I’ll readily admit it, I’m a “tool collector”. I’m fascinated with all kinds of tools, but learned early on that I had to focus my energies and tool collecting funds on a narrower field, so I chose woodworking planes. I love those early Leonard Bailey, Charles Miller, and Stanley Rule & Level Company planes. I’m a sucker for interesting or unusual early planes from the Stanley Model shop. My favorite reading material is the latest antique tool magazine, antique tool auction catalog, a book on antique planes or someone’s recent research on planes or a plane maker. Yup, I look for planes on the internet and I’ve practically worn out both volumes of Roger K. Smith’s, Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America, Volumes I & II. (If you’re at all interested in woodworking planes and you don’t have these two volumes, find them, buy them, and read them! They’re loaded with invaluable and fascinating information.) My wife correctly calls it an “addiction” and she describes my forays to tool shows, auctions, flea markets, antique malls and trips to EAIA, Mid-West or other tool group meetings as, “quality time with your tool cronies”. All true! For the past 40 years I’ve been adding planes to my collection and the basement “tool room” is pretty full. So, I thought it might be a good time to share some of the oddities, rarities and just plain interesting planes I’ve found over the years. So, I’ll call this “the first” in a series of blogs on planes that I find unusual, or unique from my collection. My apologies to my wonderful rhykenologist (A word whose origins are murky, but generally defined as, “a collector of woodworking planes”) friends who collect wooden planes and look with some disdain at metallic planes and consider them nothing more than door stops or boat anchors, but I won’t be discussing wooden planes. However, I’ll eagerly continue to read your research, articles, and blog posts.
This #2 size nickel-plated smooth plane first showed up at a flea market in 1992. I acquired the plane in 1998. It’s 7 1/4″ long including the overhang for the rear tote, 1 3/4″ wide and the cutter is 1 9/16″ wide. But, this little plane is different from the usual Stanley #2 in several ways.
First, it’s a very early version of this plane. Except for the adjusting nut, it has all the characteristics of a “Type 1” #2 plane meaning that it was produced between 1869-1872. (Roger K. Smith’s type studies of Stanley Cast Iron Planes are found in the books noted above and are a treasure trove of information on dating Stanley planes). Leonard Bailey obtained his first patent in 1855, and Stanley brought Bailey and his patents into the Stanley Rule & Level Company in 1869. Within a few years of Bailey joining Stanley, they became the world’s leading manufacturer of woodworking planes.
Secondly, the plane is nickel-plated. Stanley didn’t start nickel plating planes until 1888 when they nickel-plated the lever caps and front knobs on the #16, #17, #18, and #19 series of block planes. This plane predates those planes by almost 20 years. Leonard Bailey was always fascinated with nickel plating. and used it on many of his Victor planes. So, was this one of Bailey’s early attempts at nickel plating just prior to or shortly after he joined Stanley Rule & Level or was this something Stanley wanted to try? We don’t know, but everything on this plane including the body, the cutter, the lever cap, all the screws, the adjusting nut and the frog are all nickel-plated. While nickel plating the whole plane including the sole made for a flashy looking tool, it was certainly not practical. Over the years Stanley would nickel-plate many of its tools, primarily for display purposes and I’ve seen several of those tools. so, maybe this plane was made as a presentation or display piece as well.
And finally, this plane has a chamfered sole. these chamfers are set at a 45 degree angle. The chamfers may have been an attempt to reduce drag, but adding the chamfers without adding reinforcements would have weakened the joint between the body and the sole of the plane, leading to breakage.
I know of one other #3 size Stanley bench plane with a chamfered sole, but that one was not nickel-plated.
Apparently the workmen at Stanley weren’t done toying with the idea of a chamfered sole or had forgotten about their previous efforts, because another Stanley Plane with a chamfered sole turned up several years ago and I was able to add that one to my collection as well. It’s a Stanley #140 Rabbet and Block Plane. Stanley made these from 1895 t0 1943. They have a skewed cutter and a steel sidewall which can be removed by loosening two screws when the plane is to be used as a rabbet plane. When the steel sidewall is left in place the plane can be used as a block plane.
But, unlike any other Stanley #140 I’ve seen, this, like the #2 smooth plane also has a chamfered sole.
It dates to about 1905, and has no nickel plating at all. In fact it has no finish except for remnants of some gray-blue paint on the removable steel sidewall. The small tag attached to the plane gave the date 1905 and indicated that the tool was from the Stanley “Model Shop” where Stanley’s inventor’s and craftsmen developed and experimented with new or improved versions of Stanley’s line of tools. From time to time the management at Stanley instructed their workers to clean out the Model Shop and hundreds if not thousands of prototypes and experimental tools were thrown out or melted down. Fortunately for tool collectors some of these tools escaped the junk heap and went home in the pockets or lunch pails of workers who may have had a hand in the development process or simply thought they could make use of the tool. Over the years these “Model Shop” cast-offs have made their way to the antique tool market to the delight of tool collectors. Obviously this plane never got into production and was put on the shelf until it too was somehow “liberated” from the Model Shop. If you’ve got one of these planes with a chamfered sole, I’d love to hear about it!
Paul Van Pernis