Broken Hand Plane Tote…………Why?

This is, unfortunately, an all too common site.

This is, unfortunately, an all too common site.

If you have been around many hand planes then I’m sure you have seen a handle/tote that looks like the one above. When I first began seeing these broken totes I just assumed the cause was a dropped plane. As time went on I kept seeing this condition, but began to take note that the planes were almost never broken. How could this be? These early planes were cast from gray iron. This is ordinary iron with little or no alloying materials added. It contains a lot of carbon, in the form of graphite, and is very brittle, as can be seen in this video. The question became, how could all of the broken totes that I have seen occurred without breaking the brittle plane body or the frog? The answer……….they could not! So there had to be another cause, or more likely causes.

Recently two people have come to me with broken totes on planes that probably were not dropped. The first happened in use on an old plane that was purchased a month prior. The user was pushing the plane and Snap! The second plane was purchased on the web from pictures. In the pictures the tote was fine. When the plane arrived the tote was cracked. The first thing that comes to mind here is poor packaging or the parcel was dropped or both. While this is possible it is not necessarily the case. Here again if this parcel was dropped and hit the ground with enough force to break the tote one has to wonder why the plane didn’t break.

Here it is easy to see the rift sawn grain orientation.

Here it is easy to see the rift sawn grain orientation.

The early totes were commonly made from rosewood. Rosewood is a beautiful wood that splits easily. Also, if you examine these early rosewood totes you will notice that the grain is almost always quarter sawn to rift sawn. I have to agree with these early makers. Quarter or rift sawn wood makes the very best looking tote, but there is a price to pay for that beauty. Nothing is free. This grain orientation increases the risk of broken totes. Now add 70+ years and you have a tote made from a wood that splits easily, has quarter to rift sawn grain and is very dry. Now add in hold down studs and screws too tight or too loose and you have a broken tote just waiting to happen. Rapid changes in temperature and humidity, such as might be encountered when shipping a plane from one area to another, is another factor to be considered.

When you consider all of this it is truly amazing that we don’t see more broken totes than we do. These early manufacturers surely knew what they were doing. These old planes have been around for many decades, some a century or more, and they are still very serviceable even by todays high standards. And most of them still have solid wood.

As always thanks for stoping by and please feel free to leave a comment.


Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
This entry was posted in Woodworking Hand Tools and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Broken Hand Plane Tote…………Why?

  1. Not for nothing but I’ve broke several, on old and new planes, always seem to land on the the tote. Still using my “carriage” plane with a broken tote, just because as a timber framer, I use it all the time, (I should get it fixed, but it will just get broken again.) Our “carriage” planes see a lot of work, and sometimes in some really rough locations. So, I would have to say, from what I have seen in thirty years of wood working they break from impact. either a fall, or a smack. Even old planes are tougher than there handles, in my experience.



    • Over the last several decades I have seen countless broken totes and broken planes, rarely together on the same plane. I have seen many #10 and #10 1/2 planes turned into instant bullnose planes without breaking a tote.

      I stand by my post. Dropping an old plane can certainly break a tote, but not all broken totes are the result of the plane being dropped.

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. I couldn’t agree more!

    I sometimes laminate stock for replacement handles from thinner scraps of timber, where the grain of the centre piece runs vertically (like a sheet of ply) for maximum strength, however the other two slices were cut.

  3. mwh says:

    Can you discuss (maybe in another blog post) how you repair this totes when they snap? This is not a theoretical question; I’m facing one right now.

    • Send pictures of the break in your tote. I will help you to affect a good sound repair.

      • mwh says:

        I could take a picture, but I’m not sure how much it would help. I’ve got it clamped right now. I’ve already attempted a repair–maybe making it worse. Here’s the history:

        I recently bought a Stanley #7, not realizing the handle had been broken before. I started using it and noticed that it had split along the old crack/glue line. When I took it loose from the plane body it was in two pieces. It appears the previous repair had been done with one of those polyurethane/reacts-with-water glues, based on the dried “bubbling” I found. The break was pretty clean, right along the grain line, and almost completely planer. I removed the residue of the former glue and tried to repair it with liquid hide glue. But this apparently wasn’t a good choice; the rosewood seems to just laugh at the hide glue. At least the hide glue can be easily “undone” (i.e., removed) if need be.

        Should I have used a different type of glue? Cyanoacrylate?

        I’d welcome your advice. Thank you in advance.

      • If the glue joint is clean and bare wood high quality wood glue is best, otherwise it is best to buy a new tote. I have tried other glues with mixed results. It is very frustrating to be in the middle of a project and have the tote break again.There are usually good quality original totes on ebay. There are also several people who make new totes of which I am one. Stanley totes are the same from #4 1/2 thru #8 except #5 1/4.

        Hope this helps.

  4. mwh says:

    Thank you for the advice. It looks like I may have to go the replacement route. I’ve had your store bookmarked for sometime, for this reason.

    • I forgot to mention that you may have the right to return your plane to the ebay seller if the repaired tote was not specifically mentioned in the description. In the future try to buy from tool dealers so you can avoid these situations. I sell user grade tools, though I seldom advertise them and I can point you to 2 others who are excellent to deal with.

      If you like I will look for an original rosewood tote for you. I may have one in my parts.

  5. Hand Planes says:

    Nice post! Hand planes are excellent for more compact projects, but an energy planner will protect you a significant amount when it comes to time and effort in a larger undertaking. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s