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!