A word about hand planes

stanley-1929-catalog-plane-page (2)
Stanley 1929 Catalog

Before we begin our restoration project, I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about our hand plane, and to find out some information about it. It turns out that there are two important numbers associated with Stanley hand planes – one tells you their size, the other their age.

Plane Size

Click to enlarge

Hand planes come in several different sizes, each with a particular application in mind: a #4 is about 9″ long by 2″ wide and is called a smoothing plane (actually this is the width of the iron). A #7 is 22″ long by 2-3/8″ wide and is called a try plane. Some planes can be interchangeable with others, for instance it is perfectly acceptable touse a #7 as a jointer, even though that is traditionally the job of theno#8.

Our plane is a Stanley #5 or jack plane and it is 14″ long by 2″ wide. Traditionally it was used for rough work – the iron was often cambered so that it could take out larger amounts of material – but it can also be used for smoothing and jointing is set up properly. This is why it is called a jack plane, as it is ‘jack of all trades’.

Plane Type

STANLEY NO. 4 Smooth Plane Type 3 circa 1872-73
#4 Type 3 circa 1872-73

My understanding of Stanley hand planes is that whilst they were good quality and built to last in the past, the same cannot be said for examples made in recent times. By recent, I mean in the last 40 or 50 years.

#6C Type 16 circa 1933-41

So, how old is our plane? Well it turns out that Stanley planes have certain features, attributes, call them what you will, that can give clues to when they were made. Not conclusively of course – after all, hand planes are comprised of many parts and parts can be replaced. Nevertheless, these clues can be a reasonable guide.

I found this website, which uses a flow-chart to ask a number of questions in order to narrow down the type of plane you have. For instance a type 4 (NB. not a #4) was made by Stanley from 1874 to 1884 whilst a type 12 was made from 1919 to 1924.

‘Our Jack’

‘Our Jack’

So, with our #5 close at hand and guided by the questions on the website I have ascertained the following:

  • There are no patent dates cast into the bed behind the frog.
  • There is a raised ring cast into the bed as a receiver for the knob.
  • The bed is not painted blue.
  • The toe and heel have a raised, broad, flat rib casting.
  • The name “STANLEY” is printed vertically on the lateral adjustment lever

All of this, so the website tells me, indicates that our #5 is a type 19 made by Stanley sometime between 1948 and 1961. Another clue, apparently, is that the knurling on the brass depth adjuster is parallel rather than diagonal. Brass was used for adjuster nuts before WWII, but during the war years steel or rubber were used instead. Brass was reintroduced  for the type 18 following the war, but the knurling was diagonal. Later, for the type 19, the knurling became parallel

There are a couple of things that might narrow the age down further. It seems likely that our plane is a later type 19, as the handles are painted black and do not appear to be rosewood. Also the top of the iron is curved, not angular as it was in earlier type 19s. Having said that of course, this might not be the original iron. On balance I’m guessing that we are looking at a Stanley type 19 circa 1955, but we’ll probably never know for sure.

So there we go. It’s a shame that it’s not pre-war, as I’ve heard that the quality never truly recovered post-war, but, on the plus side, the website suggests that the type 19 appears to be the last good plane that Stanley produced. Apparently the quality dropped off drastically in the type 20.

I think I’ll go through my other planes and run them through the flow-chart. They’re not all Stanley’s though, some are Records and one is Woden, so I may have to find other resources to gauge their ages. I’ll post about how I get on.

Anyway, time to take that plane apart and see what we’ve let ourselves in for…

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