Chris Schwarz's Blog

Editing the History of Handplane Adjusters

To most handplane users there are three principal ways to adjust the cutter in the tool: You can use a Bailey-style adjuster made popular by the U.S.-made Stanley planes, you can use a Norris-style adjuster made popular by T. Norris & Sons in its English infill planes, or you can use a mallet and tap the thing into position.

For years the debate had raged about which sort of adjustment mechanism is best (the American, the English or the Neanderthal). Me, I prefer the Bailey-style adjuster in metal-bodied planes, but that’s not the reason I’m writing this. Instead, it’s to explore a little wrinkle about the history of the Norris-style adjuster. As tool collector and carpenter Carl Bilderback told me: “Norris might have made that adjuster popular, but they didn’t invent it.”

Exhibit A is the Stanley No 12 Victor “Pocket Plane,” made by Stanley between 1879 and 1884. Bilderback showed me this plane from his collection in May, and I was intrigued. After taking the sucker apart, it’s clear that the adjuster is indeed almost identical to a so-called Norris-style adjuster, which wasn’t patented in England until 1913 (Patent No. 11526-13). Leonard Bailey patented his adjuster in 1878 (you can read the original patent on Google patents or download it:

IMPROVEMENT_IN_CARPENTERSJ_PLANES.pdf (77.97 KB)

The adjuster on the No. 12 works exactly like the adjuster on my Norris A5 smoothing plane. There are two threaded sleeves that (with the help of a couple studs) control both the projection of the cutter and its position in the mouth of the tool.

The No. 12’s adjuster works quite well. Bilderback had even sharpened up the blade on it and let me use the little guy for a bit. It was pretty sweet. In fact, it was so sweet that toolmaker Paul Hamler developed a keen interest in the plane and asked to borrow the tool so he could make a copy of it.

So perhaps we need to start calling both types of mechanical adjusters “Bailey-style” adjusters. (I really doubt that will happen.) But this little bit of research actually opens the door to some more research (if you’ve ever known an academic, you know that this is always the case, even when the additional research would be really uninteresting). Dig into the description of Bailey’s patent for the No. 12, and he admits that he wasn’t the first to come up with this idea for an adjuster, though he doesn’t name the person who beat him to the idea. Curious.

– Christopher Schwarz