Further confusion with plane classification

The problem with classifying block planes is that there is so much variation in features, it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint a particular date. Consider the picture of the Stanley No.18 block plane below, from a 1898 Stanley catalog. The plane has the “handy” finger hold (1897), the lateral adjustment lever (1895), and the early clamping lever (1886). It’s difficult to see, but the lever cap looks as though it has the Stanley patent information on it.


So this looks similar to one of the Stanley No.18’s I described in a previous post (shown below). The only difference on that No.18 is the older style clamping lever (with no patent information inscribed), and interestingly the eccentric lever (patented 1894). So this may actually be a realistic interpretation of a Stanley No.18 of the period (before I blindly swapped the lever caps to fix the disposition of the other mixed up No.18!).


Future post: evolution of throat adjustment mechanisms.

The Bailey pre-Stanley “handy”

It turns out that of Bailey’s adjustable “Victor” planes, both the No.12 “Pocket” block plane and the “Little Victor” both had “handy” style finger depressions. The pictures below come from a 1879 Stanley catalog – 18 years before Traut’s 1897 design patent. Note the large size of the depression on the two planes in comparison to their size? On the pocket block plane, at 4½”, the handy is 1.4″ in length. The Little Victor also had a handy 1.4″ in length, but was only 3½” in total length.


The “handy” block plane finger holds

One of the more unique features of block planes is the depression often found on the outer face of the planes side walls – known more commonly as the “handy“. The depressions are designed for the thumb and forefinger to be situated while holding the plane. This feature was first described by J.A.Traut in his 1897 design patent (No.24,474) – “Design for a plane-body”. Each of the planes walls has “a concavity in its outer face elongated and substantially elliptical in shape“. Traut never really describes the purpose of the depressions, beyond mentioning that they produce a “figure harmonizing in appearance with the general outline of said plane-body”.


A picture from Traut’s original patent.

The patent had a term of 14 years, meaning that by 1911 other companies could start using the feature in their designs. However many plane manufacturers were using similar type depressions before the patent expired. This occurred because the patent was a design patent, i.e. it does not protect the functional aspects of a plane, and the handy certainly could be considered a functional aspect. Both Sargent and Millers Falls also had elliptically-shaped finger depressions. However neither is what could be considered “substantially elliptical” in shape, as posed by Traut’s patent – which may be the point.


The Ohio Tool Company went the opposite way and decided on a circular depression, which was not as ergonomic as the elliptical ones. Stanley also used a circular hole as the “handy” in their pressed steel block planes. Hobbies (UK) took a different approach to the problem, and used a series of vertical grooves on the outside of the plane wall.


Modern plane manufacturers have tended to steer away from the elliptical shape, except for the Lie Nielsen, however the size of their depression is much smaller, 50% the size of the original Stanley “handy”. Lee Valley use two different finger depressions: (1) a series of three different circular depressions of differing diameters, or (2) an alcove cut directly into the side of the plane (found on their apron plane).


Ironically, even Stanley have moved away from elliptical depressions, opting instead for a single circular depression.

One of these things is not like the other…

Sometimes when you buy a plane, you don’t realize what it really is until later. What *looks* like a Stanley No.18, probably is, well – maybe. There are two Stanley No.18’s in my collection – but while I was photo-cataloging them this weekend – I came across an anomaly.


The first plane has a excelsior-style body, and a lever cap with a patent date of 2-18-13. The excelsior body is normally associated with early Stanley plane bodies, predating Traut’s design patent for a plane body, dated 1897. The plane has a lateral adjustment lever, added in 1895, which implies that the body is mid-1890’s. However, the lever cap is more likely associated with planes sporting the “Hand-y” depression, which was patented in 1897. It is more likely the excelsior body of the No.18 would have an earlier version of the knuckle lever cap.

The second plane, has a “Hand-y” depression, and the throat adjustment eccentric lever (patented 1894). This later body No.18 has an earlier version lever cap. In all likelihood it is possible for the body and lever-cap to co-exist, were it not for the fact that the lever cap itself has no patent information inscribed on it. This in itself implies a lever cap which pre-dates the patent of 1886, as clamping levers after this are stamped with “STANLEY” “PAT DEC 28 86.”.

The fix? Swap the lever caps. Now the planes look much more realistic.


The depth adjustment mechanism of Chaplin

Unique amongst block planes is the blade depth adjustment mechanism cited in Chaplin’s Patent No.126,519, and used by Tower and Lyon in their planes. The patent was for a bench plane, but the basic principles were adapted for the block planes.

The blade depth adjustment mechanism is based on the use of a saddle, or rest plate, upon which the blade rests, and is clamped to by the lever cap. The saddle is secured to the plane body using a single screw which still allows it to move in a longitudinal manner. Note the saddles of the No.15 and No.30 in Fig.1 are different – the No.15 has a recessed centre, with what seems like a hand-stippled bed. The surface of the No.30 is flat, with the exception of the recess for the securing screw.


Fig.1: The saddle of the adjustment mechanism

Depth adjustment is achieved by an ingenious adaptation of the worm and worm-wheel gear system. It consists of a paddle-type lever attached to a section of worm gear (screw threads), the thread of which activates a partial worm wheel (quasi half-nut) formed in the underside of the saddle.


Fig.2: Parts of the depth adjustment mechanism

The worm gear, and partial worm wheel are shown below in Fig.3.


