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 www.supertool.com, http://www.timetestedtools.net, www.antique-used-tools.com, www.virginiatoolworks.com, 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. 

 

YES, I too fell into this trap when I began collecting, thinking that the authors of type studies were all knowing tool gods that wrote the scripture, that I would go to tool hell if I didn't follow their strict guidelines. I've since learned to be an agnostic when it comes to type studies. Especially when a plane was produced over the course of 150 years. So here is some food for thought if you are a new collector, or even if you are an old collector and believe that type studies are gospel. Consider this in an alternate universe.

 

 

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. 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.

 

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.

 

5. The Bailey type study is based on a Number 4 size and by default, the No 5. Don't try to accurately type your No. 2 or 8 based on the type study. You'll just get mad at the type study author and believe to all that's holy that he was an idiot or think the guy that sold the plane to you as a type 8 when it had some "S" casting marks, was ripping you off by selling you some contrived monstrosity.

 

So, consider this. No 1, 2, 6,7, and 8s follow the type study "generally". It's always good to look for changes in castings that can point you in the direction of an approximate production period. Forget about production dates. You might be able to get within 10 years if nothing on the plane has been replaced or changed in 120 years. Early plane manufacturers would keep the same design for years and years, probably only changing when a new patent came out. Usually then, it was not a significant change, maybe a frog receiver mod or frog screw. Between 1933 and 1942, think how little changed on a 5 or 4 size Bailey. Then, after that, the only thing that changed were cosmetic because of WWII shortages. Up until like 1980s the standard Bailey plane didn't change at all like - 50 years.Think if Ford or GM were still producing the cars they made in 1960 with the only changes being the wheel covers or steering wheel. Hell, you'd be in Cuba. Stanley produced thousands and thousands of the same production model over the course of 5 or even 10 years and the less popular planes like the 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 didn't change in the same way or time table as the 3, 4 and 5. In other words, use a type study as a guide, not a bible. You will have a much happier life that way.

 

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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