Let the games begin, starting with the bread and butter of Stanley, upon which they built an empire, the Bailey patent bench plane in its various configurations. Leonard Bailey designed what has become the standard plane configuration that's still in use to this day. He was the undisputed champion of the plane slugfest that errupted in the decades after the Civil War. If you're at all fascinated with handplane design, follow this link to read all about the Better Moustraps.
A general description of stuff to look for when examining a bench plane is listed under the #3 smoother. This stuff is applicable to all Stanley bench planes of the basic Bailey design (as well as those that incorporate the Bailey patents such as the Bed Rocks), and comes from my observances of thousands of these planes.
All dimensions that follow each number indicate the length of the sole, the width of the cutter, and the weight of the tool. There were some subtle differences in the dimensions, but only those that are significant are mentioned where appropriate. Some of the bench planes are a bit longer/shorter, wider/narrower, heavier/lighter than what's noted for the fact that the planes used many patterns over their decades of production. So, if you have a plane that's one-half inch shorter or longer than what's mentioned here, don't go thinking that you have some ultra-rare version of the tool. You don't (except in the case of the #2). If the plane is inches shorter than what's listed here, you have one that's suffered an amputation along the way.
One other thing - you'll note that I sometimes refer to the cutter as the iron and vice versa. I've always used the term 'iron' to represent the chunk of metal you sharpen to make the plane a plane. Stanley, in their reams of propaganda, referred to it as a 'cutter'. I'll occasionally slip into the Stanley mantra, and use their lingo, even when I know better that it's properly called an 'iron'.
This is the first plane of the Bailey series, which Stanley made into the world's standard plane configuration after they bought the patent rights to the design from Leonard Bailey, who was making the planes in relative obscurity in Boston, Massachusetts during the 1860's. Bailey had experimented with several designs, but finally settled upon a style that is still being manufactured, with minor modification, today.
This plane was designed to smooth small areas and was found practical by many since it can be used with one hand, much like a block plane is. It never has a number cast on it, nor was it ever provided a lateral adjustment lever. The plane always has a solid brass nut for the iron's depth adjustment; i.e., the brass nut does not have the hollow depression that is typically found on the nuts used on the larger bench planes.
They are cute little planes that look sorta neat on a mantle, or on top of your TV, which is probably a better place for them than in your shop due to their value. Every serious collector of old tools wants one of these little monkeys, which makes the cost of owning one rather steep. I wish I bought every last one I saw a dozen years ago - I'd be wintering in Palm Beach, if I had.
This plane never was corrugated (see #2C's listing below). Do not ever buy one that is. The Ohio Tool Company did make a corrugated version of this plane, but they ain't Stanley, which is the company of concern here.
The plane has been reproduced and can fool the novice very easily. The quickest way to tell if it is a fake is by examining the threaded rod on which the depth adjustment nut (the brass knob) traverses. An original has its rod perfectly parallel to the sole of the plane, whereas the reproduction has its tilted upward toward the tote. The irons of some reproductions have the logo stamped on both sides, but this can't be relied upon as a foolproof identification of the plane's originality since there are a lot of unused legitimate #1 irons out there and it's very easy to switch the reproduction iron with an original one. The castings of the reproductions are coarser than on the originals, but unless you've seen an original, you really don't have any idea what the correct texture is. A modern manufacturer makes a very nice copy of the plane, but it could never fool anyone as being original since his is made of the usual bronze alloy and the knob and tote are not rosewood.
These planes are generally in very good, or better, condition since they were used very little. There are far too many of them out there to be considered salesman's samples or novelties as some people believe them to be. As proof that they were used, they do suffer damage, primarily about their mouth. The thinness, and consequent fragility, of the bottom casting makes this damage the most commonly found on these planes. A cracked tote is another fairly common flaw found on these planes. There are guys making reproduction totes for these and other planes. Be careful when you buy!
Another form of damage I've noticed on them is one I can never understand how it ever happened in the first place. The screws used to secure the frog to the bottom casting actually poke through the sole! The cause of this is because the washers were not used along with the screws, which means that the sole had to be drilled in order for the screws to seat. This damage is very easy to recognize - flip the plane over and look for two screws staring back at you. It's that simple. You'll cringe in horror the first time you ever see it.
The screws used to secure the frog to the base have round heads, and not flat ones (the earliest larger bench planes had round heads, but later were changed to flat ones). Also, the frog, and its mating to the bottom, only underwent one redesign during its production, which is far less than the redesigns the larger bench planes had done to them. The earliest models have an I-shaped, or H-shaped (depending upon how it's viewed) receiving area for the frog. Subsequent models have the broad and flat receiving area.
Strangely, more than a few of these planes are missing their knobs. Maybe it's because junior stole them to play marbles, or something like that. The knobs of the #98 and #99 are a close match and a source for replacements.
Another plane to smooth small areas. A smooth plane, according to some Stanley propaganda "is used for finishing or smoothing off flat surfaces. Where uneven spots are of slight area, its short length will permit it to locate these irregularities, leaving the work with a smooth surface when finished." Good ol' Stanley, providing us woodworkers with a smoother for all occasions. While the #2 is certainly scarce (when compared to the larger bench planes), proving that its use was rather limited, it nevertheless is a useful tool for when one is faced with some isolated stubborn grain or smoothing smaller pieces of work. Its small size permits it to work smaller areas more effectively than the larger and more common #4.
It's very difficult to close your hand around the tote on this one, unless you have small hands. Be very careful that the lever cap is proper for this plane - it's very easy to grind a #3 lever cap narrower to fit this plane. Look at the sides of the lever cap, when it's clamped in place - a ground #3 lever cap will have its sides projecting well above the highest point on each of the bottom casting's arched sides. Give the machining along the edges of the lever cap a close inspection to verify that it's a proper #2 lever cap.
