It is fun to speculate on how differences in tool designs evolved in different countries and at different times. The design of tools, like other products, reflects the cultural background of the people that produced them as well as the functional requirements of the user. French and Italian tools have unique design characteristics as do English, and to a lesser extent, American tools. It is not surprising that cultural differences create differing functional and aesthetic preferences among people of different countries.
The reason several rare and decidedly American tools turn up more often in the UK than in the USA is probably due to differing customer preferences. These differences are a result of the cultural background of the people of a country as well as their economic condition, vocational needs and avocation interests.
There was a strong woodworker hobbyist movement among the upper middle class in the UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one can see by the number of publications and tools offered specifically for the amateur woodworker. During this time period the hobbyist movements was stronger in the mature economy of the UK than in the emerging economy of the USA. Small attractive tools suitable for model making or small woodworking projects were attractive to the amateur woodworker and therefore sold well in an environment where woodworking as a hobby flourished.
The Stanley 4 1/2 H and 5 1/2 H Heavy Series are the same as the standard Stanley counterparts except they have an extra thick sole which gives them the heft and feel of the much loved Spiers and Norris planes. Of course the Stanley planes do not have the visual and tactile appeal of the beautiful dovetailed and rosewood stuffed Spiers and Norris planes but they were a good deal less expensive.
The H Series Stanley planes were not offered in any Stanley Catalogues and to my knowledge never offered for sale by a US retailer. They turn up most often in England and Australia where their weight appeals to craftsmen who appreciate the ease with which a heavy plane will slide smoothly through curly grained wood without chattering or stalling. The difference in working characteristics between the H series and standard Stanley planes shows up most when planing the surface of wide boards by hand. The dedicated woodworking purists appreciated the subtle superiority of hand surfaced wood long after the production woodworker abandoned hand surfacing to the thickness planer.
Tool dealers in the UK undoubtedly told Stanley that they needed a heavier plane to satisfy customers accustomed to the feel of the Norris and Spiers planes. Stanley, eager to expand sales in the overseas market, produced the H series of planes to satisfy customer demand.
The Stanley No. 11 Bullnose Rabbet Plane has a curious adjustment mechanism. There are two methods of adjusting the depth of cut: the projection of the cutter below the bed is adjustable by a lever in the conventional way and the short bed in front of the cutter is adjustable up and down by two screws in the top of the lever cap. The cutter adjustment mechanism used on the Stanley No.11 Rabbet plane is the same as that used on the Stanley Nos. 103 and 120 block planes which was patented on Sept 2, 1879 by J.A. Traut.
The construction of the No.11 is illustrated in my exploded isometric drawing published in Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America Vol.11 by Roger K. Smith. The complex adjustment mechanism for the front bed certainly qualified this plane for intriguing gismo status which would be guaranteed its popularity among woodworking hobbyist. The Stanley No.11 Rabbet Plane was not listed in any Stanley Catalogue and to my knowledge never offered by a US retailer. Stanley produced the No.11 Rabbet Plane concurrently with the No.11 Beltmakers Plane which is the only instance that I know of when Stanley used the same number for two different planes produced at the same time.
The No.11 Rabbet plane was illustrated and recommended to the amateur woodworker in ‘Everyman His Own Mechanic’ published by Ward and Lock. It was offered in England by Churchill and Co. in the 1880s and was probably made for that firm on special order for sale to the amateur woodworker who preferred a small adjustable rabbet plane to the non adjustable No.75 Bullnose Rabbet plane offered under the Stanley name. The Stanley No.90 Bull Nose rabbet plane, introduced in 1898, was a superior tool and soon became the tool of choice for both the professional and hobbyist woodworker
These charming little planes introduced by Stanley in 1896 combine functionality with outstanding form and a happy marriage of nickel plated metal and rosewood. It is not surprising that they were popular in the UK where there were a number of beautiful examples of small wood side rabbets with steel soles. The No.98 & 99 Side Rabbets turn up in both the USA and the UK but they are far more often found in the UK supporting the theory that woodworkers in the UK have excellent taste in tools.
The Stanley No.101 1/2 is the bull nose version of the series of toy size block planes made by Stanley. Two planes in the series the 101 1/2 and the 201 were never offered in any Stanley Catalogue. The 101 1/2 was offered in the USA by Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. from 1907 until 1930 or later. It was recommended in ‘Everyman His Own Mechanic’ on the same page with the elusive No.11 Rabbet plane and was offered in the UK by Church and Co., Buck and Hickman and possibly others.
There was a more lively interest in woodworking in the early 20th century amongst the upper middle class in England than in the USA. The hobbyist woodworker movement did not become popular in the USA until the mid 1930’s. Small inexpensive tools that have an interesting mechanism appealed to the amateur woodworker. From the number of American tools in outstanding condition that turn up in England it appears the English amateur woodworkers took excellent care of their tools and therefore more of them survived.
Appeared 1997 – Toolshop Auctions Catalogue