Sunday, July 26, 2009

Restoring my history, one tool at a time.

Author's Note: This isn't really a series or anything, but it is sort of a follow-up on an article I wrote back in May when I first started working on restoring some of my families' tools. If you'd care to read the other article, it can be found here: "A little bit of old, in a little bit of New."

This weekend provided me with a chance to do some more restorations I've been wanting to do for quite awhile now. Amy had to go on a call, leaving me with little to do except piddle around in my garage-workshop, so I decided to start working on some of Daddy's and Papa's tools. I started this time with a Stanley Board Plane, specifically a Bailey #4. I'd never seen the Bailey markings or model number on it because it had been covered with years of sweat and sawdust which had combined into this thick protective layer of gunk that had to be removed before I could even see it was possessed of a model number at all. After completing the task of restoring it and sitting down to write about it on my laptop I decided to do some more research to see if I could date the tool to who owned it, assuming it was first either Dad's or Papa's. Time and the rapidity with which Stanley tool company changed its designs in the early years helped me to surprise myself yet again.

History of the #4 Board Plane


This is a #4 Stanley Plane, sometimes called a Bailey-design plane. Sitting on this bench in today's modern world this is merely a rusty old tool, something most people dont' know how to use at all and those who do would likely prefer to use a modern router or bench planer rather than deal with this old throwback to the days of woodworking-gone-by. Before I tell you about this plane though, you need to know its history.

How the Bailey plane became the Stanley plane

Rather than recap this section, I'm going to quote an article from MIT in its entirety. It's relatively short, but interesting if you're into this sort of thing.


Leonard Bailey was a tool designer in the 19th century, who, working on his own and later for Stanley Rule and Level Co. (now Stanley Tools) , designed Bailey, Victor, and Defiant bench planes, or tools used to smooth the surface of wood. His designs became models for most planes made after mid-1800s.

Bailey started out as a cabinetmaker before becoming a toolmaker in Boston, where he produced innovative bench and block planes, scrapers, and spokeshaves during the 1850s. Bailey's first patent, in 1855, describes a scraper plane with an adjustable cutter. The blade was mounted on a plate that pivoted near the sole of the tool. As the angle changed, the depth of cut changed.

Soon after, Bailey adapted the principle to metal bench planes. He mounted the cutter on a pivoting casting installed between the sides of the metal body. Angling the blade forward simultaneously increased the depth of cut and the mouth opening. Shifting it backward decreased the opening and depth of cut for fine work. Bailey also patented the lever cap that held the blade in place.

Bailey's 1867 patent shows the plane design we are most familiar with today. The plane's cutter moves along a 45 degree bed by means of a forked lever that's activated by a knob. This mechanism was used on both wooden and cast-iron planes. Bailey is also credited with the adjustable frog - the bed on which the cutter rests - and the cap iron, a thin piece of metal with a curved edge that's fastened to the cutter to keep it stiff.

Until May, 1869, Bailey ran his own factory - Bailey, Chaney & Co., which he sold to Stanley Rule and Level Co., giving them the right to manufacture tools under his patents. However, in 1875, after inventor Justus Traut patented the No.110 block plane Stanley had in production for several months, Bailey terminated his contract with Stanley, claiming that sales of the plane cut into his royalties.

Shortly thereafter, he developed the 'Victor' plane line to compete with the Stanley/Bailey planes still in production by Stanley. He fought several unsuccessful patent infringement fights with Stanley and lost a significant battle in 1878 when the Stanley company won a decision against Bailey and the Victor line of planes. The decision resulted in Bailey's sale of the Victor business to the Bailey Wringing Machine Co. of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He moved there to produce Victor and Defiance planes and tools.

However, in 1880, Stanley took over as the sole agent for Bailey's Victor planes. After a series of patent-infringement suits and charges of industrial espionage, Stanley bought the entire Victor production facility in 1884 and then discontinued the line. (In 1936, Stanley resurrected the Victor name for a few years and applied it to a series of inexpensive homeowner-grade tools.) Bailey, meanwhile, stopped inventing nearly altogether and became a manufacturer of copy presses. Though his ideas are often taken credit for by the Stanley Co., his genius as an innovator is indiminishable.


So now you know why some of the oldest hand planes still left around today are referred to as Bailey planes and why his stamp appears on the front of the sole of the plane.

Timeless craftsmanship in the Bailey line

a Modern Stanley Bench Plane

A little bit of time spent on Google will reveal the Stanley bench plane in the Bailey model is still sold today. Shown here is a modern #4, available for $75.00.

If you look hard you can see "Stanley" embossed on the lever cap, outlined in red paint. This is one of the defining characteristics that helps date the model I have. This embossing wasn't added to Stanley planes until 1925, meaning the one my Dad left me, sans-embossing, predates the 1925 models.

Some further research revealed a few other characteristics that narrowed down the model more precisely. The knob located on the front of the shoe (or bottom) of the plane varies with the year. The basic shape of the shoe planes mine as a Type 11 or Type 12 model. The Type 11 was manufactured from 1910-1918 and possesses a low knob. The Type 12 possesses a high knob and was manufactured between 1918 to 1924.

