Why WWII-Era Stanley Planes Have Thicker Castings

Many hand plane enthusiasts have noticed that the Stanley planes produced during the Second World War tend to have thicker castings than those produced earlier.  This seems strange given the metal shortages during the war.  Why would Stanley have made castings thicker rather than thinner when metal was scarce?

This 4 1/2 smoothing plane was made during WWII, making it a type 17. It does have a frog adjustment screw, but no brass anywhere. The tote and knob are stained domestic hardwood.

This answer comes courtesy of Walt at Brass City Records.

This is from an older gentleman whom I spoke with many years ago…he was working at the Stanley plant before and during the war….now, you gotta remember he was old then (about 17 years ago) so some of his memories were a bit fuzzy…

His take on the factory at the time: he was one of the few male workers still working at the plant who had been there for any length of time…most of the regular male crew for the handtool division had gone off to war…makes sense…factory work pre-WWII was a male-dominated field.

What they had for a crew were a lot of first time factory workers…women and young people (don’t want to say kids but he made it seem as if some were just barely legal for factory work if at all)…they had to re-adjust specs because the newbie workers were blowing out the sides when it came to the grinding process, so they allowed a bit more meat on the castings.

Same goes for the frog screw…the machinery for that job consisted of a long bit in a drill press type of machine…had to be pretty much on the mark to make it work correctly and tapping the screw hole was just as difficult…again, an inexperienced workforce dictated what they could actually do….so the frog screw went by the wayside.

Fancy nickel plating was out…another metal in short supply, so the levercaps from the era were semi polished cast.

All the brass went for the war effort…shell casings…rosewood was non-existent because it didn’t grow around here, and international shipping for non-essentials just wasn’t there….different time…whole different mind set…you made do with what you had to work with….he said it was amazing that there were any tools being made then for the home market…most all of the Stanley conglomerate was geared toward war production…there were many bit sets, braces, levels and even planes made for the US Army, Marines, Navy and even the Air Force…’course I think most went to the Seabees and the U.S. Army Engineer Construction Battalions .

So now you know.

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6 Responses to Why WWII-Era Stanley Planes Have Thicker Castings

  1. joecrafted says:

    Neat history. I have a type 17 #4 and it is one of my better Stanley planes. It does have a missing frog screw and some sort of plastic (I think) frog adjustment wheel. I never noticed the thicker castings, I’ll have to check that out with my calipers.

  2. Yes, the depth adjustment wheel should be plastic rather than brass. One of the interesting (and for collectors, frustrating) things about wartime planes is that there are a lot of minor variations within the type. Most of them probably have to do with using up overstock of certain parts from previous types, but clearly other variations are due to the changing workforce.

    Your plane may or may not have thicker castings, depending on when during the war it was made. Mine, too, is still an excellent user.

  3. John says:

    Can you tell me aproximately how much thicker the casting sides would have been? I have a supposed Type 17 #4C and the sides are close to .160″. On my Type 16 #5 they are about .145″ thick.

    • Not having a set of dial calipers, I’m afraid I can’t say with so much precision. On my WWII-era smoothing, the castings are visibly thicker than on other, earlier Stanleys I’ve handled. Just visually estimating, I’d say my experience is similar to yours.

  4. jeff burke says:

    At the risk of infuriating opinionated woodworkers everywhere I feel compelled to advance my opinion on type 17 and 18 Stanley planes. In the pursuit of acquisition and satisfying curiosity in the Stanley hand plane realm I have managed to examine a substantial number of the war era planes and immediate post war examples. compared to later offerings and the current spate of expensive repros I don’t understand why anyone would spend several hundred dollars to equip their shop with a hand plane(s) that can be purchased on the net for $20 to maybe $80 bucks (for a 7 or 8). Unless the used piece is a total basket case (there’s certainly no shortage of those available) an hour’s worth of work reveals a perfectly functional tool. Given the remote possibility that you find a need to readjust the blade to mouth clearance, the absence of a fine frog adjustment on (most) 17’s is just not a huge issue. And although I can pick out some 17 (and 18’s) from my stash that exceed the sole and sidewall dimensions of any of my Bedrocks they’re unpredictable and quite frankly does a couple of ounces (maybe) really make a difference? I think the two types stand well for the times and although there’s certainly a diminished level of quality in the castings, fit and finish (certainly a harbinger of things to come) they’re plentiful, relatively cheap and they work. Spend your money on a LN 4-1/2 reproduction and enjoy yourself thoroughly. want to save some dough?-buy a 4-1/2 type 17 and live with the beat up japanning and less than perfect tote/knob finish. wood don’t care.

  5. Pingback: The Stanley Smoothing Plane – Jim Kerkhoff

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