The “combination plane” was developed to create a woodworking tool that would perform multiple functions and free a workman from having to own a large number of individual planes. Over a 50-year time span in the second half of the 19th century numerous inventors patented and produced a broad array of combination planes.[i] Many of these planes made it into production but few achieved commercial success. By far the most commercially successful American made combination planes were those produced by the Stanley Rule & Level Company. Stanley acquired Charles Miller’s patent, No. 104,753, issued June 28th, 1870, for a beautifully designed and very functional combination plane and immediately made it available to their customers in four models, labeled No.41 thru No. 44 in their catalogs (See Figure 1).[ii]
Shortly after introducing the Miller’s Patent plane, Stanley acquired Rufus Dorn’s patent, No. 129,010, issued on July 16, 1872 for an adjustable dado plane. (See Figure 2)[iii]
Stanley quickly (maybe too quickly!) began to manufacture this plane in cast iron. As seen in Figure 3, the Dorn’s Patent plane offered by Stanley carries many of the same design characteristics seen in the No. 41 thru No. 44 combination planes suggesting that Charles Miller played a significant role in both the design aesthetic and possibly the mechanical design as well.
If Stanley had followed their existing catalog numbering scheme for combination planes, the Dorn’s patent would have logically been given the catalog number “45”, but the plane didn’t perform well and was offered by Stanley for only a short time in 1872. It was never illustrated in a Stanley catalog and because of its short lifespan was never assigned a catalog number. Stanley no doubt heard about the Dorn’s Patent plane’s shortcomings from workmen who purchased the plane. In response, Justus Traut applied his inventive talents to improving the plane. Just eight months after Dorn was granted his patent, Traut was granted patent No. 136,469 on March 4, 1873, for a skewed cutter plow, dado, filletster and match plane. It was a marked improvement over the Dorn’s Patent plane, and Stanley wasted no time in discontinuing manufacture of the Dorn’s Patent plane.
Traut’s plane is a reworked version of the Dorn’s patent which eliminated the “swing out” cutting iron and provided solid support for cutting irons of various widths. It became the Stanley No. 46 “Skew Cutter Combination Plane” (See Figure 5).[iv]
In 1876, Stanley introduced the No. 47 Adjustable Dado Plane. The No. 47 was a stripped-down version of the No. 46 designed to cut dadoes. It came without a fence and fewer cutting irons (See Figure 6).[v]
No new additions were made to Stanley’s line of combination planes until seven years later when Justus Traut submitted a patent application on October 17, 1883, for the plane that would become the Stanley No. 45 Combination Plane.
Up until this point Stanley had assigned sequential numbers to their line of combination planes as they were introduced, but the number “48” had already been assigned to their tongue and groove plane so Traut’s new combination plane was given catalog No. 45. Stanley offered the plane to their customers as soon as Traut applied for his patent so some were sold before March 11, 1884 when Traut was granted patent No. 294,825 for this plane. The text of Traut’s patent describes the evolution of the combination planes that were already part of the Stanley line. He stated in his patent that, “In my improved plane I combine a beading and center-beading tool, plow, dado, fillister and rabbet, matching-tool, and slitting-tool.” It was truly a multipurpose woodworking plane. The Stanley No. 45 was an immediate success and the plane evolved over the years and remained in production until 1962.[vi] Figure 8 shows an example of a “Type 1” No. 45 from the years 1883-1885.
By 1893, nickel plating replaced the japanning on the No. 45 and a mechanical cutting iron adjuster was added to the plane. The cutting iron adjuster consists of a threaded rod with a small pin at the end which engages a slot in the cutting iron. A cast iron wheel is threaded onto the rod between two supports on the main body of the plane. Also, hollow and round attachments in four sizes along with a nosing tool and beading cutting irons for reeding also became available at an additional cost. The plane was selling well and Stanley was marketing the No. 45 vigorously.[vii]
On September 19, 1893 Eppie J. McCulloch of Manchester, New Hampshire was granted patent No. 505,119 for an “auxiliary stock” that adjusted both vertically and laterally allowing the Stanley No. 45 to be used with an irregularly shaped cutting iron e.g. a cove, ogee, or molding profile cutting iron (See Figure 9). Figure 10 shows what appears to be McCulloch’s working model for this “auxiliary stock.” Stanley quickly recognized the value of McCulloch’s invention and acquired the patent rights shortly after the patent was issued.[viii]
Justus Traut and the men working in his shop at Stanley adapted McCulloch’s invention to work with the Stanley No. 45. Figure 11 shows the Stanley Model Shop version of their efforts.
