Bench plane review - Record #4 vs Millers Falls

Help Support

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Established Member
24 Aug 2015
Reaction score
In a bout of self sacrifice I have acquired yet another metal smoother so that I could answer the question on everyone's mind: who made the best planes, Record or Millers Falls?

Given Millers Falls were a US based company, a better question would have been: who made the best planes, Stanley or Millers Falls? But I haven’t got any Stanley planes, so Record will have to do.

To be as fair as possible, I have compared two smoother planes that ( according to the dating sites below) are from around the same era (1940s)

Read on for the first part of my (not entirely serious) assessment:

Who got there first?

Of course Leonard Bailey and Stanley got there first with the eponymous Bailey design metal plane, but between our two contenders the first round goes to MF whose planes were ‘born’ on March 1st 1929. Record planes first appeared in C & J Hampton’s 1931 catalogue. Here is an early MF advert: april 1929&pg=PA103#v=onepage&q&f=false

Second hand value

MF smoothers seem to go for around $30-40 on eBay US (a bit more with a box, or when pre-war) and you’d expect to pay about the equivalent in Pounds Sterling for a decent Record #4 in the uk.

However, just when it looks like we are heading for a draw on this one, it turns out that MF released a gloriously weird version of their smoother with see-through permaloid handles and then proceeded to sell such a small number that, when one showed up at auction 60 years later, it sold for 750 bucks! Well done MF!

Here is a 1946 advert where MF advertise permaloid as an option: falls plane&pg=PA244#v=onepage&q&f=false

..although it seems like the one that sold for a packet at auction was the “Deluxe” version with permaloid handles AND chromed sides and lever cap. Very posh!

I could not find out much about permaloid other than the fact it is a tradename for a cellulose acetate based plastic. Cellulose Acetate is apparently extremely flammable and will explode under certain circumstances, making this a very cool plane indeed. Many thanks to this article for the info on permaloid:

Here is a pic from the auction site showing the showing the deluxe model 209:

Numbering Convention

Record stuck to the arbitrary and confusing numbering system that Stanley pioneered, although in a magnificent twist they prefixed their numbers with a zero, thus guaranteeing that punters would not notice their planes were exact copies of Stanley models. Brilliant!

But then those mad loons at MF went a step further and start naming their planes after their length! Thus their #4 smoother is not a No. 4 at all, but a No. 9 (because it is nine inches long!). Madness!

Grudgingly, this round goes to MF for the sheer audacity of it all.

Tune in to part II for a review of fit and finish.
Thank you for spending time in this review.
I have a couple of old MF, a number 9 and a number 14, although never had time for reputting them at work, so your judgement will be for me very interesting.

glad you are enjoying it Giuliano!

Here is part II: Fit, finish and castings


The Record frog and plane body are both heavier than the MF, with the Record having slightly thicker sides and a more substantial reinforced bar across the width of the toe.

Oddly one of the things that MF brag about in their 1 year anniversary ad is ‘extra reinforcements of the bottoms and frogs’ but these improvements seem to be conspicuous by their absence, at least when compared with Record.

zFE5iPsMRWuyN63zV1o02k34yvfGfJxE74GfdF-iheHfk0gpF_5Dvg of breakage&pg=RA2-PA132#v=onepage&q&f=false

The top edges of the sides are neatly ground on the Record, whereas the MF edges are painted over. I should note that most of the original finish on this Record is gone, but a quick check on eBay will confirm that this is how Record’s from this era left the factory.

Both planes have ground surfaces on the face of the frog, and where the frog and body connect, and these are done accurately so that the frog does not wobble around.

Also, kudos to both vendors for using a solid frog, rather than the recessed/honeycomb/ogee shaped version that became all the rage later on. I remember reading one theory that the newer frogs were an advantage as the recessed front to the frog meant less friction when using the lateral adjustment lever, but my theory is that it was done solely to save money by minimizing the metal used and the amount of grinding needed.

So all in all, this is a win to Record.



As I say, the record has lost most of it’s original finish (hard to blame the manufacturer, since I bought it in a derelict state and the previous owner had smothered every metal surface in thick blue paint, which took much of the original finish with it when I removed it). I have other examples where the paint (japanning?) has held up better, although they are all chipped and patchy to some extent.

The MFs seems to have been covered in liberal amounts of black paint (japanning?) which is not very evenly applied, although it has at least stayed attached to the metal.

Wooden parts are coated in some kind of shellac or varnish on both planes - shiny and not very nice, although at least in the MF it is intact. Records of this era are notorious for horrible cracked and flaking wooden finishes and my own examples are no different (this one was so bad I scraped off the varnish entirely).

A bit hard to call this one - on aesthetics alone I’d give it to the Record, but both planes have quality issues with their finishes. Let’s call it a draw.

