Tool Profile – Stanley nos. 61 & 63 Low Angle Block Planes

Stanley nos. 61 & 63 ~ from the Virginia Toolworks collection

Stanley nos. 61 & 63 ~ from the Virginia Toolworks collection

The Stanley no. 61 and no. 63 planes are low angle block planes featuring depth adjustment mechanisms but lacking an adjustable throat plate.  Introduced in 1914 and 1911 respectively, neither the 6 inch no. 61 nor the 7 inch no. 63, were ever particularly popular with tradesmen, woodworkers, or carpenters.  Offered as less expensive, fixed throat alternatives to the no. 60 and no. 65, very few folks were tempted to purchase a low angle plane without an adjustable throat, especially when that feature could be had for just a few pennies more. Subsequently, their limited popularity constricted demand and production, and so they are fairly hard to find today.

Ironically, these planes are virtually identical to the very first type no. 60 and no. 65, both of which were introduced in 1898 with a similar wooden knob and lacking an adjustable throat.  Why then, less than 10 years later, Stanley thought reintroducing this handicapped design under the model nos. 61 and 63 was a good idea is anyone’s guess. Regardless, both the no. 61 and no. 63 are easily distinguished from the Type 1 no. 60 and 65 since their model numbers were cast in relief at the rear of the bed just below the depth adjustment knob.  Manufactured for less than 25 years, both planes were discontinued in 1935.

While the no. 61 and no. 63 are very collectible due to their scarcity, users looking for a functional low angle block are far better off sourcing a no. 60 or 65 in good condition.

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Stanley Gage Planes – History and Type Study

John Porcius Gage formed the Gage Tool Co. in 1883, and operated it until 1917, making wood bottom transitional planes. J.P. Gage registered plane patents on 4 August 1885, 13 April 1886 and 8 November 1892. The 30 January 1883 patent of David A. Ridges was also used.

US339872-Gage-Patent

J. P. Gage Patent Drawing

The Gage “self-setting” design eliminated the need for a lateral adjustment feature, which eliminated slop in the blade movement. The adjustment slide was designed to accurately fit into a groove in the frog, and depth adjustment was controlled by a screw at the rear of the frog, similar to a low angle block plane. The two-piece lever cap design also functioned as a chipbreaker. The outer part of the cap serves as the lever cap, with the inner piece functioning as a chipbreaker. The mechanism is adjustable via a two-screw slide to bring it closer to the edge of the blade. The self setting feature allowed the cutter and cap to be removed and reinstalled without adjustment of the cut.

In 1919 Stanley Rule & Level Co. bought the Vineland NJ company, mainly to get the patent for their excellent frog design and to compete with Sargent’s Auto-Set line of planes that are very similar in both appearance and design. Stanley retained the use of the Gage name, producing a line of transitional planes from 1919 to 1935, and metal Gage planes from 1919 to about 1941, when the line was phased out.

The original Stanley Gage line of metal bench planes was numbered 3 through 7, sizes that compared to their Bailey counterparts. The G prefix was added in 1930 to distinguish them from the Bailey line (G3 through G7C). There were 10 different numbers included in the offering, which included corrugated versions that, like Bailey planes, were differentiated with a C suffix appended to the model number (ex. G3C or G7C).

Gage Plane

Stanley Gage no. 5, Type 2 (1924-1930)

Gage Type Study

There are four “Types” of Stanley Gage planes, which are thankfully far less complicated than most of the other Stanley Type studies.

Type 1 (1919-1923) – Plane beds marked “Pat. Appl’d For” in the casting. No “G” prefix to the model number

Type 2 (1924-1930) – “Pat. Appl’d For” removed from the casting. Plane beds are now marked with Schade’s 2-17-20 patent date.

Type 3 (1930-1941) – The “G” prefix added to the model number.

Type 4 – Same as Type 3 but has “Made in USA” added to the casting. (exact date of this is uncertain)


Sellens, Alvin, The Stanley Plane,: A History & Descriptive Inventory, Augusta, KS: Allvin Sellens, 1978.

Walter, John, Stanley Tools: Guide to Identity & Value, Marietta, OH: John Walter, 1996.

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Renewed Life for My Dad’s Stanley Level

My dad died when I was still a teenager.  Unlike his father, who was a carpenter, my dad wasn’t much of a woodworker.  The few tools he left behind were mostly garden variety homeowner tools purchased from the local hardware store.  So when my brother gifted me my dad’s old level this summer, I didn’t give it much thought.  It was in horrible condition from decades of neglect.  I brought it home and with barely a glance, set it aside on my workbench to deal with later.

With cooler fall temperatures here on the east coast, I recently pulled it out for a closer look.  Upon closer inspection, I found that it is a Stanley no. 3 level, which was somewhat of a surprise in and of itself.   More interesting, the trademark stamp dates it to the 1890s, approximately 30-35 years before my dad was born.  It could have been my grandfather’s, but even he would have had to have purchased it as a teenager, if acquired new.  Of course there is no way to know where it came from or who originally owned it, but it ended up in my father’s hands, then my brother’s, and thanks to him, it now belongs to me.

