I have a late-model Stanley #60 ½ low-angle block plane, a hand-me-down from my dad. It’s tuned perfectly and I like it, but there are times when it feels a bit small in my hands. So I’ve had my eye out for a Stanley knuckle block plane. You know, the ones with the cool rounded top gleaming from a nickel coating? The #18 Stanley block plane also seats the iron at a standard angle, and I wanted one to complement my low-angle model.
So when a #18 caught me eye recently at a garage sale Sweetheart model no less—I zeroed in on it like my black lab going after a liver treat.
Blinded by shiny objects
Alas, my plane lust blinded me to a few imperfections as you can see in the picture below.
When I first picked up the plane, I didn’t notice that it was missing the mouth adjuster mechanism. Later I realized that the missing piece is needed to fully tighten the thumb-screw that secures the adjustable mouth plate. Initially, I used a small washer to fix the problem. But the desire for a complete plane motivated me to buy eccentric lever on eBay. Jeez. Add shipping and the cost was $8.30. Perhaps the $2.00 one advertised on Stanley’s Website would have worked just as well. Nevertheless, I chalk this up as a lesson to the trials and expense of picking up parts for planes that are 70+ years old.
Another thing I noticed was that the mouth was “stuck”. It wouldn’t move, even after removing the thumb screw that holds it in place. After the owner freed the mouth, I noticed some factory finish (looked like drips of tar) in the adjustable mouth-plate housing. I took this to mean that the plane had hardly been used. Or it had never been tuned.
Then there were the chips at the back of the mouth. Ouch! Frankly, I don’t think these were there when I first picked it up. I believe that I would have noticed something like that because it can affect the performance of the plane if the iron doesn’t fully seat.
My best guess is that the owner created the smaller chip when he used a screwdriver to free the adjustable mouth plate. And then I—gasp—must have caused the bigger chip in my haste to take off the mouth plate after I got home.
Three days later I discovered yet another missing part. The lateral adjustment lever didn’t have a “wheel”. More on that in a minute.
Turning it into a User
I spent about an hour tuning the plane beginning with the mouth plate and housing. This involved cleaning all the metal surfaces with a Dremel wire brush which made quick work of the tar. The fit was still too tight so I lapped the mouth plate sides on 400 grit paper until it moved smoothly forward and backwards.
After that I lapped the sole, removed rust, polished surfaces and oiled moving parts.
The iron needed some tlc. That consisted of sanding the rust off both sides, polishing the back edge and establishing a new base bevel of 25 degrees. Interestingly, the original owner had ground a small radius onto the iron, which showed clearly as I was beveling it. To finish off the edge, I put a secondary 30 degree bevel on it.
After taking some shavings, I detected a bit of a track mark suspiciously in the same area as the chip in the center of the mouth. After fixing my puppy-dog sad eyes on the chipped sole for about the 50th time, I remembered an article by Christopher Schwarz. Sometimes, plane mouth chips can cause tracks and he would lightly file the mouth of planes to tune that nasty habit out of them. The deepest chip measured about 1/16th of an inch and I decided to file it out.
There. I feel better now. On to the lateral adjustment “wheel”.
The lateral adjustment “wheel” on my #5 measures 7/16” in diameter. I found a washer 3/8” in diameter to serve as the wheel. Then I selected a nail that would fit snuggly in the washer hole. This I fed through the lateral adjustment lever hole from the bottom and marked where it would be 1/8” proud of the other side. I cut the nail to length using my Dremel metal cutting disk. Then, I hammered the top of the nail to mushroom it, thereby affixing the new wheel/washer to the adjustment lever.
Surprisingly, the fix works quite well.
How does it feel?
I like the iron depth adjustment mechanism a lot. A bit of oil has it turning smoothly and it has very little backlash. With the eccentric lever installed, the mouth adjusts very smoothly. And even after filing the back of the throat, I still have enough play to adjust for shavings, thick and thin alike.
So how does this plane compare to my Stanley 60 ½?
My new Sweetheart feels GOOD in my hand. The domed lever cap comfortably fills my palm while my fingers fit naturally into the side thumb recesses.
But does it take nice shavings?
I easily took wispy-thin shavings from a douglas-fir 2×4 and thicker shavings came off without any chatter. And for you stickler’s out there, this standard-angle block plane takes a nice end-grain shaving as well.
What do I have?
Whenever I bring home a new beauty, I try to learn a bit about her history.
Patrick's Blood and Gore Stanley plane site leads me to believe that this is a Stanley Bailey #18 block plane. But not just any #18.
The plane carries two trademarks.
Though it’s not polite to talk about a lady’s age, the Sweetheart logo on the lever cap dates my sweetie to 1920-1935.
The second logo, on the plane iron…well it’s just bizarre if taken at face value. According to one Website, the trademark dates to 1874-1884. Now that can’t be right. The steel in the iron looks 20th century for sure. And I find it highly unlikely that a 19th century iron would find its way onto a 20th century plane.
Ever the coy lady there’s still one more mystery. My Sweetheart sports a #20 on her side. Any of you have any ideas what that’s about? Could it have been a shop’s serial number?
Better than dinner and a movie (except with my Lady)
For $10 plus $8.30 for parts, my Sweetheart #18 showed me a great time. She’s already given me many more hours of enjoyment (finding, fixing, tuning, researching, and using her) than the 2-hour films I’ve been bored by with friends this year while munching genuine-imitation-buttered popcorn.
Of course my flesh and blood girlfriend wasn’t as pleased with how I spent my Friday night. But that’s another post…
-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."