Solving Those Pesky Blade Depth Frustrations

New users of hand planes frequently have trouble figuring out just how to get the iron (blade) to fit through the mouth on the plane’s body. I get this question in both emails and I also see it reflected in the search parameters for those who visit the site. The challenge is to get everything set so the iron extends through the mouth without jamming up at the front of the opening.

Well fear not, for here is a simple illustrated guide to getting it done quickly and hopefully without frustration!

There are basically 5 things that have to be set correctly in order for shaving wood to begin:

  1. The iron must be attached to the cap iron correctly, with the cap iron attached to the flat unbeveled side of the iron. This may very well be the greatest cause of problems. The cap iron should be positioned to within about 1/32″ to 1/16″ of the cutting edge of the iron. (Figures 1 and 2)
  2. The frog must be positioned correctly, neither too far forward or too far toward the rear.  There’s room for adjustment, of course, but it’s a good idea to start with it aligned with the rear edge of the mouth. You can then move it forward to fine tune the cut as appropriate. (Figures 3 and 4)
  3. The iron and cap iron assembly (once screwed together) must be positioned absolutely flat against the face of the frog. You may have to jiggle it around a little to make sure it falls into place over the frog’s adjust yoke. (Figure 5)
  4. The Lever Cap must be set with enough pressure to hold the iron firmly, but not so tight that the depth adjustment can’t work. There’s a sweet spot there, you just have to find it through trial and error.
  5. Use the lateral adjustment to align the cutting edge so it’s parallel to the mouth opening. In some cases you may have to tap the edge of the iron a little to get into a workable position. I use a small brass hammer so as not to mushroom the edge of the iron, but it’s not critical. (Figures 6 – 8)
Figure 1 - Note the cap iron is attached to the Unbeveled side of the iron

Figure 1 – Note the cap iron is attached to the Unbeveled side of the iron

Figure 2 -

Figure 2 – View from the bottom, the attachment screw should be on the same side as the iron’s beveled edge

Figure 3 - Loosed the frog bolts (blue arrow) and position the frog so it aligns with the rear edge of the mouth (red arrow)

Figure 3 – Loosen the frog bolts (blue arrow) and position the frog so it aligns with the rear edge of the mouth (red arrow)

Blade Set 4

Figure 4 – Stanley planes made after 1907 have a frog adjustment screw, which is used to easily fine tune the position of the frog.

Blade Set 5

Figure 5 – Ensure the iron seats flush against the face of the frog

Figure 6 - The edge of the iron should extend over the mouth opening as shown

Figure 6 – The edge of the iron should extend over the mouth opening as shown

Figure 7 - Viewed from the bottom, the iron when retracted should look like this

Figure 7 – Viewed from the bottom, the iron when retracted should look like this

Figure 8 - As you turn the big brass adjustment knob, the iron will move forward and extend down through the mouth opening just enough to shave wood!

Figure 8 – As you turn the big brass adjustment knob, the iron will move forward and extend down through the mouth opening just enough to shave wood!

Note that if you’re doing fine finishing work you may need to go back and move the frog forward slightly to reduce the space between the front of the mouth opening and the cutting edge. This space should approximate the thickness of the shavings you expect to produce, so it’s typically very small on smoothing planes, while a little larger on jointer and fore planes.

Hopefully this provides answers to questions and solves one of the initial frustrations when using hand planes for the first time!

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Stanley Trademark Stamps

The following reference guide provides examples of Stanley’s trademark stamps from 1872 to the present. It is by no means comprehensive or complete, but this covers the main trademarks. There were often variations used on block planes and other tools. Some of the photos are pretty poor. I will try to photograph better examples as time goes by.

A.1 Trademark (1872-1874)

A.1 Trademark (1872-1874)

A.4 Trademark (1879-1885)

A.4 Trademark (1879-1885)

A.5 Trademark (1886-1890)

A.5 Trademark (1886-1890)

J Trademark (1874-1884) *Longer on Block Planes

J Trademark (1874-1884*) *~1909 on Block Planes

JJ Trademark (1890-1910) Used on Block Planes

JJ Trademark (1890-1910)
Used on Block Planes

P Trademark (1886-1890)

P Trademark (1886-1890)

Q Trademark (181-1904)

Q Trademark (1891-1904)

S Trademark (1907-1909)

S Trademark (1907-1909)

T Trademark (1909-1912)

T Trademark (1909-1912)

V ("Victory") Trademark (1912-1918)

V Trademark (1912-1918) Also called “Victory”

X Trademark (1919-1920) 1st "Sweetheart"

X Trademark (1919-1920)
1st “Sweetheart”

X Trademark (1919-1920) Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920)
Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920) Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920)
Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920) Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920)
Block Plane Variation

Y Trademark (1920-1921) 2nd "Sweetheart"

Y Trademark (1920-1921)
2nd “Sweetheart”

Y Trademark (1920-1921) Block Plane Variation

Y Trademark (1920-1921)
Block Plane Variation

Y Trademark (1922) Canadian Variation

Y Trademark (1922)
Canadian Variation

AA Trademark (1922-1935) 3rd "Sweetheart"

AA Trademark (1922-1935)
3rd “Sweetheart”

AA Trademark (1923-35) Canadian Variation

AA Trademark (1923-35)
Canadian Variation

BB Trademark (1935-Present)

BB Trademark (1935-Present)

 

New Planes vs. Vintage Planes

Stanley-Bailey-5.5C-Type-14One of the first questions many people contemplating their first  plane purchase ask is “Should I buy a new plane or vintage plane?” Indeed, this was the first question I asked before my first purchase many years ago. There is no simple single right or wrong answer. It depends on a few different factors:

  • What is your budget?
  • What is the plane’s intended use?
  • Are you willing to invest a little time setting it up and tuning it for use?

