Vintage Hand Planes | Acorn No. 4

I discovered a love of old tools early on in life. There was something about the worn wooden handles, marked with the years of sweat from its prior owners, or the rusted metal that inevitably could hide the most beautiful body beneath, or the jammed up moving parts that one almost couldn’t imagine ever coming back to life again – that hooked me. That’s why whenever I am perusing the antique shop’s aisles, or meandering through the stalls at the local swap meet, I’m keeping a sharp eye out for what I refer to as “the king among antique tools”- the vintage hand planes.

“what happens when you hold a tool – your fingers form an intimate bond between you and the tool. It is a marriage of intellect and an inanimate object. Suddenly the tool becomes alive and performs…” R.J. DeCristoforo – Handtool Handbook for Woodworking (USA 1977)

Recently, I found an old Acorn No. 4 hand plane at a swap meet, which I promptly picked up for $25. Before this purchase, I had never seen an Acorn hand plane before, and I do confess to not knowing too much about the brand or company in general. This is surprising given how popular their parent company Chapman Ltd’s braces are.

Acorn no. 4

However, after much in-depth research, I was able to dig up a bit of information on the history of the company and a few pictures that helped me nail down what I believe to be a relatively accurate ballpark age for this specific plane I had come into possession of. If anyone has a better understanding of the age and history, I would be absolutely happy to hear of it!

History of Chapman Ltd

The Acorn brand name was first used by James Arscott Chapman who is simply listed as a “tool and metal plane maker” from 1924-1939 in Goodman’s guide. Chapman Ltd was located in Sheffield England and was known for its range of steel braces, but later started making hand planes under the “Acorn” name in 1934.  Around 1936 Stanley Works Ltd (Yes, THE Stanley) bought out Chapman Ltd and used the factory as its base for moving into the UK market.

After its take over, Stanley kept the Acorn line, some say as a second, cheaper version of their own Stanley line.

Early Acorn Hand Plane Design

In terms of early design, the Chapman Acorns were made with black japanning on the body, no frog adjustment screws, a brass blade adjustment nob, and from some reports a dark red colour on the rear and fore handles. As for the fixtures, the front handle was attached with a single plain bolt with a slotted head, and the rear was attached with a threaded rod and brass nut. Later models, under Stanley Works, had burgundy japanning with even later models moving to what I see as a ghastly firetruck red. Both the front and back handles on the later models were attached with threaded rods and nuts.

These are all details that I took into account when trying to accurately date my hand plane.

I’ve got a new hand plane, now what?

Upon getting this hand plane, which I have affectionately dubbed “little nut,” home, I was able to get a much closer look at the components. The initial ‘once over’ gave me most of the info that I was looking for – there are clearly no frog adjustment screws and the front handle is attached with a single slotted bolt, both good signs if I’m hoping for a plane on the older side of vintage!

The japanning itself is a bit difficult to tell. I thought it to be black, but it perhaps could be a dark burgundy. Further cleaning of the tool will be needed to give a better assessment.

The handles, though well worn, definitely appear to have a dark cherry colour to them! Another good sign, if what I dug up during my research is correct.

Dating

Given all the above info, including the potentially black japanning, red handles, no frog adjustment screws, and a single plane bolt for the front nob I would initially date this Acorn hand plane to be from the era of Chapman Ltd or shortly after the Stanley took over – somewhere from 1934-1945 perhaps.  During the restoration, I may come across some aftermarket parts, or other indicators that could change this assessment. But, part of the fun in any restoration process is doing the research to know what to look for and proceeding to make an ‘educated guess.’ Now to see if that educated guess is correct!

Stay tuned for my restoration of this Little Nut!

 

13 Replies to “Vintage Hand Planes | Acorn No. 4”

  1. Good luck with the restoration I cant wait to see how Little Nut turns out!
    You have done some good research there so far, I am interested to see what else your detective work uncovers on this unique antique.

    1. Thanks, Dane! It’s amazing how much information about older tool companies seems to be in danger of being lost to history.
      I’m excited to do some more digging throughout the restoration as well!

      Raff

  2. Interesting read… They definitely don’t make tools like they used to – I remember my dad having tools that would literally last for decades, nowadays everything seems to stop working after a few years!

    1. I still use some of my grandpa’s tools, and I imagine they will still be usable long after I’m gone. People like a quick and easy purchase these days it seems which fills the market with cheap, flimsy products. What a world we live in, eh! Thanks for stopping by, Mohammad!

  3. Hi Raff,

    I agree with Dane, you really did some good research on this Hand Plane. The Acorn No. 4 looks like a real vintage product.
    When I first saw the picture, I thought that it looked familiar. Then I realized that a Hand Plane is a tool that is used to shave wood.

    A long time ago, I tried using one (the newer version of course), and if I remembered correctly you use both hands to hold the round knob and push the Hand Plane on the wood to get a smoother finish.

