Block planes: Stanley No.18 (and No.19) (i)

The Stanley No.18, and No.19, first appeared in the 1888 Stanley catalog as “Improved Block Planes”. They were essentially the No.9½ and No.15 with knuckle lever caps, with nickel platted trimmings. The knuckle lever was the result of an 1886 patent (No.355,031). The planes had the requisite “excelsior” style rear-biased cheek. When first released they had the following characteristics (this discussion is geared towards the No.18, but the evolution of the No.19 is similar).:

  • Excelsior body shape.
  • Lateral adjustment lever.
  • Bailey depth adjustment mechanism.
  • Blades with rounded heads (as opposed to tapered)
  • Adjustable mouths.

Common to all types are three forms of adjustment mechanisms: blade lateral, blade depth, and mouth adjustment. Block planes don’t exactly have the same type studies as bench planes.

Fig 1: The original No.18 from the 1888 catalog.

The “Type 1” planes were only manufactured for a one-year period. The planes have an excelsior-style plane body, and are differentiated by having a lateral adjustment lever with an “integral upward projecting rib”, to shift the blade from side-to-side. This lever was the result of a patent assigned to J.A. Traut in 1888 (Patent No. 376,455).

Patent No. 376,455

This form of the No.18 incorporated an adjustable throat, however no mechanism for performing the adjustment – the front brass finger rest would need to be loosened and the sliding plate adjusted manually, before being tightened again.

In 1889, the Type 1 was modified with the incorporation of a new lateral adjustment lever, replacing the “integral projecting rib”, with a circular disk. This change was based on two patents issued to Traut: No. 306,877, issued on October 21, 1884, and Patent No. 386,509 for a “Lateral Lever with Rotary Disk”, issued July 24, 1888.

There were a number of changes in the catalog of 1898 associated with improvements in features (Fig.2):

  • The addition of the “Hand-y” indentations to the sides of the plane. (Design patent No.27,474, 1897)
  • A modification of the No.18’s body so that the sides have a centred “hump” profile, as opposed to the classic Excelsior shape. (Design patent No.27,474, 1897)
  • The addition of eccentric throat adjustment lever. (Patent No.515,063, 1894)

Fig 2: The No.18 with improved features from the 1898 catalog.

Of course the problem with catalogs is that they didn’t come out every year, so that changes were sometimes offered prior to their appearance in a catalog, or may not have appeared in a catalog at all. For example, Stanley was still producing a No.18 with the Excelsior body, eccentric lever, and original lever cap, in the 1898 catalog – a sort of “souped-up” Excelsior (Fig.3).

Fig 3: The updated “excelsior” No.18 from the 1898 catalog.

There have however been appearances of the No.18’s with Excelsior bodies that have a Hand-y, as shown below.

Excelsior with Hand-y (linked from




A Bailey plane

Occasionally its just fun to photograph a plane, for no other reason than to look at it. This one seems to have a souped up front handle. Cool plane.

Tools of the Trades show round-up (spring 2018)

I honestly don’t think I have ever seen as many people at the TotT recently. It was almost hard to move inside, people were everywhere, at least for the first 90 minutes or so. There was a good selection of tools, however I’ll have to be honest and say that I didn’t find much of anything that really appealed to me. I ended up with a booklet on Stanley’s combination planes, and an early Stanley No.18 block plane. I am either looking for block planes that are hard to find, or European tools (and the only ones you can really find are Eskilstuna chisels sets that are still a bit too rich for my taste). My goal is to eventually replicate some of the European wooden planes (largely the ones from the Nordic countries), but I digress…

Ironically there were an abundance of combination planes, mostly Stanley’s: 55’s, 45’s etc. – and I didn’t see too many people lugging them about. A bunch of vises, lots of axes, chisels, and of course bench planes galore (and moulding planes too, by the bucket load). I don’t need too many more bench planes (block planes *don’t count*), and I generally don’t buy saws. There are some super cool bench planes there….

The one cool thing I saw was a 6 foot Starrett caliper which some guy was trying to sell… if I had known he would take $125, I would have scooped it up! But I was a tad too late. There was also a blacksmith there, and he looked to have some really cool stuff (see pic below), from handmade holdfasts, to saws, and dividers.

It was a fun couple of hours, but sometimes the fall show is a little better than the spring show. Next we’re off to the Christie Antiques Show in May (not for tools), and then if I’m lucky maybe I’ll scrounge up some tools on our summer trip to Scotland.

Evolution of the knuckle lever-cap (iv)

There were of course other companies that produced their own knuckle lever caps. Sargent produced a series of planes with knuckle lever caps (for both itself, and for companies such as Sears), although the quality of the mechanism seems lower than that of Stanley. The Sargent knuckle lever-cap is a two-piece cap, reminiscent of Stanley’s original knuckle-lever cap. The lever cap is held in place using a cap screw and a key-hole slot in the base plate.

The Sargent knuckle lever cap

The base plate and palm rest are joined at a pivot, which is also the location of the cam mechanism, attached to the palm rest. It is quite a weak mechanism.

Union produced the No.138 and No.139 block planes with a “Knuckle Joint Lever”, as did Keen Kutter, producing the K18, equivalent to the Stanley No.18 with a “knuckle joint” lever. Although the Keen Kutter was most likely made by Ohio Tool Co., which made a No.18, and No.19. The Union knuckle lever cap is very similar to the Sargent.

The Union knuckle lever cap

Another oddity is the Hobbies No.11 from the UK. It has an odd triangular-shaped lower portion of the cap, and is actually quite solid in construction (heavy).

