The Stanley tradition

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by NoLongerHere posted 02-02-2011 06:21 PM 2064 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Just for fun, a bit of history to start with:

“According to Stanley, “A Block Plane was first made to meet the demand for a Plane which could be easily held in one hand while planing across the grain, particularly the ends of boards, etc. This latter work many Carpenters call ‘Blocking in’, hence the name ‘Block’ Plane.” Tradition also claims that the block plane gets its name from its traditional use to level and remove cleaver marks from butchers’ blocks that were built with the end grain facing up.”

The Stanley 9 1/2 and 60 1/2 low angle plane have been one of my favorite tools since I can remember.

My boss gave me my first Stanley block plane when I was 16 yrs. old.

I had a special pouch for it on my nail apron belt, two sharp spare blades in my tool box and I made a sandpaper jig with an angle brace to sharpen them. I protected it from moisture in a velvet draw string pouch.

I remember noticing the very best work was done by the guys with the best “shiny sharp” tools. Back then, if you pulled out a neglected rusty tool it would be viewed as a sign of your skill level.

I can remember the older carpenters at lunch time, wearing overalls with stick rulers in the side pocket, drinking coffee out of a Stanley thermos cup, showing their leather pouches of chizels and plane blades they just tuned and sharpened the night before.

From the factory, the little plane had a nice shiny smooth flat surface. The bed for the blade was perfectly flat, finished smooth and parallel to the sole. The adjustable mouth plate was machined tight, easy to use and didn’t move once locked in.

The top of the plane fit nicely in your palm. The thumb imprints were smooth like a stress rock and felt good in your hand. The locking nut was brass and comfortable to twist tight.

The brass blade adjustment knob was easy to use and once you adapted for the small amount of slack, you could find the sweet spot in no time. When not in use I could unlock the blade and easily slide it back a notch.

Now I’m a remodeling contractor with a small cabinet shop. I’m always looking for ways to reward the guys with a new tool. Money is good but it’s so impersonal and it doesn’t have the same effect and longevity like a good collection of hand tools. I know they will take care of it and use it for a long time, especially on my projects.

Recently, I stopped at Ace hardware and bought the new Stanley block plane for the new apprentice – the one with the dull, rusty Great Neck toy plane that ruined the scribe on a tall cherry cabinet.

I took it out of the package to check it out and couldn’t get the blade to sit parallel to the surface. I moved the blade adjustment lever all the way to the left and it still wouldn’t cut flat.

The casting on the top palm piece was so rough, the set screw wouldn’t sit all the way in to the slot.

The stamped steel thumb tightening lever was crude and bent to the left. I thought it was odd so I straightened it only to discover it is so weak that it bends easy when tightening it. It used to be made of cast steel.

The flat surfaces were roughly sanded and felt crude and unfinished in my hand. It dragged across the wood edge like rusty steel the first time I used it.

I took it back and traded it for another but, it was just as bad. So, I spent over an hour grinding and sanding it to get it smooth. I ground the blade seat and the thumb slide area with a Dremel tool, re-sharpened the blade and eased all the metal edges.

I know some of you are saying, I should have bought the new Stanley SW for 99.00 but it’s so heavy. Maybe a Woodriver or the Groz, and if he was really deserving, the Lie Nielson rabbet plane, but those tools are expensive and weren’t available back then.

... and this was all about brand loyalty and a tradition handed down to me. This was the American work horse of block planes you bought new from the beginning, at least in my little corner of the world.

Sad to say, I have come to realize that another tradition has come and gone. The Stanley block plane has changed in to a foriegn made, cheap fishing lure for DIYrs that don’t know the difference.

I will have to spend a few hours tuning this brand new plane in frustration from the lack of quality or rely on Ebay to buy decent vintage Stanley block planes from now on.

Hello E Bay!

22 comments so far

View swirt's profile


2106 posts in 2390 days

#1 posted 02-02-2011 06:40 PM

Sorry to hear that a great tradition of passing on Stanley tools has ended.

You can’t really blame where it was made. Good tools can be made anywhere. The blame has to reside in the hands of what I am pretty sure is the largest tool conglomerate in the world. They are setting low requirements for their products and that is what they are creating. It’s not like they don’t have the knowledge of good design or the history or the brand recognition or the product placement. The only thing they have to do to get it right is deliver a well machined tool with quality parts, and they seem to be incapable of doing it in this case.

-- Galootish log blog,

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3067 days

#2 posted 02-02-2011 06:44 PM

The first half of the post was priceless – fantastic tradition and a good reminder of what tools really used to be (purpose and quality). as for the 2nd half – well, I guess thats whats been happening all over the map with tools these days (unfortunately).

