first began woodworking, these planes could be found in good condition on Ebay usually for around $50, the Stanley 40 ½ being one of the more common versions. Since I hadn’t, at the time, ever planned on preparing lumber straight from the log, or rough dimensioning all of my lumber in general, a scrub plane was near the bottom on my list of necessary woodworking tools. It had never even occurred to me to buy one until now. So last night when I was doing some scrub plane research my jaw dropped at the costs.

A new scrub from Lie Nielsen or Veritas costs in the $150 range, which is what I expected. A traditional, wood-bodied scrub from ECE costs between $90-$100 depending on the source. Though I like the look of the ECE plane, and it is relatively inexpensive, they only offer it with a Chrome Vanadium iron. I am no expert on tool steel, but I know that I prefer high carbon steel to the stuff similar to A2. The high carbon steel sharpens easier, and that is all that matters to me. Anyway, before going the “new” route, I decided to give Ebay a try, and boy was I surprised at what I found.

Most of the scrub planes on Ebay (and there was not a large variety to choose from) ranged in cost from $100-$125, not including shipping. Every one of those planes was in need of restoration. The planes in better condition were at least the cost of a new tool, and in most cases much more. I did a bit more research and found that scrub planes have apparently become a hot commodity among tool collectors, though I’m not sure as to why.

So this now leaves me in a bit of a dilemma. Those of you who have read this blog in the past will know that I have nothing against tool restoration; I am in fact in the middle of restoring several tools at this very moment. Nonetheless, I feel that $100 plus is far too much money for a vintage tool that needs work in order to become usable, in particular when I can get a newer and better version for just a little more in cost. While I generally believe that the market should dictate the cost, in this case the market is wrong.

That all being said, for the time being I will likely hold off on ordering this tool until the New Year. On President’s Day weekend Lie Nielsen is having a hand tool event in Philadelphia, and I may wait until then before I make my final decision. That may mean holding off on getting my hickory logs into usable boards, but I wasn’t planning on doing anything with them until at least the end of January to begin with (I’m planning on making a handful of mallets with one log, among other things) The strange part in all of this is just how far off my estimates were. I’m generally pretty good when it comes to knowing what a tool should and shouldn’t cost. When it came to the scrub plane I was off by a lot, and most of the tools I found were at least double the cost I thought they should have been. I don’t know what changed the market, and I don’t really care. I just know that in this case a vintage tool was not the way to go, and sadly, I’ve found that this is more and more becoming a common occurrence.

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22 Comments

  1. orepass says:

    Bill, I was so stunned by the prices you noted that I went to ebay myself to confirm. Wow! I picked up a scrub plane a few years ago while wandering a flea market for $20. It was in great condition and only needed a little sharpening. Prices have changed considerably, I’m especially surprised why a scrub plane would be so much? I do enjoy the Stanley that I have and its light weight is a benefit. However at the prices you mention I think I would take my number 4 and put a nice radius on an old blade and go to work.

    • billlattpa says:

      When I first started woodworking I can remember seeing them for between $15-$20, and a “still in box” version was being sold for $40. I have an old #3 that I’m not attached to that I would have no problem modifying, but in all honesty I really just don’t feel like doing it :), though that would definitely be the least expensive way to go about it.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  2. Alex A. says:

    If it golf/tennis elbow I have found an arm band (the kind with the air pouch) helps a lot.

    • billlattpa says:

      I have one of those that I wear at work and it does help. I’ve found that the wrist band seems to work best, the only issue I have with it is that I’ve tried to woodwork while wearing it and it is somewhat awkward. The arm band I wear everywhere, so much so that it’s become part of my dressing routine.
      Thanks
      Bill

  3. Gary Warchock says:

    Bill:

    Pay the extra cost and buy the Lie Nielsen scrub plan. The price of old hand tools is getting way out of hand and especially since you have to spend time and effort in bringing them back into good working order most of the time. The LN comes sharp and ready to use right out of the box and as an exact copy of the Stanley scrub plane without all the hassle.

    Gary Warchock

    • billlattpa says:

      I can pretty much guarantee that if I buy a scrub plane it will be new. There is no way I am going to pay new tool prices for a vintage tool just because it is old and somehow “cooler”. I’m not a collector, and I buy these tools to use.
      The LN seems to get the best reviews, the only thing concerning me is the iron. It does not say on the LN web page if the iron is A2 or O1. I do not particularly care for A1 tool steel, so if I do end up purchasing a new scrub plane I will get in contact with LN customer service and find out exactly what type of steel the iron is made from.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  4. TaDa Man says:

    One thought is to take a rough and inexpensive #4 and open the mouth; camber the iron and have a “Paul Sellers Scrub Plane”. He has the video on his YouTube channel.