Knob and tote
Both manufacturers have given up on Rosewood at this stage (although credit to MF, apparently they did reintroduce it in the 1950s) good old beech for Record, not sure what MF used - it is very pale and lightweight. I read somewhere it might be birch?

Let’s call it a draw

MF handle - Birch?

Lever cap finish
Record varied their lever cap finishes over time, but they did have to give up nickel coatings during the war due to war-time shortages. It is not entirely clear what they used instead (could be unfinished, could be a clear lacquer?). MF however, seem to have managed to retain a nickel finish. At least neither of them used horrible gaudy chrome.

Let’s call it a draw - there was a war on, after all!

Stamped “Made In England” vs stamped “Made in USA”

No contest, obviously! Well done Record!

Permaloid handles? No such luck with Record. A clear victory to MF here

User aids
Record helpfully marked a 25 degree angle on all their cap irons, in case you forgot what angle to grind at. Apparently MF could not be bothered.
Well done Record!

There you go - things are really neck-and-neck - tune in for the next instalment on other components, including the all important lever cap!
I grind my iron at 23 degrees anyway so don,t see this as a game changer.
Thickness and squareness of the sides would be worth noting, aswell as the sole, since your going into much detail ...
and thickness of the irons too ....and lets see the difference in the curve on the cap iron while your at it :)
and you might as well mention adjustment backlash when in use too...
Watching for next installment , beware
This whole thing could get totally out of hand though,
The quest for the best vintage plane from the world war era :roll:
I certainly will Bm101!

Mr Ttrees, I did indeed measure the thickness of the soles, but my very high levels of journalistic integrity meant I had to keep the information to myself. However, now you've asked, here we go.

They are the same! 4.7mm. The problem, though, is that I have flattened the sole of the Record which could have made all the difference to the test.

Incidentally the MF has a 2 thou dip at the toe end which means that although it will take a fattish full length shaving (below), when you try and do a thin one it does not reliably take a shaving at the very start of the cut. It is of course highly improbable that this is down to my crappy technique! My theory is therefore that the dip means the blade is lifted away from the wood when the toe registers against the wood. When I get a chance I'll flatten it to find out.

I did not report any of this in an attempt to remain objective, after all I can't remember how flat the Record sole was when I got it, and there is no way to be sure that the MF had the sole problem when it left the factory. For instance, it could have been owned by a succession of tradesman who only ever planed very small pieces of wood - say shorter than 1 inch long - and that this resulted in a disproportionate amount of wear at the toe end. You never know!

I have my suspicions though. Ah sod it, let's face it - this is another victory for Record, isn't it? Well done Record!

Don't be alarmed there will be more info on cap irons etc coming up!

Good job Nabs! You might need to re-weigh the Record frog though as it has the lever cap retaining screw in place but the MF one does not. Might account for some of the difference.
doh! I was hoping no one would notice that. I will weigh the screw tomorrow and report back.
Enjoying your semi-serious comparison nabs =D>

nabs":2nytf06p said:
The Record frog and plane body are both heavier than the MF, with the Record having slightly thicker sides and a more substantial reinforced bar across the width of the toe.

So all in all, this is a win to Record.
Not sure if the more substantial casting and extra weight swung the vote here but in case they did I'm not sure those should actually go into the plus column. Many value their older Stanleys over newer ones (post-WWII) precisely because the castings are slightly more refined and hence the plane is lighter. FWIW I currently have a range of no. 4s in the house and I have to say I don't find myself reaching for the heaviest ones out of preference.

nabs":2nytf06p said:
[I have other examples where the paint (japanning?) has held up better, although they are all chipped and patchy to some extent.
Cellulose enamel I think is what Record used at the time.

As for MF no clue what they used. I don't think it likely that they'd still have been using japanning by then but you never know. Given some other aspects of their reputation (extra-super frugal about spare parts, re-using adverts long out of date) it is possible though!

nabs":2nytf06p said:
not sure what MF used - it is very pale and lightweight. I read somewhere it might be birch?
I just read yesterday that they were beech for a good chunk of the post-Rosewood period. Even though American beech is quite different to what we're used to, would it be that noticeably lighter in the hand?
thanks for the info on paint ED65, and I hope someone can answer your question on American beech - the tote is noticably lighter than the Record (although I am not sure my super high-tech kitchen scales could detect the difference!).

Fair point on weight, which I realize is a matter of personal preference. The overall difference is not really noticable in practice because - as we shall see - the MF lever cap is a clunker and partially compensates for the lighter sole and frog (overall weight of the Record is 1.615kg vs 1.612 for MF). I am afraid we will never know if MF were aiming for refinement or were just cheapskates, but I did refer your remarks to the panel of judges for comment.

