There has been a little bit of discussion on the forums about infill planes. I decided to take a little bit of time this afternoon to shoot a few pics and write this up so that you can see the planes side by side.
I only have 2 infills, I’m not a collector or extremely knowledgeable about them. But I do know some specifics about the design and choices behind them so feel free to ask.
I have 2 planes to use in a comparison. A smoother and a panel plane. I put them side by side by the closest Stanley plane that I have in my shop to show similarities and small differences.
I set this up as a series in case I find a way to extend it with more comparisons. I know the title says VS, but I’m not really out to convince anyone which ones better in this. Just more of a general informational post about 2 different styles of plane making that where popular at the same time.
First up is the Norris 13 Panel plane and Stanley 5 1/2:
The Norris is a dovetailed No 13 and the Stanley is an early (pre 1930’s widening) Bedrock
Both of these planes were made in the same general time frame. Norris was the largest infill maker in England and Stanley was the largest plane maker in the US and was selling in England at the time. These 2 planes fought head to head for the woodworker dollar.
You can see the Norris is a hair shorter than the 5 1/2. The Bedrock has the Stanley sold cast aluminum tote on it in case you where wondering.
Hard to see in the photo, but the chip breakers on the infills where shorter than the stanleys and beveled, thicker in the center than the edges. Norris sold 2 versions of most of their planes with the A prefixed to the number for the 2nd type, which had an adjuster on it.
On their sides you see the Norris is a hair wider than the Bedrock. Later 5 1/2’s are 1/8” wider which would make them equal.
Here you can make out the construction details of the Norris. I called it dovetailed because the sides and sole are seperate pieces held together by double dovetails that get peened together. The dovetail is the line you can barely make out. You can also see a rivet pin which gets sanded flush with the side after construction. This holds the infill in place.
The infill for this plane is Brazilian Rosewood.
The Norris weighs in at 8.6 lbs on my scale, while the Bedrock weighs in at 5.5 (a coincidence?). This is one of the major benefits to an infill. Weight holds the plane down to the wood reducing chatter as well as giving the plane more inertia for working through grain changes. A long swipe with an infill takes less effort than with the Stanley all else being equal (blade sharpness, waxed, etc)
Next up is the smoother comparison. I own a Slater and I’m comparing it to A Stanley No 4 (I don’t own a 4 1/2 which might be a better comparison).
The Slater is kind of the Chevy of infill planes. Norris might be considered the Cadillac. Slater made good dependable tools but they don’t look very fancy. The gate from the casting can still be seen on the rear of the plane.
The Slater is made from a 1 piece cast body with a Honduras Rosewood infill. The Honduras Rosewood is an oddity and wasn’t used by many makers. Easier to work and more dense than the Brazilian Rosewood no one seems to have any idea why it wasn’t found more often.
The Slater is much older than the Stanley and even the Norris. Late-ish 19th century (pre-1880 from what I can tell, probably sometime in the early 1870’s) It still uses screws to retain the infill in place. 2 screws on both sides of the rear portion and 1 straight down the middle of the bun.
The iron is a bit thicker than the standard 3/16” thick iron that most infills use,without pulling out my calipers its hard to say the exact thickness it is probably an additional 1/32” thicker maybe a bit more. This brings up another point about why infills are typically seen to perform better than Stanleys. The stock blades where always 3/16” thick or thicker by defaults. This makes them more like the modern Hock or Lie-Nielsen blades sold as replacements to use on Stanley planes.
You can see from this width comparison why a 4 1/2 would be closer in terms of size. This is a fairly standard infill smoother width. There are narrower ones but standard width is 2 1/4” blades typically. You can find some with 2 1/2 but they are rare.
This Smoother weighs in at 6 lbs while the Stanley is 3.75 lbs. A 4 1/2 weighs about 4.75 lbs so there is still a fair weight difference between the Slater and a 4 1/2
This last shot shows the bedding angle difference. While I don’t think there was a set standard for infills both of mine are bedded at 50 degrees which is more geared towards hardwood work. Stanley bedded theirs at 45 to meet a middle ground for hard and soft wood. This makes them more well rounded at the expense of not working quite as well in figured hardwoods.
In a head to head battle a finely tuned Bedrock is very versatile and works quite well. Again I’m not here to bash the Stanley planes, as you can see I own a number of them. However I am very happy to own the infills and the benefits that they bring to the party show why Stanley had such a hard time penetrating the English market.