Virtually any plane you buy, new or vintage, is going to need some degree tuning and sharpening. The modern hardware store planes will require virtually the same tuning process as a 100 year old Stanley or competitor. Even a brand new Lie Nielsen or Veritas (both of which I am a huge fan) will need a final honing, if nothing else. The quality of hand tools today is generally abysmal. The demand and quality for hand tools fell sharply after WWII as electrically powered tools took off and the era of self-sufficiency evolved into one where paid tradesmen were hired for jobs around the home.  It’s only in the last decade or two that niche companies like Lie Nielsen and Veritas have again produced hand planes that are of acceptable quality for fine woodworking. These, however, come at a cost.

Lie Nielsen Smoothing Plane

Lie Nielsen Smoothing Plane

If you’re a professional or serious woodworker, investing $200 to $400 in a precision plane is arguably justifiable. Both companies mentioned above manufacture extremely high quality tools. On the other hand, the planes found at local hardware stores, big box retailers, and even some specialty shops – those generally under $150 – are simply not in the same class.  Quality of materials, manufacture, fit and finish are often quite poor. And it’s important to note that these brand new sub-$150 planes will undoubtedly require at least a couple hours worth of tuning and sharpening to make them function correctly.

By contrast, the vintage planes made by companies like Stanley, Sargent, Union, and others, especially from about 1910 to 1940, were of excellent quality, and are generally superior to most of the planes made today, especially those under the $100 to $150 price point.  These planes can be found in antique shops, yard sales, tool swaps, and eBay, often for as little as $10 and rarely (depending on the model and rarity) over $100. The caveat with vintage tools is that they will almost always need some degree of restoration and tuning.  Like the cheaper new store bought planes, the sole may need lapping, the frog face flattened, rough surfaces smoothed, and the iron sharpened and honed. However, for the same investment in time and effort, you will likely end up with a far superior plane for less money than you would have spent at your local big box hardware store.

Stanley Bailey no. 2, Type 8

Stanley Bailey no. 2, Type 8

If you have a couple hundred dollars to spend and want the best CNC machined plane money can buy, a Lie Nielsen is a good investment. However, if you’re like most people just starting out, pick up one (or even two) vintage Stanley planes and give them a try. The knowledge gained by disassembling, tuning, and sharpening it will actually aid in your understanding of its mechanics and function. Here are a few resources from the Virginia Toolworks site that might help:

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Plane Restoration for Use – Extreme Salvage Edition

Let’s face it, not all planes and tools are salvageable.  Sometimes, the neglect and decay is so extreme that the best you can do is pilfer them for parts. Other times, the tool can be saved, but nothing short of a full refinishing effort is in order. As anyone who reads this blog will know, my principled philosophical approach is one of preservation, to retain as much of the original finish and character of the tool as possible. I focus the majority of my time and effort on tools that are good candidates for that sort of conservative preservation methodology. However, there are tools that occasionally cross my path that require a heavier hand.

In this post, I will detail one of the many methods you might employ to restore a heavily rusted plane for use. I found this Stanley no. 4 on eBay for around $10 plus shipping. It’s a Type 19, dating from the 1950s, and as you can see from this eBay auction photo, was in horrible condition.

SB4-T19 ebay

Stanley No. 4 – eBay Auction Photo

And here’s a shot I tool myself before beginning the restoration. As you can see, it actually looked a little better that the eBay photo indicated. Just a little…

SB4-T19 Rest1

Photo taken just before restoration

As with any restoration, the first step is complete disassembly.

SB4-T19 Rest2

Plane completely disassembled

With heavy rust like this, I used a razor blade scraper to remove as much of the surface crud as possible. I started with the iron and cap iron, then continued with the plane body and frog face.  With a little care, this can be accomplished without scratching or gouging the surface of the metal, and it’s amazing how much of the rust you can remove. You can see in the photo below the effect of having scraped the right half of the cap iron, and the lower three quarters of the iron.

SB4-T19 Rest3

Note the contrast of scraped vs. unscraped metal

Here’s a close up. Note the difference. The nice thing about this is virtually all of the patina remains on the surface of the metal. You can leave it this way if you prefer, or continue on as I will show in the next step.

