Setting Up and Tuning a Block Plane

165 SB9.5 Type 12 Post1

Stanley Bailey no. 9-1/2, c. 1952-55 ~ one of the most popular block planes of all time

As a follow up to an earlier post about setting up and tuning bench planes, this one will focus solely on block planes. Some of the information is taken directly from that post, so if you’ve read it, it may sound familiar.

On to Setting Up Those Block Planes…

It’s no surprise that so many ‘modern’ woodworkers, especially those used to plug-and-play electric tools, eschew anything that requires sharpening, let alone tuning and fettling to make it work properly.  But the fact is, whether 100 years old or brand spanking new, virtually all planes benefit from some degree of tuning to bring them to their full potential.  Fortunately, this is not a difficult proposition, and actually aids in better understanding how the tool functions and how to get the most out of it.

Below are the basic steps for setting up and tuning a block plane for use.  Block planes tend to be less complicated than bench planes, but there are still many variations, both new and used. I’m purposefully keeping it fairly generic, so some interpretation may be necessary when applying the concepts to the tool in front of you.  But don’t worry, there are no tool police surveilling workshops and garages.  Feel free to skip a step if you don’t think it’s relevant or needed.

Step 1 – Soles Need Saving

I’m not a stickler when it comes to flattening the sole of a plane.  After owning hundreds and using dozens of planes over the years, it’s fairly rare to come across one with a sole so warped, cupped, or bowed that it’s unusable.  If you happen upon one that is truly unusable, my advice is to return it, sell it, or throw it away.  The only possible exceptions are block planes, which are pretty easy to flatten due to their smaller size.  Bench planes are far more difficult, especially the larger ones.  You can take them to a machine shop and have them milled or lapped flat, but forget trying to flatten them yourself with sandpaper unless the problem is very minor.

165 SB9.5 Type 12 Post5

The sole of this plane was lapped by hand using a granite surface plate

If you do decide to lap your plane’s sole flat, you’ll need a dead flat substrate.  The cast iron bed of a table saw or jointer works well, or if you don’t have one of those available and want to keep it on the cheap, a piece of 12” x 12” or larger granite surface plate will work for block planes.  Just make sure you retract the blade and tension the lever cap as you would in actual use.  This puts the correct stress on the plane body.  I start with 60 grit and progress up to about 320.  Removing high spots (convexity) is more critical than low spots (concavity).  Keep in mind that you don’t even need the entire sole dead flat.  As long as you have smooth contact at the toe, around the mouth, and at the heel, the plane will work just fine.

Vintage planes often have raised dings from bouncing around in tool boxes, especially along the edges, toe or heel.  A flat mill file makes very quick work of these minor problems.  Finally, some woodworkers file a very small 45 degree chamfer along each edge of the sole.  This is completely optional, but helps prevent inadvertent gouges when using the plane should you tip it slightly.  I’ve seen some Stanley planes from the mid 20th century that appear to have been made that way at the factory.

Step 2 – Flatten ‘dem Frogs

The hole in the iron straddles the lateral adjustment pivot disc and seats against the tiny frog where it engages the tiny pins on the height adjustment lever mechanism

The hole in the iron straddles the lateral adjustment pivot disc and seats against the tiny frog where it engages the tiny pins on the height adjustment lever mechanism

Block planes do not typically have removable frogs like bench planes, but there are some exceptions, mainly on some of the specialty and low angle planes where part of the frog moves with the iron when adjusting depth of cut. Either way, the function of the frog is the same on all planes. It provides a secure platform on which the iron is supported.  In order for the plane to shave wood correctly, there must not be any movement (wobble, play, rocking, etc.) to the iron.  It must be firmly seated against the frog, so the face of the frog must be as flat and secure as possible. This platform on most block planes is frequently very small, especially when compared to bench planes. Click on the photo to the right and you can see the frog is less than 1/2 square inch.

