Two-piece Cap Irons

two piece cap iron

The two-piece cap iron a unique design and for some it’s a royal PITA; for others it’s a useful addition to a well-tuned bench plane. These days you’ll find them on the Clifton (above) range of planes but before that they were an option provided by Record on the company’s bench planes from the late 1930s until they were dropped in the 1960s.

So what was does this option offer? Record marketed the concept (and patented it, see the final image) within a range of planes referred to as “Stay-Set.” A catchy name perhaps, but unless you have some prior knowledge or read the sales hype, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Stay-Set somehow retains your plane’s setting when you remove the iron for honing and then reinsert it.

That it does not do, nor was it marketed to do so. What it did and does is retain your cap-iron setting after honing. Another feature is that because the cap iron is not sprung, it applies no bending forces to the plane iron. Again, no big thing, but to demonstrate what happens with a conventional cap iron, take a look at the frog on this Stanley No. 4 (below) that has been in used almost every day for 45 years. You’ll notice that the top of the frog is worn and shiny where the deflected plane iron moves across the surface during lateral adjustment.

two piece cap iron

 

The two-piece cap iron means more of the plane iron gets support on the frog preventing this wear and creating a really stable platform. But in the real world, if a plane in use over 45 years sees only this amount of wear, perhaps it’s not something to worry about too much.

The original two-piece concept also suggested time-saving during honing, because you wouldn’t need to have a screwdriver on hand to remove the cap iron. Again in the real world, it does not amount to enough time to grab an extra vacation at the end of the year.

So why did this design never really catch on and become copied by others? If you’ve been used to one-piece cap irons it can take a moment to get used to the fact the front of it is loose, and you might find yourself picking it off the floor a couple of times. If you’re a busy woodworker not blessed with a permanent bench, or find yourself on the job site, I think the front of the cap iron could also find itself lost all too readily. Old two-piece cap irons with the nose missing are not unusual to find on eBay. So in the real world it’s not a quantum leap, nor should it be viewed as an essential feature or silver bullet.

That said I like it. I like the way it holds the plane iron flat, I like the way I can hone very quickly without losing my cap-iron setting, and I got used to it quickly enough and have no issue setting it. But then again, I like Marmite.

two piece cap iron

— Graham Haydon

CATEGORIES
PWM Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs
Graham Haydon

About Graham Haydon

Graham Haydon is a Joiner based in the UK, working in the same woodworking business his great grandfather started in 1926 alongside his father, brother and a small team of craftspeople. The business makes custom architectural joinery, simple furniture and custom kitchens along with a variety of other woodworking projects. He served an apprenticeship in both Joinery and Carpentry and also gained a National Certificate in Building Studies. During his spare time he enjoys woodworking mainly with hand tools.

6 thoughts on “Two-piece Cap Irons

  1. Simon the Welshman

    Hi Graham, are you in the UK or US? I can’t work out if you are part of G S Haydon & Son Ltd, or a different fellow altogether. Just curious, Cheers!

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Simon,

      I do indeed put the “G” into G S Haydon & Son!. Actually the G is my Great Grandfather, George. Keeps the business title nicely linked though.

      Cheers

      G

      1. Simon the Welshman

        Well, there ya go! I’ve just trawled a lot of your blog posts and oh my, you have been a busy fella! I like the writing style and the photos are consistent which is unusual for bloggers. I definitely like the use of B&W images. I’m going to be getting a blog going soon, just for some fun and I’ll probably be including a lot of developments from the woodworking club. Anyway, good stuff mate, keep it up – it’s interesting!

        1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

          Hi Simon,

          I look forward to your blog and im delighted to hear about the club and wish you well with it. Having a space where people can take advantage of some shared tools, machines and ideas has to be good!

          G

  2. Simon the Welshman

    Hi Graham. Good post on the two piece design. I saw this on Clifton planes a few years ago but didn’t think it would fit in with the way I sharpen up my plane irons. I always give the flat face a quick lick on a 1200grit diamond stone before stropping, so taking off the cap iron is just part of what I do. Anyway, you’re dead right – no one’s ever going to be able to take a longer vacation on the time saved by this fairly ingenious deign feature! Ha Ha! Really nice B&W photos, by the way. Simon

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Simon, thanks for the comment.

      With the nose of the cap iron off it’s got plenty of area for a go on the stone, but unless you like Marmite then your present cap iron will serve you well. It’s interesting that Veritas have given the “Stay-Set” concept a new spin. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to try that one out. Glad you like the photos!

      Cheers

      G

Comments are closed.