A real Stanley No 55 Plane

A few weeks ago I picked up an old Stanley No 55 plane at an auction. In all my years in buying old tools, I’ve never seen an old Stanley No 55 quite like this one. Stanley referred to the 55 as a molding machine in itself. It came with 55 blades which interchange with the plane to cut different profiles. Stanley even provided a booklet with the plane to help the user create some of the different profiles.

  

When I won the plane at auction, all the parts where there except the screwdriver but who cares about the screwdriver other than a collector anyway? What made this 55 special were the two dozen extra blades that the original owner cut and used with the plane.

If you know anything about a Stanley 55, you know that one of the reasons that most examples that are found out in the wild are in pristine condition is because they were hardly ever used. The plane is notorious for being too complicated to set up with its various fence and sliding section adjustments. Most craftsmen simply gave up and stuck it on the shelf to sit and collect dust.

However, this plane was different. Most all of the blades were sharpened and ready to cut. Even some of the complex cutters had scuff marks on them from where they were used.

But what was most intriguing part of the plane was the extra cutters that came with it. These cutters weren’t special cutters available from Stanley at the time. These were probably handmade by the craftsman himself. The mere fact that this craftsman knew not only how to use the blades that came with the plane, but went so far as to make a couple of dozens of extra cutters and put them to use makes me green with envy.

I admit that I have messed around with a Stanley 55 plane in the past. And while I was able to make some of the simple profile blades cut well, I had very little luck with the complex ones. The biggest problem with cutting complex profiles with a Stanley 55 is the fact that the plane rides on skates and does not compress the wood in front of the blade like a wooden complex molding plane does. You often end up getting a lot of tear out in the grain ruining the piece you’re cutting.

So how this craftsman got the plane to work well enough to motivate him to make his own cutters and put them to work baffles me. The one thing I do know about making the Stanley 55 work well is to use straight grain wood and have a very sharp blade to avoid tear out. Apparently this guy was a master with the plane getting these complex blades to work. I just wish he would have left a pamphlet on how he did it.

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11 Replies to “A real Stanley No 55 Plane”

  1. Have you had any luck with using the custom made cutters? Some of these look really wide. I have fooled around with making custom cutters. I made a matching pair for a rule joint which works OK. The deep profiles seem to give the most trouble with tear out and chatter. The smaller cutters work great.

    1. It’s funny you mention it. I was just thinking about those cutters this week. Unfortunately I’ve been too busy to try the specialty cutters but I have used the other ones with success. Roy Underhill made an episode on The Woodwrights Shop where he uses a Stanley combination plane and all the different cutters. He also just wrote an article in Pop Wood about the same.

      Look forward to a blog about using the specialty cutters in the coming weeks. You’ve motivated me.

  2. Boy is it tough to get any info on that stanley 55.
    I have one here in Australia that am looking at selling, but am looking for a ball park figure what to ask for it.
    Condition is excellent in original box, not rust, no dents, instruction book, screwdriver, and a full set of 55 blades.
    I doubt its ever been used

    Any help on pricing?

    Thanks
    Fred

    1. If it’s dead mint with everything complete, I’ve seen them go for as high as $1000 US at auction. The key is having two bidders fighting over it. If you threw it on eBay, I’m sure you could get $500-800 for it, possibly more.

      You may want to contact an auction company like Martin J Donnelly or Clarence Blanchard to sell yours through a well known antique tool auction company, but they’ll probably take 30 percent of the final hammer price.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply.

        Getting it to the USA would be an issue for an auction so may have to go down the Ebay or local auction.

        Thanks again.

  3. my Dad made several cutters for short run match situations. They work takes a bit of trial and error and really straight grain wood. The wider blades are the challenge! Takes more umph to get it down the length. For simple beads etc, I prefer the 45. It is far easier to adjust. have 2 “55’s, 3 45;s . plane on thinning that heard soon.
    Good luck! there is satisfaction after making a molding with one of these. If you can get a good woody, they are a breeze.

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