I am afraid they won't budge, and (I quote):

the decision is final. And besides these coves at Millers Falls were clearly a rum bunch. How else would you explain choosing red and black as a colour scheme? Clearly the designer was a show-off and a rascal to boot and, furthermore, since he almost certainly had a hand in the casting specification, the decision stands. Well done Record!

.. a bit unecessary I thought, but there is no arguing with some people!
in the spirit of rigorous investigation, I had another close look at both castings today - the Record really is excellent - little details like the way the top of the sides are not only ground smooth, but gently rounded over are really nice and the raised lettering on the sole is refined and cleanly done. It really is a fine piece of work , and the MF just does not seem to have the same finesse. Having said that, as you can probably tell, I am not entirely impartial and the MF is covered in thick black paint which may well be hiding some of the things I can see clearly on the Record.

Other opinions welcome!

PS I forgot to weigh the lever cap screw. Doh! Again!
Damn, those permaloid handles are snazzy as, not quite as uber cool as their "buck rogers" planes but a nice touch.

My MF cap iron has "GRINDING ANGLE" stamped on it and a big arrow pointing to a corner to remind you what angle to grind at but I think it's a 50's model.
thanks g7 - good to know they finally got with the action re. grinding angle instructions.

Here is part III: blades and other components
Apparently MF sometimes used steel blade-depth adjuster knobs, this one is brass. Good show, but it is much lighter than the one supplied by Record, which has a good quality heft to it.

Also disappointing is MF's use of single piece steel screws to hold the tote and front knob to the base, compared to the Record's posher steel screw and brass nut. To be fair to MF, this appears to have been a temporary blip, as they used the more expensive fitting before and after the war.

The yoke for the lateral adjuster is a single cast part for Record, and two steel parts held together with a rivet for MF. I read somewhere that this was deemed an improvement, since the cast design was allegedly prone to breaking. Do they really break in practice? Who knows!

Both mechanisms contain a bit of 'slop' which is typical on these older planes.

Nothing else much to report on the other nuts and bolts.

Conclusion: MF have cut a few too many corners here, so it is a win to Record!

There is no way to know if the blades are original, but they are little used. The Record is slightly thicker (1.9mm at the cutting end vs 1.7mm) and both are very slightly tapered along their length. Some of my Record blades are laminated, but as far as I can see this one is a single piece of steel, as is the MF.

The thinner MF is not necessarily a disadvantage, as we shall find out, so let's call this a draw.

tune in for the series finale - it's a shocker!


Millers falls planes have gained a cult following of sorts in recent years here in the states. Before that, they were generally much less in price than a stanley plane, except for type one and rare sizes. They're not finished as well as a stanley, but some of them have handles quite a bit larger than stanley planes, especially in the larger sizes. I've talked to a couple of large handed types who prefer that.
Sounds like a missed measuring opportunity in my review D_W, but I will note that the MF and Record totes look almost identical in this case.

Cap irons etc
Here we go - our favourite source of plane-related controversy, the cap iron. Some people say you can have too many cap-iron debates, but I'm not one of them!

But before that, a quick diversion into the wacky world of "chatter".

There has been much debate on the nature of chatter and the propensity of the thin irons - popularised by Leonard Bailey's plane design - to suffer from this complaint in virtue of their thinness, as opposed to other factors like technique, sharpness, depth of cut, lever cap tightness, friction/lubrication, work holding; wood selection etc, etc. As usual with questions related to planes, things are rarely as simple as they seem, and chatter is no exception.

But let's ignore all the complexity - instead, follow me back into the past, to simpler times!

Our hero, Leonard Bailey, inventor of this type of plane, explains clearly in his patent of 1867:

...that the thin blades he was experimenting with were prone to flex and thus chatter (you can read the patent if you don't believe me!).

His solution was to make the blade more rigid in its assembly by shaping the cap iron with a hump so that, when under pressure from the lever cap, it would make contact at three places on the iron (immediately before the tip of the blade, behind the hump, and at the top).

As has been well documented, the actual cap-iron implementation in the Bailey pattern planes produced in the past 150 years generally do not match the patent. The Record cap iron is no different, making contact only at the tip and around the lever, leaving a fairly large unsupported section in between.


Many people have pointed out that although on paper this appears to be a design flaw, the fact that millions of planes like this were sold and used over the past 100+ years is a pretty good indication that it is probably 'good enough'.

The more cynical amongst us (you know who you are!) are not going to be fobbed off like that though. After all, how do we know for sure that Bailey users of old weren't chattering away on difficult timber and just had to put up with it?

Also, how can you explain modern high-end manufacturers enthusiasm for massive fat irons if it is not down to problems with bendy thin ones ?

