Stanley review

I am a traditionalist. I believe (as Neil Diamond’s father told him in the Jazz Singer) certain things never change. I also think that hand plane design reached it’s apex during the nineteenth century and what followed were mere refinements of the former.

Then came the low angle, bevel-up hand planes claiming superior performance and woodworkers worldwide started to add them to their collections.

But, my woodworking friends, in the end nothing has really changed, because…

The activity of hand planing depends on a captured steel blade with a honed edge skimming across the surface of a plank slicing away wood in it’s path in the form of shavings (hopefully thin fluffy ones). The quality of this planing activity depends on the sharpness of the blade, angle of the bevel, flatness of the sole, how well the blade beds on the frog and a few less important factors. Ever noticed how unsophisticated James Krenov’s beloved wooden hand planes looked?

Having said all of this, I also aquired a new Stanley Sweetheart block plane and a shoulder plane and tested the Jack plane and the low angle smoother. I also undertook to write a review of these both for the benefit of my students and as a matter of interest to the Stanley people here in Johannesburg.

Stanley SW 9½ block plane

Stanley - 1986 and 2011

Out of the box the block plane did well but honing the 3mm thick A2 blade improved the performance. I immediately found the edges of the sole too sharp. Most cabinet makers plane with the blade skewed but when doing this with the 9½ the edge kept biting into the wood. So I dulled the edges a little on 360 water paper on glass and that was sorted out. The plane has substatial weight compared to it’s size and that made it perform well on end grain. The lateral adjustment of the blade was akward. The blade moves not only from side to side but also shifts around inside the mouth opening.

Small grub screws controll the blade movement

This frustrated me somewhat and I drilled, tapped and srewed in a grub srew on either side to stop this sliding around business. Some of the other plane makers have found this necessary and Stanley should have a look at it. One new feature is the locking screw for lateral movement. Nice touch. The depth adjustment was good and my plane needed a little more than one turn to take up the slack.

Thick blade and lateral lock

Overall I liked the solid feel of the plane in hand and the thick blade (almost twice the thickness of the old Stanley!). It does well (compared to other block planes) on the shooting board.

We had a fairly wet summer here on the South African highveld and as things go planes and chisels tend to rust up but I suspect these new Sweetheart planes are more susceptable to rust than say my twenty five year-old Stanley block plane.

In summary, good buy for the price tag.

  1. Henry, my 1st introduction to a hand plane was with your original Stanley block plane which we used extensively on that oriental box project. I immediatedly purchased a new one after that encounter yet was very disappointed with the poor build quality. I returned it a bought the much more expensive Veritas low angle block plane. The Veritas is streets ahead of the Stanley, but it’s not perfect. And when I tried a friend’s Lie Nielsen Block plane, I realised once more how all things are relative. The Veritas is too heavy for a block plane. The steel rusts very quickly, especially the threaded part of the Norris adjuster and I find the plasticky finish of the cap iron to be inappropriate for a plane of this price. A block plane is a tool one uses very often, and it is also a tool that will last your lifetime. For these reasons, I would rather have far less quality planes in my workshop, than a lot of cheaper models.

  2. OK, I get it now, Henry. There is substantially more to planes than: “Man, I like the way that baby hefts!” But seriously, I do. The Veritas is the best by far. And I’m saying that just because I have one. 🙂

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