Fig.3: Worm gear and worm wheel

When the paddle is moved from right-to-left, the blade is forced outward, and when the paddle is moved from left-to-right, the blade is drawn in. The saddle, and hence the blade have a total movement of approximately 1/8″.


Fig.4: Lowering vs. raising the blade

The clasping mechanism to attach the lever cap to the blade, and saddle is also unique to these planes. The lever cap has two lugs projecting downwards and terminating in hooks. The saddle is designed in such a manner that is has a shoulder on either side, against which the lugs on the lever cap strike.


Fig.5: Lever cap and blade (left), mechanism in place (right)

The lever cap is attached to the plane by sliding it into the blade and saddle attached to the boss (the frog-like entity that protrudes from the stock). When the thumb screw is operated, the blade is forced down upon the upper portion of the saddle, forcing the worm gear-wheel system to engage. This holds both the blade and saddle rigidly is place (Fig.5).

The bench planes produced by Tower & Lyon were more prominent than their block planes, but that being said it is hard to find much relevant information. There is a Tower & Lyon catalog (in reprint form), but this is 1904, likely already containing some of their “improved” planes based on a 1902 patent related to an improved design for block (No.716,386). A type study and more information on Chaplin’s Patent Planes can be found on this site provided by Peter McBride.

Plane body finish removal – Soy Gel

When restoring old planes, sometimes the finish is too far gone to save. It could be that there is less than 50% finish left, or paint is flaking. At some point a decision must be made as to whether or not to strip the finish off, and reapply a new finish. I don’t like highly-toxic paint removal remedies, so I bought some Soy-Gel.  I used it previously to remove paint from an old industrial light fixture, and it worked extremely well – how well will it work on a plane?

Soy-Gel is made of 100% soybeans. It will supposedly remove oil and water-based coatings, acrylics, latex, enamel, urethanes, and two-part epoxies. If there is paint containing lead, then the gel actually encapsulates the lead flakes in the gel. There is also no odour. Now Soy-Gel is by no means made completely of soybeans – the active ingredient is N-methyl pyrrolidone, which is common in many of the “low toxic” paint removers – however it is biodegradable.

To test the viability of using Soy-Gel, I used an old Stanley No.102 block plane, covered with old flaking paint, both on the body and the lever cap.


Fig 1: The Stanley 102 before paint removal

Figures 2 and 3 outline the process of paint removal on the toe (Fig.2), and heel (Fig.3) of the plane. I applied a thick coating of the gel on the plane body and left it for 18 hours, after which I cleaned off the gel with a wooden scraper, and washed the residue off. There was still some residual paint left in the crevices of the plane (mostly the markings on the body). Figs 2(c) and 3(c) show the plane after the first application of gel. I applied a second thinner layer of gel to remove any residual paint, and left it overnight.


Fig.2: Plane toe – (a) Original finish, (b) Gel applied, (c) Finish removed, and (d) Surface brushed with brass brush

After about 10 hours, I cleaned the plane body again and used a scouring pad to remove the final specks of paint. The plane cleaned up nicely, and can be prepped further with a brass brush.


Fig.3: Plane heel – (a) Original finish, (b) Gel applied, (c) Finish removed, and (d) Surface brushed with brass brush

The Soy-Gel did a really good job in removing the paint from the plane, with no real mess involved. The gel sits nicely on vertical surfaces, and is able to penetrate the smallest crevices. Note that it does not effect any rust present on the plane – so this plane will need to be dunked into Evapo-Rust, and then wire-brushed before re-finishing. At the end of the day, it’s not a perfect “green” solution for paint removal – but it works extremely well. At some point I’ll see how well it works on an older finish, i.e. japanning.


Fig.4: Stanley 102 after paint removal


The block planes of Tower and Lyon (aka Chaplin)

In my collection I have two block planes from Tower & Lyon (New York, 1884-1916) - Tower & Lyon were a hardware manufacturer which manufactured the planes based on a patent obtained by Orril R. Chaplin in 1872 (No.126,519). Tower & Lyon offered a number of basic models of block plane:

No.0, model makers, L=5″, BW=1-1/8″
No.15, fixed throat, japanned, L=6½”, BW=1-7/8″ (corrugated top, pierced lever cap)
No.18, fixed throat, nickel-plated, L=6½”, BW=1-7/8″
No.20, adj throat, japanned, L=6½”, BW=1-7/8″ (solid lever cap)
No.30, adj throat, nickel-plated, L=6½”, BW=1-7/8″
No.35, adj throat, L=7¼”, BW=2¼” (corrugated top)

In all likelihood, the two planes in my collection are a No.15, and a No.30. The No.15 is unique amongst block planes for having a corrugated deck, i.e. the upper side of the plane body. It is hard to fathom why these corrugations exist. On the sole, corrugations (supposedly) serve the purpose of reducing friction between the planes sole and the wood. Indeed, even the patent described above contains a method of “reducing the area exposed to the pressure of the atmosphere”, by perforating the sole with a series of holes. We’re the corrugations to make the plane more aerodynamic?


The Tower and Lyon No.15 block plane

The No.15 also has a pierced lever cap, which again serves no real purpose, apart from producing [extremely minimal] aerodynamics, or for decorative purposes. Apart from these design aspects, the No.15 has a fixed throat, and blade depth adjustment mechanism. The No.30 on the other hand has an adjustable throat, and the same depth adjustment mechanism. Its lever cap is solid, and the deck is smooth.


The Tower and Lyon No.30 block plane

The unique part of these planes is their worm-gear blade adjustment mechanism and support/clasping mechanism. (See article following this).