A common area of damage on the #2's is at the very rear of the sole, or heel of the plane, where the threaded rod (used to secure the tote to the bottom casting) is received by a raised boss in the bottom casting. On some models of the plane, this area is not flush with the sole proper (there are some models that have this area flush with the sole), and sometimes can break. Inspect it carefully for repairs. Sometimes, the threaded rod will be tapped through the sole. This damage is clearly visible by flipping the plane over and looking at the sole. Similar damage can be found on the larger bench planes.
This plane never came equipped with the frog adjusting screw that was offered on the larger bench planes, nor did it experience the changes in the frog's receiver, save for the first (H-shaped) to the second (broad machined area) designs (see the #3 for an explanation and images of the changes in the frog's receiver). And for those of you who follow the type studies religiously (keep in mind that Stanley never knew about the type studies when they were making their stuff), this plane doesn't follow the study very well. It seems as if the Stanley employees, given the task of making #2's, were off in their happy, little #2-land, oblivious to the changes made to the plane's larger brothers. No model of the #2 has the patent date(s) cast into it, behind the frog.
The brass depth adjustment nut used on this plane is different from all the others. On most of the examples (excluding the very earliest ones, with their solid nuts), the nut is very slightly hollow (concave) and is noticeably shallower than those nuts used on the larger bench planes. Check that the nut hasn't been replaced with one off a larger plane.
A scarce late-production model of this plane measures roughly 1/2" longer than the earlier models. It almost passes as a #3, but its cutter is the usual 1 5/8"W. Examples of this plane usually have "BAILEY" cast at their toe, but they don't always, so have a tape measure handy to see if it measures 8" long. They also have the larger brass depth adjustment nut like those used on the larger bench planes. The cutter is not rounded at the top, but is angled as it was from the day it was first made. Most of these planes are japanned with the typical black paint, but the very last ones to leave New Britain are instead japanned blue.
The "C" designation means that the sole has a series of parallel grooves machined into it. There is no "C" cast into this plane, nor any other of the corrugated bench planes.
The corrugations are provided to overcome the 'friction' that results between the wood and the sole as the wood becomes true; a small vacuum forms between the two surfaces. Whether this 'friction' becomes a bother to the craftsman depends upon the species of wood being planed and the overall strength or endurance of the dude pushing the plane. I've never really been bothered by the 'friction', but it appears that many others have, judging by the number of corrugated planes out there and the length of time that they were offered. Some also claim that the corrugations are useful on resinous woods - maybe you will, too.
Prior to the introduction of corrugations, guys would use wax or oil on the plane's sole. This was normally used on the longer planes, where the amount of 'friction' is certainly greater than that formed on the shorter planes. But for a plane this small, corrugations are rather overkill. It was never a popular feature of this particular plane, thus its scarcity. In fact, I have seen fewer #2C's than I have #1's. Perhaps I need to ask more #2's if they mind if I check their bottoms?
I've seen some very crude appearing corrugations on many of the bench planes. Some of the planes date prior to Stanley's production of them. Whether the planes were corrugated in an attempt to deceive collectors, or whether the planes were corrugated by the owner for his own use is impossible to tell. I suspect the reason is true in both cases.
Original corrugations run lengthwise to the sole and are perfectly parallel to each other, stop before the toe, the heel, and before and behind the mouth. The corrugations are about as deep as they are wide, have a crisp definition to them, and terminate in a pointed fashion. The corrugations often become filled with workshop schmutz. You can remove it by taking the pointed end of a common nail and scraping it out.
And now for something completely different....
I once was invited over to a woodworker's shop to look at some tools that he wanted to sell. The fellow didn't have much, just a few newer tools from that tool company in England that is still making pitiful copies of Stanley's bench planes. However, the fellow did have several original Stanleys with soles the likes of which I've never seen before or since. Each sole had a series of 1" wide (roughly) cutouts, dados, if you will, that spanned the width of the sole spread along the length of the sole. In other words, the cutouts were parallel to the mouth! Amazed by what laid before my eyes, I asked the fellow what caused or what was the reason for this strange treatment. He told me that he had taken the planes to a local machinist and asked him to cut some corrugations into the soles since he had heard that corrugations help to make the plane perform better. For the first time in my life, I was left speechless, and could only muster an "Oh, I see" as an answer. The planes have since left his shop, so you folks out in western Massachusetts be careful out there while tool sleuthing. If you ever see one, and unknowingly buy it, I suppose you could always flip it over and use it as a boot scraper, or something like that.
A very common smoothing plane, which some prefer over the larger #4.
As in all the metal bench planes, check that the bottom casting (or bed) isn't cracked anywhere - more often than not, the cracks appear on the arched sides or around the mouth. The mouth proper is also prone to chipping. Now and then you might stumble across a bench plane that has some cosmetic surgery, where the entire forward (of the mouth) portion of the main casting was broken off and subsequently welded back onto the rest of the plane. Run, don't walk, away from these examples, unless you're snarfing parts.
Stay away from those planes that exhibit tool leprosy, pitting. A few minor pits on the sides isn't going to hurt the plane's use, but badly pitted examples are generally a lost cause.