I had the stanley block plane. got if from lowes. sure it required some work to make it work, but I thought it was a good plane all together, maybe they’ve gotten worse since I got mine (2 years ago) or maybe you got the lemon of the bunch but other than the sole not being flat, and having to clean up the adjustable mouth I don’t remember it having any issues with bending parts or what not. what a shame.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View canadianchips's profile


2307 posts in 2415 days

#3 posted 02-02-2011 09:45 PM

My first block plane was a 220 stanley. The first job I started reguired owning your own block plane ! I made my special little pouch from deer hide that I stiched together. I used that extra pouch on my tool belt till I semi-retired from carpentry.Block plane on one side and small calculator on the other side.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2358 days

#4 posted 02-02-2011 10:24 PM

Nice post! Not a day goes by without a blockplane in my grubby paw. I have several (old versions). As for the 2nd half of your story, I hear you! Not too long ago, I also decided to give a new Stanley block plane to a deserving youngster. I ordered it from a local tool shop and when I got it, same story! We were working with Purpleheart at the time, the blade was so crap, I couldn’t plane it. The freshly honed edge crumpled up after a few passes! Regrinding, rehoning, same thing!
At least you have the option of LN, Veritas. Not down here….

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2094 days

#5 posted 02-02-2011 10:29 PM

I believe The 220 is basically the same as the 960 without the adjustable mouth plate.

I’m not sure if it was the same number back then but it is the same plane,
It’s was a solid, American made workhorse of a tool.

That’s cool about your hand made pouch. I made mine too. All those years doing crafts as a boy scout paid off.

Listen, Don’t get me wrong. After spending an hour resurfacing and grinding on it, I like it. It’s still a nice tool.

I figure it’s probably worth it in the end. At least I know he can’t blame it on the tool again.

There’s no tool like an old tool.

View Bertha's profile


12989 posts in 2111 days

#6 posted 02-02-2011 11:02 PM

I’ve actually got an English 220 that’s taken a tune fairly well. It’s vastly superior to the more modern varieties.

I really enjoyed this musing on the Stanley block. I can relate to the stress-relieving properties of the little wall reliefs. together with a nice low-angle, they’re a staple in my small shop. I’d like to get my hands on the skewed variety but I’ve been hesitant to part with the $$.

A fellow lover of vintage Stanleys, Al.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 2533 days

#7 posted 02-03-2011 12:42 AM

a great block….Thank´s

take care

View Ryan Bruzan's profile

Ryan Bruzan

148 posts in 2313 days

#8 posted 02-03-2011 07:32 AM

You sure have a way of putting a historic story together. Great post! “What do you expect for $54?” LOL

-- No matter how many factors go into thinking about a project, there is always one important new discovery to be made.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2094 days

#9 posted 02-03-2011 03:18 PM

Thanks HardWood,

This was my first blog or short story. I wasn’t sure if I should include the second part of this.

Nobody likes a whiner.
It would have been nice to brag about the plane and leave it at that.

Hopefully common sense will prevail with the new owners of Stanley.
Surely there is at least one true woodworker in their little circle of white collar decision makers that will stand up and say:

“Hey guys, were losing our best repeat customers. Bring the old design back. We’ll call it the anniversary issue!
(and charge 2 bucks more)
Stop listening to the accountants telling you to save money by getting rid of the brass knobs for chrome and replacing the blade tightener with stamped steel. Don’t listen when they say it doesn’t matter about the quality of the steel used for the blade and how it sits.
While your at it, teach them woodworking so they learn about pride.

Re train (don’t fire) the inspectors that OK the castings so the blade, at the very least sits flat and the set screw fits all the way in.
Stop using 50 grit sandpaper to finish the surface and polish the body.”

One can only hope.

View Ryan Bruzan's profile

Ryan Bruzan

148 posts in 2313 days

#10 posted 02-04-2011 12:12 AM

Have you (or anyone else) used the Stanley 45 or know much about it? I did some research, watched a few videos and was looking at a few on eBay and would love to get my hands on one. Is there somewhere better to be looking for a complete kit?

-- No matter how many factors go into thinking about a project, there is always one important new discovery to be made.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2094 days

#11 posted 02-04-2011 01:52 AM

EBay has quite a few. I’ve been looking for one myself and spent some time trying to figure out a fair price, how many pcs, is the box and manual included?

You can buy one on Ebay that needs cleaning up for 40-75.00 but it won’t have the box or paperwork and I doubt it will have all the knives. shipping ls about 12.00.
If you want the whole enchilada, it looks like the kit is around 175 to 350.00.

I’m still trying to decide how much of a purist tool collector I need to be in this case. All of my 56 antique planes are on display throughout my house, in my shop, and in my office. I can’t imagine displaying a crusty box or brochures.

It’s a question of whether I’m looking to add a nice plane to my display or leave it in the box and put it away, hoping it will gain in value.

I do consider it an investment…....for a surviving relative.

Then you get into whether it’s better to leave it original, clean it, or buy one that looks fairly new.

Well, unless someone has a better idea, I probably will set my budget to around 120.00 and hopefully get all the pieces. I can always get a box and manuals later.

