Preview: A Tale of Two Block Planes: Harry Bryan Reviews the Stanley 12-960 Low Angle Block Plane

Last December I bought a Stanley 12-960 low-angle block plane from a local hardware store.  There were three choices available and I decided on the most expensive at $40.  This is Stanley’s low angle model with an adjustable mouth.  I didn’t need another blck plane, but wanted to assess this tool’s quality to see if I could recommend it to my boatbuilding students. 

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16 Responses So Far to “A Tale of Two Block Planes: Harry Bryan Reviews the Stanley 12-960 Low Angle Block Plane

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    Joseph R. Janutka says:

    What a coincidence to read Harry’s post while I am in the process of trying to return the exact plane he reviewed because, after sharpening the blade prior to its first use, the threaded stud for the adjustable mouth came off in my hand. I bought the plane from Chesapeak Light Craft and they have told me to contact Stanley. I will never buy a cheap Stanley tool again.

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    Lorentz Ottzen says:

    I have a very old
    Stanley 60 and half that was my fathers. He had used it so much the original blade had to be replaced. I purchase a new blade at Highland Hardware in Atlanta. The old Stanley is compact and delicate in the hand, but it is very sturdy and cuts beautiful paper thin shavings and is a joy to use. I also have a Lie-Nielsen that is a very nice tool, and worth every penny I payed for it.
    “A workman is only as good as his tools”, as the old saying goes.

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    Michael Vassar says:

    By some luck of chance, I was living in rural New York state in the early 70s. I was able to purchase beautiful old chisels { Buck Bros, etc.} For 2.00$ each along the Antique trails at that time. They were with me for the next 40 years as I traveled, and lived in boat building communities from the Chesapeake Bay to Panama. They are a little shorter now but just as dependable and sharp as ever!

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    John Benbow says:

    Well said ! I liked the name Christopher Schwartz Gave the junk sold today in big box stores, “tool shaped objects” NOT tools.

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    Wayne Ekdahl says:

    Well written article. I have been working on farm equipment for years so I have an eye for mechanical hand tools to work on metal. I have very little knowledge about wood working, as such, I can tell a good wrench set from a poor set, but not the nuances of a good plane/saw/chisel set. Is there a source, either book or online, that can help me learn to tell the difference between a good ole tool and waste of money tool? I am assuming that Stanley once produced a really good product. What are some obvious tell tells I should look for when shopping around?

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      Wayne, Check this blog for starters…

      Schwarz Blog | Popular Woodworking Hand Tool Blogs

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        Wayne Ekdahl says:

        Thanks, never would have found that on my own.

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    Denis Noble says:

    Hi Harry, I’m surprised that there’s apparently no consumer legislation saying that an article offered for sale to the public has to be “fit for purpose”. This Stanley plane certainly was not that. Many years ago I was lured by price into buying a packet of cheap hacksaw blades, but I found that after cross-cutting one piece of 2″ x 2″ x 1/4″ mild steel angle, the blade was useless. I try to avoid cheap tools nowadays, although the lure of a low price still grabs me occasionally. At 70 years of age you’d think I’d know better. Thank you for your excellent videos and blogs. I enjoy them thoroughly and learn a lot.

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    Dan Schafer says:

    Darn bean counters are ruining the tool man…. I try to pick the old thing at resale stores!
    I wish all big box store would fail, but new love em. To bad! I’d rather wait for good tool from the 50s

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    David Kelly says:

    This was great advice! I own that stanley block plane that you reviewed and have hated it ever since I bought it. Now I don’t feel like it’s just me. There really is nothing better to buy than a good tool. Thanks for pointing me to the right companies and things to look for.

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      Steve Grube says:

      Me too. I bought this Stanley plane reviewed here and was disappointed with it right out of the box. Heavy. Clumsy, Blade waaaay overly thick and could not be sharpened by normal means. Odd arrangement on the depth adjusting mechanism. It was, however, a good-looking plane.

      Well, it all came to a head one day, as unpleasant situations often do. The plane got bumped off my workbench (maybe kinda unconsciously on purpose?) and landed on concrete. Various components broke. This was two years ago, and it seems I haven´t quite yet got around to buying replacement parts. So there it sits on the shelf, staring at me, a visible reminder of the false economy of buying cheap tools.

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    John Graham says:

    I agree with your assessment completely. It is a sad testimony to the effect the box stores are having in our disposable economy. That said one other avenue especially for the novice or intermediate woodworker is to seek older equipment from Stanley, Bailey, Record etc. Hats off to Lie-Nielsen for continuing to manufacture in the USA and setting a standard for quality. If only more businesses/corporations would follow the lead that has been established for civic responsibility.

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    Bill Theurkauf says:

    My experience has been sadly similar. A couple of years ago I somehow lost my trusted Lie Nielsen low angle block plane. I decided to try one the the new “high end” Stanely Sweetheart block planes, which cost about $60 less than a Lie Nielsen. The new Stanley looked great and the blade seemed to be high quality, but the machining was sloppy and nothing moved smoothly or fit well, at least not compared to my Lie Nielsen. After a couple of weeks, I dropped the plan on a wooden floor from all of 3 feet and the cap nut broke off in the plane! Stanley did send a replacement for free, but a week after the replacement arrived another tumble to the floor broke the replacement nut. OK, I’m a klutz, but a plane should handle a 2-3 foot drop to a wooden floor. All my other planes have survived worse (almost all old Stanley’s). Looking at a 2 week turnaround for the replacement, I was done with this beast and tossed it on the shelf, where it still sits. I recently replaced a section of floor on my shop that had some large cracks, and there was the old Lie Nielsen under the floor boards. After cleaning off the crud, buffing off some rust, and sharpening the blade, it was singing again. I’ve rarely been happier!

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    Larry Cheek says:

    A tool that is better than my ability to use it challenges me to improve and grow into it. A tool that is worse than my current level of craft makes it unlikely that I’ll ever improve.

    I have never regretted the investment I made in a high-quality tool, even when it seemed recklessly expensive at the point of purchase. Sooner or later, I’ve always regretted buying the cheapies.

    I’m currently in the process of replacing my first bandsaw, a Home Depot cheapie that I bought for $400, after seven years of mediocre performance and a final component breakage that isn’t worth the cost and effort to repair. I’m buying the $1200 bandsaw I should have bought in the first place, but in effect I’ve paid $1600 for it. You don’t need to go to Harvard Business School to conclude that this was a dumb strategy.

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    Glenn Holland says:

    Thanks Harry,
    I’m not much of a engineer but now I understand better why that 50 year old Stanly of mine gets used about a 100 times more than the 10 year old model. Good tools are good investments.
    making sawdust ,

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    Charles Barclay says:

    Alright Harry, you had me fooled by claiming a lack of formal education in the earlier post!

    You just described a major part of the corporate strategy model developed and taught at the Harvard Business School for the last 40+ years. The Bargaining Power of Buyers is strong with big box retailers and it drove Stanley to produce an inferior product while pursuing an ineffective low-cost strategy. Now Lie-Nielsen and the others have a focus strategy with higher priced tools that actually work. As you point out there is a lot of economic waste involved, not to mention those drills that will end up it the landfill sooner or later.

    It also confirms the first rule of management cost accounting “All costing decisions are arbitrary.” The costing decisions at Stanley produced a product it was no longer usable in the hands of a pro. Bad choice.

    Thanks for the tips on the tools and a reminder of what my previous career entailed.