The Superior Works: Patrick's Blood and Gore Planes #55 - #57 

Quick Find: #55, #56, #57

#55 Universal Combination Plane 10"L, (various widths), 15 1/4lbs, 1897-1962.

Bought it. Used it. Hated it. Sold it.

The Great Zeus Himself thought His sentence of Prometheus to be the ultimate punishment for mankind, and throughout the millenia it was. That is, until the year 1897 when Messrs. Justus Traut and Edmund Schade devised a torture that knew no bounds betwixt Gods and mortals. We should all be so lucky to be chained to a rock and have our livers eaten daily by an organ-hungry raptor than to suffer the agony of this contraption. Even the Chinese would have gladly abandoned their infamous drip, drip, drip of water to the forehead had they been on Stanley's favored nations tradelist. If there can be a ball and chain of planes, this is it, baby.

Down in Australia this chunk of metal has been used as a doorstop (no lie). Here in America, it's been used as a woodworking tool. Now, you tell me which nation is more civilized? And since I'm on a roll slamming this tool, why stop here? Stanley advertised that the #55 was "A planing mill in itself." More like "A paining kill in itself" is a befitting slogan for the tool. Over in Greece, sponge divers tie these things around their waists as ballast to get them to the briney depths sooner. In India, swamis position a few dozen of them in a rectangular fashion and then have a snooze atop them.

This plane certainly is one clever chunk of metal design. With the success of the #45, and other Stanley combination planes, it wasn't long before Stanley produced this. The timing was perfect for its introduction, since metal planes of all sorts had proliferated for some 30 years prior, which meant there would be little objection from those guys trained in the "old school" (they were dead, dying, or feeble), and the wooden plane business was all but dead. Also, what pitiful few moldings that were fashionable at the time were simple profiles, which the #55 could handle. Had the complex Grecian profiles still been popular, this plane might never gotten off the ground.

Put simply, it's a temperamental monster that requires much fussing with in order for it to work well. Were you in the need to make a short run of molding, it may be a suitable alternative to a wooden plane. However, for any profile that you plan to stick over and over, a dedicated wooden plane is preferable. Why? Wooden molding planes are self-regulating; i.e., they have a fixed fence, a fixed profile, and a fixed depth stop. The #55 also has these three necessities, but none of them are fixed; they are all variable and require a great amount of skill/patience to get them to work perfectly. This fact doesn't rear its ugly head so much when sticking a profile with a single cutter (say an ogee), but it surely does when using a combination of cutters to stick a profile that normally can be found in a wooden plane. It also suffers the same deficiency that the #45 does regarding stock selection - the wood must be even-grained to minimize tearout, since there is no mouth, in the true sense of the word, on this plane.

Stanley loved to claim that this plane "will do a greater variety of work than can be done with a full line of so called Fancy Planes." This, as any person knowledgable of wooden planes knows, is utter propaganda. What this same person recognizes is the truth to Stanley's claim that the plane is more compact, and thus lighter, than a full line of "Fancy Planes," but big deal. Unless you're a mobile workman, these facts are meaningless. For an operating cabinetshop, there's plenty of room for all the "Fancy Planes." What Stanley didn't say is that their metal beast, with one cutter in it, weighs a minimum of 7 3/4 lbs. There is no wooden molding plane (other than a wider than usual cornice plane, of a profile the #55 couldn't produce anyway) that weighs that much.

The plane is pretty much the same as the #45. It goes a bit further by facilitating cutters that require irregular bearing points across their width. For example, a simple bead can be cut with a #45 since both sides of the profile are in the same geometric plane. Two skates, one at each side of the bead are positioned; one skate, on the main stock is fixed, and the other, part of the sliding section, is secured to the arms. This same principle is used on a more complex profile, like an ogee; the cutter is fixed in the main stock, and the sliding section is positioned to the other side of the cutter. Problem is, this part of of the cutter is incapable of cutting since the skate, being only laterally adjustable and not vertically adjustable, precludes it from making contact with the wood.

To address this deficiency, the #55 has a vertically adjustable sliding section, which allows the skate to be moved up or down to expose the leftmost (to the main stock) portion of an irregular cutter. A long threaded rod accomplishes this. Also attached to the sliding section is an auxiliary skate, or bottom, which is likewise adjustable both vertically and laterally. This auxiliary bottom is used as extra support to prevent the cutter from gouging into the work (hey, wooden molding planes don't do that). Where this bottom is used is on profiles like ogees, or compositions using the hollows and rounds cutters.

