Tuesday, April 16, 2019

No. 4 Plane Review: Part II - Stanley Made in England

English made Stanley planes seem to be less desirable then the US made ones. Why is that? Are they inferior?

Let's find out:
My new Made in England Stanley No. 4.
Before writing this blog, I tried to do a little research on when this plane was made. There really isn't a proper type study of Made in England Stanleys like there is with the US versions. The best I could come up with was this link by Time Tested Tools which calls this plane an English type 3, produced from 1945-1972 (Stanley first started making planes in England in 1937). To my eye it looks newer than that, but I'm not an expert. Please comment if you know anything about when English planes were manufactured.
It looked like this when I got it. Not too bad! Only the tab on the lateral adjuster is missing.
I'm still getting to know this plane, but so far I'm impressed. I was led to believe that the flat frog of the older Stanleys is superior to the newer one, with half the center hollowed out. Could it be that Stanley figured out what was really needed in the frog? I haven't found this plane lacking in anything, yet. On the other hand, it is still new to me.
After a little tune up it seems to work well.
I used this plane exclusively on a recent project with great results. I think the number one thing in getting a plane to work is making sure it is sharp.
Just as fine as my type 11 Stanley.
Let's get down to it and compare side by side. Overall, the fit and finish of the type 11 is much finer and far superior to the English one. All surfaces on the old one are smooth and crisp, where there are spots on the new one that look like they finish sanded it with asphalt in the parking lot during a cricket match.

Other differences are that the new one has a tall front knob and the type 11 has a low one.
Front view.
The rear totes are different, too. The type 11, however, has a user made tote that may or may not be the same shape as the original. I've been meaning to make my own tote for it, but haven't gotten around to it yet. The English No. 4's tote is comfortable in my hand, so perhaps I'll make a new one similar to this one.
Rear view.
I had assumed the English Stanley had a wooden tote. It looks like wood with a thick coat of some kind of muddy lacquer. It doesn't feel like plastic. It turns out that it is some kind of manufactured material.
The knob and tote are made of some kind of injection-molded composite material.
The other difference I noticed is the English one is just a tiny bit wider than the type 11. The new one is too wide to fit in the fitted compartment of my tool chest intended for my old one. The thickness of the walls of the casting look to be about the same, however.
Weirdly, they both are No. 4Cs. C is for corrugated sole.
Also, the mouth on the type 11 is finer. This doesn't really make a difference to me, though. Since I've learned to set the chipbreaker farther forward on the blade for fine shavings, I've not noticed a need for a fine mouth.

Today I decided go a bit more in-depth with my rehab of this plane, and work on the cosmetics. The first thing I did was polish up the brass with toothpaste and a gray scratchy on the parts that needed it.
After and before.
I don't often do this on old planes, but I figured this plane didn't look particularly old so it might be fun to make it look new again. I think the shiny bits turned out nice.

My time in the Army taught me that raw brass needs to be polished every day or it will start to tarnish and look muddy in a very short time. I thought I'd try an experiment and dip the newly polished brass in shellac to see if it would prevent the brass from oxidizing. I'll report later if it works or not. I only did this to the knob and tote nuts, not the blade adjustment wheel. I figured it was more important for me that the wheel felt right.
Here is the plane broken down (without blade and chipbreaker) after making everything pretty.
When using this plane, I would have to say that it works just as well as my type 11. The original blade and chipbreaker were in nearly new condition, so they weren't messed up and I didn't need to replace them. The original blade, however, does tend to need sharpening more frequently than my Ray Iles aftermarket blade.

The original blade sounds and feels a bit different. For lack of a better way to explain it, it has a dry, raspy note to the sound. I've noticed no difference in it's performance, as long as it is sharp.

To complete the comparison, I thought it only fair to give it a try with the Ray Iles blade and Veritas chipbreaker that are in my type 11. This was a nice upgrade. Although I can't say it cut the wood better, it certainly sounded and felt better. In addition, it was very secure when mounted in the plane. I usually tap-adjust the blade with a small hammer, and I really had to whack this blade to get it to move laterally.

That's good. I don't think the blade will shift in the plane in use easily.
After market goodies mounted in the plane.
In the end, what really matters is the surface of the wood. I find knots in pine can be difficult to get a nice, smooth surface on, but this plane did a superb job.
Knot too shabby. Har-har.
In conclusion, I don't think one has to feel ashamed of their late model Made in England Stanley. This plane can definitely hang with the big boys.

