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.