The plane can only hold one cutter at a time. Its position from the the board's edge is regulated by an adjustable fence. There are two of these fences, which can be used on either side of the plane. The fence that's normally used on the left side of the plane comes with an adjustable face (made of rosewood), which can be tilted up to 45 degrees so that chamfers can be worked. This same face also has a fine adjustment mechanism to allow greater accuracy when positioning the cut's location on the board (the fact that the plane has this feature ought to give an indication that setting the plane up is a task unto itself).

The right fence also has a rosewood face that can be titled up to 45 degrees, but it uses conventional wood screws to do that. It doesn't have the fine adjustment that the left fence does. Instead, this fence has a flat outside (the side opposite the rosewood face), which makes it possible to flip the fence around and use this face as a fence. Since the fence is supported by curved arms, this feature allows the plane to be worked farther from the edge than it normally would be.

It's very important to position the left and right fences properly in order for the plane to work. Since the rosewood face can pivot, catastrophic (in the planing sense) results can occur if particular attention is not paid during set-up. The rosewood face must be perfectly parallel to the side of the cutter. If it isn't, the plane will bind - the cutter will tend to draw the fence tighter and tighter to the edge, the deeper it cuts - or the plane will ride off the board - the cutter pushes the fence away from the board's edge, the deeper it cuts.

Other than missing parts, there are a few things about this plane that should be inspected before you purchase one. Make sure all the parts can be loosened by hand. Stay away from those examples with rusted parts; parts may be siezed and may break when you try to back them out. The metal rods should have a smooth surface to them; if there's any rust at all on them, the fences will bind when you move them. This can be fixed by removing the rust and then spraying with a machine oil, or, if they are badly rusted, replacing them. Make sure the rosewood on the fences is nice. You want these rosewood strips smooth and flat so the plane tracks well. If they aren't, you can face them up with a smoothing plane provided there is enough rosewood left before you hit the heads of the fastening screws. Replacing these rosewood strips is no easy chore since they are molded on their backsides to allow their pivoting.

There is one metal part that I've seen broken on many of these planes. It's part #42 below. This L-shaped part has a lot of stress put on it by the center bottom (skate), if the workman isn't careful when starting the plane. It's very easy to smack this piece on the end of the board, which then causes the piece to move backward at the bottom, and forward at the top. This piece sits in a shallow track, which can break out over time. It was a poorly designed mechanism and was never re-designed. When using the plane, take care to secure this part in place tightly and don't let it whack the end of the board. Look for breaks and/or repairs on the castings of the fences.

The captive depth stop, located to the right of the main stock, can sometimes be found with tow holes drilled in it, one forward and one backward of the threaded post. Planes manufactured during the sweetheart era (1920's and early 1930's) can be found with this kind of depth stop, but most examples of the plane have a 'solid' depth stop.

On some models of the plane, you may note a flat-headed screw that's positioned on the right side of the main stock, below the handle. If you look at your sliding section, just back where the cutter rests, you also may see a small hole drilled there. It's in this hole where the screw goes, after you remove it from its normal storage place just below the tote. It would be too easy to say that screw is where the chain is fastened to the plane - the same chain that has a shackle on the other end through which the owner's ankle is fastened, but that wouldn't be true. The screw does have a function, like every other screw, nut, bolt, whistle, bell, glitter, etc. on the plane.

The function of the screw, which also has a washer, is to lend some support to the left side of the cutter, when working a molding on a chamfer, or some similar situation where there is an inordinate amount of force being applied to the sliding section. In these cases, the sliding section is taking a good amount of the plane's weight, as well as the downward force you tend to exert on the plane while pushing it, both of which can cause the sliding section to deflect.

Furthermore, in the case of molded chamfers, the cutter must be manually fed downward, over successive passes of the plane, for it to cut (the orientation of the fences, when they are at right angles to each other, prevents the 'skates' from moving downward into the profile as it forms). The screw helps to keep the cutter's alignment consistant as it's fed downward.

