Making a Plane Tote Part 1

If you have a bench plane with a tote that looks like the one pictured above, or have passed up a good deal on a plane because of a broken tote then please read on. This article may be the answer to your tote problems.

I have been making replacement knobs and totes for planes for a number of years and through this article hope to pass on some of the knowledge I have gained over that time. Making a new tote is not too difficult for the average woodworker, but explaining the entire process is rather complicated. So I have chosen to break this article up into several parts to make it easier to digest.

The actual angle of this stud is 27°. This method will get you close to the actual angle.

The first step is to determine the angle of the tote that you wish to make. This angle is the angle that the centerline of the through stud hole forms with the base of the tote. For Stanley #3 and #4 this angle is 26° and on Stanley #4 ½ thru #8 the angle is 27°. And yes 1° does make a difference. To determine the tote angle for other planes use a protractor to draw several angles close to what you estimate your tote angle to be on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of white paper. With the tote removed from your plane loosely screw the tote stud into the plane base. You will find that the stud will move up and down quite a bit. Now setup the paper with the angles on it directly behind the plane and sight the stud to one of the angles on the paper. As seen in the pictures above. Draw more angles on the paper until you zero in on the angle of the tote stud with the stud in the lowest position it will go to. Next do the same thing to determine the angle of the tote stud when held in it’s most upward position. It is unlikely the plane manufacturer would use a fraction of an angle so the actual tote angle would be whatever whole degree comes between the angle the tote stud forms in the uppermost position and the lowermost position. Believe me it is a lot more complicated to describe this process than to do it.

This angle is very important. If it isn’t correct your new tote won’t fit. I suggest that you make a rough tote to the angle you just determined and check the fit on your plane. Drill the stud hole oversize to allow plenty of clearance. I use 5/16” for stud holes on Stanley planes. If your trial tote doesn’t fit right you can plug the hole and try a new angle. Do this until you get a good fit.

A drawing like this using your tote angle will aid in designing your tote shape.

The next step is to make a drawing like the one above using your tote angle. The vertical centerline will be the tote stud hole and the angled line will be the base of your tote. Determine the length of your tote’s base in relation to the stud hole centerline ( how much of the tote’s base is in front of the stud centerline and how much is behind the stud centerline?) and mark this on your drawing. From this point on everything is done from the centerline of the stud hole, the tote angle and the size and location of the tote’s base that you just determined.

Now the fun begins. It is time to design your tote’s shape. This process can be as simple as copying a tote shape that you like, but I urge you to experiment with the shape and the lean of your new tote until you get exactly what you want. The only caution here is to maintain a reasonable thickness between the stud hole and the outside form of your tote.

These are my templates for the Lie-Nielsen #4 and #5 and up bench planes.

After you make several copies of your drawing you can use the drawing to design your tote .Do your drawing right on one of the copies of your angle drawing. A good set of french curves is a handy tool to have at this stage, but you can use sections of totes that you like and even hand drawn curves. Do this work in soft pencil as it is easily erased. Don’t rush this part, have fun with it. Draw erase and redraw until you get a tote shape that you like.

Once you have a shape that you think is good it is time to make a template. The best material I have found for tote templates is high pressure  plastic laminte counter top material often called Formica. You can find scraps of this material at a local cabinet shop. Failing that you can use thin plywood, 1/8″ or thinner. This can be found at a local hobby shop or at a local Woodcraft or at Woodcraft online. To make the template glue your final tote drawing to the template material you have chosen to use useing a contact cement such as 3M Spray 90 or something similar. Saw the template as close to the lines as you can then file to the lines and fair the curves with a 6″ or 8″ half round mill or smooth single cut file. Finish the template edgs with 320P paper.

Now that you have a template of your new tote design cut out, make a sample tote from scrap wood, rough shape it and see how it feels in your hand. Don’t be concerned about any of the mounting holes at this time. The only concern now is arriving at a tote shape that feels comfortable in your hand and looks good. Now is the time to make any changes you feel are needed. Once you have made any changes to your sample tote that  you found were needed and adjusted your template or made a new one you are ready to begin turning your new tote design into a finished tote.

This is a good place to break. It will take a lot of work and trial and error to reach this point. I will allow some time before giving you part 2 so that you cqn digest this article and work your way to a finished tote design that you like.

Thank you for coming by and please feel free to ask any questions you may have. I hope to see you for Make a Tote Part 2.




Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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5 Responses to Making a Plane Tote Part 1

  1. richard says:

    Good article. I’m an inexperienced/beginning wood worker, and couldn’t at the time find any reference material to fashion a new handle. Long story short, each step was agonising and I’m now left with the task of drilling out the mounting hole post cut. But live and learn.

  2. Bryan says:

    I have made two totes now. One for a 5 1/4 and one for a #5. The first one I did all the cutting first and then drilled the long tote stud hole. At first, I was going to freehand align the angle on the drill press, holding it at best as possible. But then I had the brilliant idea of clamping it at the correct angle to a scrap piece of plywood with a nice square bottom. It was a breeze to drill that way. That one was made from Siberian elm that I cut in my own yard. I have taken that handle with me camping on several occasions now, reshaping it with a small pocket knife to fit my hand very well (I’m left handed, so the shape would probably frustrate a righty). I am also very pleased with the look and strength of the grain. The second one I did following the Lee valley template. For some reason it seemed more tedious than the first, but the process and results were must more precise. That one was made from a piece of river red gum (Australia) that came out of the firewood pile. That wood seemed more “brittle” while working it, which makes me doubt it’s longevity…time will tell, but it is a beautiful color and has a cool, dense feel in the hand. I haven’t finished the contouring on that one yet, still refining the grip. Thanks for the write-up, it is well spoken encouragement and direction for those of us who want to have a go. Each tote took the better part of a day to go from scrap block to attached, but not refined. It is lots of ‘sneak up’ work getting to the final shape without having to start over…

    • Any wood will work for plane totes. The only real problem with breaking is when dropped.

      It takes a long time to make a tote. Then add the problem of having all you make be the same and you get an idea of what I am up against.

      Thank you for your comment.

  3. free junk says:

    Awesome! Its genuinely remarkable article,
    I have got much clear idea concerning from this article.

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