Stanley's new premium handplanes
The Stanley Tool company is legendary in hand tool circles... It is their planes that a large majority of us woodworkers cut their teeth on. They have been making the most popular line of woodworking planes since the late 1800's - at least until the quality of their product began to suffer after WWII, ultimately reaching their low point in the 60's and 70's where the level of quality has remained until today. Yet there are so many examples of Stanley planes out there remaining from pre-WWII days still in use today that they are still setting the standard by which others are graded even to this day. It wasn't limited to just bench planes either - one only has to look at Patrick Leach's pages on Stanley planes to see the breadth of their product line from the day. The sheer extent of their product offerings is testament to their popularity. Only recently have independent toolmakers - as a collective - even begun to breach a portion of it.
Chris Schwartz' latest blog post over at Popular Woodworking has news from Stanley - they are introducing a new premium line of hand planes - here is Chris' blog in it's entirety (update - photos are available on Chris' blog here):
New Premium Handplanes From Stanley Works -
The new Stanley No. 4 smoothing plane.
Stanley Works will release five premium-grade handplane models this year that are designed to compete with planes from Veritas and Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, officials said.
The line includes new designs for a No. 4 smoothing plane, a low-angle jack plane, a shoulder plane and two block planes. All of the Stanley planes will have features that users have come to expect from high-end tools, including irons made from thicker A2 steel, bodies made from ductile iron and handles made from highly polished rosewood.
The new Stanley No. 62 low-angle jack plane.
Additionally, the sole castings will be heavier, all the knobs will be made of brass, the soles will be flat to .003" and many of the planes will incorporate a "patented lateral adjustment locking lever," according to company officials and literature.
The planes, which should be available by November, will have the following manufacturer's suggested retail price: The No. 4 and the low-angle jack will list for $179. The block planes and the shoulder plane will list for $99. The planes will be available through woodworking specialty stores, not home centers. Company officials said the tools’ A2 irons will be made in England and the plane bodies will be made in Mexico.
Stanley officials said they designed these planes after working with the company's "discovery teams." These teams went into specialty stores and furniture-making shops and conducted two-hour interviews with woodworkers about what they wanted in a handplane.
Stanley then designed prototypes and solicited feedback from these users, which they then incorporated into the tools' final designs.
The end results were very interesting. For example, the new Stanley No. 4 is a bevel-down plane. What's different is that the frog and base are cast as one piece. This reduces the opportunity for blade chatter to occur. Also interesting: The plane has an adjustable mouth like a block plane. You unscrew the front knob and slide a throat plate forward and back for different mouth apertures.
The No. 62 Low-Angle Jack Plane also has many of these refinements, including the patented lateral-adjustment mechanism.
The new Stanley No. 92 shoulder/chisel plane.
The No. 92 Shoulder/Chisel Plane also features brass adjustment knobs and a wooden grip at the rear. Though Stanley officials didn't have the finished width of the tool available, the No. 92 was historically a 3/4"-wide tool.
The new Stanley No. 60-1/2 block plane.
The two block planes – the No. 9-1/2 standard-angle plane and the No. 60-1/2 low-angle block plane – have less radical changes compared to their historic brethren. However, they have been redesigned to look like the rest of the new family of planes, and all the planes will use the famous Stanley "Sweetheart" logo from the early part of the 20th century.
When asked if other plane designs were in the works, a Stanley official said there was nothing they could discuss at this time.
As soon as functional production models become available, we’ll be testing these new planes and will report the results in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine.
The new Stanley No. 9-1/2 block plane.
I can't deny that it is neat to see them once again enter the fray of premium tools - yet it's been debated if it will do the hand-tool crowd any good. Today, it seems there's not enough woodworkers around that use these tools to support a great number of manufacturers. It's true that as a society we have consistently reduced our dependence on industry, a path started after WWII that I can't see has an end in the near future, and to our detriment.
Here's a quote from Rob Lee, owner of Veritas tools (Lee Valley) over one of the Woodnet forums on the reintroduction of these planes:
While I do have a dog in this fight... I'll throw out a couple of comments...
