Laminated Stanley plane irons n more

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The line is the laminated harder steel fused to the softer and not a secondary bevel as it appears.

I’m never sure about some things but this week I was restoring an older Stanley enjoying myself seeing the rust disappear and helping the students to see the process and the results. Everything went well and the iron was slightly bellied on the flat side and was bent near to the top so we took it to task. Over the years I have learned a few new tricks and have changed a few of my own views too. Here are some thoughts you might want to consider.

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I slightly dished this iron to get the belly out of the way. You can also see the line of the lamination.

Firstly, and I have already said this elsewhere, plane irons need not be dead flat at all.

Secondly, they need not be replaced with any other make of iron and certainly not thicker ones.

Thirdly, if they are bellied they need not be abraded to flatness.

Fourthly, if they are hollow they are ready to go and need minimal restorative work beyond minor abrading and polishing out along the back of the cutting edge.

There, I have just saved you an hour or two’s work.

It puts an end to ruler tricks and even scary sharp flattening faces. Save the time and energy for what you love in woodworking rather than busy work.

But for this blog I wanted to say at last I have come across an obvious laminated English-made Stanley plane iron in the one I bought recently on eBay.

I am used to laminated irons in old plane irons used in wooden planes of old but it is indeed a rarity here in the UK to come across a laminated iron like the one here.

I contacted Patrick Leach at superior works and he offered this:

Stanley did make laminated irons.

I don’t know the exact time frame, but they stopped ca.
1930 (my best recollection).

The earlier ones, pre-1920, are the easiest to
spot.

Some ca.WWI, and earlier, Stanley literature notes the
laminated irons, as well as touting their superiority for
grinding/honing due to their thinner cross-section (when
compared to the standard thicker irons of the era).

Anyway, it really takes a keen edge and seems so far to last well too.

19 Comments

  1. Joe Bouza on 25 May 2015 at 9:35 pm

    I have never run across a laminated Stanley plane blade as you have depicted Paul.

    Any ideas as to why this lamination method was discontinued? Production costs etc.?



    • Paul Sellers on 25 May 2015 at 10:16 pm

      As Patrick said, Stanley touted it as superior and it’s a good possibility it was, but I plan to run this one alongside a Stanley and Record to see if there is any discernible difference over a period of use.

      Laminated irons were indeed standard in old wooden planes. Many people think that thick irons were used because they otherwise chattered but that was nothing to do with it at all.



  2. Bogdan Piatek on 25 May 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Paul, I also came across a laminated Stanley blade on an old plane. At that time, I asked some people who should have known about such things, and they told me Stanley did not make laminated blades!? I am glad to hear you found one of those as well, and that I was not imagining things.



  3. Alfred Kraemer on 26 May 2015 at 12:34 am

    My favorite and most versatile plane is an Auburn Tools wooden jack plane with thick, tapered, and laminated iron. There are about 2 inches of lamination left.
    In the US they are fairly common, but it took me a while to find one with a good iron, a body without major cracks and a narrow mouth. The make very good shooting board planes if the sides are at a right angle.
    Interestingly, the price for a usable one was usually the same as the price for one that had only ‘decorative ‘ value.

    Alfred



  4. Alfred Kraemer on 26 May 2015 at 2:42 am

    I think I mistook your statement about the rarity of laminated irons as a general statement about irons made in the UK, but on second thought I’m pretty sure you were referring only to Stanley laminated irons, after all laminated irons were typical of 19th century wooden planes no matter where they were made.



  5. David Pickett on 26 May 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Laminated irons have turned up in vintage Record planes from time to time, too.

    There’s a Japanese laminated iron available as a replacement for Bailey-type planes, available from Axminster Power Tool Centre – http://www.axminster.co.uk/japanese-laminated-plane-blades – I bought one (Smoothcut brand) about 25 years ago for a Record 04, and I can confirm that it takes a very good edge indeed and holds it well. Mine’s 2.35mm (3/32″) thick, so about the same as a standard iron. Unfortunately, however, they are not cheap – didn’t seem that pricey when I bought mine.



    • Paul Sellers on 26 May 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Woah, everybody! David, I realise this was to help others so thanks for jumping in. Just to let everyone know though.I am certainly not suggesting anyone buy into laminated irons. I was just surprised to discover one on my eBay find and wanted everyone to know it that’s all. `i certainly would not advise anyone to retrofit perfectly good irons from their existing planes. I do not believe any retrofit is or ever was necessary so I am in no way endorsing changes at all. In fact there is no way anyone should feel it at all necessary to pay £60 for any retrofit plane iron. Ordinary plane irons that come with the Record and Stanley plane irons take and hold a good edge. I speak from 50 years of experience using them for hours a day six days a week.



  6. David Pickett on 26 May 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Steady on Paul – I wasn’t suggesting it either, just mentioning that they are still available – at a price! – and have been for some time, given that mine’s about 25 years old. If the original Stanley and Record laminated irons (which are not at all common, but do crop up from time to time) are as good as my Japanese one, they are very good indeed.



  7. johnnie skears on 26 May 2015 at 5:41 pm

    I’ve been lucky enough to have had laminated Stanley and Record blades,though I didn’t realise how lucky at the time. You were right David, axminsters laminated blades were very good value until dear old Jim Kingshott recommended them back in the 80’s, the price went up soon after !!