Since the frog on your block plane is typically not removable, you only need to touch up the seat with a firm sanding block to ensure it is flat.  Also, because the flat sloped area behind the mouth on the plane’s base provides much of the forward support for the iron, it needs to be flat too.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get to, and since you don’t want to enlarge the mouth at all, just a touch using a small piece of angled wood with fine sandpaper wrapped around it is about as far as you want to take it. Thankfully, this is all that is usually needed to remove old crud. A Dremel or quality flexible shaft tool with a wire wheel brush will also work if the problem is limited to dirt and light corrosion.  Finally, as on the bench plane, clean the threads on all the hardware and add a little light oil to help retard moisture and rust.

Step 3 – Lever Caps (This is not a drinking game…)

18 cap 4

Just the leading edge to the underside of the lever cap at the bottom of the photo needs to be flattened. This photo, taken before flattening, shows the edge to be a little rough, which will compromise flush contact with the iron.

Block planes don’t have cap irons, so the lever cap plays a more important role.  Use your coarse sharpening stone or take a fine file to the back side and remove any rough spots, giving close attention to the leading contact edge.  This is most important on block planes with cast iron hooded style lever caps, such as the old Stanley 9-1/2.  The back sides of these caps are notoriously rough and unfortunately japanned. You don’t need to remove all the japanning, but you do want to get a smooth line of contact down front where it touches the iron along the front edge.  File it smooth and give it a couple of swipes across your 1000 grit stone. If your plane uses one of the nickel plated knuckle style lever caps, just flatten the bottom of the front edge in a similar fashion.

Step 4 – I Pity the Fool Who Don’t Sharpen His Tool!

The iron has been sharpened with a small 2 to 3 degree secondary bevel added (the dark line at the very edge)

The iron has been sharpened with a small 2 to 3 degree secondary bevel added (the dark line at the very edge)

The simple fact is, even with brand new planes, the irons require final honing before use.  This is not due to some lack of attention on the part of manufacturers.  Irons are provided this way on purpose, since the manufacturer has no way of knowing what you will be using the plane for, and subsequently how the iron would need to be honed. You may want a perfectly straight edge if working on joinery, or you may want it cambered (with a slight radius) for smoothing out small surface areas. It’s up to you, but if you do nothing else in the way of tuning or preparing your plane for use, at least take the time to properly sharpen it.  Do not skip this step!  Sharpen the iron.  Again, sharpen the iron!  Sharpen it I say!

Since sharpening is such an expansive topic in and of itself, I will leave the specific details for other posts.  What you need to know in the context of tuning, however, is that any plane, new or old, requires initial sharpening and honing.  At a minimum, new plane irons need to have their un-beveled side honed flat and polished to at least 4000 grit and preferably 8000 grit.  You don’t need to fuss with the entire surface; just the first 1/8” to 1/4” along the cutting edge will do.  You also need to put a final honing on the bevel edge itself.  It may look sharp, but it needs to be honed, again, to at least 8000 grit.  The goal is to get your cutting edge to as close as possible to a zero degree radius.

Sharpening is too often the deal breaker that dissuades woodworkers from trying hand tools.  This in unfortunate, for it requires little monetary investment to get started, is not particularly difficult to learn, and can be accomplished rather quickly with surprisingly good results.  For detailed information on sharpening, I recommend investing in one of the outstanding books on the subject by Ron Hock or Leonard Lee.   Chris Schwarz has also written a number of fantastic articles on sharpening plane irons.

Step 5 – Final Adjustments

Now that you’ve finished tuning and sharpening your plane, it’s time to put it all back together and adjust it for use.  Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what each part does and how they all function together.  This will make adjusting it for use, and while in use, more intuitive and fluid.

A few points of consideration…

The adjustable mouth plate on the Stanley no. 9-1/2. The mouth opening is adjusted by loosening the knob and rotating the eccentric throat lever left or right (to open or close the mouth).

The adjustable mouth plate on the Stanley no. 9-1/2. The mouth opening is adjusted by loosening the knob and rotating the eccentric throat lever left or right (to open or close the mouth).

While the frog’s position on bench planes is adjustable, meaning you can shift if forward to decrease the size of the mouth opening or backward to increase the size of the opening, many (but not all) block planes have adjustable mouths.  Use a larger mouth opening for thicker cuts, and a smaller mouth opening for fine shavings.  For details on this please see my post on adjustable mouth planes.

