Book review: Leonard Bailey and his Woodworking Planes

This is review of a book, Leonard Bailey and his Woodworking Planes: An Unrecognized Genius of the American Industrial Revolution, by Paul Van Pernis, and John G. Wells (2019).

I bought this book on a whim. It looked intriguing, and so it ended up in my Amazon cart. I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a wealth of information on a topic that seems to have been somewhat ignored. Leonard Bailey was truly an unrecognized genius. Although his name is plastered on many a Stanley plane, his patents, and the technology which they represent were pivotal to the evolution of tools, especially metal planes.

The book portrays Bailey’s life through the timeline of his successes and failures. From the beginnings of his inventing in 1852 in Winchester MA, to his years at Stanley Rule & Level Company (1869-1874), and ending in 1884 when he sold his Victor Tool business to Stanley (although he did not stop inventing). It seems to be a work of passion for its authors. Van Pernis is an expert on Bailey, and a tool collector, and Wells had the most comprehensive collection of Patented American Metallic Planes in the US. This means that the book contains a wealth of information about Bailey’s inventions and patents, and photographs of planes which you may not find anywhere else. Below are a couple of sample pages.

The book is part technical, part story. One can skim over the more technical details related to patents and the like, and get a sense of Bailey’s life, the decisions he made, and his struggles with Stanley. Bailey was foremost an inventor, and although he tried to turn his tools into companies many times, he was never really successful. Bailey was a pivotal identity during the American industrial revolution, and some of his core designs are still in use today. It also provides an exceptional insight into some of the details of his tools, like the Victor line of planes. This is one of the few books which provides any sort of insight into Leonard Bailey, showing that he was more than just someone who worked for Stanley.

My only gripe with the book? For US$37 (C$60), I think it likely could have been printed on nicer paper.

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