#3 - Cap Screw
#4 - Lever Cap
#5 - Lever Cap Screw
#6 - Frog Complete
#7 - "Y" Adjusting Lever
#8 - Adjusting Nut
#9 - Lateral Adjusting Lever
#10 - Frog Screw
#11 - Plane Handle (Tote)
#12 - Plane Knob
#13 - Handle (Tote) Bolt and Nut
#14 - Knob Bolt and Nut
#15 - Plane Handle (Tote) Screw
#16 - Plane Bottom
#46 - Frog Adjusting Screw
Make sure the frog isn't broken - curiously, many of them have their frogs snapped off at their tops where the lateral adjustment lever is supposed to be (the earliest models, pre-1885, never had a lateral adjustment lever). I've also seen a frog that had the 'web' of cast iron between the two frog screws snapped off. How this happened is almost beyond comprehension, but a good guess is some klutz slipped with his screwdriver when loosening/tightening the screw. This is rare damage, but it just goes to show you that these planes can be damaged anywhere and it's just good practice to examine them thoroughly before you buy.
Some planes are missing their lateral adjustment lever. It's attached to the top of the frog with a small, peened over pin. Through hard use, the pin can wear out, detaching the lever from the frog. If there is a 3/16" (roughly) hole centered at the top of the frog, the plane had a lateral adjustment lever. If the hole is not present, the plane is an earlier model that dates prior to the introduction of the lateral lever which made its debut in 1885 (the first lateral has a bent up edge that engages the cap iron, while the later style, first introduced in 1888, has a circular disk to engage the cap iron). Don't retrofit your plane with a lever, if it never had one. Sell it to a collector, then take the proceeds and buy a model that is equipped with the lever.
Most of the models have rosewood for the knob and tote (WWII years, and from the mid-50's on, had stained hardwood). In what has to be an error, the 1927 catalogue states that cocobolo was used for the totes and knobs on all the bench planes, except for the #1, #1C, #2, and #2C. I have never seen a Stanley bench plane with cocobolo used, and the mention of a fictitious #1C offers some proof that something may have been rotten in New Britain.
A cracked tote isn't anything to get bothered over, provided it's tight and glueable. The 'horn' of the tote is often sheared off on many of the bench planes. When the tote is gripped, its horn should extend about an inch beyond web of skin between your thumb and forefinger. Many of the horns are repaired with nails, screws, glue, or scarfs. Look them over carefully. Totes are also prone to cracking near their bases, just above where they extend forward to meet the main casting.
The totes on the smaller bench planes - #1 through #4 and the #5 1/4 - are fastened only with the threaded rod and countersunk brass nut that passes through the tote. The larger bench planes - #4 1/2 through #8 - use the same means of fastening the tote to the main casting, with an additional round-headed screw at the toe of the tote. The totes on these larger planes sit over a raised tote receiver into which the screw and threaded rod are screwed. This is as good a place as any to mention that Stanley loved to use non-standard threads, and it's nowhere more apparant than the hardware used to attach the wood to the main casting.
There are reproduction totes out there, and some of them are quite good. A reproduction tote isn't so much a concern on a common plane that's to be used, but it is a concern on the collectible examples of the series, like the #1, #2, and #2C. During the 1920's, Stanley applied a brightly colored decal on the left side of the totes on many of their planes. Generally, the presence of this decal increases the value of the tool as it's indicative of the tool's condition since the decals wore off rather quickly and easily from use. Some of the reproduction totes are available with decals, which themselves are reproductions. You should be very careful when buying a collectible plane that has a decal on the tote unless you're sure you can recognize the reproduction. The background of the original decal is an aquamarine color whereas the reproduction's background color is a darker blue green. Plus, the reproduction decal has a 'thicker', almost silk screened, appearance to it.
Sometimes, you'll find a plane with a hard rubber tote with "B of E" embossed on each side. These were sold by Stanley to school systems as replacement totes for the poor planes that suffered the onslaught of destruction as wrought by the punks of yesteryear. "B of E" stands for Board of Education. These replacement totes were offered during the 1910's-1920's, when they were replaced with aluminum totes during the early 1930's. The replacement totes are most often found on the jack planes since they were the commonly used planes in the school systems across the USofA.
The knob can suffer chipping or cracking about its base. This is most commonly found on the earlier planes, with their squatty, mushroom-shaped knobs. The damage is caused during the plane's use, when the plane is pushed at the knob; the knob leans forward, putting stress at its leading portion, making it split.
Many folks found the low knobs difficult to grip, especially on the shorter planes. A taller knob, called the "high knob" in the tool collecting circus, was offered starting ca. 1920. This knob, being taller than the low knob and thus having the force on it applied higher up from its base, suffered the same chipping at its base, but only more so than the low knob. Good idea, Stanley, but you didn't quite get it right.
Some 10 years later, the solution to knob chipping was discovered - a raised ring was cast into the bottom casting to receive the knob. This solution really did work, and knob chipping became but a distant memory. If you're into originality, there is a minor, but important, detail about the high knobs - the later high knob is turned so that its base tapers slightly to fit into the raised ring, while the first high knob is turned so that its base doesn't diminish where it seats onto the main casting.
The degree of the sole's flatness is a personal preference (frankly, I think the current notion of perfect flatness on a bench plane is simply hype), but definitely stay away from those that are badly twisted along their length. You may need to file nicks out of the plane's sole, if they project - these will leave scratches on the wood, which defeats the plane's purpose.
The bottom casting (not the sole proper, but its leading and trailing edges) should be slightly convex at its toe and heel. I've seen some planes, especially jack planes, that have had their toe and heel ground off so that they are squared across the width of the plane. You'll also stumble across many bench planes that have a hole drilled through their bottom castings. This was done so that the plane could be hung from a hook when not in use. This 'feature' does nothing to the plane's use, but it does kill it as a collectible, especially on the scarcer planes. Similar holes can be found along the sides of the planes so that they could accept one of the many fences (ones that can be adjusted to bevel an edge) that were offered over the years.