Holding the plane upside down, and looking down the sole at a low angle, lower the iron until it just begins to appear through the mouth – just a whisper.  Note that it’s not unusual for there to be quite a bit of slop in the wheel that lowers and raises the iron, as much as a full turn or two.  Just turn it until you begin to feel resistance. Make any lateral adjustments necessary using the lateral adjustment lever if your plane has one (some do and some don’t). If yours doesn’t, just tap the side of the iron with a small hammer to properly align it. I use a brass hammer so as not to mushroom the iron’s edge, but what you use is up to you. Turn it upright and make a test pass on a piece of scrap wood.  If the plane digs in, back off the depth just a bit.  If it misses entirely, lower the iron a little.  You will quickly get a feel for when it’s ‘right,’ as evidenced by the rewarding ‘thwack’ sound a plane makes when it cuts a perfect curl.

Tuning a hand plane is not a difficult endeavor.  Once practiced, the whole process can be accomplished in about a half hour, even less depending on the tool. Rather than view it as an unpleasant chore, I actually enjoy it, especially later in the evening when the dust has settled and the world is quiet.  Pour yourself a measure (or two) of your favorite Kentucky brown, put on some music of choice, and saddle up to your work bench.

276 SB18 Type 15 Post 9

Stanley Bailey no. 18, c. 1936-42

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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.

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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)

 

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.

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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.

New Address: www.virginiatoolworks.com

Virginia Toolworks can now be accessed directly through the domain name virginiatoolworks.com!

It’s a humble achievement, I know, but it reflects the growth and increasing popularity of this site.  Thanks to all who visit, and a very special thanks to those who follow this blog and the Virginia Toolworks Facebook page.

Thank You!

Stanley Bailey no. 60, Type 2, c. 1901-04

Stanley Bailey no. 60, Type 2, c. 1901-04

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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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Goldsmith, Silversmith, & Jewelry Tools, Old and New

Years ago after graduating from college, I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to do something creative, something hands-on. There were a lot of directions I could have taken, but I had a unique opportunity through a family connection to apprentice with a 3rd generation Greek goldsmith who had recently immigrated to the United States.  It was a small family business, and they specialized in designing and fabricating custom jewelry entirely by hand.  I knew nothing about jewelry or metal work, but after my first day I was completely hooked.

My apprenticeship lasted 2 years and 3 months before I moved on to a new opportunity.  That’s not a lot of time considering it easily takes 8 to 10 years or longer to become truly proficient as a bench jeweler.  As it turned out, my career path led me away from jewelry bench-work as a daily profession.  However, I never completely gave it up, and some years later was able to outfit a small shop with the tools and equipment needed to make enough jewelry to keep the female members of my family content.

Jewelers Bench ToolsThe vast majority of the vintage tool market focuses on tools for woodworking.  Yet while many modern woodworkers use power tools more or less exclusively, silversmiths and goldsmiths still use hand tools for most of their work.  While electricity has added considerable convenience, many of the hand tools used by gold and silversmiths today haven’t changed substantially in a couple hundred years or longer.  For tool junkies like you and me, that opens up a whole wealth of fascinating and elegant tools for us to appreciate.

The Work Bench

Jeweler's BenchNot at all unlike a woodworkers bench, a goldsmith’s, silversmith’s, or engraver’s bench is the centerpiece of his work space. It is my understanding (through my training) that the craftsman traditionally constructed his own bench.  I honestly don’t know if this is true or not, but given the typical complexity of such benches and the fact that they are so uniquely and uncommonly personal to the  individual, it would not at all surprise me.  Commercially made benches are available today through jewelry tool distributors like Gesswein and Rio Grande, but they tend to be too lightweight and of mediocre construction for anything more than occasional use.

My BenchI built my bench about 10 years ago (shown at the right).  I designed it specifically for my height and work style, with a 3-1/2″ thick butcher block top of solid oak.  Weight is important in these benches – heavier is better.  You can see in the photo there are three tool/supply drawers, and below them two very wide and shallow drawers.  These are lap drawers that catch the metal filings as they fall, extremely important when working with precious metals.  The filings and scraps are all collected and sent to a refinery for reclamation.  Even old sandpaper is saved.  I built my bench with two lap drawers for convenience and practicality, as I often work on more than one project at a time and sometimes work with both precious and non-precious metals.  It’s better to keep the two separated.  Naturally, if I had it to do over I would do several things differently.  The drawer face on the far left doesn’t match the other two very well, and it bugs me.  I also made some stupid mistakes with some of the framework, but all aesthetic.  I was so consumed with the functional aspects that I didn’t give enough thought to how it would all look.