It looks like a Stanley No. 45 with McCulloch’s “auxiliary stock.” Figure 12 shows the Model Shop Version of McCulloch’s auxiliary stock.
Model Shop No. 526 is present in black paint on the toe of the plane and remnants of the same number are present on the tote in white paint (See Figures 13 and 14).
It’s difficult to date this prototype, but it has characteristics that are similar to those seen on Stanley No. 45 planes from between 1895 and 1897.[ix] What’s most startling about this plane is the “No. 145” cast into the main body of the plane (See Figure 11). There are some significant differences between this prototype plane and the No. 45 planes being sold by Stanley at the time. The body of the Model Shop plane from the base of the rear tote to the toe is 10” long while the same measurement on a No. 45 is 9½”. The space between the fence rods is 4½” while it’s just 4” on the No. 45. Stamped into the skate on both the main body and the auxiliary stock are 1/16th inch gradations to assist in setting the depth of cut. (See Figures 15 and 16). There was no sliding fence found with this plane.
Stanley’s catalog numbering system for identifying their planes was sequential and logical at least initially. It started out with the No. 1 smooth plane and progressed through the No. 8 jointer plane. The system was adopted from the one used by Leonard Bailey. The numbering system became more complicated with the addition of block planes, transitional planes, and the ever-increasing number of specialty planes. However, when improvements or modifications were made to an already existing Stanley plane, often a “1” or a “2” or even a “3” was added to the existing catalog number to designate a “new and improved” model.[x]
The presence of No. 145 on this Model Shop plane suggests that Stanley was considering introducing this plane as a new and improved version of the No. 45. But it was not to be. In 1893 the nation entered an economic depression that was the worst in U.S. history to that point and this Model Shop No. 145 got put back on the shelf.[xi] Stanley Rule & Level Company suffered along with the rest of the country and struggled through the depression. They cut prices, trimmed their workforce and didn’t introduce any new woodworking planes during the worst years of the depression. Despite the faltering economy, work in the Model Shop continued and Traut along with his creative machinists continued to develop new tools and improvements to those already in the Stanley line. The work on adapting Eppie McCulloch’s invention continued during these years as well. Traut and one of his employees, Edmund A. Schade incorporated Eppie McCulloch’s auxiliary stock into a new multipurpose plane that was, at the time, a marvel of complicated plane making.[xii] Traut and Schade applied for a patent on June 20, 1894, and were granted patent No. 532,842 on January 22, 1895 (See Figure 17).
McCulloch’s “auxiliary stock” became the “sliding section B” as seen on the Stanley No. 55 with provision to attach the “auxiliary center bottom C” and the depth stop “J” (See Figure 18 and please accept my apologies for all this confusing jargon!).
Because of the ongoing economic depression, the plane was not put into immediate production. When the economy began to recover Stanley responded by introducing a profusion of new planes between 1896 and 1898.[xiii] Chief among these was the Stanley No. 55 Universal Combination Plane which first became available for sale in 1897 (See Figure 19).
Traut and Schade’s new multipurpose plane was granted catalog No. 55. Stanley described the plane in their advertising as “A Planing Mill Within Itself”. This daunting tool came with four boxes of cutting irons, two fences, the Eppie McCulloch auxiliary stock, and 20 pages of instructions. Using a Stanley No. 55 is an adventure in patience, perseverance and practice.
This Model Shop No. 145 never made it into production but remains a fascinating evolutionary link in the line of combination planes produced by the Stanley Rule & Level Company.
By Paul Van Pernis
Author’s note – Thanks to Jim Leamy for the use of the photograph in Figure 10. Is there anyone out there who has done or is willing to do a Stanley No 55 type study?