SB4-T19 Rest4

Close-up showing the scraped and unscraped iron and cap iron

Since this was a later model Stanley (less valuable) and destined for shop use, I decided to scrub it down to a clean surface, removing all traces of rust, corrosion, and subsequently age and patina. There are several ways to go about it at this point (chemical anti-rust agents and electrolysis for example), but I decided to stick with doing it the old fashioned way – elbow grease. Using 220 grit sandpaper lubricated with WD40, I scrubbed down all the exposed surfaces. The light oil really softens the effect of the sandpaper, greatly reducing any visible scratches.

SB4-T19 Rest9

Oil sanding using 220 grit wrapped around a wood block

The screws, nuts and hardware were brushed using a soft steel 6″ brush on my bench grinder. Finally, everything was scrubbed using a general purpose cleaner. Low and behold, the japanning on the bed was actually quite good under all that crud.  I finished up by using an citrus degreaser (not shown in the photos). As you can see, the difference from where I started is pretty striking.

SB4-T19 Rest10

Big difference, huh? This is starting to look like a plane again.

I don’t like my brass components highly polished. I used oil lubricated steel wool and a small steel brush to clean them up for this plane. The lighting in the “after” photo makes the brass look a bit brighter than it actually was.

SB4-T19 Rest12

Brass before cleaning

SB4-T19 Rest13

Brass after cleaning

The final consideration is the hardwood tote and knob. Much of the original finish was gone and what remained was in bad shape. I lightly sanded the entire surface, applied a gel stain, and when dry, topped it with a couple of coats of varnish.  Once completely dry and cured, I polished it up using paste wax.

SB4-T19 Rest14

Tote and knob in original condition

After refinishing

After refinishing

With all the parts refinished and restored, the iron was sharpened and the plane reassembled and tuned for use. Naturally it doesn’t have the charm of a Sweetheart era, or even the character of a fine condition 1950s vintage, but this plane was saved from the landfill and with proper care, can easily shave wood another 70+ years.

SB4-T19 Rest16

SB4-T19 Rest17

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Setting Up a Stanley Gage Plane

Stanley Gage Plane - Frog and Iron Assembly

Stanley Gage Plane – Frog and Iron Assembly

Stanley Gage planes are a little finicky to set up initially, but once you get them set accurately, they do tend to stay that way.  The main benefit of the design is such that once properly set, you can remove the lever cap, iron and cap iron, and then replace them again, returning to the exact depth adjustment at which you had it set initially.  Further, since the iron/cap iron is positioned via an indexing block, there is no slop (movement) from side to side, and therefore no need for a lateral adjustment mechanism.

Indexing Block on Gage Iron

Indexing Block on Gage Iron

Some people will tell you that in order for the design to work, the cutting edge of the iron must be perfectly perpendicular to its edges.  Ideally, that is true.  However, I don’t think it’s actually all that critical.  What does need to be perpendicular to the cutting edge is the sides of the indexing block, which can be loosened and adjusted via the screw on the top side of the iron (show here on the left).

The indexing guide itself, which is attached to the lever cap, is not laterally adjustable, so in order for the iron to extend properly through the mouth of the plane, the iron’s edge needs to be perfectly aligned.  As I said, you ideally want everything to be at perfect right angles, but that’s not always what you end up with. By adjusting the indexing block so that it’s properly aligned in conjunction with the cutting edge on the iron, even a skewed edge can be aligned properly.

I admittedly don’t have a lot of extensive personal hands-on experience with the Gage planes.  I’ve owned a couple, and right or wrong, here’s how I set them up for use:

  1. Remove the lever cap and set it aside.
  2. Loosen (slightly) the indexing block that’s attached to the iron, just enough so it moves independently against the iron.
  3. Put the iron in place (seating the indexing block to engage the depth adjustment).
  4. Align the iron with the mouth opening, and carefully tighten the screw on top of the indexing block.
  5. Put the lever cap in place and tighten it.  You should be good to go.

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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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The 5 Hand Planes Everyone Should Own

Unless you live in a city apartment, or happen to be wealthy, disinterested, or lazy enough to pay someone to do all of your home maintenance projects, chances are now and then you have need of a hand plane.  Even the most ardent power tool minded woodworker can’t escape the reality that some jobs are just easier solved by a couple of passes with a hand plane than with anything you plug into an electrical outlet.   Whether you’re an active hand tool user, a neophyte learning to work wood by hand, a weekend woodworker or a casual homeowner, a basic set of good hand planes is essential.

There’s a great deal of generalization that goes into compiling a list like this.  Because hand planes tend to be used for specific applications, some woodworkers my find greater utility in some planes than others.  Someone who makes musical instruments would obviously need different tools than a furniture maker.  But speaking in the broadest sense, these are the 5 essential hand planes that virtually everyone should own.  Certainly for anyone interested in acquiring a first set of planes to use around the shop, farm, or house in the suburbs, these tools offer the greatest utility and versatility.

