View Full Version : Brave new (old) world (Long)

Marc Hills
04-21-2003, 2:07 PM
Hi everyone:

Perhaps stepping onto a very slippery slope, I bought my first antique hand plane over the weekend.
My “new” tool acquisition appears to be a Fulton foreplane (about 18” long). It has a wooden sole, tote and handle, and metal mechanicals. I paid $12.50.

To everyone who has recommended trying an older plane to newbies, I say this: “OH .. MY .. GOD! You are SO right!”

Let me clarify. After just a bit of honing and cleaning up (nothing that rises to the level of tuning), this thing cuts noticeably better than the Buck Brothers jackplane I purchased at Home Depot, despite the latter having benefited from days and days of fettling. And I haven’t even checked to see whether or not the Fulton’s wooden sole is flat and true (a major problem with the Buck Bros).

I did some research on the Fulton. Sargent manufactured planes for Sears Roebuck in the 1930s and 40s under three brand names: Fulton (low price), Dunlap (middle price), and Craftsman (high price). So for anyone who cares to admit they are familiar with the current Sears tool line, Fulton would be the pre-war equivalent of the present day “Companion” line of tools. In other words, bottom of the rung.

Yet the Fulton iron appears to take and hold an edge better than my Buck Bros jackplane, and the handle is much more ergonomic. The mechanicals of the Fulton exhibit heavier, stouter pieces and a fair amount of brass. It is just hands-down a better tool.

Did I mention I paid $12.50? That is little more than one-third what I paid at Home Depot for an inferior tool. The amount of time preparing it for work (maybe 30 minutes) is an even smaller fraction of what I invested in the Buck Bros plane.

The only thing I will say in defense of my original position is that I still abhor the idea that one has to embark on an antique hunt (or spend major bucks for a Veritas, Clifton or Lie-Nelson) if all you really want is a usable tool. I think it’s scandalous that one can’t go to a mainstream tool outlet (HD, Sears or the corner hardware store) and buy a decent hand plane.

I just happened to drop in this antique shop in an area through which I rarely pass. They had maybe a dozen planes, and all but the Fulton and one block plane appeared to be beyond rehabilitation. So I could have just as easily come home empty-handed.

I also bought an old sharpening stone from the same store. Its original dimensions must have been roughly 2”x2”x8”, but it was so worn down in the middle on all sides that it was approaching the shape of an hourglass. I sat down on my concrete paver patio and spend about 20 minutes flattening the side with the least amount of cupping. Does any one know what material this might be? It’s harder than concrete (I smoothed out about 10 pavers before I was finished), but I’d be hard pressed to characterize it as a stone. It has the consistency of an extremely hard deposit of clay. It’s definitely a step up from the aluminum oxide “coarse/fine” oilstone I’m used to. I’m not sure I’d recognize an Arkansas oilstone if I saw one. What to you think this stuff is? Do I oil it or just use water?

Unfortunately, I can see how this could be seriously addicting. It just feels better to use this old plane, knowing it is a better tool, that it has some (unknowable) history, and that in terms of tuning time, money and value, it’s a bargain. Besides, sitting on my workbench, it looks so cool. I find myself wondering if that little block plane is still there…….:rolleyes:

Roger Nixon
04-21-2003, 3:14 PM
Yup. The old planes are addicting. Check the left cheek of your Fulton. If there is a number there like 37xx, your plane was made by Millers Falls.
I've attached a pic of a Millers Falls and a Fulton side by side.
The Fulton doesn't have the frog adjusting screw or the neat MF lever cap but it is still a solid user.
Old tool hunting can be time consuming and you have to know your hunting grounds. Antique stores and flea markets around here are not very productive but in some areas they are. A friend of mine does very well at estate tag sales in Kansas City but around here most estates are auctioned off and that is where I purchase the bulk of my tools.

John Wadsworth
04-21-2003, 3:36 PM
Welcome to the slippery slope. The first time I used a well-tuned smoothing plane on a board fresh out of a thickness planer and heard the fluttery swish as it took off the ripples, I was hooked. Closest thing to sex allowed in the shop.

You're right that it can be frustrating trying to get a decent set of user planes together by haunting flea markets and antique malls. If you like that sort of bargain-hunting as a recreation, fine--but if I understand you, that's not your bag.

There are several alternatives, though, even if you don't want to spend the $$ for new Lie-Nielsen or Veritas. First, and maybe most fun, are the big tailgating sales held in conjunction with old tool auctions. I don't know where you are in Maine, but there's a famous one in Nashua, NH--and the next one is this coming weekend. See the schedule at Martin Donnelly's website send me a message if you can't find it on Google).

Second, the are often similar sales and swapmeets held at the big tool collector association meetings--but I don't know when the next one would be near you (maybe another Creek dweller can help here).

Third, there are a few old tool dealers who are happy to supply user-quality planes at very reasonable prices.

Fourth, there's eBay. Caveat emptor--some of the tool descriptions are heavy on ignorance leavened with imagination.

Happy hunting!

Marc Hills
04-21-2003, 5:18 PM
Hi Roger:

Thanks for the quick reply. The iron definitely says “Fulton”. I seem to remember seeing a “B” stamped on the iron as well. When I bought it, the plane had a tag that said “Fulton 3509?” so it sounds like the proprietor wasn’t sure of the model number.