My #4 has a low, knob, so I was pretty sure it was a Model 11, but the last identifier seals the deal. The brass blade adjustment ring, located in the rear of the plane in front of the handle further classifies the plane. The brass nut on on the model 11 is smaller than 1 1/4 inches and the model 12 is larger. Mine is smaller, so I'm two for two on defining characteristics. This is most definitely a Stanley #4 Bailey-Model bench plane, manufactured between 1910-1918.

Form and Function

Brass adjustment nut

There have been hundreds of various types of planes developed over the years. Back in the late 1800's models were manufactured specifically for certain kinds of window-sashes and casements that were in widespread use amongst carpenters. Some of the general classifications of planes include Bench, Smooth, Jack, Fore, Jointer, Jenny, Rabbet, Side Rabbet, Dado, Plow, Tonguing, Chuteboard, Routing, Circular, Chamfer, and others.

The one I'm working with this weekend is a corrugated bench plane, mainly designed for smoothing just prior to sanding, but also suitable for scraping or finishing work.

Passed down again, and again

I'm forced to do a little more Jordan math to determine who this plane originally belonged to, and in doing so I was amazed yet again. Though I know the tool is old I was thinking more along the lines of 50 years or so. Instead this plane is somewhere between 91 to 99 years old this year. I'm assuming a few things when I date this. First, papa wasn't even born yet when this tool was popular and in heavy circulation, so I'm assuming it was passed down from his dad to him. Second, my great-grandfather Jordan was born in 1881 and died in 1946 at 65 years old. He would have been 29 years old when this tool was put on the market, making it supremely likely that this was his tool originally. He would have been old enough to be working on his own and would have needed a plane, or most likely a multitude of them, to do his job. Third, we Jordan men seem to have a knack for buying the best tools for the job, though not necessarily new ones, preferring to rely on solid experience and rugged dependability and suitability over flash and shine. I'm guessing, if my great grandfather was anything like Papa or Dad he would have waited a few years and then bought one of the older models rather than a newer one. I've never been sure why but it's just how all my forefathers seemed to be. So, I'm going to go with the oldest date possible and say this is a 99 year old Stanley plane belonging to my great-grandfather. This makes me the 4th Jordan man to possess and use this tool in almost a century.

It's really kind of awesome to hold it in my hand and feel the nicks and burrs in the wood, to see the splash of green paint and wonder which one of my forefathers left it there. Truly I suspect this was in the shop when Papa and Dad were painting the old green garage we had when I was young, though this would have likely been splashed on it when the first coat of paint was applied, sometime in the 1970s. It's easy to see Papa accidentally splashing a few dots of green paint on it while it sat on the tailgate of his Chevy truck mixing up paint for the garage. (I only assume the green garage because of the unique color of that building. It was truly a horrendous color to trim the building, but that made it also a memorable one, and I'm pretty sure the paint I cleaned from the grips was the same shade.)

Preparing for a new life


Part of me wanted to keep it just like it is and use it on my own woodworking projects, not wanting to remove the memories of its history by sanding them away. Another part of me feels more like cleaning and restoring it is similar to taking the slip cover off Grand-daddy's vintage ford and changing the oil and waxing the paint job before putting her into service again in the hands of a new driver. With this thought I mind began to strip it down and get it ready for cleaning.


The lever cap and plane iron are in rough shape.


The rust is dominant even under the lever cap, all the way down the iron and on the shoe as well.


Looking under the iron reveals old insect nests housed inside the frog.


The frog itself is pretty much rusted over 90% of it's surface, but all the parts still work smoothly.


All the parts diaplayed (minus the screws and fittings). From left to right, (if you care) are the Plane Iron Cap, the Single Plane Iron (the blade removed from the cap), the shoe (or body), the fore and rear rosewood handles, the Lever Cap, and the Frog.

I won't bore you with the details of how the refinishing was done. Basically the parts were placed in a bench vise and attacked vigorously with a variety of wire wheels on a high-speed drill. Mostly all I needed was a 3" fine wheel and a deep bore coarse brush for getting into the cracks and crevasses. Like with the other tools I have started restoring, all the raw iron and steel parts get coated with a generous application of farm tractor paint. Its resilient enough to rebuff minor scratches and keeps the raw materials from being exposed to air where it will just oxidize again quickly if the tools aren't used daily.

Ready for the 4th Generation of Use


The shoe is ready to once again harness its fittings and be put back into daily use.


A fully restored bench plane, ready to go back to work.


This photo shows the beautifully crafted rosewood handle and the polished brass adjustment nut.

Well, that's one more tool down, and a lot more to go. Will write again soon,


1 comment:

  1. Like all the Jordan men, you do beautiful work. Awesome story. I remember trying to pick that thing up when I was little and deciding that I didn't want to drop it on my foot, so I left it where it was. :-)


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