Frederick stanley born 1883 640 x 360

History of Stanley Hand Planes – 1843 to 2020

Stanley hand planes are an iconic part of my woodworking heritage. From my early years discovering woodworking to my later years mastering the art I still have a fondness for ‘Vintage Stanley hand planes’. This is not born of sentiment but the fact those tools of yesteryear are just so dam good.



What was your first Handplane?

My first ever plane was the surform which was more like a rasp! I was elevated to the Stanley Handyman No4. Not a bad plane but the knob and the tote were made from plastic and they made my hands sweat. 

Who is Frederic Trent Stanley?

Frederic Trent Stanley of ‘Stanley Works’. Born, 1802  in New Britain Connecticut. This American had a vision which materialised at the age of 41. 

Where was Stanley Works located in 1843?

The original Stanley Works were located in New Britain of Connecticut. Nothing too impressive with its single-level wooden shed but effective nonetheless. A bit more than just shed! 

History of Stanley Tools – My Video Tutorial >>>

This video starts from the start of Frederick T Stanley’s career as a renowned tool maker of woodworking hand planes with the added knowledge of how the Bailey name got on the plane body.

Interesting Stanley tools Fact

About 50 Stanley Black and Decker tools are sold each second around to almost every country around the world!

Did Stanley works always make hand planes?

No, The Stanley works originally made ironmongery such as door metalwork like hinges and shoot bolts. This hardware company soon gained notoriety and respect with its customers.

When did Stanley start to export?

Stanley Works started to export during the 1870s, After gaining customer loyalty built on Stanleys incredible customer service, something that some companies should follow. Stanley saw the huge opportunities that he could embrace. His business was an ideal export company because his products were non-perishable and so could stand up to the long journeys across the pacific ocean. 

The Stanley Sweetheart No4 Smoothing Hand Plane

Rise of the machine!

Although the Stanley ethos was to provide quality and customer satisfaction we shouldn’t be naive and assume all was Rosey. Industrialisation and in particular ironworks caused huge negative impacts on society and the environment. Towns became overpopulated for their current infrastructure. Rapid industrial growth increased migration and urbanisation was the result caused. Also, the transportation of raw materials and finished products meant that new roads and rail networks were needed. Machines were powered by newly invented steam engines which required coal which as we know now that there is no such thing as ‘Clean Coal’!!

Wooden planes became yesterday’s news!

Wooden planes have for centuries served craftsmen well. Once the 1860s were upon the industrial movement new innovations were prolific and no less iconic is the metal-bodied hand plane. Stanley has a reincarnation of the traditional Bailey hand plane with this low-angle Jack plane with an adjustable mouth. 

ECE beech wood smoothing plane

Wooden planes were often made by the woodworker himself forging the plane irons on a garden fire. My Great Grandfather was a master craftsman and he was known for his time tempering tool steel. It seems a shame that these skills are rarely practised.

Hand Planes for Woodworking, Explained

Mr Stanley was a ruthless businessman

Frederick Trent Stanley saw that he was well placed to take advantage of this new innovation. Using tactics now seen by other locusts such as Walmart!  He managed to acquire small plane manufacturers and their patents and if they did not comply well Mr Stanley did what he could to bury them. 

Leonard Bailey born 1825 640 x 360

Who was Stanley Bailey?

Woodworkers who have experience with Stanley hand planes will know of the Stanley Bailey but Stanley Bailey was two people and you already know one of them! Mr Stanley. The other was Leonard Bailey who was born in 1825 and evolved into a very talented toolmaker and cabinetmaker. Like many cabinet makers, Leonard would make his own tools for his trade. He invented many designs for metal-bodied hand planes which pretty much moulded what we see as a hand plane today. Leonard was no fool and managed to patent many pieces of machinery and equipment elements.

Stanley and Bailey Tie the knot!

Together they were unstoppable making planes together but like some other marriages this one did not last and they parted as individual plane makers.

What came next for Stanley and Bailey?

Leonard Bailey carried on making his Victor and Defiance mark. Sadly he did not survive Stanley’s market dominance and finally shut up shop. After many a court case against the plaintiff: Frederick Stanley for patent breaches which Leonard lost. Leonard Bailey turned to build printing presses.

Frederick Stanley and Rule and Level Co merged in 1920

After the merge, the Stanley name was fast becoming the go too brand for all woodworking tools and pretty much a household name. It wasn’t just the plane which touched the hearts of artisans but an avalanche of new tool designs came out of the factory; Everything from the humble square to the iconic Stanley Bailey No7 jointer.

Stanley works
 Chronological History of Stanley Tools 
1802Frederick T Stanley was Born
1841Mr Stanley had a Vision
1843Frederick T Stanley Founded ‘Stanley Bolt Manufacturing’
1853Frederick T Stanley Founded ‘Stanley Works’
1860Metal Bodied Hand Planes broke through and woodworkers were soon replacing their wooden planes.
1857Henry Stanley (Cousin of Frederick Stanley) Founded ‘Stanley Rule & Level’
1867Leonard Bailey (Inventor) patented his woodworking hand plane designs
1880Stanley is now the sole agent for Victor hand planes
1884Stanley buys Victor Bailey and discontinues the range of planes
1883, August 2ndFrederick T Stanley died at the age of 80 years old
1905Leonard Bailey passes away but his designs are still used today
1905‘Stanley Tools’ add the ‘Bailey’ name to their range of planes as a tribute to ‘Leonard Bailey’
1920‘Stanley Works’ merge with ‘Stanley Rule and Level’
1963The World-famous ‘Stanley Powerlock’ tape measure was introduced
1966‘Stanley Works’ is officially added to the New York stock exchange
1980Woodworking plane manufacturing suffers as many are turning to electric planes
2010‘Stanley Works’ merged with Black and Decker in a deal worth 4.5 billion, combined they are worth 8.5 billion
2017‘Stanley Black and Decker’ new acquisition of Newell Tools which adds: Irwin, Lenox and Hilmor

My conclusion and thoughts on Stanley hand planes

It cant be denied Stanley has  had a checkered evolution with many trials and tribulations. These ups and downs do seem to have developed into a strong 24 billion dollar industry which is considerable growth since merging with Black and Decker in 2010. At the time of the merge Stanley Black & Decker they were worth 8.5 billion.

My thoughts

Like many a passionate woodworker, I have for years been inflicted with a sentimental love for the Stanley Bailey hand planes. As a result, I own a few and these good old Leonard Bailey designs are the seed of many hand plane designs today. So many manufacturers have based their own designs on the Bailey hand plane. Sadly some manufacturers have plagiarized the Leonard Bailey patents and with varying degrees of success.

Sadly the new offerings from Stanley Black and Decker do not meet the standards set by the original Stanley Works or even the Stanley Rule and Level company. There is no comparison between today’s Stanley bailey and the old tool probably because of cost-saving and poor quality overseas manufacturing. Fortunately, Stanley has re-introduced the Stanley sweetheart range of tools which are actually pretty good.

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1 thought on “History of Stanley Hand Planes – 1843 to 2020”

  1. I am a modest collector and user of Stanley metal handplanes. I am restoring two Stanley 39s. Who or where can I find the thread specs for the knicker spurs on the 39? I think they are size 6, but not 6×32. I wonder if they might be 6×40 or 6×48 which were in common use in the early 1900s, particularly with gunsmiths. Can you help me find an answer?

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