1. Fore Plane – The Stanley No. 5

Stanley Bailey No. 5, Type 11 (c. 1910-18)

Stanley Bailey No. 5, Type 11 (c. 1910-18)

Fore planes are those ranging from approximately 14 inches to 18 inches in length. In the Stanley bench plane assortment, these include the nos. 5, 5-1/4, 5-1/2, and 6. The term ‘Fore’ dates back several hundred years and is generally assumed to be a contraction of ‘Before’ and interpreted as the plane used first in flattening a surface. “It is called the Fore Plane because it is used before you come to work either with the Smooth Plane, or with the Joynter.” [1]

As the first plane one would use in preparing a surface, the Fore plane takes the most aggressive cut, removing rough saw marks and leveling out low and high spots, etc. The iron is sharpened with a significant camber, or curvature to the cutting edge, with as much as 1/16″ to 1/8″ difference between the center and the edges. This removes the most waste, but subsequently leaves the surface of the wood with a scalloped finish.

While either the Stanley no. 5 or no. 6 will do, the no. 5 is the better choice in our 5 plane roundup. Rough planing is a very physical activity, and the lighter weight of the no. 5 makes it less fatiguing to use. It’s smaller size also makes it more appropriate for the wide variety of other day to day planing jobs that most people likely face. The no. 5 is, in my opinion, the most versatile of all the bench planes and the plane I use most often.

2. Try (or Jointer) Plane – The Stanley No. 7

Stanley Bailey No. 7, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Stanley Bailey No. 7, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Try planes, more commonly known as Jointer planes, are those over 18 inches, and are most commonly 22 to 28 inches. Stanley’s offering of Jointer planes are the no. 7 and no. 8, measuring 22 inches and 24 inches respectively.As the name implies, a Jointer plane excels at truing the edges of long boards that will be glued together to make table tops, shelves, and carcasses. But its value and place on the workbench isn’t limited to edge work. The Try, or Jointer, plane is used to flatten and refine the surface left by the Fore plane. Its extra length allows it to true large flat surfaces without riding up over the peaks or dipping down into the valleys created (or left uncorrected) during the initial surface preparation.

Despite its heft, the Jointer should be considered a precision tool. The iron should be sharpened with a slight camber (or perhaps none at all if used exclusively for edge work), and the frog typically adjusted with a fine set for thinner shavings than the Fore plane. Working both across the grain and in all directions, the Try plane leaves a perfectly flat surface that requires only final touch up with the Smoothing plane.

Your choices between the two standards, nos. 7 and 8, are really a matter of personal preference. In this case, Newton’s laws of motion lend a helping hand.  The greater heft is actually a benefit, in that once you get it moving the additional mass helps keep it going with less effort. That said, the no. 8 is quite a beast, and my personal preference is for the lighter and shorter no. 7, which I find easier to manage.

3. Smoothing Plane – The Stanley No. 4

Stanley Bailey No. 4C, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Stanley Bailey No. 4C, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Smoothing planes include the shorter planes in the lineup, those 10 inches or less. Stanley made a number of planes in this range, from the tiny no. 1 to the most popular no. 4 and its wider sibling, the 4-1/2.The Smoothing plane is the final plane used prior to applying the finish. Executed properly, there should be no need for sandpaper. Used primarily with the grain, the Smoothing plane is normally sharpened with just the slightest camber or left straight with its corners eased to prevent them from digging in or leaving tell tale ‘lines’ along the edge of the cut. The frog is adjusted with a closed mouth for the finest of cuts, and the shavings produced are tissue thin, ideally produced from long strokes covering the full length of the wood. Aside from perhaps a little hand scraping here and there, the surface left by the Smoothing plane should require no further treatment. In fact done correctly, sanding would actually diminish the quality of the surface left by the Smoother.

More so than with the Fore and Try planes, the choice of which size Smoother is really a matter of and comfort and the scale of your work. All of them will do a comparable job, although the nos. 1 and 2 are really only suited for very small surfaces (and very small hands). The no. 4 is considered the most versatile size, and the one I use most often. However, I do have a smaller no. 3 and a wider no. 4-1/2 that I reach for, depending on the size of the project. But since the point of this article is to identify the three core bench planes you’ll need for woodworking, the no. 4 is probably the best overall size choice for a single Smoothing plane for most people.

4. Standard Angle Block Plane – The Stanley No. 18 

Stanley Bailey No. 18, Type 17 (c. 1947-50)

Stanley Bailey No. 18, Type 17 (c. 1947-50)

This is my go-to block plane for everyday use, the one I always seem to grab first.  Mine is a very pristine WWI era model that I’m pretty sure I’ve used more than anyone else in its history.  Although it’s almost 100 years old, it looks like it could have been manufactured last year.  Both the japanning and nickel plating are pushing 100%, and so I baby it.

The Stanley no. 18 is a standard angle plane, meaning the iron is seated on a 20 degree bed.  With a bevel angle sharpened at the standard 25 degrees, you have a cutting angle of 45 degrees, same as a bench plane.  It also has an adjustable throat plate, an essential feature in a block plane.  The no. 18 is 6 inches long and fits my hand better than its longer, otherwise identical 7 inch brother, the no. 19.  And unlike the more popular Stanley no. 9-1/2, it feels more like an extension of my hand.