I don’t like rusty tools but I don’t necessarily want to refinish it myself. The handles must be in good shape with no cracks. The nickel finish should be 90% untarnished. Like a well taken care of used plane should be.

Does that help any? Good luck, I hope you find a good one.

View Ryan Bruzan's profile

Ryan Bruzan

148 posts in 2313 days

#12 posted 02-04-2011 06:14 AM

Sure does help, thank you. I want one that I can use. I like the idea of display, too. Appearance and well-kept are important as well. I did see some of those you referred to on eBay. $350 is beyond my price range and that $120 entices me as well. I don’t mind signs of use, but broken and rusty are not in my favor either. I think I might go wander around some flea markets and antique shops. Bound to find one somewhere now that I know what I am looking for.

The fact that the pieces to be created are truly hand made is what I like the best. I was in an old house that was built in the late 1800’s the other day doing a site assessment for a small bookcase project. I could hear the spirits of the trim carpenters (long gone by now) while I was creating my digital renderings, “Handmade, handmade.” I do not wish to jeopardize the integrity of the home by applying moldings created by CNC or other modern machinery. Besides, pressing button wouldn’t be much of a challenge (no offense to CNC and machine users). I also know that those 10” historic baseboards are not just nailed to the wall, either, nor can they be purchased at the local lumber yard. Removing the small sections for reapplication will be a project in itself.

-- No matter how many factors go into thinking about a project, there is always one important new discovery to be made.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2094 days

#13 posted 02-04-2011 03:26 PM

Good luck finding this at a flea market or garage sale. 99.999% guarantee you won’t find this one.

I’ve been going to Flea markets and garage sales for 40 years and I came across one once up in Minnesota about 15 yrs ago.
The guy pulled it out of the box in front of me and I about had a heart attack. The guy only wanted 35.00!

As I was pulling out my cash someone came up to the guy and whispered in his ear and next thing you know he says he forgot, it’s already sold. AGGGGHHHHH!

I haven’t seen one since then.

Rare antique tools are going up in price big time. So buy the rarest, best tools when you can find them.

View toolchap's profile


150 posts in 2338 days

#14 posted 02-06-2011 08:59 PM

I cannot voice strongly enough the disgust I feel with the direction of toolmakers in general over the last few years. I work extensively with many of Stanley’s fine old tools and years ago came to the conclusion that the path we were heading down was going to challenge me to not complain, but then make my own improved and better versions of what I needed and what was available within the reach of the general craftsman.

What disturbs me the most is the plethora of young craftsmen in our country who go look at what is available and at what price, assume that to be the standard and then attempt to work with it. This has to lead to frustration and a reflection of this emotion in their work…(This for the few who still consider a hand-tool something without a power cable that removes wood to the satisfaction of both the craftsman and the client)

Let me pose this: We are not happy with this state of affairs. What do we do to change it? Or do we accept it as an ever-slipping world moving away from that pride and pleasure taken in something well done?

I have no answers but to share quietly with those who understand. I truly wish someone wiser or better than I could magically change this. I am sure I am not alone in being idealistic about our craft and what integral part of our lives it represents…...

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2416 days

#15 posted 02-07-2011 01:29 AM


I think of it the other way. For a short time, the craftsman enjoyed the benefit of the mass market tools being the same ones that they used but in reality, the tool doesn’t do the work. It doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated tools to make beautiful things. The converse is true as well: going out and buying the best of tools doesn’t magically transform people into craftsmen any more than if I went and bought an expensive musical instrument it would transform me into a musician.

All it takes is the desire to make something and the patience to finish it. The rest all works out. If a tool is not made any more, we make it ourself. If enough people want something, the market will eventually respond.

A little historical tale of well made back saws:

There were no quality backsaws similar to what used to be made until Patrick Leach made and marketed the Independence Tool saw. Several others such as Eddie Sirotich who made his Adria Saw joined in as well to fill the void. (This is pretty much from memory so I might have some of the details a bit off) Eventually, the production demands overwhelmed and Tom Lie-Nielson took over the IT saw and expanded the line. Several others got into the market and now it is easy to find a high quality handsaw.

The story is pretty much the same with planes, chisels and many other tools. There are even some new ones that are wonderful. Some day when I win the lottery, I will buy everything that John Economaki sells over at Bridge City Toolworks. They are not just tools, they are art. The sad thing is that the prices he charges are actually pretty cheap. They just reflect the true cost of making things without the benefit of the economy of scale of making things in bulk with third world labor at slave wages. Maybe some day when he gets his island, he will invite me over for the weekend.

The fact that Stanley, Record, Disston, Marples, and many other old names could not keep up production of quality tools at a mass market price does not mean that they are not still available. The only thing that made them affordable was that they were at the time the same tools that mass production used. The mass production tools have moved away from hand work and now we either get the quality tools from where they are still available or we make our own.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

showing 1 through 15 of 22 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics