I found a cheap hand plane at a garage sale. All the parts were there and the sole appeared to be in excellent condition. Then I noticed the handle was cracking in several connected places. The handle is still in one piece but at some point in the foreseeable future the handle is likely to snap and break completely.

I would have left it there but he told me I could have it for 2$ after I showed him the damage. If nothing else I have some spare parts for my current plane set or the makings of an infill plane.

However, like I mentioned earlier, the break is not complete and I'm sure I could theoretically use it in its damaged state for a while. I can just imagine though it breaking and slicing my hand.

Is the handle salvageable or should I just get a new one? I had a plan of forcing the break and fixing it with glue to make it one solid piece again. I don't know if that would be any better that the cracked state it is already in.

Cracked/Breaking handle

I figure worst case is that I will glue it and it will become a push stick handle.

  • In addition to the masking tape that you have recently added to your tool-box, you might want to include duct tape.
    – Ast Pace
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 4:51
  • @ASTPace That was the first thing to go the tool box in the first place!
    – Matt
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 11:32
  • Note that this is an opportunity to experiment with tote (handle) designs, and create one that is perfectly sized and angled for your hand, body, and working style!
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 19:17
  • I tend to wrap handles like that in electrical tape. It doesn't add strength to the joint mind you but if it does break it can save you some stitches. I would shove glue into the cracks clamp it until it dries and then wrap the handle in tape.
    – James
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 14:28
  • 1
    This article mentions the cause and easy fix for broken totes and given this is a common problem and one that can be prevented in the future it's worth reading. Why Plane Tote handles break and how to fix it. I hope this helps.
    – steve
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 14:24

5 Answers 5


I recently made a replacement tote for a hand plane. It wasn't perfect, but here's what I did.

The most difficult part for me was drilling a straight hole of the necessary length to accommodate the bolt that goes down the length of the tote. If you have a drill press, this will be easy. If not, make sure you have a long drill bit, and be prepared to throw away a few false starts. Drill perpendicular to the grain. If you make the hole slightly oversized, you'll have a little wiggle room when it comes to the angle of the bottom of the tote.

After you drill the hole, use the top and bottom of the hole to align your existing tote, and trace around it with a marker or soft pencil. Cut close to the line with a coping saw or jigsaw, then use rasps and files to refine the shape. Once you're close to the final shape, figure out how much you need to countersink the top of the bolt hole. You probably want to start shallow and dial it in slowly. If you make it too deep, the bolt will bottom out in the casting and you'll have to stack washers in order to secure the tote properly. With the bolt loosely tightened you'll be able to see any adjustment you need to make to the sole of the tote.

Some totes have a bolt hole in the toe, while others have a pin. If yours has a bolt hole, eyeball it as close as you can after you get the bottom of the tote at the right angle. If it doesn't line up perfectly, you can bore the hole out a little bigger.

Another thing to be aware of is that you'll probably want stock that's closer to a full 1" thick instead of the 3/4" typical for surfaced wood. I made mine from 3/4", and it's slightly narrow, so I'm not sure how comfortable it will be for extended use.


However, like I mentioned earlier, the break is not complete and I'm sure I could theoretically use it in its damaged state for a while. I can just imagine though it breaking and slicing my hand.

I think you're right to be concerned because a hand plane will sometimes be subjected to considerable forces in use (when encountering switching grain or a knot for example).

Obviously you have two options here: repair and replacement.

Making a new tote is actually not that hard given the right equipment and it makes a great little project for the workshop; guides on how to do this are easily found online, some including dimensional drawings to guide exact shaping. However, I'm a big fan of repairing where possible so I would suggest you at least try a repair first.

Repairs on broken plane totes and knobs can actually be very easily done in some cases and, perhaps surprisingly, the handles are no weaker than when new. This is even if only glue is used for the repair, although further reinforcement is easily done and can result in a truly unbreakable handle (see Pinning below).

Your plan to force the break would be exactly the way I would have recommended you go here. If it doesn't easily break you'll get a very good idea of just how strong the tote is as it stands!