Common Bench Tools

Silversmith HammersIn terms of breadth and depth of assortment, woodworkers would be hard pressed to compete with the average goldsmith or silversmith for quantity of tools.  In addition to files of various shapes and sizes, there are any number of pliers, hammers, saw blades, hundreds of rotary tool bits, polishing wheels, bench blocks, mandrels, staking tools, torches, tweezers, magnifiers… the list goes on and on.  Further, like blacksmiths, goldsmiths and silversmiths must make many of the tools they use.

Metal colour samples-2Fundamental to virtually every bench is a wooden bench pin, steel bench block, jeweler’s saws, pliers, hammers and files.  The bench pin is a wedge-shaped block that protrudes from the front of the bench and serves as a support for filing and sawing, as well as a leverage point for everything else.  Steel bench blocks sit on top of the bench, are dead flat, and serve as all-purpose platforms for flattening and shaping softer precious metals.  Jeweler’s saws come in a variety of depths.  The interchangeable saw blades are positioned with the teeth pointing toward the handle, so they cut on the down (or pull) stroke.

Because they are used for precise work, jeweler’s tools tend to be precision tools.  Measurements are typically in tenths or thousandths of a millimeter, and when working with metals that cost almost $2,000 and ounce, material efficiency and waste reduction is an obsession.  Every precious metal dust particle is quite literally considered and every effort is made to recover as much as possible.

Heavier Shop Equipment

Rolling MillSmiths also use a variety of heavy shop equipment depending on the manufacturing techniques they employ.  Rolling mills like the one shown here roll out sheet stock and wire to be used in fabrication.  It is a slow and laborious process.  Some jewelers use casting equipment to cast wax models into gold, silver, or platinum.  The wax model is encased in plaster with an attached sprue.  The wax is melted out leaving a cavity in which the liquid metal is injected through either a vacuum or centrifugal force. Production shops use CAD computers, computerized crucibles and casting machines, and laser soldering devices costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Alongside every goldsmith bench is a small torch.  Since my bench is in my home, large propane and oxygen tanks were not an option, so I constructed a portable tote for the small disposable tanks available at hardware stores.  This works fine for soldering jewelry, but for melting metal or larger jobs, a standard size setup is necessary.

Every metal worker needs a polishing machine, and mine is typical of those found in smaller shops.  It is a floor standing model with hoods and a powerful dust collection unit.  This not only keeps the work space cleaner, but captures most of the particulates, which are comprised of a surprisingly high percentage of fine metal material.  This too is sent for refining and metal reclamation.

Stone Setter’s and Engraver’s Tools

An engraver’s bench is virtually identical to a jeweler’s bench.  However, an engraver will have a special ball vise that rotates 360º as he works.  His tools, called gravers, have profiles of different shapes and thicknesses, much like wood carving or turning tools.  Before he begins cutting metal, the engraver typically applies china white, a chalk-like substance that let’s him draw on the metal.  The intended design or inscription is very carefully hand drawn, and the engraver then follows the lines with the gravers, removing thin metal curls.  Some gravers are used for letters, others for outlines, and others still for removing or defining the background.  Like goldsmiths and silversmiths, engravers spend many years, even decades, mastering their craft.  It is a beautiful and dying art.

EngravingToolsYou might be surprised to learn that many of the tools used by engravers are also used by stone setters.  As mentioned above, gravers are used to remove metal.  In certain setting styles they can also be used to create beads that form prongs for gemstones.  Pavé settings start with a drilled hole that is then tapered with a small bur shaped much like a counter-sink bit.  “Prongs” are then engraved up from the surrounding metal to form a tiny bead that covers the edge of the stone.  Now, if you think that sounds complicated, consider this… because Pavé settings feature many stones in extremely close proximity, each bead is formed to cover the bezel of not one or two, but three adjacent gemstones.  This type of setting is extremely precise and requires extraordinary skill.

