Does Whiplash in Stanleys Make Any Difference?

Question:

Hi Paul,

Thank you for taking the time to make your videos, they’re full of great unbiased advice.  I have noticed with some of my older stanley planes that the brass adjustment wheel has a lot of free spin, about 2 revolutions before it starts to adjusting depth. Is this a problem and can it be corrected?

Thanks,

David

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Answer:

For 150 years the Stanley range of bench planes (UK Records too) made in the US and the UK have been manufactured with what many deem to be somewhat looser tolerances for the depth adjustment wheel. This never was a problem for woodworkers throughout the Britain and the USA and it’s no more a problem today. People do however tout tighter tolerances as being the refinement of finely made planes, hinting that for fine woodworking craftsmanship you must have a highly refined plane with tight tolerances to match the work in hand. 

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This is very far from the case and whereas we can respect the art of plane makers at any level, there is no substantive proof that bench planes with finer tolerances produced better work at all. I can indeed vouch for this as fact. For about a century and even beyond, craftsmen worked with planes that had two or three revolutions between forward and reverse movement and yet their workmanship still stands exemplary to any modern day woodworker. In other words it makes little if any difference to the functionality of the plane. This became more  common a concern in recent years but I have yet to meet a modern plane that will give me a better surface or ease of use. Any whiplash is a mere flick of thumb and finger. The slack take-up is fast when the plane is well used, well oiled and cared for. These are my thoughts and I commend the basic pre-70’s Stanley and Record planes to anyone in search of a good plane. They need no retrofit irons except for preference or if the old iron needs replacing. Otherwise, no changes at all.

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22 Comments

  1. handmadeinwood on 6 April 2014 at 10:38 pm

    That’s about the size of it.
    If you have a plane that you use day-in and day-out a couple of turns on the wheel will usually go un-noticed.

  2. Mats on 6 April 2014 at 10:54 pm

    If i take the blade up, to make the plane take a smaller shaving, I always turn the screw back to tentioning the blade into going lower before I use it. Otherwise, in my experience, the gap in the mechanism gives room for the blade to move up more than wanted

    • Paul Fowler,USA on 7 April 2014 at 12:02 am

      Mats,

      There is a trick to removing “backlash”, but I don’t recommend it. If overdone it will make adjustments difficult and when it loosens it will be worse!
      A new knob can be made and fitted to the stud( the stud will be worn also ) jus keeps snowballing!

    • Paul Sellers on 7 April 2014 at 4:07 am

      Never had that happen to me in all these decades. Perhaps a tad more pressure on the lever cap will help there

  3. David on 6 April 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Many thanks for the quick answer Paul, as you say the planes work well which is all that matters, but it’s nice to know they’re worn in rather than out.

    • Paul Sellers on 7 April 2014 at 4:28 am

      I have owned and run mine for fifty years now. In fact I have never come across one that has done as much work as mine has. I never grind my iron (unless I hit a nail or screw, once every three years?) and I am now half way down my fourth plane iron in my 4 1/2 Stanley and my 3rd iron on my #4. I love the flex and take-up and though I have other more finely made planes, these are always the ones I reach for.

  4. MartyBacke on 7 April 2014 at 12:38 am

    I’ve never heard the argument that a plane with minimal backlash will give better results. I wouldn’t make that argument. But a modern plane from Lie-Nielsen or Veritas, with very little backlash, is more pleasant to use. How could it not not be?

    Is it worth an extra $100? Probably not. But a tighter depth adjustment along with all the other tighter tolerances that these plane makers deliver do make them worth the extra $$$, in my opinion.

    You are a big proponent of the basic #4 plane, which is fine. But I think a comparable argument could be made towards the purchase of a car. An inexpensive model will get you from point A to B just fine. But a more expensive car can make the experience much more pleasant. Isn’t that also true with our tools?