I think your first step though should be to strip or scrape off the remaining finish to get a proper look at the extent of the cracks and if there are any more lurking under the remaining finish. While you're at it you should remove the finish from the knob so that when it comes time to re-finish you'll do both and they'll match. At a guess the finish on the knob will be in fairly poor shape so it should come off anyway!

Assuming the handle does break neatly you simply need to spread wood glue and apply clamp pressure to firmly clamp the parts together, ensuring correct alignment. Because of the odd shape of a tote you may want to build a glueing jig to help with alignment. Here's one simple method:

Tote glueing jig

Note: don't do too many dry runs. The fractured surface of split wood is easily damaged and even one splinter out of place can prevent the parts coming together neatly and forming a strong joint.

Now, if you can't get the tote to break using any force you're comfortable applying you can still reinforce this in a couple of ways:

  • getting glue to penetrate into the crack;
  • pinning with thin brass rod or paperclip wire.

For security I would suggest you use both these methods.

For the glue in this case you'll want to use epoxy for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being that epoxy is a gap-filling adhesive so no clamping is required to close the cracks.

You'll need your epoxy of course, which should be a slower-setting type (15 minutes at least), also a heat gun or hairdrier. You can thin epoxy to make it more penetrant, using alcohol or acetone, but it's better to reduce viscosity using heat as this doesn't affect final strength as thinning can.

First step is to pre-heat the joint with the drier or heat gun.

Now mix your epoxy as normal and spread it over the cracks, then give it a blast of heat. You'll see that it will become very liquid and will naturally sink into the cracks anyway, but in addition to this as the wood cools it will draw the glue deeper into the cracks. This is why you want to use a slow-setting epoxy, as you need to ensure the glue is still not set when this happens.

Apply more epoxy as needed so the cracks appear full of glue and then put it aside for it to partly set. You want to wait for the epoxy to get to a sort of rubbery consistency, when it's very easy to scrape off the excess. Use the side edge of a chisel or the back of a knife for this.

Now leave it to fully cure before you do any further work on it. Wait at least a full day, but 48 hours or longer would not be a bad idea.

Now to pin the joint, first you must carefully pick the directions you want to pin and then drill carefully right through the tote; you want the pins to cross any cracks. Be careful to note where the fixing screw goes so any pins don't intersect it.

Here are two suggestions for how you might pin a cracked tote:

Suggested tote pin orientation

To glue this sort of pin you can use epoxy as well, but superglue can work quite well too. Be sure to scuff the surface of the wire with abrasive paper or Scotchbrite to help ensure a good glue bond to the metal.

Here's a chisel handle repair that I pinned in place in this way:

Pinned chisel repair

  • Sure...but what do you really think...:)
    – Matt
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 11:44

You might be able to finish breaking the tote apart and glue or epoxy it back together, but personally I would just replace the tote altogether. There should just be one long screw you can unscrew to remove it. Use the old one as a template for the new one, then discard the old one.

If you think the plane has antique value, you can keep the old tote.

  • I just mostly wanted to fix it to save me from buying a new one but the logistics of gluing that together bother me. I don't feel it will be as good as it used to be. Replacing the tote is probably not a big deal. An excuse to make something isn't a bad idea either. Thanks
    – Matt
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 1:04
  • I haven't tried this, but maybe rather than breaking it apart you could cut some deep grooves in and fill them with epoxy, then sand it smooth?
    – Daniel B.
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 16:45
  • A properly applied and clamped glue joint can be stronger than the wood...
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 3:29

My recommendation isn't as fancy as the other two, but this is coming from a cheap guy that likes to keep things going without too much work. I would take black electrical tape and wrap the whole grip. It's cheap and will like give you quite a bit of use before it give up the ghost. When the handle does finally break the tape should give you some protection by keeping the pieces together.

  • I welcome cheap solutions. I still pick up pennies of the street.
    – Matt
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:55

I draw the line at repairing rosewood totes. That one being not rosewood, I'd not bother.

I made a series of totes for planes size 4-1/2 and up from walnut:

Some totes I made

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.