Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Millers Falls, and so do I

If the reader would cast their mind or their browser back to earlier this month and the Rogers Patent Mitre Planer? Well I'd been doing a pretty good job of not thinking about it. I'd looked over the tools I had in a fit condition to sell, and it wasn't ever going to come close to the necessary quantity of lettuce, so not thinking about it was the sensible option.

Then last Friday, TTS drops me an email. Will I be at the car boot on the morrow (Saturday) and shall he bring the chute plane along for a show and tell? Well, yes, okay then. As you're offering...

You know how this goes, right? You see the thing. You fondle the thing. You even get to use the thing with the provided bit of softwood for the purpose. You fall for the thing and sell any passing grandmothers you can scrounge up. This is how it's supposed to go. I talked sternly to myself all the way there about how I wasn't going to do that.

And when it came to it, it was fine. It's a super cool bit of kit, and I'm so glad I've seen one for real, but the love has died. It takes up so much space, I'd be worrying about dropping something terminal on the castings all the time, and it's so effortless you feel a bit like you've taken a step back to using power tools. It's crazy, but it's just not for me. So if anyone's in the market for one of these babies, I can put you in touch with TTS without a pang.

Mind you, I didn't escape entirely. Managed to avoid the free saw this time (Go me!), resisted the rebating shave and the folding drawknife, but came unstuck on the open gear wheel of turn of the century example of a Millers Falls #2 hand drill and - you won't believe it - a Millers Falls #14 jack plane.

Oh dear, I've been doing so well in not buying old bench planes. I mean really well. I'd virtually forgotten how to go about cleaning one up, it's been so long. But I had sort of been on the lookout for a #5 for genuine jack plane work, and wanted something a bit different. I used to have a later USA-made Stanley, but sold it ages ago. It was clean, tidy and did the job, but I never quite warmed to it for some reason. I warmed to this one. Even when I discovered the sawdust of aeons under the frog...

But it wasn't so bad - the quality of finishing on the bits and pieces is sufficiently fine that they shrug the rust off pretty easily. Dunno if M-F bench planes are always so well made though; it's my first.

And my last. Yes, definitely my last. One is more than enough. Yup.

The iron's a bit ho-hum, so I embraced the ruler trick just to get it taking a shaving. Very pleased with it. And the grain on the front knob is just gorgeous. Okay, so a purist might have repaired the chip on the top of the horn of the tote, but it doesn't bother one in use, and a tool should be allowed to show the odd battle scar now and again.

The drill's got all sorts of niggles with it; the brass ferrule on the main handle has split (which apparently they often do), the ferrule on the crank knob is completely gone, and the doodah that bears on the gear wheel to keep it engaged is also MIA. On the other hand, whereas I thought the springs were missing from the chuck, it turns out to be a springless one that uses a grooved system. Very clever.

What I really fell for though, was the egg-shaped side handle. Obviously I need to brush up on my Millers Falls stuff via OldToolHeaven, because this all came newly to me. A total knuckle-mashing nightmare to hold for most users, it appears, but just for once the smaller hands win, and it seems just fine to me.

As you see, not a lot of paint left on it, but then it appears to date from somewhere between 1899 and 1906, so I reckon that's not unreasonable. Nice drill, and I can sort of see why it's so well-regarded a model. However, despite my best efforts, all hand drills are judged against the Record 124 now, and I'm afraid are coming up short. So is that the sound of me throwing away all my drills in disgust as a result?

Wadda you think? ;)


  1. To answer one of your first questions, all Millers Falls "premium" planes are finished like yours. Oddly enough, yours seems to be a type 2, with the blade adjuster from a type 3 (it looks like it's steel).

    I have a Millers Falls problem, too, even though I'm starting to feel as I like wooden planes more.

    The drill you have is quite nice. It's pretty rare to have a side handle at all, much less the one that you've got on yours. Unfortunately, the flange wheel that you're missing is what really makes that model sing (see George Langford's treatise on There's gotta be some fix for this.

  2. They've cleaned up a treat, Alf. Interesting how they still manage to look the business after so many years.


  3. I got a MF #2 recently to see what all the fuss was about. I usually use an inexpensive Stanley Defiance or whatnot that always exceeds expectations. After cleaning the #2 up it seems comparatively heavy, but I like the larger gear--it seems to get the drill bit going a little faster. The Little Rail Road Car Wheel makes a difference; you could probably easily make one from an appropriately-sized head on a wood screw. I'm also working on a Goodell-Pratt 5 1/2 with two speeds. Should be interesting for comparison.

    --Anonymous Comment-Leaving Person

  4. Brian, I must admit to finding the "typing" of M-F planes more confusing than helpful! I decided not to worry about it and just enjoy the plane - seems to be working.

    The drill, and particularly its lack of bearing wheel, is exercising me. I was wondering vaguely if I could throw modern technology at the problem and turn something in UHMW plastic. It'd look hideous, but if it worked...

    And I don't understand side handles on drills at all. Everyone else bemoans them going missing, but they all turn up present and correct round here. What's that all about?

  5. What's that all about? Karmic compensation for other tool-related deficiencies. For instance, lack of bearing wheel. I've never seen one of the egg-shaped handles. That's pretty cool. If you let me know the diameter of the aperture for the bearing wheel cam, it might provide the motivation to begin to start to move in the direction of seriously considering the act of getting off my a** and making one; I've got another No. 2 that's also missing the bearing wheel and the cam adjuster.

    --Anonymous Comment-Leaving Person

  6. Well done Alf,
    I've got three Millers Falls planes, amongst a sea of Stanleys, an old Herr Kunz and a couple of Wodens. And none of the others are as well made as my MFs. They're sheer quality. The steel in the blade is better nd the mechanisms are so well made, with less play in the adjuster and a frog to die for. My MF #15 (equivalent to a 5 1/2 in Baileyspeak) is by far the most used of all my planes.
    As I've never seen tried or even seen any Record drill in the flesh, I cannot compare, but I do own a MF 2B (double pinion but without the wheel and the side handle) and it's lovely. The weight makes it very stable and the large wheel makes drilling easy even with larger bits.
    So enjoy and hope you'll find more of them.

  7. The older antique tools are great, built to last not like what is made today. I can generally find one to two Goodall Pratt or Millers Falls hand drills a year at garage sales.

    Millers Falls Hand Drills


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