Stanley Model Shop Beech and Rosewood Wood Bottom Planes
Before we get back to the some more interesting planes from the Stanley Model Shop I thought you might want to know a bit more about the Model Shop. Clarence Blanchard wrote an interesting article about the Model Shop in the 2000 Fall issue of The Fine Tool Journal, Volume 50, Number 2, pages 22-23. In conversation with Carl Stoutenberg, a Stanley employee, who for many years was the unofficial historian at Stanley, Clarence learned that Stanley Rule & Level Company maintained a model shop from almost the beginning of the business. The model shop made prototypes, tested them, and refined them. They also looked at the products made by competitors. When asked about what happened to all those items in the Model Shop Stoutenberg explained, “There have been many authorized clean outs of obsolete models, casting patterns, and competitive samples over the years. There have also been several “barrel days” where offices were supposed to be cleaned and the pack rats had to take it home or heave it. It is probable office and factory workers have been taking things home with and without approval for more than 150 years! A major effort in this regard occurred in 1964 when Stanley vacated several five-story buildings located on four corners in downtown New Britain and moved into a downsized modern two-story factory on the west side of town. Ten years later the pack rats had overrun the new building’s storage area and in about 1974 one of the largest clean ups of the offices and model storage area occurred. Scrap passes were liberally given out to allow wholesale carton carryouts of “junk”. Sometimes the stuff now turns up still with the pick slips. Both marked and unmarked examples have been observed of Stanley production, prototype, and competitive products. Sometimes S.R.&L is painted on the product. Sometimes a date. Sometimes a tag accompanies the product with information about the item. Sometimes a number is etched onto an item. There probably are as many variations as there were people who had responsibility for identifying the items. Today there is much public awareness of old tools. There is also an aging population of ex-Stanley employees, family and friends wishing to downsize their own storage areas and fatten their wallets. Couple those two truths and the trend is expected to continue.”
Well, that’s the story of the Model Shop in a nutshell from someone who was there. Oh how I wish I could have been around for some of those authorized clean outs and ‘barrel days”! I’m just grateful that these pieces of American industrial history haven’t been completely lost and have made their way into tool collections all over the country so they can be studied, preserved, and enjoyed by those of us who find this stuff so fascinating. Stanley still maintains their Model Shop, but now they call it the “historical vault”. You can get a look at it by going to YouTube and looking for a video called “History of the Stanley Tool Company”. The video will give you a chance to get a glimpse of the “historical vault”. If you watch the video carefully you’ll see some tools with the Model Shop numbers painted on them as shown in previous blog posts.
But let’s move on to a few more planes from the Model Shop. Leonard Bailey started making wood bottom planes in late 1868 just about a year prior to the time he sold his business to Stanley. Bailey was trying to reach those craftsmen who preferred a wood bodied plane but who also recognized the advantages of his adjustment mechanism and his thin parallel cutter. So, he put his cutter and adjustment mechanism in a cast iron frame and attached it to a beech plane body. These early models had no imprint on the toe of the plane. When Stanley purchased Bailey’s stock of wood bottom planes in 1869 they stamped an eagle logo on the toe of these planes and added the model number below that logo.(See Figure 2) Some collectors call these “transitional planes” under the incorrect assumption that these planes helped ease the transition from wood bodied planes to the all metal cast iron planes. This was not Bailey’s or Stanley’s intention. They were marketed and sold as a somewhat less expensive option for those craftsmen who preferred a wood bodied plane but also wanted the convenience and sensitivity of Bailey’s adjustment mechanism. Because of their popularity Stanley continued to produce several models of these of these planes from 1869 until 1943.¹
The planes shown in Figure 3 are wood bottom planes from the Model Shop. What makes these two planes interesting is that they have a rosewood sole finger jointed to the beech plane body. The larger of the two is 15 inches long, 2 and 11/16ths inches wide and has a 2 and 1/8th inch wide cutter. This makes it the size of a #27 Stanley Wood Bottom Jack Plane. The #27 Wood Bottom Jack Plane was made only from 1869 to 1917. The rosewood sole is 1/2 inch thick including the fingers and the beech plane body is 1 and 1/8th inches thick including the fingers. The fingers are 1/8th inch high and 1/8th inch wide and spaced 1/8th of an inch apart except at each edge of the plane. The glue joint is beautifully tight and the body of the plane has a heavy coat of varnish which almost completely obscures the end grain of both the rosewood and the beech. There are no markings on the toe of the plane. Model Shop number 175 is painted on the cam lock of the lever cap.
The wood body of the smaller of these two planes is 8 and 5/8ths inches long and is gently tapered on the toe with a more acute taper at the heel. The cutter is 2 inches wide. The rosewood sole and finger joints are of the same dimensions seen on the larger plane with the exception of a wider finger at the toe of the plane to compensate for the taper of the plane body at the heel of the plane.
The smaller plane doesn’t have a visible Model Shop number, but there are scratch marks on the cast iron frame in front of the front knob with a few remnants of white paint suggesting that it may have had a Model Shop number that was at some point removed. “Bailey” in block capital letters is stamped on the toe. Beneath that is stamped Stanley Rule & Level Co. and No. 35. The Stanley catalogs describe the #35 as a Wood Bottom Smooth Plane.