The Stanley bench planes are equipped with irons that are very thin when compared with the thick irons used on the older wooden planes. Leonard Bailey was the first to use these thin irons prior to Stanley purchasing his patents. Stanley made it a point to mention the iron's thinness in their marketing propaganda by claiming that: 1) They are easier to grind; 2) They require less grinding "as a thin cutter can be kept in condition by honing"; 3) There is "less tendency to 'stub off' the cutting edge when honing, hence the original bevel is kept much longer"; and 4) It "seats firmer on the frog." Some modern manufactures are supplying irons that are aimed as replacements for the Stanley irons. While these irons are high quality, they are also often too thick for the plane to accept them without having to file the mouth wider, and that's something you should think long and hard about as it's a modification that can potentially affect the value of the tool in the long term.
Make sure there is enough meat on the iron and if it is pitted, your best bet is to toss it. You'll probably find some amount of corrosion on the face of the iron where the cap iron makes contact. This corrosion is often black in color and can be lapped out quickly. The corrosion occurs from the plane sitting idle where moisture is trapped between the two irons. Inspect the iron, even on its backside, for any cracks. The Stanley irons do crack due to their thinness, but it is not a common occurrence. I've also seen an iron de-laminate; look them over around the bevel for this flaw (Stanley did equip their bench planes with laminated irons up to about WWII - click here to see the company's propaganda for laminated irons). Make sure the cap iron fits tightly against the iron; you'll have to re-grind it if it doesn't.
Strangely, you'll stumble across irons and cap irons that have mushroomed ends, like the kind you see invariably on wooden planes. Stanley planes that show this 'handiwork' must have belonged to transitional woodworkers, where the line between master carpenter and ham-fisted hack was but a mere hammer away. Why anyone would smack the heel of the iron on this kind of plane is lost on me. If your plane has this feature, a file will make short order of it.
Rarely, and I do mean rarely, you might find an bench plane with a strange iron in it. It looks as if someone screwed a razor blade onto the cutting edge of the normal iron. If you see this, sell the iron to a collector, and find yourself a replacement. What you have is another one of Stanley's boneheaded ideas - "Ready Edge Blades." This was Stanley's attempt to make the life of the workman easier. Whenever the plane's cutter dulled, he could pull out a new one and screw it onto the holder. This dreadful idea came in 1 3/4", 2", and 2 3/8" widths, and, fortunately, only lasted a short time during the late-1920's to the early 1930's.
A few chips on the lever cap (along its edge of contact with the cap iron) are nothing to fear. These chips are from a previous owner using the flat end of the lever cap as a screwdriver to loosen the cap iron screw prior to the sharpening of the iron. This flaw lessens the value of a plane to a collector, but does nothing to hinder the plane's use provided the chips are not severe enough to prevent sufficient clamping pressure on the iron.
The lever cap underwent a subtle design change in the hole through which the lever cap screw passes. The first hole is symetrical and shaped like a key hole. During the early 1930's, the hole was redesigned (and patented) so that is has a kidney shape design. This change was done to address the supposed problem with the lever cap backing upward, off the lever cap screw, as the iron was drawn back while turning the adjusting screw. The planes had been made some 70 years, and used successfully for that same time, without the kidney-shaped hole so it seems that Stanley made the design change as a gimmick to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Look for stress cracks or outright chips about the lever cap's screw hole. This flaw can diminish the plane's utility since the lever cap is apt to loosen during use. It's best to pass examples with this problem, unless you can salvage it for parts. Test the brass depth adjustment nut to see if it turns freely - a lot of times these are seized. If the knurling on the nut appears stripped or the nut is mis-shaped (not a circle), it's a good indication that someone took drastic measures, like the use of vise-grips, to free it.
Chips in the bottom casting are sometimes found where the sides meet the toe or heel of the plane. These, too, have no harmful affect on the use of the plane, but they do lessen its value to a collector. Also, these chips are rather jagged so you may want to file them smooth lest they rip your hands to shreads during use.
Check the depth adjustment fork, which is held captive in the frog. It resembles a wishbone, with each side terminating with a round shape to the casting. Each side engages the circular groove in the brass depth adjustment nut. Sometimes, one of the sides of the fork breaks off, making the fork bind when it's adjusted. These forks are cast iron, but starting around the early-1960's they became a cheesy two-piece steel construction. You might think it strange that the cast iron fork can break, but break they do, usually as a result of too little pressure from the lever cap on the iron, which then results in the iron being thrust backward during planing, putting an extreme amount of force directly on the fork, ultimately snapping it.
Stanley, in their instructions for using the planes, specifically addresses just how tight the lever caps should be - "If the Cam [of the lever cap] will not snap in place easily, slightly loosen the Lever Cap Screw. If the Plane Iron is not firmly held when the Cam is in place, slightly tighten the Lever Cap Screw." Nowhere does Stanley mention that the adjusting fork should be positioned forward so that it buttresses the front of the slot cut in the cap iron, as many erroneously believe should be the case.
Some modern day tool authors, sure in their scholarly advice, recommend taking a pair of pliers and squeezing the 'tines' of the adjusting fork toward each other to take out some of the slop in the mechanism. DO NOT EVER DO THIS! You'll snap the thing as sure as that plaid shirt and toolbelt wearing guy will use a bisquick joinah. If the fork is broken, you can pilfer one from a dogmeat bench plane by knocking out the pin that allows the fork to pivot. The pin normally pops out when driven from left to right (as viewed from the rear of the frog).
There were many modifications made to the bench planes over their production. These are outlined in the type study, but the major design change, that of the frog and the way it seats on the bottom casting, is mentioned here in greater detail.
There are four major frog and corresponding receiver (of the main casting) designs found on the Bailey bench planes. Sure, there were some experiments gone awry and a few minor modifications, but the descriptions of the four that follow are those that were in the longest production.