  5. John Crosby on 7 April 2014 at 5:04 am

    “You get what you pay for” I believe is a saying that is very true for most things. A lesson first taught to me by my grandfather when I was 5. I wanted to buy a pliers set, it had 3 in the set, it was from china. He said buy one set of pliers that cost the same as those three and you will have a tool for life, not that crap. He was right, I will buy the more expensive better made tool the vast majority of the time. I did buy the cheap china pliers and believe it or not I still have the linemans pliers.
    That being said, I have several Stanley hand planes most are type 11’s and nothing newer than a type 12. I love using them, I love the history, I love the glass like finish I produce with them. Most were given to me by family members, so the price was right too. If someone were so inclined I think they could buy 4 maybe even 5 old stanleys to 1 Lie-Nielsen. I would love to own the high end planes but just don’t have enough money to spend on them. Until then I will longingly stare at Lie-Nielsen planes, especially the 4 and 1/2 bronze and then have to wipe away the drool starting to accumulate in the corners of my mouth. Even if I could afford them I just don’t know if I could put my old Stanleys down.

    • Matthew on 7 April 2014 at 7:50 pm

      My friend has a lie neilson hand plane and I was actually really excited. After a bit of use I decided I actually like my $25 Stanley #4.

  6. Carlos J. Collazo on 7 April 2014 at 4:00 pm

    I think that old, “vintage” Stanley bench planes, no. 4, 4 /12, 5 1/2, esp. Type 11s, ones that are about 100 years old, is an area of hand tool woodworking where precisely the adage, “you get what you pay for” least applies.

    First, not having a LN or other high-end plane will hardly be the differentiating factor in the quality of your finished pieces or how your projects turn out. Your hand tool skills that you’ve built up through practice and attention will be.

    Second, a beginning woodworker who buys new from the high-end plane makers robs themself of the chance to build important fettling and restoration skills which will serve a craftsman well as long as they step foot in a shop.

    Third, the modern plane-makers tend to make heavyweights with thick irons. Paul has stated this to be unnecessary and to actually slow work down due to the added weight and more metal that must be removed from the cutting iron when sharpening.

    I think the LN, Veritas, Clifton, and others are finely-engineered, high-quality planes. But other, when more important factors in bench plane use are considered, buying the old Stanleys provide more benefits, in my opinion.

    • MartyBacke on 7 April 2014 at 5:33 pm

      I’m obviously (I subscribe to his service and avidly read his Blog) am a fan of Paul’s work. But ultimately, his is one mans opinion. Paul’s word is not the gospel.

      I have relatively new Stanley’s and Record’s, old Stanley’s, and new Veritas & Lie-Nielsen planes. They all have there place in the workshop, but I must say that the so called heavy weight bronze Lie-Nielsen planes are a pure joy to use compared to a Stanley.

      Using a heavy plane may be a disadvantage for someone who is using a plan a lot, like someone from 50 – 100 years ago did. I really don’t think it matters for the amateur who is doing some woodworking in the evenings or on the weekends. At least it doesn’t for me.

      I would encourage everyone to form their own opinion based on actual experience.

      • Joe cox on 8 April 2014 at 1:25 am

        You are right to suggest forming your own opinion , after all it is your tools you are using. It doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else’s work as long as it works for you. My planes are all Stanley’s from type 11 to a type 19 no. 4, all very good working planes, and one old Sargent 4 1/2 that produced full width shavings you can see thru after maybe thirty minutes of fettling, I have never used a Lie- Nelson so I couldn’t comment on them, but it is a joy to use the planes I have though. It’s all about the wood.

  7. Randy Allen on 7 April 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Each to his own taste. I personally find my number 3 Bailey is my favorite for most things. I also like the feel of a wooden sole on the work, it seems like one gets a better feel of how the wood is cutting. I don’t really like the extra weight of heavy planes. Maybe for really reefing off a lot of wood as in demensioning stock or truing a bench top I would prefer the extra weight and size.

    • Paul Sellers on 7 April 2014 at 9:17 pm

      John Winter, my apprentice, just bought one from a car boot sale and spent a few hours fettling it. He found a couple of problems with it but worked through those and now has a good plane for people of smaller stature or who simply like an even lighter plane than a #4. John just wanted a 3#. He’s not small. I have one too.
      Some students who come work between a 3, 4 and 4 1/2 plane for a day or two. Just to try them out and see which ones they prefer. Last year I put out several new heavy planes alongside the regular older #4s, just to experiment from a distance. At the end of day two I noticed no one picked up the heavy planes even though some users were large and heavy men. They generally stayed with the #4s and after that I noticed no one touched the heavy planes at all. It was an interesting experiment.

