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Copy Cat Blocks and One From the Model Shop

Updated: May 12, 2023

On July 6, 1852, Birdsill Holly was granted Patent No. 9,094 for a cast iron bench plane. In addition to his cast iron bench planes he produced and sold two models of a cast iron block plane. There are no individual patents for these block planes and they were manufactured for only about 8 years probably between 1851 and 1859.<1> Two versions of his cast iron block plane are known. One of the variations on the Holly block plane is shown in Figure 1. This 7 ¾ inch long plane is probably the first version of Holly’s block plane.

Birdsill Holly Block Plane First Version

Figure 1. The First Version of Birdsill Holly's Cast Iron Block Plane. Photo Courtesy of Jim Bode Tools.

Figure 2 shows the second and more commonly seen version of Holly’s block plane. This unused Holly block plane is from the Stanley Model Shop and has the Model Shop number “47” painted on the toe and the lever cap. It too is 7 ¾ inches long like the first version and is 2 and 1/16ths inches wide at the mouth. It has an attractive “boat tail” shape and is more narrowed at the heel of the plane than the first version. The captive “shoe buckle” lever cap is held in place by a pin driven through two holes in the sidewalls of the plane. The unmarked cutter has squared off corners and is supported on a raised casting 2 ¼ inches from the heel of the plane. A cast iron “horseshoe nail” wedge is placed between the upper surface of the cutter and the under surface of the captive “shoe buckle” lever cap. There are the remnants of a copper wash on the surface of the “horseshoe nail” wedge.

Birdsill Holly Block Plane from the Stanley Model Shop

Figure 2. Birdsill Holly's Block Plane from the Stanley Model Shop.

On many examples of these block planes, the metal wedge has been lost and had been replaced by a wooden wedge. The cutter’s depth of cut is adjusted by hand and the wedge-shaped pin is then pushed into position wedging the cutter in place and at the same time causing the front edge of the lever cap to apply pressure toward the front edge of the cutter (See Figure 3). The wooden front knob would have been simply pressure fitted into the round raised boss on the toe of the plane, but unfortunately, that is missing. The casting is of high quality and about 80-90% of the japanning remains on the plane. It’s a mystery how this unused version of a Holly block plane came to reside in the Stanley Model Shop more than 10 years after Holly stopped producing planes.

Birdsill Holly Block Plane Rear View from Stanley Model Shop

Figure 3. Birdsill Holly Block Plane Rear View. Note the 'Horeshoe Nail" Wedge that is Pushed Under the "Shoe Buckle" Lever Cap. A Small Amount of Copper Wash Remains on the Wedge.

Holly's block plane from the Stanley Model Shop captured the attention of two of the major inventors at Stanley in the years between 1869 and 1874; Leonard Bailey and Justus Traut. Both of them “copied” or maybe a better word is “appropriated” Holly’s design for their own block plane designs. Since there are no patents known that apply to Holly’s block plane and since he was no longer manufacturing them, and his 1852 patent had expired by 1869, both of these men could incorporate aspects of Holly’s planes into their own block planes without having to face any legal or economic consequences.

Leonard Bailey sold his plane business to the Stanley Rule & Level Company in 1869 and was hired by Stanley to manufacture his planes for them. He supervised the plane “shop” with his own group of employees. Justus Traut had been a Stanley employee since the mid 1850’s and was an accomplished inventor and mechanic like Bailey. He also ran his own “shop” with his group of loyal employees at Stanley . Almost from day one, Bailey and the management at Stanley had a contentious relationship, particularly in regards to the royalties he was being paid on his plane patents and his desire for total control of Stanley’s woodworking plane production. Bailey had developed his #9 ½ block plane in 1871 and Stanley first offered it for sale in their 1872 catalog (See Figure 4).

Stanley #91/2 Block Plane. Type 1 in Foreground, Type 3 in Rear

Figure 4. Leonard Bailey's #91/2 Block Plane. Type 1 in Foreground, Type 3 in Rear. Manufactured at Stanley Rule & Level Company.

This first version of the 9 ½ utilized a lever and eccentric pin cutter adjustment based on Bailey’s June 22, 1858 patent No. 20,615. By 1875 Bailey had modified the 9 ½ block plane and incorporated a cutter adjuster that consisted of a right hand threaded vertical post with a brass thumb wheel and a forked wrench shaped adjusting lever. This adjustment mechanism is based on Bailey’s patent No. 67,398 of August 6, 1867. The plane worked extremely well and sold very well.<2>

In an attempt to garner a larger share of the growing block plane market Stanley wanted to introduce a lower cost non-adjustable block plane for the casual user and hobbyist. They asked Justus Traut to develop this plane rather than Leonard Bailey. Traut proceeded to essentially copy Holly’s block plane with minor modifications. He filed a patent application on November 13, 1874, and was granted patent, No. 159,865 on February 16, 1875, which describes a cutter adjustment mechanism that is mechanically very similar to the cutter adjuster Bailey had patented on June 22, 1858 (See Figure 5).

