Last updated: 3 August 2019

The first master craftsman I worked for at Tillotson's particularly liked Stanley planes and he constantly extolled their virtues. Due to his influence my subsequent tool kits always included some Stanley planes. Although the master craftsmen often used bedrock planes, etc. Apprentices mostly used plain Stanley Bailey bench planes - often purchased second hand from older craftsmen.

Stanley metal bodied bench and block planes were especially popular. It seemed most apprentices and aspiring woodworkers always had a Stanley No. 4 Bailey smoothing plane and a Stanley No. 60½ in their toolbox.

This is not intended to be a survey of all Stanley planes - rather the ones I describe here are typical examples of ones that I have owned or used or have been familiar with during my woodworking lifetime.

Although I have owned and used a wide variety of Stanley bench planes - Jack, Smooth and Jointer - over the years, I probably have used the No. 4 smoothing plane more than any other.

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Stanley No. 4 Bailey smoothing plane - Type 16 (1933-1941)

Block planes (often wooden) were widely used for the various finishing operations. The Stanley No. 60½ was especially popular although I particularly liked the Stanley N0. 203 for its small size and classic looks.

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Stanley No. 60½ low angle adjustable mouth Block plane

New woodworking tools - especially American made - were in very short supply in British hardware shops immediately following the end of WWII. It was not until 1949, when importation from America resumed (tightly controlled by the government due to dollar deficit restrictions) and British manufacturing had recovered from wartime damage and production demands, that new tools were available for sale in any quantity.

In my trade young Apprentices could only afford one bench plane which inevitably was a pre-war Stanley "Bailey" No. 4 smooth plane (the most popular by far) purchased used from a senior craftsman. I bought such a plane in excellent condition. These Stanley planes were held in high esteem by the senior craftsmen where I worked for the their quality.

Pre-WWII Stanley "Bailey" No. 4 smooth plane
Type 16 - Made in USA (c. 1939)

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Forged steel components - Brass adjusting nut and screws
Rosewood handle and knob

Later I bought a post-war Stanley "Bailey" No. 4 smooth plane new in the box. As I remember, US made Stanley planes produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s maintained pretty much the same high quality as those of pre-war manufacture, although post-war shortages of some materials led to some slightly inferior substitutions.

Post-WWII Stanley "Bailey" No. 4 smooth plane
Type 19 - Made in USA (c. 1949)

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Forged steel components - Brass adjusting nut and screws
Rosewood or Hardwood handle and knob

Stanley began manufacturing tools in Sheffield, England in 1937 after acquiring the J.A. Chapman Tool Company. I have not seen any pre-WWII planes that were manufactured there, but I believe they were pretty much identical to those manufactured by Stanley at their New Britain, Conn. USA Plant. Evidently slightly thicker body castings were used for the English made planes, making them slightly heavier than those manufactured in the U.S.A.

Many Craftsmen where I worked in northern England replaced their Pre-WWII Stanley "Bailey" Bench Planes with new ones made in England (c. 1949 and later). I bought a 1960s period English made Stanley "Bailey" bench plane and was struck by the decrease in quality as depicted below.

Post-WWII Stanley "Bailey" No. 3 smooth plane - Made in England (1960s)
(No type study for Stanley Made in England Bench Planes)

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Stamped steel components - steel adjusting nut and screws
Die cast lever cap and frog
Hardwood (beech) handle and knob

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molded in body floor ahead of handle

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Stanley No. 203 Block plane circa. 1937

This plane was designed for use in manual training. Over the years many aspiring wood workers learned the fundamentals of hand planing and honed their techniques using this plane.

I have a personal fondness for this plane for I used one in learning how to set-up, adjust and use block planes correctly. Over the years I have used this block plane more than any other.

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Extract from 1929 Stanley Tools Catalog

The diminutive (5½" long) Stanley No. 203 Block plane shares with the No. 1 Bailey and the No. 101 Block plane the distinction of being the smallest adjustable Stanley plane. Its production lifespan was from 1912 to circa. 1961.

The pleasing lines and balanced proportions of this little plane have made it a desirable collector's item. Additionally, it has found good utility as a handy finishing plane for small woodworking projects.

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Disassembled post-Sweetheart era/pre-WWII period No. 203
Block plane


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Stanley No. 203 Block plane circa. 1912


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Stanley No. 203 Block plane circa. 1950


Although most references give the end of production year as 1961, all of the Stanley Store Catalogs I have consulted do not show any listings of No. 203 Block Planes after 1959.

No. 203 Block Planes were not produced in 1949 (Ref: 1948 Stanley Tools No. 34 Catalog insert).


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