The Hobbie knuckle lever cap

Both these planes use a form of cam-type knuckle lever cap.

The Hobbies knuckle lever cap, and the underside of the Union knuckle lever cap

Surprisingly, there aren’t any contemporary plane manufacturers who have designed a modern  knuckle joint lever cap, preferring in most cases to use a screw-based lever cap.


A very strange block plane indeed – a Siegley No.18

A couple of years back I posted about two No.18 block planes which seemed oddly configured. One was very odd, because it didn’t fit any time frame for the No.18. No markings, no nothing… or so I thought. On the back side of the blade was a trademark for SIEGLEY, almost shrouded by the depth adjustment grooves. This is the trademark of the Siegley Tool Co.  The company was founded in New York, and was active 1878-1905, before it was sold to, you guessed it, Stanley. Also on the back of the blade was the mark “SBS” which supposedly means Stanley and Siegley, and “B” indicates a block plane. But honestly there isn’t too much information out there on Siegley.

So this is what the Siegley No.18  looks like (and I’ll call it a No.18 because I have seen a catalog with Siegley block planes all having similar Stanley nomenclature):

The trimmings all appear nickel plated. The two things that had me flummoxed were: (i) the lack of a trademark on the lever cap (I just couldn’t find any Stanley lever caps  without trademarks), and (ii) the weird eccentric lever mechanism. This does look similar to the Stanley patent for the eccentric lever, but again I could find no examples of Stanley planes that used this. Of course the other thing about this plane is that the parts just did not fit together. The centred hump of the plane body, and Hand-y make it circa 1898 from Stanley’s perspective, and the lever cap fits because it existed until the improved version  replaced it in 1914. But the eccentric lever *seemed* like something from pre-1898, maybe something closer to Stanleys patent date of 1894? A first trial?

So it’s entirely possible that this plane is post 1905, making use of the new body shape/Hand-y and knuckle lever cap from Stanley, and the eccentric lever from Siegley, which may have been of knock-off of Stanley’s patent. A similar mechanism is shown in this article from the Early American Industries Association, describing some knuckle-lever planes from the Stanley Model Shop (i.e. not production models).



The Stanley No.55 – too complex?

The Stanley No.55 combination plane can be called many things. The Swiss army knife of moulding planes, perhaps? Produced from 1897 to the early 1960s, the No.55 had the ability to produce any moulding imaginable, and really was designed as a replacement for the wooden moulding plane, with its single profile. Due to this limitation, dozens of them were typically required in the workshop. The No.55 came with a single, adjustable body, and multiple different cutters – it’s hard not to want one for the workshop, even if it is not  used very often. It sported adjustable fences, depth stops, and slitter spurs. The plane was introduced with 52 cutters, and this increased to 55 much later in its manufacturing history (there were also more than 40 specialty cutters which could be ordered). Stanley in their 1898 catalog  marketed the No.55 as the “Stanley Patent Universal Plane”, and said it “can be used for all lines of work covered by a full assortment of so-called Fancy Planes“.

It was really a combination tool – Stanley said it could function as a (i) moulding plane; (ii) match, sash, beading, reeding, fluting, hollow, round, plow, rabbet and filletster plane; (iii) dado plane; (iv) slitting plane, and (v) chamfer plane. The No.55 and its brethren did manage to replace wooden moulding planes for a number of decades, however their fate was likely  sealed with the emergence of electric routers, and moulding machines. It was of course not the first “combination plane”, that honour goes to the No.45, “a planing mill within itself”. The No.45 had fewer parts, e.g. it only had one fence, the No.55 had two, a left and a right fence. Even earlier than the No.45 was the No.41 Miller’s Patent Combined (combined plow filletster and matching plane), or any number of others – No. 42, 43, 44, 46, 47…

However its usefulness is somewhat debatable. Patrick Leach says he “hated it“, and calls it a monstrosity. It’s hard to know how many people actually use it to any great extent. The notion of adjustable it nice, but the benefits of a wooden moulding plane is that the parts are fixed – a fixed profile, and a fixed depth – and so you can pick up a plane and use it. For a combination plane, having to change cutters, and make adjustments means that there is a lot of tinkering involved. This gets challenging when replicating a wooden moulding that requires a combination of 2 or 3 cutters on a combination plane. There is also the issue of weight – the entire kit in the 1914 catalog was cited as being 15¼ lbs. Last but not least is the tools complexity – the No.55 had the most parts of any Stanley combination plane.

Maybe Stanley knew how easy it would be to misplace parts, and therefore made good business from parts? You can buy a vintage No.55 for anywhere between US$400-600, Jim Bode Tools has a bunch of them. Veritas is the first plane manufacturer in decades to introduce a new version of the combination plane, but I do wonder what the market is for a new rendition. For those interested, there is a nice comparison of the Veritas combination plane, and a Stanley No.46 for cutting dados by Derek Cohen.


Tools of the Trades – It’s a week to show day!

On Sunday April 8th, it’s time again for Tools of the Trades, undoubtedly the best vintage tool show in Canada. Next  Sunday (April 8th), at the Pickering Recreation Complex: (10am to 3pm). If you are looking for tools to use, restore, or even collect, then this is the place for you. There are always an abundance of wooden moulding planes, metal bench planes from Stanley, Record, Millers Falls.

There are vintage saws, pliers, vises, and measuring tools… and weird Buck Rogers type, futuristic, red Millers Falls tools. Likely a good bunch of vintage chisels, and even Swedish chisels.