Another plane that doesn’t smell as sweet

It could possibly have been a bad apple, but another plane I considered for a review turned out to be substandard. For some time I have heard about the new Sweetheart line coming in from the Stanley stable. I got excited when in a magazine the press release stated that Stanley of Sheffield had brought out a new line of high-end planes under the Stanley Tools sweetheart banner so I called Stanley in Sheffield, UK who said they would email me a time and date to visit the plant in Sheffield to see where and how the planes were made. A few days later I received an email saying, “I am afraid the planes are not made in the UK, they are actually manufactured and assembled in Mexico so I am unable to help you.”

Now this begs the question many people have to ask themselves: Just where are most of the so-called British tools actually made these days? Well, it’s a mixed bag and it’s hard to actually get to the truth because of surreptitious marketing strategies used by some UK companies who have no problem waving the Union Jack and hiding the country of origin from the end user. Remember that all the old names of Marples, Record, Preston and many, many more have been bought out year after year. As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected, American Tool once bought out Record and Praxair bought out American Tool and then along comes Rubbermaid who now, unless things have changed bought out Irwin and the Record  name. So this British birthed company has very little connection to its former roots and is owned by a plastics giant. Many of the products flying the Sheffield address have little to do with British manufacture.

I picked up the Stanley plane above at the Harrogate Woodworking Show last autumn. I was really surprised at the poor quality and the ill fitting components not the least of which was the oversized clunky handle. It was something of a Norris style knock-off, but without any fine attention to detail at all. I am so sorry not to be able to recommend this plane but don’t be fooled; unless something has changed, this plane is manufactured and assembled in Mexico to be sold to the massive US market. WHy they didn’t make the much needed change in their Sheffield plant and reenter the market with a quality plane I do not know. As Sheffield shuns it’s historic past to embrace its new and modern look we must ensure that we know who, why and what we are dealing with.

9 thoughts on “Another plane that doesn’t smell as sweet”

  1. David Sowell

    I was reading an article by Chris Schwartz where his first impression was the same as yours. He has since revisited the sweetheart line of Planes and through his self professed input, they corrected some if not most of the issues.
    Mr. Sellars I highly regard your opinion in so many areas, could it be possible for you to take another look at these planes? I am looking to buy a No. 62 and a No. 4.
    Thank you for all the wonderful information you always so freely give and for making me a more informed woodworker.
    David Sowell

    1. Paul Sellers

      Not at this stage. The only way to really test tools is in the long term use of them. I often despair of magazine tool reviews because they are not truly bench tested in the reality of life. Whatever I write about initially is how I first find the tools when I pick them up. Evident flaws or qualities can be transmitted there and then, but then I test them for long term functionality, which will only have real value when tested and proven over many months of use. Of course the extended period of say a decade or two will be the ultimate test I suppose and that’s why the older tools shine so well because they have indeed stood the test of time. I am certainly not a general advocate of bevel up planes for general plane work and I don’t really like Norris-style adjusters either. That said, I am not saying they don’t have a place at some limited level, and I do indeed use them once or twice a week or so, but they will never replace what the bevel-down Stanleys gave to us and of course all other makers of similar planes in both wood and metal, as bevel downs.

      1. David Sowell

        Thank you for your words of wisdom on the subject. Other than older tools that have stood the test of time, I do not recall you ever endorsing a particular brand, but definitely the No. 4 Plane as one that can serve many purposes.
        Do you have a particular brand that you favor over others? If so can you share which one without getting into the legality of publicly endorsing a certain brand? 🙂

        David Sowell

        1. Well, I do prefer well used Stanley and Record models but my absolute favourite is the Woden #4. They stopped making them but the come up on eBay regularly enough here in the UK. Nothing wrong with pretty 70s Stanley’s though.

  2. Alexander Simonov

    It seems that either the build quality has somewhat improved over the years, or simply that I got lucky. My Sweetheart #4 has all the mentioned features done OK (blade sits right, sole is straight), but my main complaint is the front knob. It’s so poorly designed it’s practically a joke. To adjust the mouth opening, you loosen the screw by turning the knob, then turn the adjuster and fasten the knob once again. The problem is, the knob is glued to the screw, and it’s holding on glue and on glue only! I just don’t see how this mechanism can possibly live through years of heavy use. My knob fell off on the very first hit with something other than my hand, and I’ve read that some people pulled their knobs off by just turning them as they’re designed to.

    As far I can see from some pictures of an old Stanley #62, it had a similar mechanism, only the screw came all the way through to the top. I don’t know why Stanley decided to abandon the old screw arrangement and glue it inside the knob, but it’s obviously a very bad decision that’s designed to break sooner or later.

    If you have a choice, don’t buy this plane. If you don’t (as I didn’t at the time) and it’s the only available option, then go ahead and buy it, but do take care of the front knob, and don’t turn it when you don’t have to.

    1. Agreed – my no 62 is perfect. I’d say it isn’t too far off my Veritas Shooting plane in quality. I don’t think it is fair that Paul, with all his influence, should leave the only reference to the new Sweethearts to be extremely negative and apparently based on an old version. These planes are high quality and a genuine value – the blades are even made in England!

      1. At the time of writing it was indeed quite true. Not just one plane I picked up but all of them. If Stanley listened and reshaped its output to the positive level you say they have as a result of what I said then I think I was right to post what I did. Making people aware of tools that are not up to par is something I feel responsible for.
        In the past I found Stanley to be disingenuous when they stated “Stanley of Sheffield UK now manufacturing high-end planes again.” If the blade alone is made in the UK that does not mean that the whole plane is. Indeed it was made in Mexico at that time and the quality was very poor.

        1. Thanks for replying Paul. I agree that they shouldn’t have mislead about the origin of the planes.

          I think they have made a decent attempt at rectifying the faults though, certainly the ones for sale atm are good. E.g. The issues with the bed and mouth seem not to be there on the 62. The handle is still the same – they sort of went down the Veritas route there, but I like it.

          I think the way Stanley market these planes is a bit strange – they don’t even have the proper photos on the UK site (renders of the prototypes from ages ago). So they need to improve that.

          If you ever get chance to take a second look Paul – I would – it is worth it.

  3. Some few years ago I purchased a Mexican made Stanley No. 4 from a big box store. It states on the box that the sole is “precision machined flat and true”— I do indeed still have the box. It also says that the mouth is adjustable.

    They mean instead that the frog is adjustable; No. 4’s don’t have adjustable mouths… not the ordinary ones. Anyway, it took me literally 2+ hours of coarse grit work on the sole to flatten it. But that was not the worst of it. The worst part was the fact that I spied some peculiar circular disk under the frog, at one of the support points. It was a washer, inserted as shim stock! Yes, I had to figure out how to mill down a couple of the pads (without a milling machine or the like) in order to have the frog not rock.

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