The Confusing Grey Area of Type Study Transitions

Block Planes from the Author's Collection

Block Planes from the Author’s Collection

As I’ve written before, I periodically receive questions from readers.  I really enjoy this, and a few of these questions have led to good friendships along the way.  In a recent correspondence with one of my long distance tool friends, the following question was posed.  I thought it was a good one, and worth sharing…

I have a No 4 type 5 and the iron has the “J” trademark which was allegedly used 1874-1884.  I think it’s original to the plane and the “nut” hole is at the top of the iron. The lateral adj lever is the single piece and everything else adds up. According to the type study (if one goes by that) that particular plane was produced 1885-1888. Now, also according to the type study that plane should likely have an iron with TmP, which I have but the hole is at the bottom of the iron which wasn’t supposed to happen until type 6 planes 1888-1892.  …I know type studies are a modern phenomenon but obviously are used today to determine the approximate time the plane was manufactured and sometimes it has a real effect on the value. …  The type study seems to be a little off on this particular time line but am I putting too much value on the information anyway? I haven’t studied this long enough to understand how the studies determined typing but now I’m not sure that the specificity of subtle changes determining the difference in type is valid. I think my plane has the correct Tm on the iron but a type study would lead someone else to question it.   – Mark

Mark, you nailed it – specificity of subtle changes determining the difference in type is, in fact, NOT always valid.  It’s actually kind of interesting that our brains all seem to want to interpret type studies in a very organized, linear manner.  Strictly speaking, when the type study for Stanley bench planes was created, the transition points from one type to the next were logical from a feature standpoint, but somewhat arbitrary from a date standpoint.  Take your Type 5 to Type 6 transition, for example.  The type study dates the type 5 from 1885 to 1888, and the type 6 from 1888-1892.  While the transition of some features, like the re-design of the frog receiver, probably switched on a specific date, other changes were implemented over time.  And remember that despite what the type study leads us to believe, all the changes implemented (where we mark the transition from one “type” to the next) were not coordinated.

When Roger Smith created the type study, he made judgment calls for when to mark the date of change from one type to the next, which makes sense in the context of a type study.  However, in reality, the transition from one type to the next wasn’t so prescribed, and actually reflects an unspecified period of time in which there would have been a mix of features.  It wasn’t a single month or year in most cases, but likely a period of one to several years.  In a couple of cases, this transition period was so pronounced that the type study includes references to “hybrid” types, as is well documented between types 8 to 9.

The guys at Stanley were brilliant when it came to product differentiation and marketing.  They knew how to keep their line of tools fresh and relevant, and implemented subtle changes to help remain current and sustain demand.  Some of their changes were likely implemented for that reason alone.  The trademark stamp on iron, for example, served no functional purpose.  As such, I imagine that changes from one mark to the next took place independently of most other design changes, and therefore has the least correlation to the type studies.

A lot of people point out that the change from one plane “type” to the next should be interpreted very differently from how we understand the change from one model year car to the next.  This is true.  Comparatively, Stanley’s planes were more like today’s computers, where change is an ongoing evolution rather than a series of annual steps.  Imagine 100 years from now someone trying to create a type study for Microsoft/Intel based personal computers.  I can envision some poor soul trying to understand why his vintage “Type 4” Dell PC has a Pentium IV processor, when the “type study” clearly states it should have a Pentium III.

So, don’t fret, Mark.  What you have is a late type 5 or very early type 6.  The mix of features simply indicates the plane was probably made during that period of transition, and if anything, actually helps narrow the date range.  While you can’t prove it, you’d be quite justified to estimate the date of manufacture to sometime between, say, 1887 and 1889.  And you’d probably be pretty darn close.



About Bryant
Bryant is a business management and organizational development executive with over 20 years’ experience focused on financial and operational efficiencies, talent development and optimization, improved employee engagement, and cultural alignment of teams within the organization. He has diverse experience in successful financial and strategic planning, brand management, leadership analysis and talent development, as well as designing and executing improvements to teams’ cultural efficacy and organizational alignment. Bryant has experience in both International Public S&P 500 Corporate and Non-Profit Sectors, and also runs his own entrepreneurial business venture, a consulting company specializing in helping small businesses and organizations improve operational efficiency, leadership development, and employee engagement . Bryant holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelors in Fine Arts (BFA).

3 Responses to The Confusing Grey Area of Type Study Transitions

  1. Anonymous says:

    This answers a lot of questions. Plane typing is just another tool to establish a logical progression of improvements or regressions in quality of the Stanley plane over the past 150 years. Thanks.


  2. Couldn’t have said it better than myself. This is why when I sell tools on eBay I rarely if ever mention what Type it is.


    • Bryant Rice says:

      No argument from me. I do usually list the type, but also include the date range and list the features that support it. When there’s a blend of type features, you’ll see me call it a late type x or early type y. No complaints yet…


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