The first design resembles the letter "H" when viewed from the front or rear of the plane. The frog is machined to sit on the sides, or rails, of this machined area of the main casting. The frog is screwed to the cross 'beam' that spans the rails. This design was the one Leonard Bailey finally settled upon prior to Stanley purchasing his patents. Stanley continued this solid design for just a few years until ca. 1872 when they abandoned it for a short-lived design that didn't prove resilient enough (explained later).
The second major design dispensed with the experimental frog ca. 1874. This design is simply a broad and flat rectangular area that is machined on the bottom casting. This machined area is rather low, and has two holes that receive the screws which are used to secure the frog in place.
Likewise, the bottom of the frog is machined flat to fit onto the bottom casting. This method of securing the frog was sound and it worked well, but the amount of machining, after the parts were cast, certainly made production more costly and slow, and they eventually cast two grooves into the main casting's frog receiver (ca. 1888) in order to reduce the area that had to be machined. Still, this construction was too costly. Thus, Stanley needed to modify the design if they were to become "The Toolbox of the World." That, and the exclusive patent rights for the construction were about to run out, so Stanley needed something new to patent in order to differentiate their products from the competitions'.
The third design made its debut in 1902, and was again patented by Stanley. Planes configured with this design have "PAT'D/MAR-25-02/AUG-19-02" embossed on the bottom casting, right below the brass depth adjustment nut. This re-design of the frog likely was an attempt of Stanley's to keep the competition at bay, since their original design's patents had expired just 5 years earlier.
Under the new design, the frog receiver (on the bottom casting) is made up of a cross rib, a center rib, and two large screw bosses that flank each side of the center rib. The leading edge of the frog itself has a support directly behind the mouth to offer a solid base as a measure to reduce chattering. The rear of the frog rests on the cross rib, across its full width. The frog has a groove that is centered across its width and is perpendicular to its front edge. This groove sits atop the center rib and is used to align the frog, keeping it square with the mouth. The center rib was slighty modified to a larger and arched shape starting around 1907. The two screw bosses, used to receive the screws that fasten the frog to the bottom casting, are purposely large and deep. They were made this way to prevent the sole from deflecting upward when the frog is screwed securely into place.
The entire frog is adjustable forward or backward (to close or open the mouth, as the case may be) by a set screw that is accessible directly below the frog's brass cutter depth adjustment nut. This frog adjusting screw was first offered on the Bed Rock series of planes, but soon found favor with frog adjusters everywhere and was added to the Bailey series starting around 1907.
The fourth design, made right after WWII, has the frog receiver with the center rib now cast to resemble a wishbone. There is a 'break' in the machined area of the cross rib, right above the frog adjusting screw. This new design wasn't patented.
Occasionally, the word "IMPERFECT" can be found stamped into the bottom casting, on one of its sides. This means that the plane didn't meet the quality specifications during its inspection. Usually, the imperfection is something trivial, like a flaw in the finish or a casting defect (a pockmark or two). I've only noticed this marking on the planes made during the mid-20th century. The earlier planes that had quality problems were likely trashed and never made it out to the adoring public. Go see the #17 for some other 'imperfect' information.
During the late 1920's and very early 1930's, Stanley decided to paint some of the frogs (on their sides only) a bright, Cheeto's-colored orange - you almost go blind looking at it. This orange paint covers the normal japanning that was used on the frog and main casting. Why Stanley did this is anybody's guess. Perhaps they were trying to go one-up on the Millers Falls' line of bench planes, where that company painted their frogs a bright red. If this is the case, it's rather laughable as Millers Falls was never going to dethrone Stanley as the world's leader in metallic bench planes. However, Millers Falls did debut their bench plane line in 1929, which is the same time Stanley offered their orange frogs.
This orange paint craze wasn't just limited to the Bailey line of planes. It can also be found on the Bed Rock series of bench planes, some of the block planes (the brass knob and adjuster are painted orange), and on the #78 rabbet (the embossed logo on the right side is highlighted in orange). There are probably other planes that got the treatment as well. The bench planes are the most commonly found orange decorated planes, with the others being somewhat scarce.
Stanley produced a very short-lived frog design during the early 1870's (pictured in the image to the left). This design has a frog that is about 1/2 the length of the normal frog, and is nearly identical to the design that Leonard Bailey was producing when he got pissed off at Stanley and decided to come up with a new line of bench planes, his Victor line. Stanley, realizing the genius of Leonard Bailey, may have thought that his new design would prove to be a threat to the conventional design and then decided to mimic his. Bailey's Victor design certainly proved easier to manufacture as there was less machining involved, but it does have two real flaws: there is no ability to adjust the frog to open or close the mouth; and the cross-rib that carries the frog is susceptible to cracking or breaking due to the stress placed on it from overtightening the lever cap or during planing. This frog is secured to the cross-rib via two screws that are oriented horizontally. Nice attempt Leonard and Stanley, especially since one size frog could be used on multiple sizes of the bench planes (#3 through #8), but the one frog fits all definitely didn't satisfy all users of the planes.
Many folks find it confusing about whether Stanley or Bailey made these planes. The answer is, both made them. Leonard Bailey, while working in happening Boston, Massachusetts during the 1850's and 1860's, came upon the fundamental design of planes with which we are all familiar. These planes have very little in the way of markings, except on the brass nut where sometimes "BAILEY" and "BOSTON" are stamped. Stanley, having been a manufacturer of rules, levels, squares, etc for some 15 years, was looking to expand their toolmaking business, so they bought out Bailey's patents in 1869. They produced the planes with little change, where the only Stanley markings were on the iron and on the lateral adjustment lever. In 1902, as homage to Bailey, Stanley started making their castings with "BAILEY" embossed in them - these planes were made by Stanley, and Stanley alone. In 1925, lever caps were first offered with "STANLEY" embossed in them, while the bottom castings were still being made with "BAILEY" cast into them. Many people believe that the lever caps are replaced on these models or that they aren't Stanley products since they have "BAILEY" on them. They most assuredly are Stanley products. The Bailey-made stuff, from Boston, is very scarce and highly prized by collectors.
