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Tool manufacturers, like most other corporations, are influenced by the Madison Avenue advertising machines that create and offer fresh interpretations of sometimes tired, old products. Something as simple as a color change can spark a buying frenzy. The appearance of the tailfin during the 1950s in the automobile sector, culminating with the 1959 models, was truly a departure from the staid and plain models of previous years. For some historians, those changes coincided with the coming of the International Geophysical Year and the emerging space race. Luckily our subject matter of today has never swayed from its original design; it has just suffered the adding and taking away of bells and whistles.
Alix W. Stanley of New Britain, Connecticut, sought with patent #738,500, dated September 8, 1903, to improve the repeatability of settings as applied on a circular plane. This eliminated constant premeasuring of a curvature. By inserting a scale into the threaded post, settings could be read and easily noted for future use. This plane patent was the final version of Bailey’s original patent (1871) for a flexible sole plane. By 1905, there were more than 15 patents issued for flexible-soled planes. Of all types and variations by all makers, the #20 and #20-1/2 styles are considered the most usable of the metal-bodied circular planes. The model #20 shown here was manufactured from 1897 until 1958 and had a nickel finish until 1919, after which it was japanned. The #20-½, a japanned version, was manufactured from 1902 to 1917 only. Alix W. Stanley went on to be president of Stanley Rule & Level Company in 1911.
For any tradesperson, a compass-type tool may be a necessity if doing circular work, and the traditional wooden plane method was to make a purpose-built tool with a fixed radius that was either concave or convex. Many also used the spokeshave as a cheaper alternative. As mentioned above, the emergence of this type of metal plane allowed for both concave and convex radii to be cut with one tool. This type of plane, or a similar version, has been produced for more than 150 years and is still available today. To use such a plane, the initial arc is established, perhaps with a saw or other means, and the final truing to the line is done in small sections. It is virtually impossible to plane a full radius of size without having chatter. Perhaps that is why many of these planes are sitting on the shelf. It is unknown whether any of this model plane with the indicator rod were ever manufactured.
D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.