My guess is many other planes can, too.

Next up: Record No. 4

If you haven't already, read my post on the Stanley type 11.


  1. Nice comparision of th etwo planes.
    I have an identical English made Baley No. 4 with all the same details as yours. It was given to me when I was about 14 so around 1985 and was brand new then. So guess they either did not alter the design at all or your plane was made later than you think

    1. Hey Ty! Thanks for the comment. If I were to guess, I would guess that this plane is from the 1980s. However, I'm told Stanleys of that era have ribs in the casting. There really is not much information out there that I've found.


  2. I'm enjoying your comparisons. I have the Record 405 which is the english made Stanley 45 and I think it is a fine plane.
    Liked the knot pun.

    1. Hey Ralph! Thanks for the nice comment. I'm finding that I used to have a lot of unfair bad opinions about plane manufacturers that I've had no actual experience with. A while back I got a Record #71 router plane, and I was very impressed with the workmanship on that plane, so I decided to explore that brand a bit more.

      Thanks for laughing at my joke. Cheers!

  3. I had some English Stanleys (a 5 and a 6) from the mid 80's that I bought new at the company store in New Britain. I used to sneak in there on the way home from work until they started checking if I worked there.

    Anyway, the ones I bought had the plastic handles that were my major gripe with them. The castings were pretty heavy and not especially flat. I tuned them up and sold them off on ebay - the buyers were happy with them.

    They were decent tools, not great as built, but I didn't care for the look and feel over a vintage tool. Just look at the lever caps on those planes. The old one has flowing curves and from the side the curve blends with the side curve of the plane. The new one is crude by comparison, as though the designer couldn't figure out how to get the shape into his CAD system.

    I still have a couple of shoulder planes from the same time, also made in England.

    A lot is said about the ribbed face vs. the flat face on the frogs and I see no benefit to the flat face. The lever cap only presses on the blade at the lever and the bottom of the cap iron. The middle has no pressure on it at all.

    For a thick iron like a LN, there may be some benefit with maintaining an oil film between very flat surfaces but that only helps for adjustment, not use. Between the flimsy blades and people's inclination to hand "flatten" them there is no lubrication benefit to a flat frog on a Stanley.

    I'm enjoying your objective look at the planes and agree with your statement that sharpness is number one for determining performance.

    1. Hey Steve, thank you for the thoughtful reply.

      I very much agree with your opinions on the aesthetics of this plane. I guess I'll have to post some more pictures. The old one definitely is cooler and makes me smile more. I was only trying to make the point that the new one is every bit as capable of working as well as the old one on the wood.

      If there is anything this plane has taught me, it is that you shouldn't take anything you read too seriously. If you need a plane and the one in front of you isn't the one that some "expert" says you should get, give it a try. That is, with certain exceptions. I'm a bit wary of any company that manufactures this style of plane currently, especially for cheap. You can't tell me that Made in India is just as good as Made in Sheffield. Also, I'm a bit wary of Chinese copies of modern premium planes. And yes, I include Stanley Sweetheart in this category.

      OTOH, one doesn't really know unless one tries.

  4. "In addition, it was very secure when mounted in the plane. I usually tap-adjust the blade with a small hammer, and I really had to whack this blade to get it to move laterally."
    Was it because the iron/chip-breaker assembly was thicker and the lever-cap screw setting was unchanged?
    There might be a compromise between right/left stability and easy/smooth depth of cut adjustment. Paul Sellers who constantly adjust the depth of cut has somewhere a comment about the lever-cap screw setting: something like "just enough to get a positive click when toggling the lever-cam"
    Interesting subject:

    1. Hi Sylvain, no, I adjusted the lever cap screw when I changed the blade. It was under a similar tension as the regular blade. I'm not sure why it was so snug, but I have to say it was really nice. One could get used to that.


  5. Nice work on the plane. As you say, it's only as good as it is sharp.
    I'd say the old stanleys look better.. but that's it. Put it on the shelf and use the modern one. As you've demonstrated, with an Illes Iron it cuts as good as the best of them.
    I think, you may see a 'Q' and odd numbers in the frog casting on it?
    If so, it was made at the Qualcast fine castings foundry in Derbyshire. (same goes for Record planes)

  6. After restoration, wipe entire blade with Ren wax to protect it. No fingerprints, does not yellow or cake. Was 1st used by British Museum….