[i] See Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes In America (PTAMPIA) Volumes I & II, by Roger K. Smith, 1981, 1992 for more information regarding American combination planes.
[ii] The No. 41 and No. 43 Miller’s patent adjustable plow planes are cast iron with a japanned finish. The No. 42 and No. 44 are gunmetal (a bronze alloy). The No. 42 has japanning in the recessed portions of the casting, while the No. 44 has no japanning on the body of the plane. Both the No. 41 and the No. 42 have a removable fillister bed. The No. 43 is identical to the No. 41 but without the fillister bed and the No. 44 is identical to the No. 42 but lacks the fillister bed. Stanley made all four versions of the plane available in 1871.
[iii] The patent drawing for Dorn’s plane shows a swing out cutting iron attached to a wood body skewed dado plane. Dorn added the swing out cutting iron to a skewed dado plane which theoretically would have allowed the user to cut dadoes of varying widths by simply changing the angle of the swing out cutting iron. While an interesting idea, the swing out cutting iron was not adequately supported making the plane impractical and Stanley discontinued sales of the plane. Because it was offered for probably less than one year, therefore, examples of Dorn’s patent dado plane as manufactured by Stanley are rare.
[iv] The Stanley No. 46 first appeared in a Stanley catalog in 1874 and remained in production until 1942. From 1873-1883 the No. 46 was supplied with 10 cutting irons, from 1884-1918 it was supplied with 11 cutting irons, and from 1919 to 1942 it was supplied with 12 cutting irons. See Roger Smith’s type study of the No. 46 in PTAMPIA II, pages 357-359.
[v] See PTAMPIA I, pages 227-230 for more information regarding the Stanley No. 46 and No. 47. The No. 47 was in production from 1876 to 1923.
[vi] For an excellent review of the Stanley No. 45 see, The Stanley “Forty-Five” Combination Plane, by David E. Heckel, published by Forty Five Publishing, Charleston, Illinois, 2002.
[vii] See, The Stanley “Forty-Five” Combination Plane, by David E. Heckel for an excellent type study and further information regarding the cutting irons and attachments that were available for the Stanley No. 45.
[viii] Further information on Eppie J. McCulloch can be found in Roger K. Smith’s PTAMPIA II, pages 232-233.
[ix] Interestingly there was a major change in the Stanley No. 45 that took place in 1895. See The Stanley “Forty-Five” Combination Plane, by David E. Heckel, published by Forty Five Publishing, Charleston, Illinois, 2002, pp. 28-31.
[x] For example, the No. 13 circle plane became the No. 113 circle plane, the No. 41 Adjustable Plow Plane became the No. 141, Bullnose Adjustable Plow Plane, the No. 43 Adjustable Plow Plane became the No. 143, Bullnose Adjustable Plow Plane, etc. The No. 78 Duplex Rabbet & Filletster Plane became the No. 278 Rabbet & Filletster Plane, and then the No. 378 Weather Strip Rabbet Plane (makes one wonder if there’s a No. 178 out there somewhere).
[xi] In April 1893 the U.S. Treasury’s gold reserves fell below $100 million, setting off a national and international panic as investors, fearing that the country would be forced to abandon the gold standard, scrambled to sell off assets and convert them to gold. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad collapsed as well as 50 other railroads. Bank failures spread rapidly throughout the country with four thousand banks going under by the end of 1893. It’s estimated that fourteen thousand businesses collapsed during this depression and unemployment rates soared. This was the worst depression in U.S. history up to that time, and the economy didn’t really recover until 1897.
[xii] Edmund A. Schade was a prolific inventor with 54 patents to his credit who worked at Stanley Rule & Level Company for 59 years and was the mechanical superintendent at Stanley from 1900-1932. For more information on E.A. Schade see Roger I. Smith’s PTAMPIA II, pp.224-228.
[xiii] Stanley introduced: The No. 40, No. 57, No. 71½, No. 83, and No. 98 in 1896, the No. 20, No. 55, and the No. 99 in 1897, and the No. 60, No. 65, No. 69, No. 90, No. 100, and the No. 220 in 1898.