Watchmaker’s Tools

Watchmaker's LatheWatchmakers are an entirely different breed; the level of precision required of a true watch maker is unparalleled.  The market today is dominated by disposable quartz movements, so old-fashioned watchmaking is a dwindling profession. There are only a handful of companies at the very highest end that even still make mechanical movements.  Sadly, fewer and fewer young people are willing to invest the time it takes to become proficient to work on mechanical watches.  While the earning potential for the highest skill levels is significant, entry-level workers are not highly compensated.

Watchmakers employ a dizzying array of tools, parts, and devices.  The traditional centerpiece to the watchmaker’s bench is the lathe (shown in the photo above).  Employing many of the same skills and techniques of the goldsmith, watchmakers demonstrate proficiency in the fine jewelry arts as well as the mechanical skills required to build and repair watches.  It’s not surprising that so many individual jewelry proprietors of the last century were generalists in this regard, working on both jewelry and watches as a service to customers.

wathcmakers benchWatchmaker’s benches typically differ from jeweler’s benches in both function and design.  Generally forgoing the lap drawer, watchmaker’s benches are easily identified by the plentiful small drawers and cabinets for storing parts and tools. Earlier benches often had a foot treadle for powering the watchmaker’s lathe built right in. These were often magnificent pieces of furniture, with a charm and character unique to the profession.  It was also common for them to have lockable enclosures such as hinged lids or roll tops to prevent opportunistic theft of valuable tools and materials.

Summary

This is by no means a comprehensive or complete review of all the tools used by these craftsmen.  In fact, I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Clearly, woodworking tools hold a broader appeal, probably because the average person can better relate to their use.  Tools of the jeweler, goldsmith, silversmith, engraver, and watchmaker tend to be viewed as a bit more exotic and intended for very specific, and often unfamiliar, uses to most people.  I suppose that’s true, but only to a limited extent.  I use many tools in woodworking that were designed for the jewelry bench, simply because they suit a particular need better than anything else available. Nevertheless, exotic or not, it’s easy to appreciate their form and function and place in the realm of fine hand craftsmanship.

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Tool Profile – Millers Falls “Buck Rogers” Planes

Millers Falls Buck Rogers Duo 1

Millers Falls Buck Rogers Planes, nos. 714 and 709 – Virginia Toolworks Collection

Designed by Robert Huxtable, a draftsman at the Millers Falls Company, the no. 709 and no. 714 planes were sold from approximately 1950 to 1960. Based on an earlier Sargent design that was never manufactured, the no. 709 was a smoothing plane comparable in size to a Stanley no. 4, and the no. 714 was a jack plane comparable to the Stanley no. 5.

These tools are commonly referred to as “Buck Rogers” planes by tool collectors, an appropriate nickname given their “futuristic” design qualities, characteristic of 1940s and 50s science fiction and late machine age influences.

Both planes featured striking red knobs and handles made of Tennessee Eastman Tenite #2, a cellulosic plastic originally developed in 1929 that was “guaranteed unbreakable.” They did, however, have a tendency to fade over time, and many seen today appear more orange than the original read.  The frogs had very large seating surfaces and an excellent lateral adjustment design. However, they lacked the precise adjustment ability necessary for fine woodworking, and were therefore considered general carpentry planes.

Two variations (identified as “types” in present day reference) were produced, most readily identified by the change from an unbroken metal slope at the toe in the Type 1 (left in the photo above) to a painted recessed area at the toe in the Type 2 (shown right above). The other major change was the slope angle of the top of the tote, which is flatter in the first type and more pronounced in the later type.

Although these planes were well designed and quite sturdy in their construction, they never really caught on. Perhaps viewed as gimmicky or simply introduced during the unfortunate decline of hand tools in the post war years, the planes were only produced for about 10 years before being discontinued around 1960. While not particularly uncommon on the vintage tool market, well preserved examples are somewhat rare and fetch much higher prices than the common Stanley and other Millers Falls bench planes.

MF_HUXTABLE_BUCK-ROGERS

Original Huxtable Patent Drawing, c. 1950

For more information on the Millers Falls Company and Buck Rogers planes, please visit http://oldtoolheaven.com/bench/buckr.htm.

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