The no. 9-1/2 plane predates the no. 18 by about 15 years, was in production longer, and was the best selling block plane Stanley ever made.  It’s still made today, in fact, although the current design features a completely different mechanism from the original.  Admittedly, the no. 9-1/2 was the more popular of the two.  I truly don’t know why, though, since the design of the no. 18′s knuckle cap was far superior to the hooded lever cap on the no. 9-1/2, and it’s also more comfortable to hold in the hand.  I also find that the hooded cap on the no. 9-1/2 is more prone to slip around a little in use.  Not so with the no. 18.

Ironically they are both basically the same plane with two different styles of lever caps.  Other than the lever cap and its mounting bolt, all the other parts are interchangeable. Stanley charged a little more for the no. 18 and marketed it as virtually indestructible.  This of course was not true, for while the steel cap is arguably more durable, the bodies of both were cast iron and therefore susceptible to breaking if dropped.

I have several vintages of both models in my collection, but find the no. 18 with the knuckle cap superior in both function and comfort.  I use this more often than any other block plane I own.

5. Low Angle Block Plane –  The Stanley No. 60 

Stanley Bailey no. 60 Type 2 (c. 1901-04)

Stanley Bailey no. 60 Type 2 (c. 1901-04)

The Stanley no. 60 (and the identical japanned version 60-1/2) is a low angle plane, meaning the iron is seated on a 12 degree bed.  Sharpened at 25 degrees, you have a cutting angle of 37 degrees.  The primary advantage of the lower angle of attack is that it excels at shaving end grain.

Like the no. 18, the 60 series of planes are approximately 6 inches long.  However, the 60 series are narrower with an iron width of 1-3/8 inches, vs the 1-5/8 inch irons on the standard angle planes, and the 60 series feature a narrower version of the hooded lever cap used on the no. 9-1/2.  The 60 series planes also have adjustable throat plates.

Low angle planes are typically used for cutting end grain, i.e., across the end of a cut, verses cutting along the grain, down the side of the wood.  The lower angle is perfect for the shearing action needed to cut those end fibers.  On cuts that will be visible and finished, this produces a very clean and smooth surface, whereas if left as cut from the saw, the grain tends to be very rough and porous.

On both standard and low angle block planes, the iron is seated bevel up, whereas on bench planes the bevel is usually down. There is a tremendous advantage with bevel up irons in that the angle of the bevel can be changed to affect a change in the angle of cut.  While there is more to consider in edge geometry than just the angle of cut (durability), you could reasonably sharpen the bevel on a low angle plane iron to 33 degrees and end up with an angle of cut of 45 degrees (12+33=45), the same as on a standard angle plane.  However, to accomplish a low angle of cut using a standard angle plane, you’d have to sharpen the bevel at a very shallow 17 degrees (20+17=37).  Durability of such a thin cutting edge would be problematic with most woods.

For this reason, along with a few others, many people consider the low angle plane to be the more versatile of the two. I tend to agree.  While I use my standard angle plane more often, if I could only have one block plane, it would have to be a low angle.

***

For more detailed information on the three step process using hand planes, I highly recommend you check out Christopher Schwarz’s outstanding Course, Medium, and Fine, available on DVD.

Tools shown in the photos were returned to functional condition by Virginia Toolworks using museum quality archival preservation techniques.  Sharpened and tuned for use, every tool is fully tested and adjusted until perfect.

____________________________________

1. Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises. London, 1703.

Selecting Your First Hand Plane

stanleyPlanes

Collection of Stanley Planes from http://www.dfcabinetmaker.com

It seems so simple at first.  Maybe you have a specific project in mind, or perhaps you’re like me, and simply decide that you want to add a hand plane to your tool box.  You start doing a little research and soon realize that anything you can buy at your local hardware store is junk, and many of the planes made by the specialty shops cost more than your fancy router and cordless drill combined.  Eventually you might find your way to some online forums or blogs (like this one), and learn that buying an old Stanley is your best bet.  But which one?  After all, there are so many shapes and sizes from which to choose.

Selecting your first hand plane can be a confusing proposition.  Stanley alone made hundreds of different variations and sizes, and as you probably know, different planes were intended for different purposes.  “But I really only want to start with one!” you say.  “One all purpose plane…”

Well, the fact is there’s no such beast as an all purpose plane any more than there’s a single all purpose screwdriver, but since everyone needs to start somewhere, let’s figure out what that means for you.  The first, and most obvious question is, what do you intend to primarily use it for?

Keeping it simple, hand planes can be divided into three broad categories – bench planes, block planes, and specialty planes.  Generally speaking:

  • Bench planes measure about 8” to 24” long and are operated with two hands.  The edge of the irons (or blades) in these planes are sharpened straight to slightly cambered.  Bench planes are used for three distinct purposes depending on their length, but all basically take shavings off the face (or edge) of wood to reduce its thickness, flatten and smooth the surface.(1)
  • Block planes measure about 3” to 7” long and are usually used with one hand.  They are similar to bench planes, but can be divided into standard angle and low angle.  Standard angle block planes shave the face or edge of wood just like bench planes, while low angle block planes are better suited to shaving end grain.
  • Specialty planes encompass every other variety of plane, from router planes to rabbet planes to molding planes.  While there are a couple of specialty planes that are also considered bench and block planes, I don’t want to confuse you so we’ll just let that be for the moment.

