Millers Falls were a late player in the game of making planes, coming into the market in 1928-29. In order to stand apart from other manufacturers, a newcomer often has to improve upon the engineering of a tool, or change the aesthetic appeal. Millers Falls made headway in the design of a jointed-lever cap, with force applied to the cutter at three points rather than the standard two, to reduce blade chatter. Millers Falls also had nickel-plated lever caps and red frogs. However in 1950 they debuted the “Buck Rogers” line of tools, of which the Model 709 and 714 bench planes are the best known. The planes were designed by Robert W. Huxtable, the brother of noted industrial designer L. Garth Huxtable and a draftsman for the Millers Falls Company. Millers Falls dubbed them “The Finest Planes in the World”, but it was likely collectors who gave them the moniker “Buck Rogers”, as their futuristic look mimicked that of the sleek atomic disintegrators used on the TV show “Buck Rogers” (Hubley atomic disintegrator below), and the streamlined space-era of the 1950s.
The No. 709 plane, pictured at the top of the circular, is a smoothing plane. The No. 714 at the bottom is a jack plane. The 709 is 9″ in length with a 2″ blade, the 714 is 14″ in length with a similar 2″ blade. The 709 weighs in at a hefty 3 7/8 lbs.
The plane is described, albeit briefly, in a design patent granted on July 18, 1950 (Patent No. D159,339). The patent was for a “new, original, and ornamental design for a plane”. The design was influenced by an earlier design patent (D137,230: Feb.8, 1944), submitted by Samuel Oxhandler from the Sargent Company, however never put into production. The planes make use of a number of innovative Millers Falls features ,including the double jointed lever cap (Patent No. 1,822,520). The designs have a certain aerodynamic flair about them, not dissimilar to concept cars envisioned in the 1950s. Figures from the patents are below, the No.709 on the left, the design of the Sargent plane on the right.
There are distinct similarities between the designs, however the lines of the Oxhandler design are much more streamlined. Here are some pictures of my 709. It is likely a Type 1, with the only discernible difference being that in the Type 2, the top surface of the body surrounding the knob is recessed and painted grey, and the horn of the tote is more angled. Here the surface surrounding the knob is flush with the edges of the plane.
There is no doubt that aesthetically these are beautiful planes. Unfortunately, by 1960 the planes had run their course, maybe partially due to their inability to perform fine work. Although by the 1960s, the production of hand tools in general started to decline. Below is the MF Catalog 49 entry for the planes.
Huxtable also worked on a block plane to complement the 709 and 714, but this plane never went into production. An excellent source on all things Millers Falls can be found at oldtoolheaven. More on the design and use of the 709 sometime in the future.