Tool Type Studies: Friend or Foe? OR Type Study Facts of Life (and other diversions) Edited

October 24, 2018


 A friend of mine told me a story about a sale of a Number 2 plane he made on eBay.  Now, this friend is a very knowledgeable seller, especially on Bailey No 2s and sells a lot of parts as well as whole planes.  He has seen and sold many of them and really knows his stuff.  But back to my story.  The buyer, who my friend believed was fairly new to collecting as he had a low eBay feedback count, got the plane and immediately started a return process claiming that the plane didn't have some correct component for the "type" he thought he was buying and believed that my friend had misrepresented what he was selling.  Long story short, my friend contacts him and explains what I like to call "The Plane Type Study Facts of Life" to his buyer and all turned out OK. So before you become one of "those" eBay buyers help yourself to some free information from one of "those" eBay sellers.


"The Plane Type Study Facts of Life"

As a new collector I wanted knowledge. (I still do) and the more the better.  As you collect new and interesting items you like to learn, hopefully, about it's past, who created it and especially when it was created, what year was the frog design or depth adjusting mechanism patented.  Problem is, as a new collector in this day and age, you rely on the few sources available, mostly on the web.  Some are great resources like,,,, and dozens of others much too numerous to mention here. If you like to do your research the old fashioned way, by actually reading a book, try Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America 1827-1927 Volume I &II by Roger K. Smith. Most of these publications have in them, as does this one, a place to go to find out some of that stuff like, yep, a type study. 



A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, someone with great knowledge decided that it was important to jot down their observations and research on Stanley Bailey bench planes and when they were made based on the periodic changes in the components, (patented or otherwise).  After a lot of work scribbling down notes, crossing out bad information, hand wringing  and brow drying, the Stanley Bailey Bench Plane Type Study was surreptitiously published somewhere.  It's been copied, modified, accuracy  improved and republished and now resides in thousands of peoples minds as the "The Gospel according to Walters, Smith and Leach", (at least that's what I refer to it as), those given most credit for its present form.  It is a wonderful compilation of years of great research and hard work and the best reference and insights we neophytes have to determine when our 15 dollar yard sale No 3C was made.  I rely on it almost daily but only as a reference. Type studies were NEVER MEANT TO BE EXACT timelines. Nor are they always correct for your plane.  Just so you know, there are type studies on a whole lot of other kinds of planes and tools that Stanley made, as well as other makers.  Just takes one interested person who enjoys researching stuff.


Now the fine print. Despite what many people think, say or even do, as great a work and as accurate as the information included in the  Bailey Bench Plane Type Study is, every one of the aforementioned guys will tell you "It ain't set in stone". There are anomalies, inconsistencies and unknowns floating about out there in "planeland" and for several reasons a few of which I shall attempt to enumerate here. 

1. Stanley used up parts. If a new patented frog design came out do ya think they just tossed the 15,000 old design ones that just showed up in the barrels from the foundry?  Nay, nay. Those frogs got put on the planes in plant A and the new frogs got put on the planes over in plant B.  I'm pretty sure Stanley didn't become the "toolchest of the world" or whatever they called themselves, by just throwing out good usable parts. They used them up even after the new one was put into production.

1a. Typing periods cover the span of many years. Things changed within that span of years. Specs for parts, sizes of knobs, all kinds of thing may have changed during the estimated time of production for say, a type 11 No 3. Type within a type? well maybe. But what's the point?

2. Owners break stuff.  In the past 100 or so years that your Number 3 has been in existence it may have had 10 owners.  Now it's just possible one of them broke or lost some part and had to replace it.  Sometimes that's quite obvious just by looking at the plane but sometimes it's just very subtle.  Could it be that the reason your No 3 has an "AA" iron when it should have a "X" is that the "X" got used up and replaced after 4 years of hard labor or that the reason the tote has a "hipped" brass nut when it's supposed to be a cylinder is because the old one got lost in 1906.  You see my point.

3. Owners modify stuff.  Sometimes you buy something and you want to change it from its original form to something more to your liking, (like those kids, usually guys, who take a perfectly good sound system out of a car and put in one that you can hear 5 blocks away and want to use a Cruise missile to silence) I've seen modified totes, knobs, frogs, mouth openings, etc.  Most of the time these tools were owned by professionals (or amateurs) who needed this particular tool to do a specific job and made the necessary changes to get that job done.  Then the plane ends up in the estate/yard sale, flea market, or eBay and on to the next owner.

4. Sellers fix stuff.  I'm the type of seller who tries to make what I sell clean, usable and if possible, as close to type correct as I can.  Sometimes I can't be perfect, (although my wife will tell you that I am).  So consequently I may put a later tote on an earlier plane because that's all I have or an incorrect iron that's close to type correct.  Now I will tell you, the buyer, that I have done so, but will you tell the buyer when you sell it? Maybe, maybe not, especially if you don't remember or care, or your heirs don't.  It's important for a new collector to know that if you are buying a "user" plane from someone, chances are that it's not all original after 100 years.  Certainly there are exceptions to that and I've come across a few.


Disclaimer: The list is by no means purported to be complete, conclusive, or even accurate.  Just based on my own observations and research...just like a type study.


So, consider this. What we have in modern times established a specific frame of time in which planes produced by Stanley in the Number 4 size shared more or less common characteristics. Now, assuming that the type study is accurate, type 11 planes were produced between about 1910 and about 1918 or so. About 8 years, right? Now, think back over the past 8 years of your life. What is exactly the same today as it was then? Probably not much, but I'll bet you don't have the same tires on your car, if you still have the same car. Look how much cars have changed in just 8 years. Why would we just assume that 110 years ago things that were produced every day stayed exactly the same for 8 years? I'm thinking that Stanley made a bunch of knobs of similar size for a lot of various tools and over the course of 8 years they changed the size, design, maybe even what size plane or other tool they put them on. So, maybe low knob #3 planes made from 1910-1918 got a variety of differently sized knobs, all within specs, over the course of the 8 years that we assume type 11 planes were made. I've seen enough tall knob type 11 planes to believe that they were not aberrations and were sent from the factory that way. Then of course there are the knobs that were replaced after market through mail order, reject knobs that were made to the wrong specs but used anyway. You get the idea. Guess the point is that probably the only way to know exactly what size knob is proper for your plane is to find one with an original unopened box, We can surely guess but we will never surely know.


There's probably a lot more reasons that your plane typing doesn't add up but I am running out of space and my fingers are getting fatigued, but you can certainly see where I'm going with this.  If you walk away after reading this muttering "this guy is so full of c**p his eyes are brown, which they are, that's OK but plan on great disappointment and returning a lot of planes.  Now if someone is purporting that his/her plane is a type 3 then he/she better be darned sure that the frog is correct and so should you.  But just remember that plane typing is only a modern day reference and an estimate of the production date, not the exact day the thing rolled off the assembly line and I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that any one of those fellas mentioned above, to whom we give credit for these studies, will tell you exactly the same thing.


Bottom line: Expect some variances once in a while, ask questions before you buy it and if it says in the heading "Bailey Boston Type 1" and it has a "BB" trademark cutter, tall knob and an orange background "STANLEY" on the lever cap, be a little suspicious of the seller.

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