Traut's Patent for a Block Plane No. 159,865

Figure 5. Justus Traut's Patent for a Block Plane No. 159,865 granted February 16, 1875

Possibly because of this similarity in cutter adjustments Stanley decided not to produce Traut’s block plane as described in the patent, but instead introduced Traut’s block plane as a non-adjustable block plane, the #110 Block Plane in the fall of 1874 (a few months before his patent was granted). It cost 75 cents compared to two dollars for the Bailey No 9 ½ Block Plane. The plane shown in Figure 6 is an example of the #110 block plane as sold by Stanley in 1874. This plane is 7 3/8” long compared to the 7 ¾ inch Holly block plane and 1 and 15/16ths inches wide at the mouth. The 1 5/8ths inches wide cutter is unmarked and has a round top. The front knob is turned fruit wood and is friction fit into the round raised receiver on the toe of the plane. Traut added some vertical ribs to the sidewalls, a raised reinforcing nib at the tail, a nice filigree design to the lever cap, and replaced the “horse shoe nail” wedge with a winged adjusting nut, but, it is essentially the same plane as Holly’s.

Stanley #110 Block Plane Type 1, Justus Traut

Figure 6. Stanley #110 Block Plane Type 1 c. 1874, designed by Justus Traut. Note the vertical ribs on the side walls and the filigree design on the "shoe buckle" lever cap.

The introduction of this plane by Stanley infuriated Leonard Bailey and contributed to his decision to leave Stanley on June 1, 1875, and strike out on his own.<3> Bailey had been contemplating this move for some time and had been laying the ground work for his exit from Stanley and the establishment of his new business, Leonard Bailey & Company, in Hartford, Connecticut. Under his contract agreement with Stanley he couldn’t take his plane designs and patents with him, so he had quietly been working to develop a whole new line of planes. Bailey it appears, like Traut, looked at the Holly block plane in the Stanley Model Shop and also copied many of the features of this plane for his new line of Victor non-adjustable block planes. Figure 7 shows a Victor “0” non-adjustable block plane.<4>

Victor "0" Block Plane by Leonard Bailey

Figure 7. Victor "0" Block Plane by Leonard Bailey c. 1874

It is 7 and 1/16th inches long and 1 and 15/16ths inches wide at the mouth. The plane body is nicely boat shaped with the same raised nib at the tail as Traut’s version, but is a bit wider at both the toe and tail than the Traut or Holly planes. Bailey used a two-piece metal front knob, and substituted a slide in lever cap on these planes with a large lever cap adjustment screw at the top of the lever cap instead of the “shoe buckle” lever cap. The cutter has clipped corners and is unmarked.

When lined up next to each other, the similarities between these three planes are very obvious (See Figure 8). Holly would have no doubt been aware of both of these planes when they came to market and we can only wonder what he thought about all of this. He had no patent on his block plane so he had no real legal means to object. Little did he know that an unused version of his early block plane from the Stanley Model Shop would play such an important design role for these two inventors at a rather tumultuous time in the life of the Stanley Rule & Level Company.

Leonard Bailey's Victor "0" Non-Adjustable Block Plane (L), Birdsill Holly Non-Adjustable Block Plane (M), Justus Traut #110 Non-Adjustable Block Plane (R)

Figure 8. Leonard Bailey's Victor "0" Non-Adjustable Block Plane on the left, Birdsill Holly's Non-Adjustable Block Plane from the Stanley Model Shop in the Middle, and Justus Traut's #110 Non-Adjustable Block Plane as Manufactured by Stanley on the Right.

by Paul Van Pernis

Next time I'll introduce you to another interesting version of the #110 Block Plane from the Stanley Model Shop

Birdsill Holly Picture

Birdsill Holly born November 8, 1820, died April 27, 1894

<1> Birdsill Holly was born on November 8th, 1820 in Auburn, New York. His father died when he was only 10 years old and he was forced to drop out of school to help support his family. He became an apprentice in a cabinet shop and then apprenticed in a machine shop. By his late teens, he was a superintendent in a machine shop. He moved to Seneca Falls New York, in 1845 and became a partner in the Silsby, Race, and Holly Company which manufactured hydraulic machinery and steam powered fire engines. In 1851 he moved to Lockport, New York. The Holly Manufacturing Company was formed in 1859, so it may have been that Holly’s planes were made from 1851 until about 1859 in the years before the Holly Manufacturing Company was founded. His cast iron planes were a sideline business as his major focus was on cistern pumps, rotary pumps, fire hydrants and steam heating systems. He’s considered by many to be the inventor of the fire hydrant. He was granted over 150 patents in his lifetime. He was a personal friend of Thomas Edison and Edison asked him to become a research assistant at his Menlo Park laboratory but he declined, wishing to concentrate on his own business instead. He died on April 27, 1894. For more information on Holly’s cast iron planes see Roger K. Smith’s, Patented and Transitional Metallic Planes in America Vol. I, pp. 37-39 and Volume II, pp. 18-19.

<2> For further information on the Stanley #9 ½ block plane see John Wells & Jack Schoelhamer’s excellent type study titled “One Hundred Years of Bailey’s Excelsior Block Plane, The No. 9-1/2 Family”, in Antique & Collectible Stanley Tools, by John Walter, pp. 686-701.

<3> For more details on Bailey’s exit from Stanley and the beginnings of Leonard Bailey & Company see, “Leonard Bailey: The Years at Stanley Rule & Level Co., Part II” in The Gristmill, No. 136, September 2009, pp. 12-23, and “Leonard Bailey: In Hartford and Woonsocket, 1875-1884 Part I”, in The Gristmill, No 139, June 2010, pp. 10-22. Both articles are by John G. Wells and Paul Van Pernis.

<4> The non-adjustable Victor block planes were all the same size and were offered with two different finishes. The “0” has a japanned finish, the “00” has nickel plated trimmings.


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