Stanley Plane Query

Stan Thigpen

While looking over my planes, I pulled out my ‘modern’ Stanley plane. My dad gave it to me when I first started doing a little bit of carpentry in the early ‘70s. It is a US made item with plastic tote and knob, but relatively well constructed and has served me well, mostly in rough carpentry. Looking at it got me wondering when Stanley quit using numbers to identify their planes. The sole of this plane is 9 ¾” X 2 ½”, with a 2” iron. It compares closely with my old number 4 Stanley which has a 2” iron and sole 9 3/8 X 2 3/8.
Yours is a Stanley 4½ plane, manufactured until 1961. I have a #5 plane of slighlty later vintage, about 1965. Mine is made in Canada, and has a wooden hanle and knob. It is painted light blue. It works very well.
What makes you think they stopped using numbers?
They may not have been cast into the planes, but even the new ones have numbers (although slightly different from old, since they have so many other products).
The main thing is, does it work?
My father picked up a newer Stanley plane, just to see if he could get it to work. Spent a lot of time, AFAIAC, but it works fine now.
I like the old Stanleys. When I got into woodworking, I picked up some older ones, gave them a good once over, and have been happily using them since. Mine are mostly from before WWII. They were cheap, well made, and work really well.
I have old #2, #4, #5(early bedrock), and a corrugated #7 Stanleys. I also have a 78 rabbet plane, a 40 scrub plane, and a couple of old Stanley spokeshaves (one flat, one curved sole). The one newer Stanley plane I have is a 220 block plane from the 1990's. I'm really impressed with it as well. I can't say it works any better than the Veritas low angle block plane that I also use.
For the bench and block planes, it's really hard to beat the value of using an old Stanley or a Record.

My theory is that, after motorized hand tools became affordable, the hand tool market shrank quickly and it was a race to the bottom for the plane manufacturers. Engineering and development of the hand tools all but stopped. They competed mostly for low price, not best function. Eliminating shop class from most schools didn't help the long term market.

When I clean up an old plane, I do like to replace the chip breaker and the cutter with thicker replacements - reduces the chatter. Even without that, they still work well.

For the "specialty" planes, which are harder to find and more expensive, I've found the modern replacements are easier to get and sometimes less expensive. For instance, one of my favorite planes is a bevel up low angle smoother. The modern Veritas version is cheaper and works better than an original Stanley (if I could even find one). Same with my medium shoulder plane and scraper plane.

One thing I've decided for myself, after a little effort and experimentation, is that cheap new planes are NOT worth it for me. I tried to get a Kunz working well, also an Anant. I found them poorly machined with flimsy castings and cheap plastic parts. Even after quite a bit of work, both were prone to chattering and would not hold their adjustments well. A friend asked me to tune up a Buck plane (from the big box store). The casting was some sort of very soft metal that looked like iron (but wasn't). I gave up on it and cleaned up a $10 old Stanley for him that now works just great.

I do love using a nice sharp hand plane.
Last edited:
It is a #4. A #4 1/2 has a 2 3/8" wide blade and a# 4 has a 2". The last ones made were in 1961.

The later model Stanley's are not particularly noteworthy for their quality. Many downgrades occured for the mass market after WWII. That doesn't mean it a piece of junk (but its close to it) however, if you ever get your hands on a premium quality plane you'll see the difference. All depends on where you're at in your ww'ing and what your prefs in hand tools are.

See Patrick's Blood and Gore here for more info than you'll ever want on Stanley planes.