Firstly - I think they've missed the mark here - as what is really needed is a good quality entry level plane; a replacement for what Record (and long before that, Stanley) used to produce...
I'm not convinced that Stanley, while they do an excellent job in many diverse market segments, has the right corporate culture, or structure, to make this a success. How can they turn out dreck like the 75, and also make a "premium" line? And who're you gonna call if there's any sort of issue with it? Large multi-national corporations just have a very hard time doing "small business" well...
We carried (still have some!) Stanley England planes, as well as Record for many years - and did very well with them, at a price point that made sense. When most of you buy a "premium" product, you are buying the story, the reputation, and the philosophy of a given manufacturer. You are implicitly trusting the manufacturer to deliver a level of quality and suitability to purpose that you can have the confidence is correct. You want a Wenzloff saw, 'cause he's a good guy, is a small business with character, and because you trust that Mike will deliver the value you want... and trust that he has the knowledge to back it up; I doubt many of his customers would view a premium Sandvik the same way...no matter how well it’s made. It’s about a culture of craftsmanship – not production and price – that’s tailed tool thinking…
As far as the country of origin goes - there's no question that good planes can be made in any country - Mexico, China, and India included... all it takes is the will to do so, and a market that's willing to accept it. After all - most of you use measuring instruments made in many of those countries to check your tools... ... why would they not be capable of producing other products? There's already at least one Asian firm producing bronze Bedrocks .... and they've directly "flattered" a few of our products too...
Overall - the trend in the loss of manufacturing jobs in many of our industries continues to trouble me. Every day we see country of origin changes to low cost producers ... and it's hundreds of products annually. The increase in standard of living we've seen in North America over the past decade has largely come from cheaper prices - and not gains in productivity. Yet at the same time - it's the domestic stockholders of public firms and pension funds that demand better returns, and are driving critical manufacturing jobs away. Every day we take another step closer to being a nation of consumers, instead of producers.
As for the woodworking market – I sure don’t think it’s growing. There’s less and less manual activity in our schools, and in our lives. Think of all of the “manufacturing type” activity that is slowly disappearing from our lifestyles – things like sewing, woodworking, mechanical repair … any amount of DIY activity. Yes – the high end will always be there – and while it’s high profile, and vocal, it represents a very diminishing proportion of the industry. To give you a more concrete illustration – we have far more revenue from “rim rollers” to check for prizes on coffee cups, than we do in our best selling plane… and that says a lot right there.
There are far more guitar heroes and poker players than woodworkers, and it's not hard to figure out where the growth continues to be...
(off the soapbox….)
PS - now if you REALLY wanna see a premium plane....
Edited by Rob Lee (08/26/08 07:40 AM)
Myself - while I agree with a lot of what Mr. Lee says, I just can't be too downbeat about it. It really doesn't change the facts of the matter in any case - my best advice (to anyone who might care, anyway) is that without self-dependence, your fate is left to the whims of others - that is true on a personal level as much as any national one. While I can't change any national trends by myself - it's my hope that I can foster my own independence, and by doing that I can inspire a few others to foster their own. Enough people do that, and suddenly the tides turn... it has to start on a personal level if it's to be of any good at a national one.
I like that there will be more choices for hand tools and also love the fact that a truly large corporation (Mr. Lee's and Mr. Lie-Nielsen's companies notwithstanding, as they are really not on quite the playing field Stanley is...) has seen - for the first time in at least 50 years - that quality tools such as these are wanted. I hope these tools are of good quality, and not simply a marketing ploy... Perhaps even it is a signal of the tide turning? Can't say that just yet - but I certainly hope so. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this lline of tools, and hoping they are successful, and that current manufacturers such as Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Wenzloff & Sons, Wayne Anderson, and Konrad Sauer, et. al. - the true leaders of this generations' hand tool 'renaissance' and some of the primary motivators (I'm sure) of Stanley's decision for a new line of planes - also continue to succeed and innovate.
Success will breed itself...