Justus Traut’s Bull-Nose Plane
Before I tell you about it, let’s put this bull-nose plane from the Stanley Model Shop in its proper historical context by delving a bit into 19th century industrial history. In the second half of the 19th century the “inside contracting” system became very popular in American factories. Under the “inside contracting” system, a company’s managers provided work space, light, heat, power, raw materials, and working capital to the “inside contractor” to pay his employees. In addition the company would advertise, sell, and distribute the finished product. The “inside contractor” negotiated a contract with the company’s management on a yearly basis and hired his own workers, established their wages and their work hours. The “inside contractors” income would be the difference between the price he had negotiated for the products he produced and the wages he paid his employees. The system gave the inside contractor control over who he hired, what wages he paid his employees, their work hours, and the methods by which he produced his products. He was in essence running his own business without having to provide all the work space, start-up capital and raw materials. Under this system any efficiencies the inside contractor could develop in the manufacturing process that either increased productivity or lowered costs would accrue to the contractor as increased profit.¹ The inside contracting system flourished at the Stanley Rule & Level Company from 1870 and well into the 20th century. At its peak 20 departments at Stanley were run by these inside contractors. The system was attractive to both the inside contractors and to the company’s management in that the company was able to attract highly skilled and motivated craftsmen with this system who were motivated to produce finely crafted products and the company’s management could focus their attention on marketing, sales, and running the company at a profit. At Stanley, Justus Traut was just one of these inside contractors along with Leonard Bailey, T.A. Conklin, Henry Clark and James Eddy. Traut was a superb mechanic and very inventive in his own right, and deserves full credit for many of the planes and other tools produced by Stanley but he also had a talent for hiring craftsmen who were not only highly skilled but also inventive. Traut was labeled the “Patent King” of New Britain Connecticut with more than 150 patents to his credit during his lifetime. I can only speculate, but my guess is that not all of these patents were the result of only his inventiveness. He was great at taking an idea often proposed and/or patented by someone else, tweaking it in some fashion to “improve” it and then promptly utilizing the full force and ability of Stanley’s management and legal departments to obtain a patent on his “improvements”.²
So why would I suggest that this attractive bull-nose plane is an example of Traut taking an already patented idea and with some modifications turning it into another patent under his name? Well, Stanley had been manufacturing the #120 adjustable block plane since 1876. The #120 adjustable block plane was just one of several different planes that were being produced under Traut’s supervision in his shop at Stanley. This #120 adjustable block plane sold well and had undergone several modifications and improvements since its introduction in 1876. The #120 being produced in the 1880’s was based on patents granted to Traut for the design of the lever cap and the adjustment mechanism. For an excellent review of the early models of the Stanley #120 adjustable block plane take a look at the excellent articles by John G. Wells on this topic in the September 2006 and the December 2006 issues of The Gristmill.
This unique bull nose block plane was without a doubt made by Traut or one of the mechanics in his shop at Stanley. It is basically the body of a Stanley #120 block plane with the front end removed.³ The plane is 2 inches wide and 5 1/4 inches long. The interior of the plane, the exterior side walls and the lever capped are all japanned. The cutter is 1 and 5/8ths inches wide with the circular trademark shown in Figure 3 stamped in the cutter. The number “120” was stamped into the bed on the tail of the plane. The cutter adjustment mechanism consists of a piece of steel with serrations folded into a “U” shape to create the cutter seat. The adjustment lever and cutter seat are held in place by pins at the front and back that project through two raised portions of the casting on the bed of the plane. The cutter has a series of grooves machined into the back of the cutter which match up with the serrations on the cutter seat. The cutter can be advanced or withdrawn by moving the adjustment lever. This adjustment mechanism was patented by Traut on September 2nd, 1879 (Patent No. 219,816).
The lever cap has a raised six pointed star with a 5/16ths inch threaded hole in the center. The lever cap screw is threaded into this hole on the bottom side of the lever cap. The cutter has a circular stamp at the top as shown in Figure 3. These features date this plane to somewhere between 1880 and 1888. I would date this plane as being made in 1884.
Now that Traut had created a bull nose block plane by cutting off the front end of a #120 block plane, he came up with the idea of putting the front end back on! Time for another patent! So, on November 23rd, 1883 he applied for a patent and on January 8th, 1884 he was granted patent No. 291,815 for a convertible “bull-nozed”[sic] and common hand plane. Traut stated in the patent that….”the object of my improvement is to make a cheap and convenient form of convertible bull-nozed [sic] and common hand plane.” No known examples of this plane exist. If you’ve got one that looks like the patent please let me know, I’d love to see it.
Despite Traut’s comments in the patent this plane would not have been “cheap” and would have required precise machining to make it work. Besides, in 1883, Stanley had acquired the rights to John Campbell’s patent No. 271,219 dated January 30th, 1883 for a “double end block plane”.
This plane was much simpler and less expensive to manufacture and featured a reversible cutter and lever cap system that allowed the plane to function as a bull nose plane and as a regular block plane. The similarities between Traut’s bull-nose block plane and Campbell’s combination bull nose and block plane are striking. The Campbell version which Stanley labeled the #130 Double End Block Plane was manufactured in Traut’s shop at Stanley, so he would have had an opportunity to review this plane shortly after Stanley acquired the patent rights. Stanley started selling the #130 Double End Block Plane in 1884 at the same time that Traut was playing with his idea for a combination bull nose and block plane.³
With some modifications to the #120 block plane and with an eye on Campbell’s version of the #130 Double End Block Plane it wasn’t a quantum leap for Traut to come up with his own version of a dual purpose block plane. But, the Stanley Production Committee which met weekly to review these kinds of issues apparently voted in favor of Campbell’s plane over Traut’s version and Traut, despite receiving a patent for his idea, had to put his plane on the shelf. But over time, this little bull nosed plane escaped from the Stanley Model Shop and now sits on my shelf.
Paul Van Pernis
¹ Many companies used the inside contracting system including The Baldwin Locomotive Works, The Singer Sewing Machine Company, Colt Arms Manufacturing and Stanley Rule & Level Company. An excellent review of the inside contracting system titled “The Inside Contract System” by John Buttrick, can be found in The Journal of Economic History, Volume 12, No. 3, Summer, 1952, pp. 205-221
²A History of The Stanley Works by Robert Keith Leavitt, pp 55-60 provides a lot of information regarding these “inside contractors” at Stanley. The book itself is a compilation of articles regarding the history of the Stanley Tool Works compiled from issues of “Stanley World” the company’s in-house newsletter.
³The Stanley #120 block plane was manufactured by Stanley from 1876 until 1947. The #120 was developed as an adjustable model of the inexpensive Stanley #110 block plane. John Well’s excellent articles in the September 2006 and March 2007 issues of The Gristmill provide a good history on the development and dating of the earliest types of the Stanley #120 block plane. Stanley sold the #130 Double End Block Plane from 1884-1955.