Is it a hand plane or is it a file? Questions can be raised about the ability of this tool to perform either task. The Millers Falls No. 1220 was designed by L. Garth Huxtable to mimic the surform tools introduced by Stanley. The tool certainly had innovative features, including a rotating handle, and a unique blade locking mechanism. It has a grey cast body with the red Tenite handle and knob reminescent of “Buck Rogers” era tools.
The tool relates to US Patent #2,839,817, introduced as an “abrading tool holder” (June 24, 1958), and design patent #182,187.
The rotating handle allows the tool to work as a plane, or morph into a file.
Here is an ad from the 1950s:
The tools downside? The blade, made by the Tresa File Company (UK). Millers Falls claimed the blade was “…specially hardened, English steel with cutting teeth on both sides. Cuts everything from soft wood to tough steel. Non-clogging . . . chips pass freely through openings between teeth.” It is doubtful the blade could cut through steel. A comparison of the MF1220 blade with a Stanley Surform #196 is shown below. The MF1220 blade is comprised of angles rows with two slots each. The Surform has more of a grater-like consistency, also in a diagonal arrangement.
But how well does the 1220 work? Well to be honest it doesn’t. I tried using both the MF1220 and the Surform to shape a piece of hard maple. The results are shown below. The MF1220 produced no discernible shavings (left photo). None. The Surform on the other hand (middle), shaved the maple nicely, producing a smooth surface. This is likely due to the fact that the Surform produces more of a shearing action, that prevents splintering and leaves a smooth surface. I have included one image of the piece of maple showing the Surform shaving action (right). The MF1220 may have performed better with one of the Tungsten carbide blades, but replacement blades are no longer available.
This tool has aesthetic beauty, and is an example of design rather than a functional piece. In fact the idea of combining a file/plane in one tool was used by Stanley in the form of the Surform 285, which used a handle that pivoted from one position to another (below).
More on Surform’s some time in the future.