The corrugated version of the #3.
Like the #2C, the advantages that corrugations supposedly offer the plane during use are somewhat questionable on a plane of this size.
The standard smoothing plane. This, along with the #5, are what made Stanley a fortune. This plane will out-smooth any sanding, scraping, or whatever on most woods. There are woods that present themselves as problems for this plane, and the rest of the Stanley bench planes for that matter, but this shouldn't deter you from owning one. The planes were designed to be general purpose and affordable, not to conquer any wood tossed their way. Many modern woodworkers have their first plane epiphany with this little tool as the curls come spilling out its mouth.
Occasionally, you might find an early version of this plane with a built-in oiler located at its knob which holds oil that is drained through perforations drilled through the sole, directly beneath the knob. This was an aftermarket addition, and unlike other aftermarket ideas, like the tilting handles on modified #10's, which Stanley eventually put into production, the oiling device soon became a genetic deadend in the tool tree. The same oiling device can also be found on #5's.
The corrugated version of the #4.
One of Stanley's dumber ideas, as can be inferred from their short time of offering, was the aluminum planes. The bed and frog on this plane are made from aluminum, which makes the plane lighter. This was the supposed appeal of these planes, that they are lighter than the iron planes. That, and that they weren't prone to rusting. Rosewood was used for the knob and tote. Despite all these swell features, the planes were a miserable flop.
These planes were produced at a time when nickel plating appeared on the lever caps. All the ones I've seen have the old-style lever cap, without the new kidney-shaped hole that was first produced in 1933. If you see one of these planes with a lever cap that is nickel plated and has a kidney-shaped hole, it's probably a replacement. The depth adjusting knob is also nickel plated, as well as the lateral adjustment lever.
They'd be useful tools if you were planing over your head all day, but not many of us do that. Since aluminum oxidizes easily, these planes leave despicable skidmarks (for lack of a better word) on the freshly planed wood. The planes - those that were used, that is - also tend to develop a very ratty look to them. The surface of the aluminum becomes riddled with dings and scratches making them blech to even the casual Stanley collector (well, maybe not all of them, but many of them for certain) - most of them take on a striking resemblance to the lunar landscape after being used. Those that are in mint condition have some appeal about them, but they still have look like of an aluminum pot or piece of foil. If you're collecting this stuff, make sure it's aluminum and not some iron plane in aluminum paint clothing - if the weight of the thing doesn't clue you in, a magnet will.
The aluminum planes were appreciably more expensive than the cast iron models. For instance, the #A4 cost $5.65 at its introduction, whereas the #4 cost $4.20 during the same time. Even back in the Roaring 1920's, consumers were smart enough to avoid a plane that cost over 25% more than one that did a better job.
You have to wonder if any heads rolled for this braindead idea? Lucky for us that Stanley didn't make a mitre box, or something like that, out of aluminum. Hey, wait a minute, they did! Let's just say that the company was going through a phase and be done with it.
Offered as indestructable planes (maybe Stanley foresaw the nuclear arms race?), Stanley made these planes for heavy duty abuse. They advertised them as being useful for shops that had concrete floors. If I were in Stanley's marketing department, back when the planes were offered, I would have added that the planes were also designed for those workdudes prone to losing their temper, where the planes can withstand their being slammed to the ground during a fit of rage, like after you smash your thumb with a hammer or something like that.
These planes beg abuse, and have a pressed or forged steel bottom. The steel is bent to form a U-shape. A piece forward of the mouth and rear of the mouth are riveted to the steel bottom. The lever cap and frog are made of malleable iron (the normal bench planes have their bottom casting made of gray iron), with the frog's casting having a noticeably coarser texture than those provided on the Bailey line.
The frog design is unique to this plane, and is not interchangable with other bench planes. The upper portion of the frog has concave sides, and resembles a glass long-neck beer bottle. The frog is adjustable with the same patent arrangement that was provided on the Bailey bench planes. I have seen some examples that have a spacer piece placed behind the fork that engages the frog adjusting screw.
They resemble the look of the BED ROCK series of planes, with their semi-squared off sides (actually, they are slightly concave), instead of the rounded sides found on the Bailey line. Their knob and tote are rosewood - a species that's certainly capable of withstanding the plane smashing on concrete? Speaking of the knob and tote, the totes used on these planes have a large hole bored in their bottoms so that they can engage the boss in which the tote screw fits. Thus, a normal #4 tote cannot fit on this plane without first enlarging the hole.
The knobs are always the high knob variety, but the earlier models did not have the raised ring into which the knob fits. After the idea of a raised ring was hatched, this plane had that feature applied to it to help it be even more indestructible than before.
The planes are finished nicely, and look rather striking when in mint condition (finding them anywhere near mint condition is difficult since most of the examples got transformed into dogs from all the rough use). The lever caps are nickel plated and look similarly to those used on the Bailey series. However, the lever caps are supposedly made of malleable iron and have a different pattern of recesses on their backsides than the normal lever caps. The frog and inside area of the bottom section are finished with a flat black japanning, which gives them the appearance of having been repainted. The plane is stamped "No. S4" into the top of the main portion (can't say main casting here since these planes aren't cast), right at the toe, before the knob.