Both of those sets of mechancials look a lot like what I have, but you have me curious about the Miller Falls vs Sargent distinction. I’m not 100% on plane terminology. I have the two screws used to lock the frog into place, and the I have a third screw that forms the post over which the iron, chip breaker and the lever cap slip over. I’m assuming that the mechanicals of the Miller Falls plane are the left hand set in your picture? I don’t have any of the red japanning that I see on left hand set from your photo. What exactly do you mean by the “neat MF lever cap”? There aren’t any markings on mine, except for a sort of herringbone pattern cast into the top side.

I don’t recall seeing any markings on the left cheek of my plane, but I’ll check again tonight.

Yeah, “solid user” is how I see this tool. I’m pleased with this plane because it will give me satisfying use while connecting me to the woodworking past.

Dave Anderson NH
04-21-2003, 5:27 PM
Hi Marc- Just in case you need any help in finding temptation, Friday and Saturday are the Donnelly auctions also know as the Live Free or Die auctions in Nashua, NH. Friday starts shortly after first light with a tailgate flea market in the parking lot, previewing the auction goods is 7:30 to 9AM, and the auction starts at 9AM. Friday nite is the dealer sale where some of the better dealers in the country and outside, including Tony Murland from the UK have great stuff for sale. The whole scene is repeated on Saturday except no dealer sale at nite.

I don't want to push you down the slope too fast at first, so I won't tell you about the tool auction in another part of NH on Thursday.

You don't have to thank me, just consider me co-dependant.

Marc Hills
04-21-2003, 11:03 PM
You guys are like crack dealers, you know that? I need to actually make some things, besides that pile of oak shavings on my workshop floor. Beyond the myriad carpentry/remodeling tasks around the house, my only discretionary time between now and June will be devoted to making a copy of Dave Anderson's bowsaw.

John, I'm in Portland. When you mentioned a tool sale this weekend in Nashua, I recalled Dave's earlier post re: the Live Free or Die tool auction/tail gate party/12-step tool addiction support group. Now that Dave has weighed in to confirm that, I'll just say that I'm booked for this weekend doing yard work. I'll resist the temptation for now.

You see my real fear is that tool hunting WILL become my bag, this first experience has been so satisfying. The fact that I'm so poor may be my salvation.

I've rechecked my Fulton plane in response to Roger's suggestions. First, I'm guilty of some size exaggeration (aren't we all?) The plane is only a hair over 15" long, not 18". So I guess this thing is actually a jack. I based my 18" estimate on my Buck Bros jack plane, which is noticably shorter. I thought the Buck Bros plane was 14", but I see that it is actually only 13.5". And the tag from the antique shop must have said "Fulton 3409?", not "Fulton 3509?" because I found a "3409" cast into the frog. Roger, there are no other marks of any kind on the left cheek or elsewhere, so I'm thinking this thing is definitely a Sargent-made Fulton. I'm fine with that.

So thanks (I think) for everyone's encouragement. It's nice to know you appreciate my enthusiasm, even if you are all hellbent on my financial/mental ruin :) .

DOES anyone have any ideas about that sharpening stone I described at the start of the thread? I'm curious what it is/made off. The fact that it's so worn fascinates me.


Roger Nixon
04-22-2003, 11:59 AM
One of the fun things about old tools, especially planes, is the detective work involved in finding out who made a tool. Rebadging was very common. On planes, the real tale tell is the frog design and how the frog mated to the bed. In the pic above is the Millers Falls design.
Attached is a pic of Stanley's designs (see www.supertool.com for the commentary).
I don't have a pic of a Sargent frog here at work or I would include it. It is very different from the Millers Falls, though and it would be easy to tell from the MF.
This link will show you the Millers Falls lever cap patent http://homepage.mac.com/galoot_9/M_F_PTNT_INDX.html.
Oh, that thing you mentioned about actually building something ? Forget it, it takes too much time away from acquiring more old tools! Crack dealers are amatures.

Marc Hills
04-22-2003, 3:28 PM
Hi Roger:

Thanks for all the info on planes! Your second link didn’t work, however. My interest in the MF lever cap is purely academic at this point, as I think we’ve established that my plane is the more common Sargent-built Fulton. It’s better that way; I’d hate to have any qualms about using this tool.

So you're saying that both of the frog assemblies in your picture are Miller Falls designs? I’m hesitant to unscrew mine to get a closer look. It works so well right now that I don’t want to mess up a critical adjustment. I guess you could say I’m tempted to let sleeping frogs lie. (Ouch!)

Re: actually building things. Yeah I know, I can putter with my tools like it’s nobody’s business and yet not make much of anything. But I sort of see producing one’s own work as the coin of the realm here. Your expertise in antique tools is an exception, because one doesn't need to use tools in order to be expert in their origins.

But for things like woodworking technique and tool usage, I ascribe an extra measure of respect to posters who actually make things. It doesn’t even have to be artisan quality, I just unconsciously find folks more credible when I can see that they’ve walked the walk.

So since I'm hogging bandwidth, I feel like I should ante up and show that I do occasionally make things. I built a train table for my daughter and hand cut some dovetails for an old oak secretary drawer. Maybe somebody would be interested in seeing that.

Ironic that this hobby simultaneously calls for very old tools and a very new digital camera!