User vs Collectible Stanley Planes

Sometimes I’ll see people ask the simple question on woodworking forums on whether or not an old plane they picked up at a garage sale is worth anything. While chances are it’s worth what they paid for it, every once in a while they found a real gem. The key is finding out what Type of Stanley plane you have.

About twenty years ago Roger K Smith wrote a Type Study on the different features of Stanley planes through the years.  It was originally printed in Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America Volume I and then later used in John Walter’s book Antique and Collectible Stanley Tools Guide to Identity and Value. Unfortunately both books are out of print and tough to acquire but fortunately for us, some people have uploaded the info to the internet. Below is one of the links.

This Type Study is considered to be the most accurate information to date on the manufacturing of Stanley planes, however it should be noted that Stanley Works never built planes based on these Type Studies. They simply build planes with whatever parts they had lying around. So it is quite possible to have a plane that fits all the criteria of a certain Type Study but may have a part or two with an earlier or later Type to it.

Below are two Stanley No 5 planes that to an untrained eye, may look quite similar to one another but are worlds apart as far as value. The plane on the left is a Type 2 which was made from 1869-1872. The one on the right is a Type 13 made from 1925-1928.

The easiest way to tell if your plane is collectible or not is to see if there is a lateral adjustment on the frog. Planes without this lever are known as Prelateral planes. There are four Type Studies that were Prelateral planes, Type 3 being the most rare. If you come into contact with a Type 3 plane, don’t do anything to it. It’s gold to tool collectors.

The second easiest way to see if you have a collectible Stanley plane is to see where the round hole on the plane’s blade is. If it’s on top like the blade on the left, it’s a Prelateral plane blade. Why Stanley changed the position of the hole from the top to the bottom, I have no idea. The hole is there to put the cap iron nut through the blade without having to fully remove it. Seems like a silly feature  to me but that’s just me. Every plane blade ever made has this feature so I’m obviously missing something.

Another feature that distinguishes really old Stanley planes from the users is the lever cap. If your lever cap is solid without any recesses, it’s rare. I guess metal was a precious commodity back then and every ounce counted. Do the solid lever caps work better? I doubt it. It’s just a lever cap.

The fourth feature that separates the collector from the user is the brass adjustment knob in the back of the frog. I guess Stanley was trying to save money anyway they could back in the 1870’s and putting a recess in the adjustment knob saved them $.001 in brass. But hey, $.001 was a lot of money back then.

A fifth major feature is the shape of the tote. It was still being made out of rosewood but the shape on later Stanley’s became more streamed line. Stanley probably heard complaints from customers about the totes being uncomfortable so they redesigned  the shape. But that’s my guess. It wasn’t cost savings because they didn’t switch to birch hardwood until the 1940’s.

Now it’s your call of you want to use one of these old planes in your shop on a day-to-day basis. All I know is I sold the Type 2 on eBay for $175.00 while the Type 13 commonly goes for $40.00. With the economy the way it is today, if I had an old collectible Stanley plane, I’d sell it and buy a later version with a little bit more bells and whistles for a quarter of the price and fill up my truck with a tank of gas and take my wife out for dinner with the remainder of the money.

9 thoughts on “User vs Collectible Stanley Planes

  1. Mike,

    With the round hole at the top of the blade, it is less likely that somebody would hit the edge of the blade with the cap iron as they might if they set it in place and slid it backwards.



  2. Chuck

    Thanks, I have several old Stanley planes that were my fathers and grand fathers. I used them all the time in my shop but I also have some Groz that work just as well. I may unload some of the Stanleys.


    1. If the plane works, that’s all that really matters. I prefer an old Stanley Bailey plane with a Hock blade over a Stanley Bedrock plane. As long as the plane is properly tuned and the blade is sharp, it’s pretty much all you need. Some of the other features on the Bedrock are nice to have, but not necessarily needed.


  3. Chuck Chall

    Some of my old planes have different blades in them. Some just say Stanley, which I assume are newer, some say Stanley and have the “sweetheart” logo on them, one of them, from my 5 1/4, says Stanley Rule and Level with New Britain Conn, and my oldest one, a Nr 5 with the dreaded hole drilled in it for hanging, has a Dunlap blade. Any insight on the differences? Thanks, Chuck

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t believe Stanley ever changed the steel used in their planes during the Bailey years. The different logos are just helpful cues to help date the plane. Nothing more. The SweetHart logo came about to celebrate William Hart who worked for the Stanley corporation for over 60 years into the early 20th century and served as their CEO.

      As far as the metal used in different manufacturers, it’s possible that some of the competitors used inferior steel in order to stay competitive and offer a cheaper priced plane. My advise, is to sharpen the blade and see how it performs. If you can’t get a nice cut or if it dulls quickly, buy a replacement Hock blade as long as it’s a well made plane like a Stanley. I have an older Stanley No 8C with a Hock blade and it actually works better than a Stanley Bedrock 708C with an original Stanley blade.


      1. Chuck Chall

        Thanks, The Dunlap blade is in my 5C but I do have 2 #4’s and I could swap blades with the lesser of them if the Dunlap doesn’t perform well. Time to go make some shavings.

        Liked by 1 person

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