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.

***

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.

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

***

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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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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“Excelsior” Profile Stanley Block Planes

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

Me too.

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

Early Excelsior Profile Stanley 9-3/4 Type 1

Early Excelsior Profile Stanley 9-3/4 Type 1

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

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

62938_IMPROVEMENT_IN_AWL_Clement 1867

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

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

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

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

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Working Within the Limits of Tool Preservation

198 SB3 Type 9 Pre0I spent a long time researching and learning about tool preservation before I ever touched a plane. Even so, it was a couple or three years before I really settled into a comfort zone where the hands on experience I gained began to gel with the “book knowledge” I’d accumulated. For me, the greater appeal has always been geared more toward preservation than restoration (although I use the word restoration more often when casually talking about “cleaning up” a plane or tool). It’s probably a matter of semantics; I think most people equate restoration with refinishing, while preservation, by it’s very definition, speaks to preserving and sustaining. To me, that’s more accurate, and is a key part of my guiding philosophy and approach to tools.

It’s very easy for me to “go too far” when cleaning up a tool, to make it pretty vs. simply making it functional. My underlying intent is to preserve the character, finish, patina, etc. whenever possible. Dirt and rust are not sacred to me (as they are to some collectors), they are destructive elements of neglect. When I’m cleaning up a tool, I try to stay within the same boundaries that a woodworker of 100 years ago would have stayed within. He would have only been interested in preserving his tools, keeping them clean and in good working order, not making them pretty to sell on eBay. I constantly remind myself of that, not because I’m right and everyone else is wrong, but because it’s consistent and true to the values and parameters I defined when I started this venture. It’s my mission statement, if you will.

198 SB3 Type 9 Post7

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The Confusing Grey Area of Type Study Transitions

Block Planes from the Author's Collection

Block Planes from the Author’s Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

no18_2_tuinema

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

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Sharpening Angles for Bench & Block Planes

Sharpening Basics

Since sharpening is such an expansive topic in and of itself, I will leave the specific how-to details for other posts.  What you need to know in the context of fine 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 flattened 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 is all that matters.  You also need to put a final honing on the bevel edge itself.  It may look sharp, but it needs to be honed, again, ideally to 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 the how-to of sharpening, I recommend investing in one (or both) of the outstanding books on the subject by Ron Hock or Leonard Lee.   Chris Schwarz has also written a number of fantastic articles on planes and sharpening plane irons.

Getting Down to Business

If all you want to know is what bevel angle to sharpen on your plane iron, make it 25º and call it a day.  But if you want to better understand the reasoning behind the geometry and some of the variations possible, read on.  In order to master your tools, it’s helpful to understand the principles behind the geometry at play.  So, first a few concepts and then we’ll tie them all together.

Frog Assembly

The frog is screwed to the body of bench planes

First things First – Before you can determine the optimal angle at which your plan iron should be sharpened, you first need to know the angle at which it sits in the plane.  Plane irons are held in place against the frog via a clamping device called the lever cap.  The frog is attached to the base, or sole, of the plane and provides an immovable seat for the iron.   The angle of the frog face is not adjustable, so it must be considered a constant.  On standard bench planes, the angle is usually 45º while on low angle planes it is typically a very shallow 12º.  This angle is traditionally referred to as the ‘pitch’ of the plane.

Pitch / Angle of Attack – Pitch, or what Ron Hock refers to as the Angle of Attack, is the angle at which the cutting edge engages the wood. [1]   As stated above, most bench planes have  a bed angle of 45 degrees.  This is referred to as ‘common pitch,’  and has traditionally been considered the optimal pitch for bench planes.  A slightly higher 50º pitch is called ‘York Pitch.’  This higher angle pitch is used in some bench planes for working harder woods and woods with difficult grains.  ‘Middle Pitch’ of 55º and ‘Half Pitch’  (also known as ‘Cabinet Pitch’) of 60º are frequently found in molding planes for soft and hardwood respectively. Angles of less than 45º are referred to as ‘Low Angle’ or ‘Extra Pitch,’ and are used in planes for softwood and for cutting end grain. [2]

Here’s a summary table of the different pitches and their intended use.

Pitch (Angle of Attack) Name Use
60º Half Pitch / Cabinet Pitch Molding planes for hardwood
55º Middle Pitch Molding planes for softwood
50º York Pitch Harder woods with difficult grain
45º Common Pitch Optimal Pitch for most planes
<45º Low Angle Softwood and End Grain

Bevel Up vs. Bevel Down – All planes fall into one of two categories – Bevel Down and Bevel Up.  Bevel down planes have irons that are situated with the bevel angle facing down, while the irons on bevel up planes are positioned with the bevel angle facing up.  Most bench planes are bevel down while most block planes are bevel up.  Specialty planes can go either way, depending on their intended purpose.  There are some advantages to the bevel up configuration, but we’ll cover that later.

Regardless of whether the plane is bevel up or bevel down, the angle of the frog face (upon which the iron sits) is an important determining factor in determining the desired bevel angle.  As stated above, the vast majority of bench planes have frogs with a 45º bed, meaning the cutting iron sits at a 45 degree angle from the work surface.  Since these bench planes are bevel down, changing the bevel angle doesn’t change the pitch, or angle of attack – that’s essentially fixed at 45 degrees.  Changing the bevel angle does, however, change the relief angle, or clearance behind the iron.