Both planes have identical trademarks on the cutter which reads STANLEY, PAT AP’L 19, 92. This applies to Edmund A.Schade’s patent #473,087 granted on April 19, 1892. The patent was about repositioning the cutter slot hole nearer the base of the cutting iron, engaging the lateral lever with the slot in the upper portion of the cap iron, and an improved method of hardening and tempering the cutting iron making it less likely to crack. Even though the patent wasn’t issued until 1892, Stanley started putting these cutting irons on their planes in 1890.² The lateral adjuster has one patent date stamped on it, 7/24/88, which refers to Justus A. Traut’s patent #386,509 which addresses the lateral lever.
Using the “Bailey Stanley Wood Bottom Plane Types” type study done by Roger K. Smith(see Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America, Volume 1, pp.275-278), these characteristics date these two planes to between 1900-1907. The question arises as to why Stanley would want to go to the trouble of putting a rosewood sole on the bottom of these planes. Well, rosewood is much harder than American beech so the planes with a rosewood sole would be more durable. The rosewood also made the planes very attractive. We don’t know, but it’s most likely that Stanley decided against putting these planes into production because of the increased cost associated with adding the rosewood sole.
These two planes which are in unused condition and never made it into production, weren’t Stanley’s first, nor were they the last time the craftsmen in the Model Shop married beech and rosewood to make a wood bottom transitional plane. Figure 7 shows a series of four wood bottom transitional planes made between 1872-1874 with a beautifully executed dovetail joint between an upper body of rosewood and a lower body of beech. These were purportedly made for Stanley’s exhibit at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Also in 1922, Stanley was having difficulty finding enough high quality beech stock for their longer length wood bottom planes. The Stanley Operating Committee met on January 17th, 1922, and assigned Mr. H.J. Cook with the task of investigating the possibility of using “built up wood stock” for the longer wood bottom planes Stanley was manufacturing. Mr. cook dutifully submitted a written report to the Operating Committee on March 14th, 1922 and informed the committee that the cost of making a #32 26 inch long Wood Bottom Jointer of a combination of beech and rosewood could be done at a cost of 25% more than the cost of making the planes from a single piece of beech. He also informed the Operating Committee that the company already had a large supply of… “#11 Rosewood Level Stocks that have been air drying for a good many years. This stock is in splendid condition. We use very little of it for Levels. It works up to good advantage for the bottoms of these planes by simply ripping a billet in two pieces. It would seem that we have enough material of this kind for Levels and #31 and #32 Planes to last a number of years.” Along with his report Mr. Cook submitted an example of a #32 wood bottom plane with the finger jointed rosewood sole(See Figure 7). The rosewood fingers appear a bit larger than those on the earlier Model Shop finger jointed planes and this plane was marked in pencil “March, 1922″³
And finally, one more wood bottom plane from the Model Shop. This one was made most likely for a display of Stanley planes for some exhibition or trade show. Made from a beautiful piece of rosewood, with a rosewood rear tote and front knob, it is 15 1/2 inches long and 2 and 5/8ths inches wide with a 2 and 1/8th inch cutter. That makes it a half-inch longer than a #27 wood bottom jack plane. The cast iron frame, all of the screws, the frog and the adjusting screw are heavily nickel-plated. There is no trademark stamped on the toe of the plane. Three patent dates are stamped on the lateral adjuster(2-8-76,10-21-84,and 7-24-88), and there are “S”casting marks on the lever cap and the cast iron frame. The cutter has the STANLEY, PAT AP’L 19,92 stamp. All these factors suggest that this plane was made somewhere between 1893 and 1899.
The craftsmen in the Stanley Model Shop made an incredible number of versions of these wood bottom planes. I’ll pull out a few more in a future blog. But, keep your eyes open and you may be able to uncover one of these at an auction, tool meet, garage sale or flea market. Let me know if you find one!
Paul Van Pernis
¹Stanley made 18 different versions of Bailey’s wood bottom planes from a 7 inch smooth plane up to a 30 inch joiner plane. These planes were numbered from #21-#37 in the Stanley catalogs.
²Stanley’s use of these improved irons starting in 1890, two years before the patent was granted would come back to bite Stanley in court. This new cutter sold very well and competitors seeing that it wasn’t patented began to copy it. When the Ohio Tool Company refused to cease using the improved cutter on its planes, Stanley sued. The trial didn’t begin until 1901 and The Ohio tool Company argued that the slot arrangement was a preexisting unpatented improvement that had been in public use for more than two years which would make Stanley’s patent void. The court agreed with the Ohio Tool Company and Stanley lost. They appealed but lost again on appeal. See Walter, John, Antique & Collectible Stanley Tools, 1996, p. 806.
3 You can find the full article regarding this plane entitled “Where’s the Beech” by Clarence Blanchard in The Fine Tool Journal, Volume 54, No. 4, Spring, 2005, pp. 2, and 20-22. Both this plane and the rosewood and Becch wood bottom dovetailed planes sold an auction in November of 2002. The #111 levels referred to by Mr. Cook are the #111 Victor Carpenter’s Adjustable Plumb and Level that were offered by Stanley from 1911-1923.