Finally, if you are still not convinced, then you need look no further than our own forum for plaudits aplenty for another blade stiffening gizmo: two piece cap-irons (as made at one time by Record and Clifton). Of course, some people do not get on with them, but those that do rave about the general feeling of improved solidity/stiffness/tighness and similar. There is even a glowing endorsement from Jacob!

What can it all mean? It seems to me this is all good evidence for a deficiency in Bailey's design, namely that the thin blades can flex in some circumstances and that this can make the plane less pleasant to use and may result in chatter.

MF boldly claim to have sorted this out, and we owe it to Mr Bailey - nay to humanity at large - to find out if it is true. We will find out in the next installment!
re: the small planes, yes on the handles being very similar in size. It's only on the larger planes that I've noticed a difference, and while many makes had various handle ergonomics over time, the large millers falls handles are really outsized compared to the small ones and very fat feeling in the hump.

I should clarify what I said about less well finished. Things like this don't show up on stanley planes top lines:
* the one piece rod as you describe
* softer castings (though that's not such a bad thing when you have to flatten one)
* on older MF planes around here, you often find one that's rusted and the paint pretty much flakes off in sheets, and there's no way to make it look decent, whereas partial japanning looks pretty good under a coat of shellac
* the stamped metal yoke

They are still very good planes, and when the 9s and 14s were to be had here for $10 on ebay, excellent. I and others touted them as being a good deal and quality planes, but some unscrupulous forum second hand dealers used the appreciation of them to sell them for as much or more than stanley planes. In the #2 size and #8 size planes (7 and 24, IIRC) there is some value due to rarity, but in the 14 size, I'd rather have a stanley.

I've found older stanley irons to be more consistent in quality, though the MF irons are decent in most cases. Two of the MF irons I've gotten have been a bit "grainy".
Your cap assessment is accurate, and as you've suggested, there is no reason to follow the patent to enjoy chatter-free and tearout-free planing.

The patent is most often brought up by people who have read about cap irons but not mastered using them. (Brought up) for various reasons.
Cap Iron Geometry
We already saw that Record failed to implement Bailey's design, how about the MF?

The MF has a distinct hump compared to Record's sllight buldge, and as a consequence the cap iron is in contact with the blade over a much larger area.

And we have not even got to the clever bit yet! but let's not get carried away -- we should have a closer look at the cap iron first.

Unfortunately, the MF had a couple of large nicks on the edge of the cap iron which meant the plane did not work well, as shavings kept getting caught in the gaps. Fair enough - you must expect the odd ding here and there on a 70 year old tool.

While investigating I noticed that there appeared to be a small flat area - perhaps less than a 1/2 mm - at the very tip of the cap iron. Sadly, before I could work out if this was a brilliant design feature I got distracted, and by the time I was undistracted I had abraded the tip to get rid of the nicks, thus removing the evidence forever. So we may never know. No more trapped shavings though!

Lever Cap
Here we go the big one - things are neck-and-neck, it's crunch time and MF have a surprise in store in the lever cap department. Their's is not a normal lever cap at all, it is made of two parts! Two!


The design was patented in 1928, so we can add a bit of historical colour.

When Stanley's patents expired in the late 1920s there was a mad rush of competing tool makers launching me-too bailey planes (including Record in the UK). Manufacturers had to differentiate themselves from the incumbent Stanley and resorted to all sorts of daft antics: naff but eye catching red and black colour scheme, for instance, or adding a zero to the front of Stanley's model numbers as if they had been your idea all along! Desperate times!

So it is only right to pass a skeptical eye over MF’s invention - is it a genuine innovation or just a sorry attempt to give themselves something to talk about in their adverts?

Let's have a look and find out.


Who’d of thought it? It actually works! the lever cap applies a significant amount of pressure and the extra "legs" at the pivot point in the two part lever cap cause the cap iron to distort so the blade is pinned firmly to the frog right up close to the start of the hump, just as Leonard Bailey intended. Brilliant!

I am genuinely impressed with MF's invention - the benefits of using thin irons rather than traditional (and recently fashionable) thick ones are clear and it seems to me that MF has resolved the only possible objection to them in a very effective way.

I bet you a pound to a penny Leonard Bailey would have included it his planes if he had thought of it first!

I suppose we might ask why it was not widely copied, and it is true that oher companies would have been free to adopt the design from the 1950s, but as far as I know only one firm did (more on that later), and indeed MF dropped the feature in the late 60s. This is not necessarily evidence of a poor idea though, since by this time the market had changed and low cost tools aimed at the DIY market was where the real money was. I suspect the MF lever cap was just one of the many casualties of the cost cutters.

Two fine engineering firms and two fine planes - I think Record edges it on quality, but MF is a clear winner on innovation and functionality, and thus I declare the contest a draw.

Well done Record! and Millers Falls!