As you can see from the quick shot I took before I got started on it, virtually all the original finish is gone and the wood faded from exposure to the elements.  It appears to have spent a good deal of time in a shed or barn.  The primary glass vial was intact and serviceable, but the plumb vial was broken long ago.  Otherwise, all the parts were in place and thankfully, the vial adjustment screws were not frozen.

Level Pre-Restoration

My dad’s 1890s vintage Stanley no. 3 Level, partially disassembled

I disassembled and removed all the hardware to better evaluate what needed to be done in terms of cleanup, and to assess the broken plumb vial.  After cleaning the rust off all the screws and the vial adjustment mechanisms, I cleaned the crud off the brass plates and end caps.  I never polish old brass hardware, but I decided in this case to clean off most of the oxidation in order to better see the center scribe line.

With the hardware cleaned up, I moved on to the wood.  Despite its condition, there were numerous paint specks and splatters from years of use that I wanted to protect.  The wood itself is evidently cherry.  I cleaned it lightly with Kramer’s Blemish Clarifier to remove any loose dirt and crud.  I then applied 6 or 8 applications of Kramer’s Best Antique Improver, which I’ve written about before.  It’s great stuff, all natural (no petrochemicals), and restores life to finished and unfinished wood.

In the meantime, I went to work sourcing a proper replacement vial.  I preferred to keep it as close to original as possible, so new acrylic vials were out of the question.  I found a few glass vials for sale on eBay, but the prices were absurdly high.  So, I started trolling for a suitable “donor” level of approximately the same vintage.  It took 2 or 3 weeks, but I finally found one for under $10 that had the plumb vial intact.  When it arrived, I was surprised to find the condition actually better than the photos reflected.  I actually felt a little guilty stripping it of one of its parts.

Plumb Vial Before Repair

Plumb Assembly Before Vial Replacement

Now if you’ve never replaced a vial in an old Stanley level, you might be surprised to learn that they used Plaster of Paris (or something similar) to cement the glass vial in the tube shaped holder.  This both held it in place and also protected the fragile ends.  Getting the vial out of the old plane was much easier than I anticipated.  Pulling the split holder tube open slightly, the vial and plaster slid right out in one piece.  Once out, the old plaster easily released from the glass vial.  The vial has a paper backing that wraps around the back side, but it isn’t attached.  So carefully removing that paper and setting it aside, a quick cleaning of the glass had it looking very much like new in short order.  Positioning the vial along with the paper backing into the assembly on my dad’s plane, I dabbed some plaster into place at each end and allowed it to dry.

I reattached all the hardware, and calibrated both vials using another level as a guide.  Completed, my dad’s old level is once again accurate and ready for the workshop.  You can just make out the replaced vial in the photo on the left.  Now, as to the donor level I bought, it’s still sitting here in need of a plumb vial.  There’s clearly something wrong with this scenario!

Complete Full ViewComplete Full View 2

“Excelsior” Profile Stanley Block Planes

Ever wonder about the origin of the word “Excelsior” as it refers to the body style on Stanley block planes?  Why Excelsior?  What does it mean?  Was it an official Stanley name or a term that has been applied in recent years?

Me too.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, the “Excelsior” profile refers to the first body style used on Stanley block planes.  Dating from 1873 to 1898, the Excelsior profile differs from the later profile in that the “hump” in the cheeks is positioned more toward the rear of the plane.  After 1898 the hump was centered in the cheek profile and has the familiar milled Handi-grip indentions.  And yes, there was a very brief period of a few months in 1898 when the excelsior bodies also included the Handi-grip indentions.

Early Excelsior Profile Stanley 9-3/4 Type 1

Early Excelsior Profile Stanley 9-3/4 Type 1

The word Excelsior comes from the latin word excelsus, meaning meaning “ever upward” or “even higher.”  It is the origin for the word Excel, which obviously means to surpass in achievement.  However, more interesting and relevant for us, “Excelsior” is commonly defined as fine curled wood shavings used for packing.  Given that definition, it certainly makes sense that “Excelsior” was the name Stanley assigned to a line of block planes.

The earliest Stanley reference to Excelsior I could find is in the 1867 price list, which lists a “Patent Excelsior Tool Handle,” a wooden multi-tool handle that included 20 Bradawls and tools.  However, the multi-tool handle design more commonly referred to today as Excelsior was patented on March 19, 1867.  That patent design was awarded to Nathan S. Clement, and featured a different method of clamping the tool bits into the handle than the previous Stanley offerings.  As was often the case, the patent was eventually acquired by Stanley Rule & Level and incorporated into their product line, and was reflected in both wooden and the ornate iron handled multi-tool handles.