    • billlattpa says:

      I saw that video and I like the idea, I’m just being lazy. I have a #3 plane that has no sentimental value to me, and I’m sure I could grind down the iron and make it usable, though that will take a bit of time. I was hoping I could spend $50 and get a tool that only needed a cleaning and quick honing to get to work, but it looks like that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  5. Nathan Simon says:

    If you don’t have big project in mind cut the boards you split out to rough length. That way tackling one board at a time won’t be over strenuous with a jack or perhaps a hatchet for a high spot or two. Hickory and ash also make nice tool handles split some small pieces and have some fun making some of those.

    • billlattpa says:

      That is a good idea, and what I did with the ash log, though it took quite a bit longer than I expected it to. The hickory is in far larger pieces, and I was hoping to tackle them in quarters. Part of the issue is my axe is not as sharp as it should be. I haven’t sharpened it since July, and that is because I brought it with me the last time I was on my Father-in-Law’s property, and I lost my sharpening disc. I also have a draw knife that looks like heck but is a pretty solid worker that is also still upstate, but at least it isn’t lost; I Just have to remind him to bring it home with him next time he is there.

      I’d like to make some tool handles and mallets with the hickory as well as a set of #8 hollow and round planes. Hickory may seem like an odd choice for planes but from what I am finding out it can be a good choice for plane making.

      I sawed in half one of the hickory logs, and I am going to experiment and try kerfing it with a bow saw and seeing how flat I can get it, sort of like making notches for a log cabin. I don’t look forward to spending $150 on a scrub plane, so I’m going to try a lot of other options first.
      Thanks
      Bill

  6. jkvernier says:

    I used a Stanley scrub plane for a while but I picked up an old German wooden scrub plane – the kind with the front horn, like a German smoother but with a blade only about 1 1/4 wide. These used to be called Bismarcks by some people. I find it much superior to the Stanley for doing exactly the kind of work you describe (I’ve been splitting boards and billets out of ash and beech). I like the ergonomics of the wooden scrub better, and the blade stays seated better than in the old Stanley. You might turn one of those up for less money, and it makes no difference if the mouth is wide open or even if the sole is way out of true (mine is awful, but it just goes and goes).

    • billlattpa says:

      ECE makes a version of that plane, and I like the idea of it. The cost was right, but according to their web page the iron is chrome vanadium. I’m not big fan of that type of tool steel, and I always had trouble getting the type of edge I can get on O1, though maybe that wouldn’t matter as much with a scrub plane.
      Either way, if I happen to come across one of those for the right price I will certainly consider getting one, because like the feel of a wood-bodied plane better anyway.
      Thanks for the tips!
      Bill

  7. dzj9 says:

    Yeah, like the fellows said, take any kind of beat up jack plane and make a scrub out of it. No restoration needed. Or make a laminated one.
    I’m sure Lie Nielsen has other fine tools on which you can spend your money.

    • billlattpa says:

      The truth is I really don’t want to buy anything. I was hoping to take that money and get some more clamps and more hardware with it because I always seem to end up running low. Before I end up with a scrub plane, I’m going to try a few different options, one being getting my axe and hatchet razor sharp, which they haven’t been since the summer. Anything I can do to not buy a tool that I really don’t want when it comes down to it.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  8. bobbarnettpe says:

    Be careful on delaying converting logs to lumber. If you aren’t careful you will get radial splitting and you will have some nice fire wood to burn in the middle of the summer.

    • billlattpa says:

      My thoughts exactly, and I split and dimensioned the ash immediately for that very reason. My axe simply wasn’t sharp enough to get nice splits in the hickory, which is why I didn’t do it. (I lost my sharpening disc a few months back) Though I don’t plan on using the wood for a while, I would really like to get them into at least rough size and up on a rack in the next few weeks.
      Thanks
      Bill

  9. Steve D says:

    Hi Bill,

    Some things to consider.

    Iron can stain green wood black if there are tannins in the wood. The stain is shallow and cleans up but kind of a nuisance. Wooden planes will not do this.

    For working logs a real scrub without a cap iron will be better but if you only plan on doing a little bit of this a cambered blade on a #5 is good. That is my go to for rough sawn lumber. A scrub on dried wood is less pleasant.

    What is to restore on a scrub? Flatness doesn’t matter. Remove enough rust so it doesn’t leave marks and you’re done.