This plane is scarcer than the regular #4, but it is by no means rare. Seems there must have been a lot of cement floors that were eating the Baileys, I'll bet.
This is a wider and heavier smoothing plane that some find preferable. It's also the first fractional number designation in the Stanley series (if you think this numbering system is strange, don't ever try to memorize the model numbers of The Union Manufacturing Co, as they took to numbering some of their planes to the 1/8's; e.g., #4 3/8). Stanley, and other companies, would try to slip new models of planes into a numbering sequence of planes already in production, and would use the fractional designation so that they could be grouped with similar models in the sequence.
The very first model of the plane has no number embossed at the toe, which, according to those who have tried to make a chronological typing of the Bailey bench planes, made its debut on planes in 1885. If the type study is to be taken as gospel, along with the Stanley catalogs and brochures, then the non-embossed #4 1/2 planes were made for a short one year, which makes a case for these examples to be among the rarest of all the bench planes. For this plane, one should check the toe for any signs of re-grinding and painting to make sure it's legitimate. The planes can also be found with the number embossed at the toe, and in a pre-lateral (no lateral adjustment lever) configuration. If you're at all into collecting pre-lateral planes, you'll want to be sure that the plane isn't really one that's been made up from a #4 1/2 body, and a pre-lateral #6 or #7 frog. Be sure the japanning is original and matches well between the frog and the main casting.
For some unexplainable reason, I see an abnormally high number of #4 1/2's of warlwartwotype (translation of toolspeak - those made during WWII era) than I ought to. Like all planes in this series made during the war, the main casting of each is thicker and consequently heavier than those made prior/after the war. Some folks like the extra weight of these planes since the extra mass assists planing.
I have this half-baked, semi-baked, even fully-baked theory that Stanley offered this plane as competition for the heavier infill planes, being produced in England. Problem is, this one isn't even a 'contendah' with those products from the eastern shores of the Atlantic. Certainly their extra mass is a step in the right direction, but other than that, these planes are left taxiing on the tarmac, while the infills are soaring to new heights. Think it sounds whacked? Read on, and then look at the entry for the #4 1/2H for more proof.
The #4 1/2 was a plane that Stanley added to their successful and well-established product line, after they bought Leonard Bailey's patents in 1869. Prior to this date, Bailey had been producing the same series of bench planes, in various configurations, for roughly 8 years. The #4 1/2 plane wasn't offered until ca. 1884. My cypherin' tells me that that's 23 years of no #4 1/2 for the tool-hungry public.
Over in Scotland, Mr. Stewart Spiers was laboring in relative anonymity (communication between the bonnie shores of Scotland and USofA was simply a boatride away back when Stewart first started), making bench planes designed using the same techniques as the traditional dovetailed mitre planes, which had been around for quite some time. Part of the appeal of these bench planes to the cabinetmakers was their mass, much heavier than other planes, which assisted the worker when faced with difficult grain.
Spiers was the uncontested infill planemaker for decades due to the traditional psyche that fills the typical English dude's head. But the gaining popularity of Spiers' product line eventually was noticed by the toolmakers south of Ayr, down in merry ol' England. The most famous of them, Thomas Norris, started direct competition with Spiers sometime in the second half of the 19th century - it's actually debatable when he first took to making planes since his earliest descriptions of his trade were as a tool dealer, not as a planemaker. Norris finally adopted the title 'planemaker' in 1887.
Eventually, many other English and Scottish planemakers jumped on the infill bandwagon. Names like Mathieson, Preston, Slater, and a host of others all raced for a slice of the infill pie by the 1880's. All of the makers were producing infill planes that were nearly identical to their competition's - heavy, solid, and massive when compared to wooden and 'inferior' American products. This rush by many manufacturers to fill the demand for fine planes had to have been noticed either by Stanley or by their mole operatives over in England.
By the 1880's, Stanley had positioned themselves as the largest toolmaker in America, and one of the world's largest. They were on a mission of world domination, and set the wheels in motion to do just that. To achieve that end, they had to be saavy to what was hot and what was not. If they couldn't buy up their competition, they'd just offer a similar tool at a more affordable price. Give the customers what they want, or at least what Stanley would tell them they wanted, and at an affordable price, was Stanley's m.o. for world domination.
During this time Stanley was in its initial stages of expanding its product line with whatever they thought could sell. Tools like the #45, the #50, the #66, the #71, the #72, the #74, the #112, the #180-#182, the #190-#192, and yes, the #4 1/2, all made their debuts during the 1880's. And guess what? That same era was when all them English dudes were making them heavy infills - the time when their popularity finally escaped the lochs of Scotland for the toolmaking powerhouses of England.
All the aformentioned tools were a radical departure from Stanley's main product line of bench and block planes. However, one of them wasn't, the #4 1/2. Stanley just reconfigured the common #4, feeding it tool vigoro, making it more massive. It's my belief that the #4 1/2 was Stanley's weak attempt to satisfy the infill demands that were here in the States (to sell the planes to those Americans who were buying English infills), and that they'd ultimately target it to the English planing audience. Stanley truly felt that their planes were the best in the world, and they were hell-bent to force that belief in every corner of the globe. They eventually did, as any tool historian knows, even knocking off the former English tool giants.
My opinion is that Stanley was jumping on the infill bandwagon simply by increasing the mass of the tool, but neglecting the other finer points of these planes. Stanley could not, or would not, make such a significant design change to their bench planes since they had too much at stake to lose - mass production at an affordable cost, both of which are contrary to the infill planes' practically custom production.
The corrugated version of the #4 1/2.
These planes were 'unknown' for the longest time in this country. It seems that they were specifically targeted toward the English market, where the heavier infilled planes were still favored by many.
The main casting is very much like those castings produced during WWII, with their noticeably thicker dimensions. The plane does have the letter "H" cast after the number.