The Stanley no. 5 – Venerable “Jack of all Trades” Plane

Stanley Bailey no. 5, Type 11 (c. 1910-1918)

Stanley Bailey no. 5, Type 11 (c. 1910-1918)

For general use around the house, an obvious choice is the Stanley no. 5 plane, a 14” plane commonly referred to as a “Jack” plane.  Although I don’t think anyone knows for sure, the term Jack is often presumed to refer to “jack of all trades,” implying that the no. 5 can do a little of everything, even if it doesn’t do any one thing better than any other plane.

The no. 5, like the larger no. 6, is usually considered a Fore plane.  Fore planes are the first planes used when preparing rough stock, squaring it up and planing the surface relatively flat.  Strictly speaking, it’s actually a little too short to be a Fore plane and a little too long to be a smoothing plane, but it’s often included in the former category anyway, because we humans love to categorize everything.

The Stanley no. 5 and its competitor’s counterparts is an all purpose plane.  As I said, while it does most things well, it doesn’t really excel at anything in particular.  The no. 4 is a better smoother and the no. 6 a better Fore plane, but the no. 5 can pass for either, which is not something the others can do.  For taking a little width off a door or quickly reducing the width of a board, the no. 5 is a great solution.

If the heft of the no. 5 is too much or your projects tend to be a little smaller, go for the shorter no. 4 plane.  While designed to be a smoothing plane, the 9” no. 4 is also a very passable all purpose plane, especially for smaller applications.  Better yet, just get one of each.

The Stanley no. 18 (or no. 9-1/2) Block Plane

Stanley Bailey no. 18 (c. 1947-1960)

Stanley Bailey no. 18 (c. 1947-1960)

In my opinion, everyone needs a good block plane. They’re small, lightweight, easy to handle, and extremely versatile around the house and workshop. While there are several flavors of block planes that will suit just fine, my favorite by far is the Stanley no. 18. Incidentally, the no. 18 is identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except the design of the lever cap. I find the no. 18 to be more comfortable, but the no. 9-1/2 was historically more successful, so decide for yourself. Other than the design of the cap, they’re identical.

The no. 18 is 6” long with a standard 45º angle of cut, the same as the larger bench planes. Functionally, it does the same thing as a bench plane, but on a much smaller scale. In fact, it may very well be that if most of your projects or planing jobs are small, a block plane will be more valuable than a larger bench plane.

A Couple of Other Options

Stanley Bailey no. 10, Type 10 (c. 1907-1909)

Stanley Bailey no. 10, Type 10 (c. 1907-1909)

A possible (although more exotic) alternative to the no. 5 bench plane could be the no. 10 rabbet plane.  It’s the same size as the no. 5, but features an opening on each cheek that enables the iron to cut flush against each side of the plane.  While it can still be used for all the things a no. 5 is used for, it has the added benefit of shaving right up against edges.  No. 10 planes are nowhere near as common, cost considerably more, and are much more fragile, but they are quite versatile.

An argument can also be made for one of the low angle block planes, such as the Stanley no. 60 or no. 65.  While the 12º bed angle for these planes is lower, the iron is positioned bevel up.  If you have two irons for your plane, you could hone one at the normal 25º for low angle use (12º+25º=37º), and another at 33º to achieve standard angle (12º+33º=45º) use.  This could be a good solution if you are dead set against owning more than one block plane (yeah, good luck with that).

Wait… what?

If you seriously plan to only purchase ONE bench plane, a nice vintage Stanley no. 5 is hard to beat.  I would argue the same for the no. 18 block plane.  These are also good planes to start with if you intend to build a small collection.  Ultimately, your decision should be based on your needs, the size of your work and the how you will use them.

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[1] For more detailed information about the three types of bench planes, see
Selecting the Best Bench Plane for the Job.

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Stanley Block Planes Demystified

Block Plane Collection 3-11 B&WStanley was surely not lacking in its appetite for block planes, offering models and variations of models in every size and flavor imaginable.  Trying to figure out all the models and differences is maddening.  Since search phrases most frequently entered by those visiting Virginia Toolworks include which block plane to buy, I thought it might be helpful to provide a list  of Stanley’s block plane models organized by functional group and mechanical similarity (rather than numerical model order).  For detailed specifications on each model, please check my Block Plane Chart and the Block Plane Dating page.

Note that the functional groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  The same plane will be found in more than one functional group as I’ve categorized  them. Therefore, you will see a lot of duplication.  I listed them this way on purpose.  It’s also worth noting that competitors like Millers Falls, Sargent, and others offered comparable models to many of these.

