If you could envision a block plane used by superheroes, it would likely have been one of the “unbreakable” planes, produced by Stanley, Sargent, Millers Falls, and lesser known companies such as Hobbies. They were advertised as “unbreakable” because they were made of pressed steel. I have a number of these in my collection, they may not be the most accurate block plane, but they are interesting from a design perspective. Here is the line-up (from left to right): Hobbies 1A, 8, 6; Stanley 118, Millers Falls 206, Sargent 5206, and Sargent 2204.
Sargent advertised their “All-Steel” block planes as being light, unbreakable and indestructible. They were designed to be used by carpenters and pattern-makers and were built tough. Their specific audience may have been more students in manual-training classes, where precision was less important than survivability of the plane itself. Newer block planes are often made from ductile cast iron which is more flexible than traditional metals used in planes. Older block planes were often made from gray iron, which due to its structure was quite brittle, and had a tendency to shatter when dropped. “All-steel” planes were an alternative in environments where there was a higher incidence of plane dropping. Here is a Sargent ad, circa 1917.
Steel block planes typically have a body that is made of pressed steel – the body is cut from a sheet of steel, relevant holes are punched out with a punch -press (e.g. “Hand-y”), and then pressure is applied in a stamping-press, forming the two walls of the plane, and creating rounded edges from the sole to the plane walls (Fig.1). The component of the plane base which supports the blade/lever-cap assembly is also made of pressed steel and spot-welded to the base (Fig. 3,4). The lever cap can also be formed using a punch-press and a stamping-press (Fig.2).
In some planes such as those from Sargent, the design of the pressed steel plane is much more elaborate. In the Sargent No.2204, the blade support incorporates two threads for the depth adjustment mechanism (Fig.5), and the palm rest is also constructed of pressed steel (Fig.6), and both are riveted to the body. In the Sargent 5206, a similar system endures for the depth adjustment screw (Fig.7). Finally the lever cap for the Sargent 5206 is also made of punched-stamped steel (Fig.8).
The resulting planes are light and tough. The hey-day of these planes lasted some 60 years, with Stanley still offering the No.118 in the early 1970’s. However the concept of pressed steel planes never made it past block planes – i.e. there don’t appear to be many smoothers built like this. The next blog post looks at the characteristics of each individual block-plane.
P.S. Thanks Edward – completely missed the Stanley 4S – one of the few examples of a pressed smoothing plane.