    Rough wood can have dirt in the nooks and crannies and will dull a blade quickly. A2 may not be the enemy here. Ultimate sharpness and finish is not a requirement at this stage in the process.

    Since you have made planes before, why not make a wooden scrub from an iron of your choosing?

    Certain planes have high enough prices for used ones that the new LN pricing makes sense, like 5-1/2’s or 2’s. It sounds like the 40 is in that category too. It may make sense to go with new, knowing that when you no longer need it you can recoup most of your investment.

    Steve

    • billlattpa says:

      I like the idea of a wood bodied scrub, and while a scrub iron doesn’t have to have the razor sharp edge that a smooth plane should have, I don’t like the idea of grinding and honing A2 tool steel. After doing some checking, I found that Veritas even stopped offering their scrub with A2, and now only offers the high carbon iron and their own proprietary steel.

      As far as restoring an old tool, generally a scrub probably wouldn’t need anything more than a clean up and likely a grinding of the iron, hardly the end of the world, but when a new tool, which is also likely better, costs only $20 more and needs absolutely nothing to get up and running, that “vintage” tool is, in my opinion, priced far and away out of the price range it should be in. At that, I have no idea why this is the case other than the scrub must have fairly recently become popular with collectors for whatever reasons.

      I haven’t considered making one of my own as of yet. I’ve seen that Lee Valley offers O1 irons specifically for wood bodied planes and the price is reasonable. With a little grinding I could probably make a decent scrub, or at least one that will do the job.

      Right now, though I have nothing against paying good money for a good tool, I’m not of the mind to purchase a new (or vintage) scrub just yet until I try a few more options. The worst case scenario is I end up buying a new scrub from LN or Veritas, which is hardly what I would call a bad thing.
      Thanks
      Bill

  10. Interestingly, this video popped up in my YT feed this morning: https://youtu.be/dXxOF5E4__U

    “What’s a scrub plane? – LET’S MAKE ONE from a cheap Harbor Freight Windsor woodworking plane!”

    Stumpy Nubs making a scrub plane from a $10 Harbour Freight plane.

    • billlattpa says:

      I have a #3 that I got for free that I could probably turn into a scrub plane. For the time being I’m going to probably try a few different options and see how it works out before I go that route.
      Thanks for the link!!
      Bill

  11. Jeremy Conrad says:

    I had this problem a while ago. I ended up finding a wooden bodied plane for like $30. Trick is not to add “scrub” to your eBay query. You’ll find listings from folks who don’t know what they have.

    But it’s kind of a goofy plane honestly. The body is narrow and the iron chambered like a scrub plane should be. But the body is also really short. Like, if can’t find a comfortable way to hold it and not have my knuckles drag on the workpiece. To top it off, the iron doesn’t seem to have need properly heat treated. I sharpen it, but was soon as I take a pass (on dry lumber, anyway) the edge rolls.

    However! Even with these defects, I actually can still remove wood faster with it than I can with my jack plane. I never got around to cambering my jack plane’s iron, so that may be part of the problem. I just clipped the corners so they don’t dig in.

    I bought a bunch top planer recently, so I have been using it a less. But it still seems messy in handy for flattening a twisted board before running it through my machine. Actually I’d say lately I use it more than my jack plane.

    Just did a quick search, and found a similar plane:

    Look at this on eBay http://www.ebay.com/itm/292018474882

    Mine is shorter and doesn’t have the knob in front. Plus mine came with a chambered iron. But a couple minutes on your grinder would out a camber on this one no problem.

    Not sure how relevant this comment will be. Just found your blog. Lol. I’m adding you to my list!

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the comment and the tips. The little woman came through and actually got for me a Lee Valley scrub-with the PM V11 steel no less- as Christmas present (who knew she read the blog?).
      It’s a great plane, but I very likely wouldn’t have purchased it for myself. But I used it to clean up some split hickory and ash. In fact, I haven’t even sharpened it yet, just touched it up.

      I’m not overly sold on the usefulness of a scrub plane relative to its cost. That isn’t saying that the plane is not worth its price because it is a very well made plane-the best scrub I’ve ever seen as most of the scrubs I’ve come across were pretty rough. But I have a bench top planer as well, though I don’t use it all that often, but I would never prepare all of my material from the rough by hand. In my case, working straight from the log I’m working very “old school”: wedge, hatchet, drawknife and scrub plane, but that is not how I generally do it. This, like most things woodworking for us amateurs, is an experiment in trying something new, and I have to admit it’s pretty fun.

      Thanks again!!
      Bill

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