Block Planes Sorted by Functional Group & Mechanical Similarity

Basic Handyman Planes

Early Stanley no. 120

Early Stanley no. 120 c. 1870s-80s

  • No. 9-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except it doesn’t have an adjustable mouth.  It was a cheaper alternative and never as desirable as the 9-1/2.  Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 102 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane was another very basic small size block plane.  This one featured a tension adjustment wheel for the lever cap and a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 103 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the no. 102 but adds a poorly designed lever adjustment feature and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 110 – 7 inches long and standard angle, featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 120 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the smaller no. 103 with the same inadequate adjustment mechanism and wooden front knob.
  • No. 203 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane featured the same hooded lever cap found on the 9-1/2 series, a screw type depth adjustment similar to the low angle blocks, and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 220 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 203 but was far more popular.

Fixed Mouth Planes

Stanley no. 110 Type 1

Stanley No. 110 Type 1 c. 1874

  • No. 9-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except it doesn’t have an adjustable mouth.  It was a cheaper alternative and never as desirable as the 9-1/2.  Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 18-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 18 except it didn’t have an adjustable throat.  It was only made from 1952-58 and is somewhat rare.
  • No. 61 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 60 but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are relatively rare.
  • No. 63 – 7 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 65-1/2 (hooded lever cap) but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are also relatively rare.
  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this is a bull-nose version of the no. 101.  It is extremely rare with fine examples selling in the $500 range.
  • No. 102 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane was another very basic small size block plane.  This one featured a tension adjustment wheel for the lever cap and a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 103 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the no. 102 but adds a poorly designed lever adjustment feature and a wooden front knob.110 – 7 inches long and featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 110 – 7 inches long and standard angle, featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 120 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the smaller no. 103 with the same inadequate adjustment mechanism and wooden front knob.
  • No. 130 – 8 inches long and standard angle, this double ended plane featured a tension wheel lever cap.  Bull-nose on one end and standard nose on the other, the iron could be reversed for dual purpose use.
  • No. 131 – 8 inches and standard angle, this plane was similar to the no. 130 but featured a hooded lever cap and a screw type depth adjustment.  It is considered superior to the no. 130, but the mechanism is fragile.
  • No. 140 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this rabbet plane’s iron was set at a skew angle, and its side was removable for precise rabbeting.  This plane is very useful with modern variations still being made.
  • No. 203 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane featured the same hooded lever cap found on the 9-1/2 series, a screw type depth adjustment similar to the low angle blocks, and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 220 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 203 but was far more popular.

Adjustable Mouth Planes

Stanley 9.5 and 16

Stanley no. 9-1/2 and no. 16 c. 1904-08

  • No. 9-1/2 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this was Stanley’s most successful block plane.  Featuring a hooded lever cap, lateral adjustment lever, iron depth adjustment, and an adjustable throat, this plane set the standard for the industry.
  • No. 9-3/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 with the addition of an arm with a wooden knob attached to the rear.  There were far fewer of these planes made and they can easily sell for several hundred dollars today.
  • No. 15 – 7 inches long, this plane was otherwise identical to the no. 9-1/2.
  • No. 15-1/2 – 7 inches long, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 9-3/4 with the same wooden knob at the rear.
  • No. 16 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 9-1/2’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 17 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 15 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 15’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 18 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except the lever cap (after 1913) was the knuckle style cap (also found on the no. 65).  Although not quite as popular as the no. 9-1/2, this is my preferred standard angle block plane for its comfort in use.
  • No. 19 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 18.
  • No. 60 – 6 inches long and narrower than most of the other planes this length (1-3/8″), this low angle block featured a hooded style lever cap, screw depth adjustment, and adjustable throat.  It’s lever cap and hardware were nickel plated.
  • No. 60-1/2 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane is identical to the no. 60 in every way except its lever cap was japanned.  The no. 60 and no. 60-1/2 are frequently confused as there has been conflicting information published online.  Just remember, the 60-1/2 has a japanned cap.
  • No. 65 – 7 inches and low angle, this plane is often referred to as the “Cadillac” of block planes.  It features the same nickel plated knuckle cap as the 18/19 planes, and the same screw type depth adjustment of the 60 series low angle blocks.  And of course the throat is adjustable.
  • No. 65-1/2 – 7 inches long and low angle, this 65-1/2 is identical to the no. 65 except it had a japanned hooded style lever cap throughout it’s entire life.  This confuses a lot of people since the no., 65 switched from a hooded cap to a knuckle cap in about 1913.