SB605 Type 6

Bevel Down Bench Plane

Bevel Down Planes – Since the irons on most bench planes are positioned bevel down, this is the most common configuration faced when sharpening.   Because the un-beveled side of the iron is positioned up (i.e., bevel side down), the angle of attack is the same regardless of the angle at which the bevel is sharpened.  That doesn’t mean the bevel angle is completely unimportant; durability, for example, is still a consideration.  The bevel angle is, however, less critical than it is on bevel up planes.  That said, there are still a few tricks you can employ to fine tune your angle of cut, but more on that later.

The standard primary bevel angle for bevel down bench planes is 25 degrees.  This offers a good balance of shearing action and durability while providing an adequate relief angle (behind the cut).

SB65.5 Type3

Bevel Up Block Plane

Bevel Up Planes – Block planes have the iron positioned bevel up, but they’re not the only planes with this configuration.  Low angle bench planes, including the Stanley no. 62 and the Sargent no. 514 were bevel up, as are several models made today by Veritas.  There is an advantage with bevel up irons in that the angle of the bevel can be changed to affect a change in the angle of cut.  This provides a measure of flexibility that bevel down planes don’t have, at least not to the same extent.

While there is more to consider in edge geometry than just the angle of cut (i.e., durability), you could reasonably sharpen the bevel on the iron of a low angle block plane iron to 33 degrees.  Given its 12º bed angle, you would end up with an angle of cut of 45 degrees (12º+33º=45º), the same as on a standard angle plane.  By contrast, 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 (20º+17º=37º).  Durability of such a thin cutting edge would be problematic with most woods.

See “Beyond the Standard” below for information on adding secondary bevels (micro-bevels) and back-bevels.

Common Sharpening Angles

The table below shows the three most common bench and block plane types and the proper angles at which to sharpen the irons.

Common Plane Types Frog Angle Angle to Sharpen Angle of Cut
Bench Plane – Standard Angle 45º 25º to 30º 45º
Block Plane – Standard Angle 20º 25º 45º
Block Plane – Low Angle 12º 25º 37º


Beyond the Standard

Secondary/Micro-Bevels – The terms secondary bevel and micro-bevel refer to the same thing.  Secondary bevels are a very shallow bevel along the cutting edge of the primary bevel.  These angles, usually 1º to 3º, serve primarily as an aid in honing.  It takes considerably less time and effort to final hone a small secondary bevel that it does the entire primary bevel.  They also make honing touch ups a snap.  As long as the edge has not been damaged, it’s quick and easy work to re-establish a keen edge on the secondary bevel with a few strokes on a sharpening stone.

On a bevel down plane, adding a secondary bevel affects no change in the angle of cut.  The only thing it changes ever so slightly is the relief angle – the angle between the back side (bevel side) of the iron and the work surface. It also slightly reduces the total bevel angle on the iron itself, but should not be enough to affect durability of the edge.  On most planes the addition or subtraction of a couple of degrees of bevel angle is not going to make any difference.

Some people will tell you you can’t (or shouldn’t) put a secondary bevel on a bevel up iron.  That’s nonsense.  If you’re that concerned with the cutting angle, sharpen your primary angle a few degrees shallower so the secondary angle brings you back to 25º.  I’ve never experienced a problem with a secondary bevel on a bevel up iron, and it’s a sharpening technique I apply consistently.

Back Bevels – Back bevels can be added for a couple of reasons.  On a bevel down plane, (unlike the secondary bevel) adding a back bevel will affect the angle of cut.  This is something you can use to your advantage.  For example, with the frog fixed at a 45º angle, adding a 5º back bevel increases the angle of cut from 45º to 50º.  This technique can be used if you’re working with harder woods or wood with difficult grain.

Back bevels are also helpful if your plane’s iron has rust damage or pitting to its un-beveled side.  By putting a back bevel of 1º to 2º on the pitted back side, you effectively cut through the pitted surface creating a clean, undamaged edge.  You end up with a cutting angle of about 46º to 47º – not a critical difference for most woodworkers.  If you’re obsessive about your edge geometry and angle of cut, this might not be a satisfactory solution.  Although if that’s the case, you probably shouldn’t be futzing with a vintage plane in the first place, let alone salvaging a pitted plane iron.  But if you’re like me, having one or two extra irons set up for different purposes is a must, and finding good use for old irons suffering from age and neglect makes me feel good.  It’s just a matter of purposing them for the right job.  And again, increasing this angle of attack is actually advantageous when planning wood with difficult grain. [3]

Back bevels on bevel up irons won’t change the angle of cut, but they do change very slightly the relief angle and the bevel angle of the iron itself.  Again, a couple of degrees difference should not adversely effect the  durability of the edge.

Summary

Wrapping up, the vast majority of both bench and block planes can be sharpened with a 25º bevel angle.  However, with a little experimentation, you may find that making some adjustments to the geometry helps overcome challenges presented by both difficult wood and less than perfect plane irons.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  That’s the best way to learn.

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[1] Hock, Ron, Back Bevels and Plane Geometry, 2010.
[2] Whelan, John, The Cutting Action of Plane Blades, 1993.
[3] Hock, Ron, Back Bevels and Plane Geometry, 2010.

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