  8. Ed on 7 April 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Paul- Have you encountered planes that, when you work the lateral adjustment lever side to side, have the blades creep up the frog? I have one plane that does this a great deal. I’ll try to even out the cut to have equal thickness shavings on both sides of the mouth by adjusting the lateral lever. The depth of cut will change, generally getting too thin. Then, when I advance the blade, I lose some of the adjustment I’ve made and will need to go through this cycle a few times. Is this normal for a plane? Is there a way to correct it, if not.

    The slack on the knurled knob has never bothered me.

    • Paul Sellers on 7 April 2014 at 9:58 pm

      I would start by checking components for flatness. The frog face first and then the blade itself. John found his new #3 had a twisted cap iron. He twisted it back to flatness and he seems to have corrected all flaws by minor tweaks from stem to stern. Check also the blade plate. if this is very concave or convex it may be causing the problem. It does sound like a friction issue to me. i have had it on a couple of planes in my lifetime but generally, no, that’s not what they do.
      The thing people miss about my encouraging people in buying older planes is that they will do things to secondhand stuff they would never dream of doing to a new one. When we were apprentices we expected to fettle new planes. John has really become quite an expert at these planes and so too Phil. I would say they both know more than almost any full time woodworker I know, but they would never have learned what they know by owning new ones. This is important working knowledge for them. You see this how we preserve our skills. We pass on the knowledge. By the time I have finished this coming year I will have imparted much of what I know to hundreds of thousands of woodworkers across the world. It’s like planting a seed that multiplies by the hundreds as that one seed passes into the soil and dies. Dead simple really and it’s working.

      • Ed Frank on 8 April 2014 at 1:06 am

        You are absolutely right about old tools encouraging risk and experimentation. Didn’t Aldren Watson say the first thing you should do with a tool you’ve never used is take it completely apart? I never would have done the things I did to my $35 Disston saw to a new $150 saw and certainly not to a $250 saw. Of course, I wouldn’t have needed to do those things to a new saw, but many of the things I learned helped me understand saw sharpening better, especially how teeth can “move” when you sharpen and how spacing relates to height.

        I’ll try the things you say. I usually lap the face and feet of the frog on my coarse plate, but I think the plane giving the most trouble I might not have done, actually. Thank you for the help.

  9. Bill W on 7 April 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Hi Paul,
    A bit off topic, but I’m curious about what you do with the obvious mountain of shavings that are produced by you and your students. I have my own mounds and am wondering how best to put them to good use.
    Best regards,
    Bill W

    • Paul Sellers on 7 April 2014 at 10:28 pm

      We do make several bags full in a week. We can’t do much with them and so they go to recycle. When I had chickens for about 20 years we used to put them in the nesting boxes and in the chicken run and then after they had dunged them for a few months of build up we tilled it up and put the whole on the compost pile. That worked well because the compost was high in nitrogen and the shavings took a lot of nitrogen to break them down. From there we had compost for our vegetable garden. Perfected symbiosis.

  10. Uk-Cobra on 9 April 2014 at 1:35 am

    I have chickens and no longer need to buy bedding. Also a better fire lighter you’ll find hard to get 🙂

  11. gav on 9 April 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Funny about the chickens, I have several friends/customers who have commented on how much the chickens seem to like the hand plane shavings in the nesting boxes versus other materials. I only offer the shavings to them because we don’t currently have any chickens ourselves and that is what we used to use, when available. They don’t appear to be fazed overally much by which hand plane they come from either 🙂 I have a Record no. 4 I use for work on site and a Pope Falcon equivalent size (they called it something else, us Australians are so damn independent ) for the workshop. I like them both for a variety of reasons. When I have fettled my fathers Stanley and start using that it will be an interesting comparison between the three.

  12. gav on 11 April 2014 at 4:15 pm

    After posting that comment about the Pope Falcon I had another look at it- I think literal or bleeding obvious springs to mind. It has 9 in cast into the sole next to the front knob. No prizes for the bloke who has used it as to the meaning. Overally familiar perhaps?

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