Standard Angle Planes

Stanley 19 and 18

Stanley no. 19 & no. 18 c. 1913-18

  • No. 9-1/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 in every way except it doesn’t have an adjustable mouth.  It was a cheaper alternative and never as desirable as the 9-1/2.  Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 9-1/2 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this was Stanley’s most successful block plane.  Featuring a hooded lever cap, lateral adjustment lever, iron depth adjustment, and an adjustable throat, this plane set the standard for the industry.
  • No. 9-3/4 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 with the addition of an arm with a wooden knob attached to the rear.  There were far fewer of these planes made and they can easily sell for several hundred dollars today.
  • No. 15 – 7 inches long, this plane was otherwise identical to the no. 9-1/2.
  • No. 15-1/2 – 7 inches long, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 9-3/4 with the same wooden knob at the rear.
  • No. 16 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 9-1/2’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 17 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 15 except it had a nickel plated lever cap whereas the no. 15’s cap was japanned.
  • No. 18 – 6 inches long and standard angle, this plane was identical to the no. 9-1/2 except the lever cap (after 1913) was the knuckle style cap (also found on the no. 65).  Although not quite as popular as the no. 9-1/2, this is my preferred standard angle block plane for its comfort in use.
  • No. 19 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 18.
  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this is a bull-nose version of the no. 101.  It is extremely rare with fine examples selling in the $500 range.
  • No. 102 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane was another very basic small size block plane.  This one featured a tension adjustment wheel for the lever cap and a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 103 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the no. 102 but adds a poorly designed lever adjustment feature and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 110 – 7 inches long and standard angle, featuring a wooden front knob, this plane is otherwise the same as the no. 102, however it was far more popular.
  • No. 120 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is similar to the smaller no. 103 with the same inadequate adjustment mechanism and wooden front knob.
  • No. 130 – 8 inches long and standard angle, this double ended plane featured a tension wheel lever cap.  Bull-nose on one end and standard nose on the other, the iron could be reversed for dual purpose use.
  • No. 131 – 8 inches and standard angle, this plane was similar to the no. 130 but featured a hooded lever cap and a screw type depth adjustment.  It is considered superior to the no. 130, but the mechanism is fragile.
  • No. 140 – 7 inches lo
    ng and standard angle, this rabbet plane’s iron was set at a skew angle, and its side was removable for precise rabbeting.  This plane is very useful with modern variations still being made.
  • No. 203 – 5-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane featured the same hooded lever cap found on the 9-1/2 series, a screw type depth adjustment similar to the low angle blocks, and a wooden front knob.
  • No. 220 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this plane is otherwise identical to the no. 203 but was far more popular.

Low Angle Planes

Stanley no. 65 c. 1913, no. 65 c. 1904, & no. 65-1/2 c. 1904

Stanley no. 65 c. 1913, no. 65 c. 1904, & no. 65-1/2 c. 1904

  • No. 61 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 60 but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are relatively rare.
  • No. 63 – 7 inches long and low angle, this plane was identical to the no. 65-1/2 (hooded lever cap) but had no adjustable throat and featured a wooden front knob.  These are also relatively rare.
  • No. 60 – 6 inches long and narrower than most of the other planes this length (1-3/8″), this low angle block featured a hooded style lever cap, screw depth adjustment, and adjustable throat.  It’s lever cap and hardware were nickel plated.
  • No. 60-1/2 – 6 inches long and low angle, this plane is identical to the no. 60 in every way except its lever cap was japanned.  The no. 60 and no. 60-1/2 are frequently confused as there has been conflicting information published online.  Just remember, the 60-1/2 has a japanned cap.
  • No. 65 – 7 inches and low angle, this plane is often referred to as the “Cadillac” of block planes.  It features the same nickel plated knuckle cap as the 18/19 planes, and the same screw type depth adjustment of the 60 series low angle blocks.  And of course the throat is adjustable.
  • No. 65-1/2 – 7 inches long and low angle, this 65-1/2 is identical to the no. 65 except it had a japanned hooded style lever cap throughout it’s entire life.  This confuses a lot of people since the no., 65 switched from a hooded cap to a knuckle cap in about 1913.

Bull-nose Planes

Stanley 131 Plane

Stanley no. 131 Plane c. 1920s

  • No. 101-1/2 -3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 130 – 8 inches long and standard angle, this double ended plane featured a tension wheel lever cap.  Bull-nose on one end and standard nose on the other, the iron could be reversed for dual purpose use.
  • No. 131 – 8 inches and standard angle, this plane was similar to the no. 130 but featured a hooded lever cap and a screw type depth adjustment.  It is considered superior to the no. 130, but the mechanism is fragile.

Instrument Makers Planes

Stanley 101.5 Plane

Stanley no. 101-1/2 Plane c. 1890s

  • No. 100 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this tiny plane is a simple palm sized plane with a raised “squirrel tail” handle and thumb screw tightened lever cap. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 100-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this plane is identical to the 100, but has a convex sole and iron for shaving concave surfaces such as chair seats.  This one is pretty handy for those tasks and there are modern versions being sold today.
  • No. 101 – 3-1/2 inches long and standard angle, this plane is identical to the no. 100, except it does not have the squirrel tail.  Originally sold in toy tool chests before becoming available within Stanley’s line. Features a thumb rest instead of a front knob.
  • No. 101-1/2 – 3-1/2 inches and standard angle, this is a bull-nose version of the no. 101.  It is extremely rare with fine examples selling in the $500 range.

Rabbet (Rebate) Planes

  • No. 140 – 7 inches long and standard angle, this rabbet plane’s iron was set at a skew angle, and its side was removable for precise rabbeting.  This plane is very useful with modern variations still being made.
SB140 Type 1

Stanley no. 140 Rabbet Plane c. 1896

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