You might notice that I don't include the weight of this plane here. Why? Because I've never seen any Stanley literature or propaganda about them. Perhaps someone in the viewing audience can toss one on the bathroom scale and get back to me (in avoirdupois weights, not metric, please).
(Since the original writing of this tome, someone actually did toss one of these, and the #5 1/2H, on their bathroom scale to determine their weight. If the scale hasn't been doctored by a household dieter, and it is to be believed as accurate, this plane weighs in at 5lb. 2oz.).
The standard jack plane that Stanley sold by the boatload. This is the most useful of all the bench planes, and it is a very good plane on which to learn technique. It is the first plane used on rough stock to prepare the surface prior to use of the jointer and smoother. Practically every John Q. Handyman had one of these planes, of one make or another, for household uses such as trimming a door or sash.
Its iron is often ground slighty convex so that a heavy cut can be taken; the edges of it are rounded off so that it doesn't dig into the wood. Each and every woodworker, including the 'lectrical toolers of the world, should have this plane.
The plane can serve several roles when one doesn't have all the other planes in his kit. It can do the surface preparation with its mouth set wide and a deep set to the iron, it can do smoothing with its mouth set narrow and a shallow set to the iron, and it can do jointing, although not as easily as the true jointers, the #7 and #8.
The corrugated version of the #5.
See #A4 for unbiased opinion. This is just that plane's bigger brother.
Go to #S4, and read that. This one is just its bigger brother.
This is a smaller jack plane designed for manual training in school. It is often called the "junior jack plane". Nevertheless, it's still a very useful plane for us adults (and those who pretend to be). The planes eventually found favor by others, and it became rather popular, as indicated by its offering into the 1980's. The models made during the 1920's are more difficult to find than the later examples.
These planes are often found in a condition that looks as if they were on the wrong end of a bar room brawl. The punks of America, serving time during their plane tutelage, did their very best to make the planes scream UNCLE! Such mistreatment shouldn't happen to a dog.
The corrugated version of the #5 1/4. A tough plane to find, if you're smitten by the collecting bug. It's the scarcest plane of the entire Bailey series (those offered in the USofA), but it doesn't hold the honor of being the most valuable - that honor belongs to the #1. I've seen faked examples of this plane so let's be careful out there!
As proof that catalog listings of when the plane was offered can be erroneous, and that they must be taken with a grain of salt, I uncovered an example of this plane that dates some 20 years prior to its supposed manufacture. The plane is unmistakably from the turn of the century as it doesn't have the frog adjusting screw that was applied to the Bailey series ca. 1907. Furthermore, it also has the old style frog that was dropped ca. 1905. This plane was found in the New Britain, CT area, home to Stanley, and it's probable that the plane was made in a small batch to test-market its acceptance prior to adding it to the catalog for the masses to enjoy.
A wider and heavier jack plane for rougher work. These make good planes for preparing broad areas such a truing panels.
Be careful when searching for replacement irons for these planes. Take note of the change in the iron's width. The older planes have to have an old iron made prior to the change in width; you'll have to use an original, if you need a replacement, as this width of iron is unique to this plane.
The corrugated version of the #5 1/2.
Go to #4 1/2H, and read that. This one is just its bigger and heavier brother.
I've never found this size plane useful. You Satan worshipers out there might find them a useful prop during your goat slicing schtick by placing three of them alongside each other. Just be sure that they all point toward New Britain so that the number "666" results. Or, you can do your impersonation of Satan surfin' a six as shown in the image (Blood&Gore is very fortunate to have this image as Satan grants very few photo-ops these days).
The plane is definitely not as numerous as the #3's, #4's, #5, #7's, and #8's. Some guys prefer them for jointing, but the whole function of jointing is to run a longer flat surface over the edge you're planing, which the longer planes do. Still, it's a plane a smaller person may prefer, since the larger ones are heavier. The burden of pushing a heavier plane can be minimized, however, by doing most of the surface preparation with the jack, and saving your energy for the large jointers.
Some oldtimers would stock their tool carriers with a #6 (to use as a jointer) to help reduce the weight they had to lug around from job to job. Stanley advertised the plane as "simply a short jointer." Other guys like to use them to face glued-up panels.
The corrugated version of the #6.
Anyway, I'll bet the champagne corks popped simultaneouly with a deafening sound (worse than that of any Lawrence Welk episode, for sure) after the last #A6 left New Britain, bound for some sucker in Anytown, Borneo.
The jointer is used to true an edge (make it straight) or face (make it flat). This task is usually now done by finger-eatin' machinery, however, there are many de-evolutionists who delight in using these cast iron marvels. Show just how tightly wound you are when you wow your pals with the tightly wound shavings that these planes produce.
There are a lot of folks out there who believe that these longer planes - the #6, #7, and #8 - have to be perfectly flat in order for them to work. Good luck finding one that's perfectly flat, as they don't exist, all of which is proof enough that the old timers, who depended upon these tools for their livelihood, could make effective use of them in a non-perfect state. Thing is, you can, too.
The corrugated version of the #7.
The jointer for those who are into bull work. This is a heavy animal, but once you learn planing, it's a great one to use. Its weight works to your advantage - a plane in motion wants to stay in motion - when running into a change in grain or a knot. If your first name is 'Patrick', like the norm-symp chucklehead (firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.concentric.net/~odeen/oldtools to send hatemail) in the image here (note that he isn't even breaking a sweat as he deftly holds it), you are compelled to own one of these planes, and not its wussy brother, the #7.
Copyright (c) 1998-20012 by Patrick A. Leach. All Rights Reserved. No part may be reproduced by any means without the express written permission of the author.