From the Stanley Model Shop, Installment #2, A Round Bottom Block Plane
Many of the tools from the Stanley Rule & Level Company Model Shop are marked with a number placed on the tool with white paint. This nifty round bottom block plane is no exception, bearing the number “64”, on both the lever cap and the body of the plane. One would like to assume that these numbers were applied to Model Shop tools in chronological sequence, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Early tools from the Model Shop can have higher numbers than later tools and vice-versa. So, to my knowledge no one clearly understands the numbering system that Stanley used for the Model Shop. If you understand it, please let me know!
This plane is 7 3/8″ long and 1 3/4″ wide with an apple wood front knob. The lever cap is japanned in the typical fashion, but it appears that the body of the plane was simply painted black and that paint has flaked off on much of the plane’s exterior. It is not unusual to see planes from the Model Shop that lack a finish. Stanley had weekly production meetings where these tools were discussed and examined so a final finish was not necessary for those deliberations It’s cast iron and has a curved sole. So it’s a “rounding plane”. Typical wooden rounding planes were made to span approximately 1/6th of a circle or 60 degrees of arc. This plane follows that pattern with the sole of the plane spanning a 60 degree arc. Based on the plane characteristics listed below, it appears that this plane was made between 1897 and 1902 in the portion of the Stanley factory run by Justus A. Traut.
It has a pivot lock lever cap. This lever cap was patented by Andrew Turnbull on October 13, 1897 (Patent No. 591,663). Turnbull was undoubtedly an employee at Stanley Rule & Level in the portion of the shop run by Justus A. Traut. Turnbull assigned the patent to Traut at the time it was issued. Traut was described in his obituary as the “Patent King of the United States” for the hundreds of patents he’d been granted while working at Stanley.¹ While there’s no doubt he was a brilliant mechanic, Traut had an uncanny ability to get his workmen to assign their patents to him or slightly modify the ideas of his workmen and turn those ideas into a patent issued in his name; but that’s another story.
The lever cap has been ground at the base to conform to the curve of the sole of the plane. Inside the palm rest area of the lever cap is found the letter “S”, which is a casting mark seen on Stanley planes and plane parts produced between 1893-1902. The cutter which has also been ground to match the curve of the sole of the plane has the “J” trademark stamped on the upper end, and that trademark is characteristic of block plane cutters produced between 1889-1907.² The plane has eliptical depressions on each side to provide a better grip. Traut was granted Design Patent No. 27,474 for this feature on August 3rd, 1897. And finally, the cutter adjustment mechanism for this plane is identical to the one shown in Patent No. 645,220 granted to Justus A. Traut on March 13, 1900.
Interestingly, Traut filed the patent application for this adjuster on December 10, 1897 about 3 months after Turnbull’s patent was approved, but the patent wasn’t granted until 28 months later. The reason for the delay between filing the patent application and the granting of the patent is unclear, but 28 months was a long time to wait for a ruling from the Patent Office back then.
The cutter adjustment mechanism allows for very sensitive adjustment of the cutter and Stanley began to use it on the Stanley #60 and #65 low angle block planes in 1898 even before the patent was granted. So, all of those characteristics date this plane to somewhere between 1897 and 1902.
But, does it work? I took a short piece of Western red alder and took the plane for a test drive. The cutter adjustment is very sensitive and the lever cap did a good job of holding the cutter firmly in place. The plane was comfortable in my hands and moved through the wood easily. As you can see, it cut a nice smooth groove in the piece of alder.
For me, it worked very well. We can only speculate as to why this plane didn’t make it into production, but two factors come to mind:
1. Making round bottom block planes of varying widths would have been expensive and would have required redesign of the lever cap and adjustment mechanisms for narrower widths.
2. Stanley was already making full sets of “Hollow and Round” attachments for the Stanley #45 that would perform the same function. Four paired sets were available with 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″ and 1″ wide cutters.³
So, this little plane got put on the shelf and eventually made it’s way out of the factory and into the tool collecting world. I like to imagine Justus Traut holding this tool in his hand after he and the talented craftsmen he worked with put this plane together for the first time. Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a day talking to those guys and watching them work!
Paul Van Pernis
1. See Smith, Roger K., Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes in America, Volume II, pp. 207-213.
². Roger K. Smith’s “Bailey Stanley Iron Plane Types” and “One Hundred Years of Bailey’s Excelsior Block Plane The 9 1/2 Family 1871 t0 1971”, by John Wells and Jack Schoelhamer are both invaluable when it comes to dating Stanley planes.
³. See Heckel, David E., The Stanley “Forty Five” Combination Plane, pp. 105-110.