  8. ant11sam on 26 May 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Mr Paul:
    And when a replaced is needed your advice is….
    -Get an old one from ebay…?
    -Make a new one from a piece of 01 tool steel…?
    -Or we can buy a brand new standard stanley…?

    Thanks in advance



    • Paul Sellers on 26 May 2015 at 10:42 pm

      Old one on eBay is usually the least expensive here in the UK.



  9. Andrew Wilkerson on 4 June 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I could be wrong but I think someone told me once that the laminated Stanley blades were developed at Stanley Australia. Tasmania perhaps? They did a lot of development work down there leading up to the war. I think they moved a lot of metal work down there secretly because it was farthest away from the Japanese if they decided to invade from the north. Who knows what other secrets they worked on. Lots of military stuff. USA were holding on to their metal at the time so we started making all our own tools. After the war Stanley bought them all back again and took over all the small makers then shut them down. Some good ideas came out of it but $tanley nipped them in the bud as corporate greed took over the world again.



    • Paul Sellers on 4 June 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Yeah, the other side of Stanley Rule $& Level, the real face.



  10. Graeme Cook on 29 August 2015 at 11:19 am

    Hi Paul

    Confirming Andrew’s comments; when I did a school excursion through the Stanley Titan facory at New Town, a suburb of Hobart, Tasmania I saw laminated plane blades still being made in the mid-1960’s. They had a bunch of five or six women who had been doing it since the war years. Alas, that works has now gone to China.



  11. kamal on 1 December 2016 at 5:19 pm

    i just picked up a 10 1/2 rabbet with a worn laminated blade on ebay. I bought another as a replacement blade, and it too was laminated.



  12. Jesd on 26 January 2017 at 9:25 pm

    I found a laminated Stanley SW era blade on my A5 aluminum plane. I thought it was US but there is no country of origin on it. Super sharp and holds an edge great.



  13. Cris on 29 November 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for this (older) post, Mr. Sellers. It’s helped set my mind at ease. (This could be a long comment; I apologise in advance).

    I’ve just been regrinding several of my plane blades back to 25deg. I sharpen by hand for convenience and speed but, as I’m not quite as consistent as you, over time the convex-ish bevel edge tends to drift over 30 and then higher. At a certain point it stops cutting how I’d like so I regrind them by hand back to 25 and start again. The whole cycle takes between 2 and 4 years depending on how much planing I’ve been doing.

    About 18 months ago I managed to pick up a bargain no 7 jointer (Stanley USA) from a uk ebay seller for less than thirty-five pounds. I happened to be looking for jointers at the same point in time it was listed, so grabbed it within ten minutes of the auction being posted. It required some work to bring it back to life as, by the looks of it, it had been sitting in a pub or a machine shop for 40+ years and, as well as some surface rust, was caked in some type of hardening brown grease / schmoo (nicotine tar?). But it cleaned up nicely.

    As you know, if you regrind a bevel from steeper to shallower, and don’t take the blade edge off, the grind starts at the *back* of the bevel and works its way wider and more forward as you grind more off. All of my other blades behaved exactly as you’d expect. Some were fairly close to 25deg already; some weren’t; but when regrinding they all behaved as just described.

    Except the jointer. It had this permanent and unalterable line half-way down the bevel and initially I thought the grind wasn’t progressing very quickly towards the edge, but then I realized the line wasn’t moving *at all*, that the blade was developing a nice burr, that it was reflecting light evenly, and that the abrasive striations went consistently all the way from the back of the bevel grind to the front. Fortunately, I’m familiar enough with the San Mai lamination style in the world of stainless steel knives that I managed to recognize it as a lamination line or I might have kept grinding. But Stanley don’t do laminated blades, do they? What the heck is this? I don’t own any after-market plane blades (I agree with you about the thicker ones), and this one is marked ‘Stanley’.

    But what’s still confusing even in the context of your post is that parts of this plane are very definitely post-1933. It has the kidney-shaped lever-cap hole (1936-), a non-flat skeletonized frog face, and the blade has the post-1933 ‘Stanley. Made in USA’ layout. The plane itself is a source of some confusion, as some of its features are consistent with a type 15, and others consistent with type 8-9, and yet others from a much later date (16+), so I think what I’ve got is a hybrid: likely a type 15 or earlier *bed*, that somebody’s mounted a later frog assembly / lever cap onto. Which bits come from which plane is a mystery, but there’s at least two eras represented. However, as best I can tell, the blade *itself* cannot come from earlier than 1933, owing to its stamped markings, and it’s definitely laminated, so either the blade is fake (in which case someone did a very good job as the steel is fine) or Stanley USA were laminating *somewhere* until *at least* ’33 and very possibly later.

    I offer up this story only in the hope that it might help someone else in the same situation.



    • Cris on 29 November 2017 at 4:51 pm

      In addition, I’ve just come across this:

      http://galootopia.com/old_tools/planes/stanley-laminated-blades-swedish-iron/

      which wasn’t posted when you wrote the original article. It doesn’t give its sources, but seems superficially believable, in which case there would have been UK-made laminated blades, possibly (also?) sold under the Stanley USA stamp until the start of WWII.