62938_IMPROVEMENT_IN_AWL_Clement 1867

Stanley also referred to their Bailey’s Patent Adjustable Block Planes as “Excelsior Block Planes” when they were introduced in 1873.   This term only applied to the adjustable mouth planes, such as the no. 9-1/2, no. 9-3/4, no. 15, etc.  The no. 110 and other non-adjustable planes had a different cheek profile, and were simply listed as Iron Block Planes in Stanley catalogs.

I did a little patent search sleuthing but could only find one reference that in any way tied in the term excelsior to hand or block planes.  In 1875, Albion K. Hall of Jackson, MI patented a plane specifically for making excelsior shavings.  However, I found nothing that tied him in any way to Stanley, so I assume there was no relationship between the two.

Stanley continued to use the Excelsior name for their multi-tools until 1902, and their planes until about 1898, when the profile was redesigned, moving the hump toward the center of the cheek.  Today, the Excelsior planes are attractive primarily to collectors.  While certainly usable, their castings tend to be thinner and more fragile than the later models, lending them better to display shelves than workbenches.  Either way, they remain, in my opinion, one of the more attractive plane designs ever devised.

The Excelsior line included the following planes:
no. 9-1/2
no. 9-3/4
no. 15
no. 15-1/2
no. 16
no. 17
no. 18
no. 19

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Get a (Handi) Grip on this Stanley no. 18 Plane

Every so often I receive a question from a reader about a tool they own.  I enjoy this.  It gives me a chance to virtually meet folks from across the country and across the world and discuss a topic we both love.   The most recent question came from Vincent Tuinema, an architect in the Netherlands who found a nice vintage Stanley no. 18 block plane with an unusual feature – or lack thereof.

no18_1_tuinemaVincent’s no. 18 is a typical mid-20th century example in every way except one.  There are no handi-grip indentions milled into the sides.  He wanted to know the reason for this and age of the plane.  Let the sleuthing begin!

The first point to keep in mind about the no. 18 is that the body is identical in every way to the no. 9-1/2.  Stanley no doubt used the same casting for both.  Vincent’s excellent photos clearly show the raised Stanley marking at the toe of the plane, and Made in USA marked at the rear of the bed.  This tells us that the plane was made after 1930, the approximate year in which the latter marking was permanently added.

The second clue is found not by what I see, but what I don’t see.  Block planes made after 1947 had the model number stamped into the bottom of one cheek (side).  Since Vincent’s plane is not stamped this way, it indicates it was likely made before 1947.

The third, and in this case, most telling clue is the lack of the milled handi-grip indentions.  Although fairly uncommon, it is well documented that Stanley omitted the hand-grip feature on at least some of their block planes for a brief time during World War II.  Patrick Leach’s Blood and Gore site indicates that this was likely due to the fact that Stanley was using the same machinery to mill similar indentions into Howitzer artillery shells to make them easier to grip.

Similarly, brass was in short supply during the war, and Stanley switched to steel and rubber hardware on many of their planes.  If you click on the photo at the bottom of the page, you can see that the front knob on this no. 18 appears to be made of steel, not the typical nickel plated brass.  I suspect the rear adjustment wheel is probably steel as well.  While the shortage of brass for commercial purposes during the war is understandable (they needed the brass for cartridges), it seems a little surprising that steel was so readily available.  Considering of all the military hardware being produced, you would think steel would have been in short supply as well.

This mystery solved, Vincent’s no. 18 is a nice example of a WWII vintage Stanley block plane.  In the absence of a simple feature that we take for granted is reflected a time of sacrifice and uncertainty in our world.  To me, it symbolizes the united efforts of a country and a world working in partnership to defeat tyranny.  Sure, that sounds dramatic, but those missing handi-grip indentions were not just a mistake or cost cutting measure.  They were omitted for a reason.  They mean something.

no18_2_tuinema

Thanks, Vincent, for sharing your photos and allowing me to use them for this post!

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New Old Vintage Planes for Sale

I will be listing several planes and other tools for sale over the next few months.  You can view current offerings by clicking on For Sale on the menu bar.  To view these tools in greater detail or if you are interested in purchasing, please visit the Virginia Toolworks eBay page at http://www.ebay.com/sch/virginiatoolworks/m.html.

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Stanley Type Studies and More Now Posted!

I’ve just about finished uploading the Bailey and Bed Rock type studies, specification charts, and block plane dating information to the site.  There’s a wealth of information here, both summarized and broken down in detail by the major individual components.  The Bailey and Bed Rock type studies are relatively easy to find elsewhere online, but you won’t find the specification charts or information on dating your block plane anywhere but here!

Look for more information like this coming to the site over the next month or so, including specifications, conversion charts, and type studies for other models and manufacturers including Millers Falls, Sargent,  and Record.

By the way, if you’re new to collecting, don’t miss the post on understanding type studies.  It takes some of the mystery out of the madness.

Specification Charts

Stanley Bailey Bench Plane Chart
Stanley Bed Rock Plane Chart
Stanley Block Plane Chart

Type Studies

Bailey Type Study
Bailey Detailed Identification
Bed Rock Type Study
Block Plane Dating

Understanding Type Studies

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