Making a Veritas style tote for my Stanley #4 plane

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This was brought about by the intersection of two events.

  • I bought a second hand Stanley #4 which had a broken tote (or “back handle” for normal people).
  • I’d read an article by Derek Cohen where he discussed the difference between handles. If you’ve not read Derek’s post, I encourage you to take some time to do so.

I also just enjoy experimenting and trying something new, so why not.

I knew when buying the plane that the tote had been broken and repaired in the past. The repair was rather agricultural; two nails hammered up from the base. The plane must have been dropped in the post however, as the top was snapped off, and the lateral adjuster bent. For the record, someone must have been trying very hard, as I certainly couldn’t flaw the packaging! I had intended to use the plane as-is and make a new handle only if required, but in the current state, I decided a new tote was on the cards with the old one headed for the bin.

My new-to-me Stanley #4 with broken tote

It just so happened that I’d read the above mentioned post by Derek a couple of days previous, and upon consideration, decided that if I was going to the effort of making a new tote, why not try something different, and do one to the Veritas design. It certainly sounded like they put lots of research into the best shape.

Veritas is an amazing company, they publish a PDF on their website with the exact layout and instructions to make a tote to their shape (they also offer a Stanley plan)! What had started as a conundrum as to how to make a copy whilst not owning any of their planes, became a great advertisement for an organisation that appears to actually be in the business of helping woodworkers!

Once the plan was printed and spray glued to a piece of prepared Tasmanian Oak (left over from our house stairs) it was onto the build process.

Drilling the defined radiuses for the heal and toe.
Veritas style tote cut out with the bandsaw.

There are two defined radiuses for the heal and toe. This was a good opportunity to remind myself why I need to buy some forstner bits. The spade bit was a little rough, and the hole saw was only just deep enough.

The tote was then ready to be cut out with the bandsaw. I took the opportunity to string up my brand new 6 mm blade, though in hindsight, there were no tight curves that couldn’t have been cut with the 12 mm blade. None the less, it worked well.

The final machining step involved drilling out the holes for the retaining shaft and the housing space for the fastening nut. Unfortunately I didn’t have a drill bit large enough for the nut, so had to use a counter-sink bit.

A quick check showed that that Mr. Theory had greeted Mrs. Reality with a warm embrace.

A test fit of the Veritas tote on a Stanely #4

It was then time for the bit I really wasn’t looking forward to. I don’t own a spokeshave, so saw the next several hours of my future occupied by old files and sandpaper. It was about fifteen minutes into the process that I considered carving with my marking knife, which is nice and sharp. That was an inspired idea if I may say so myself! So much easier and, dare I say it, enjoyable. I really settled into the iterative process of

  1. Carve for a little while.
  2. Hold it in my hand, and try to detect where the pressure points were.
  3. Go back to 1.

In the end, I decided that once I never really noticed any part of the handle in my hand, it was ready and time for sanding. I found that I actually quire like the feel of the carving facets in my hand, so just sanded to take off the rough carving edges.

I must comment on the unexpected satisfaction I derived from this process. It was an odd feeling knowing that I was carving the handle to fit my hand, and my hand alone. It may be terrible for anyone else, but that’s OK, because this was being shaped exclusively for me.

I don’t know how I did it, but somewhere along the line, the bottom of the tote went out of square, such that the tote didn’t stand straight. After a bit of head scratching as to how I was going to sort it out, I resorted to clamping it and planing it square with some sacrificial guides. It worked well (more-or-less).

And then I was done. Time for a final test fit before I finished with some shellac. It’s still sitting, but will coat it with some wax in a week or so. I did get a little impatient, and tried it out before the finish was totally dry, so now it looks a little scruffy. I don’t think that’s a good thing though, so my take it off and re-do the finish. In all likelihood, I’ll probably get exited about something else and just use it as a tool, and forget about what the tote looks like.

I guess the final question that needs to be answered really should be “how do I like it”. The short answer is “I don’t know”. Once the Shellac has totally cured and the wax applied, I’ll use it on the next project to get a real feel for it, and report back.


May 2019

UPDATE: June 2020

It’s now been over a year and the this plane has seen a lot of work over that period. So what do I think? In a nut shell, I really like it. Some specifics though:

  1. I’ve used it on a higher and lower benches, with no perceivable difference. I had assumed that it would feel better on high benches, and perhaps uncomfortable on low due to the more upright angle. I’ve not noticed it feeling uncomfortable anywhere.
  2. The new tote is thicker, and find that this fits my hand really nicely. When scrubbing, it’s my most comfortable plane, which I attribute largely to the increased surface which distributes the load over a larger hand area.
  3. I never did re-do the finish. Perhaps one day.

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