    You spent a great deal of time doing the research, so I believe that you will do a great job with the restoration.

    All the best

    Jackie

  4. Hi Raff, I think I have my own ‘even littler nut’ here. Single slotted rod on knob and a threaded rod wish brass nut (an unusual shape I’ve not seen before on Stanleys). I’m doing some research on it and making a start on restoring it. I’m happy to send photos to get your input. Did you eventually work out what the original colour was and if so do you have any photos of the colour? Finally any links to your research sources greatly appreciated.

    Cheers

    Patch

    1. Hey Patch,
      It sounds like an interesting little fella you have there! I would definitely love to see some pictures, you can send me them at raff@crafftit.com! 🙂 The brass nut with the long threaded rod on the rear tote and the countersunk slotted rod on the front is the same as mine. I found my information about this being a good way to date the plane from a fella here: https://www.ukworkshop.co.uk/forums/acorn-made-in-sheffield-england-4-1-2-frount-nobb-t108406.html

      As I’m sure you’ve found, it’s unfortunately really hard to find info on Acorn hand planes, most of mine came from antique tool forums and a whole lot of digging around on the internet – nothing that I have found from an official source about the build of the plane itself.

      The original colour for mine was definitely black and the handles looked to have originally been a dark cherry red. Even the information on the colour of the original Acorns is from people who had the planes themselves or had seen them in the past – ie “I recall my father having an old acorn hand plane with a burgundy body which he purchased sometime in the late 50s.” I’ve continued to search and have contacted a few people who hopefully have some more information as well!

      I also have another article with the finished restoration if you haven’t seen it yet: https://crafftit.com/antique-hand-plane-restoration-acorn-no-4/

      Again, I would love to see some photos! It would be nice to create a database of images for the various Acorn planes. They’re pretty unique and I really do love them!

      Thanks for reaching out, I’m excited to see how your restoration goes 🙂

  5. My daughter has an Acorn plane, inherited from her mother’s long-departed uncle. No doubt it will fall to me to clean, renovate and sharpen it for her when this wretched pandemic os under control.
    For my own part I have brought back to life several old tools, notably a rusted hulk given to me by a friend which turned out to be a Stanley 4-1/2. After thoroughly de-rusting, painting and making a new handle from a piece of teak I had lying around he was astounded when I showed it to him a few days later!
    My most prized possession however is a Robert Groves 10″ dovetail saw inherited from my grandfather who died in the 1950s when I was about 14 years old. (I’m now 80!) A current British saw maker tells me that it would have been made c1870. Imagine that! It has the most comfortable handle of any tool I have ever held and having carefully sharpened it I use it often.
    Throw-away saws?? Not for me!

    1. Hey Roger!

      Sorry for the awfully late reply. Your saw sounds like quite the treasure! I can’t imagine many of the saws made today will be around that long, that’s for sure. After cleaning up this Acorn, I have moments where I remember how old it may be and have a moment of wonder that it seems to work as well as the day it was manufactured. Not that I got the chance to use it then, but I can’t imagine it getting much better! It certainly cuts better than any new, cheap Stanley hand plane I have had the chance to use.

      Thanks for the comment! If you are willing, I’d love to see some pictures of that saw, the Stanley, and the Acorn (if the pandemic ever ends and it does fall to you, that is!)

      Raff

      Raff

  6. So I just pulled a badly rusted Handplane out from my Dad’s old tools (here in the UK) it had Acorn on it. Looking to restore it I search, and this was the first good Google picture result. And mine matches, single screw on front handle, small areas of cherry red wood etc. Can’t see any paint on it at all. I’m itching to get on and read your restoration, which I’ve seen a link to. Going to follow how you did it to do mine. Fingers crossed I get same results!

  7. Could anyone out there tell me is the blade angle on an acorn 25 degrees, I have a few to restore and the blades have all different cutting angles where previously been ground incorrectly!!

    1. Hey Duncan,

      So sorry for the late reply!

      While I can’t tell you for history’s purpose what the angle on the specific acorn blades was, I can imagine that it was likely 25.
      I used to really focus on finding the perfect angle when putting a new edge on the irons, but then I read a fantastic Paul Sellers article on the reality behind the bevels on plane irons and chisels which has allowed me to relax a little. Essentially, his assumption is that 30 is a good degree to shoot for when honing simply because it is an easy angle to shoot for, not because it is a perfect angle in itself. His tests showed that really anything less than the bedded angle of the blade will work.

      When I regrind a plane blade, I do it at 25 degrees simply because every time I hand hone it after that, I naturally bring the blade to a shallower 30 degrees with the way I sharpen.

      25 is a safe bet though, I would say!

      You can find that article here for reference: https://paulsellers.com/2013/04/myth-and-mystery-surrounding-plane-and-chisel-bevels/#:~:text=The%20bevel%20must%20be%20about,in%20a%20no%2Dcut%20plane.

      Thanks for the comment, hope this has helped a bit!

      Raff

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