This screw feature was short-lived, and is found on the WWI-era planes and into the sweetheart era. Stanley probably dropped the feature when the telephones we're ringing off the hook with guys complaining about adding another part to lose on the foolish tool. That, or someone decided the feature was useless, like so many other gizmos the company offered.

The following parts come with the standard plane (for detailed descriptions of parts common with the #45, reference my brain dump on that plane):

Click here for an exploded catalog drawing of the plane (ca. 1910).

The plane was originally provided with 52 cutters, which proves contrary to the popular misconception that the #55 was named thus due to fact that it came equipped with 55 cutters. It was later offered with 55 cutters, but this was long after the plane was out on the market.

Stanley used a nomenclature for their profiles that differed from the standard names used by most of the wooden planemakers. Their Grecian Ogee is really a Grecian Ogee and Astragal. Their Quarter Round and Bead is the Cove and Astragal. Their Quarter Hollow is the Ovolo. Their Quarter Round is the Cove.

The following cutters are provided with the plane, usually in four separate wooden boxes (the numbers in the parentheses are the part number, and it can often be found stamped near the heel of the cutter):

Cutters First Offered in 1897


1/8" (#10), 3/8" (#14), 3/4" (#18), 3/16" (#10), 7/16" (#15), 7/8" (#19), 1/4" (#12), 1/2" (#16), 5/16" (#13), 5/8" (#17)


1/8" (#21), 3/8" (#25), 3/4" (#29), 3/16" (#22), 7/16" (#26), 1/4" (#23), 1/2" (#27), 5/16" (#24), 5/8" (#28)

Grecian Ogee

1/2" (#102), 3/4" (#104), 1" (#106)

Quarter Round and Bead

5/8" (#113), 7/8" (#115)

Reverse Ogee

1/2" (#82), 3/4" (#84), 1" (#86)

Roman Ogee

5/8" (#93), 7/8" (#95)


1/2" (#53), 5/8" (#54), 3/4" (#55), 1" (#57)


1/2" (#43), 5/8" (#44), 3/4" (#45), 1" (#47)

Quarter Hollow

1/2" (#62), 3/4" (#64)

Quarter Round

5/8" (#73), 7/8" (#75)


1 3/4" (#1)


1/4" (#5)




1/4" (#32), 3/8" (#34), 1/2" (#36), 3/4" (#38)


1 1/4" (#9)

Reeding (2 bead)

1/8" (#212), 3/16" (#222), 1/4" (#232)

Cutter First Offered in 1922


13/16" (#18 1/2)

There's the funky 13/16" cutter again, but this time it wasn't offered until several years after it made its debut on the #45 and other planes.

Cutters First Offered in 1925


3/16" (#6)


3/4" Right (#40), 3/4" Left (#41)

During this year, the 3/4" bead was dropped as a standard cutter and was then made optional. It's at this time that the plane had its complement of 55 cutters to match its model number.

Optional cutters could be purchased at an additional cost. Stanley also took special orders for custom cutters. Blank cutters could be purchased, too. A set of extra cutters is worth more than the plane and its compliment of cutters. The following 41 cutters were the standard optional offerings:

Optional Cutters Offered Starting in 1907

Grecian Ogee

3/8" (#101), 5/8" (#103), 7/8" (#105)

Quarter Round and Bead

3/8" (#111), 1/2" (#112), 3/4" (#114), 1" (#116)

Reverse Ogee

3/8" (#81), 5/8" (#83), 7/8" (#85)

Roman Ogee

3/8" (#91), 1/2" (#92), 3/4" (#94), 1" (#96)


3/8" (#52), 7/8" (#56)


3/8" (#42), 7/8" (#46)

Quarter Hollow

3/8" (#61), 5/8" (#63), 7/8" (#65), 1" (#66)

Quarter Round

3/8" (#71), 1/2" (#72), 3/4" (#74), 1" (#76)


1 1/2" (#2)

Match (standard 1925)

3/16" (#5)


3/16" (#31), 5/16" (#33), 7/16" (#35), 5/8" (#37)

Reeding (3 bead)

1/8" (#213), 3/16" (#223), 1/4" (#233)

Reeding (4 bead)

1/8" (#214), 3/16" (#224), 1/4" (#234)

Reeding (5 bead)

1/8" (#215), 3/16 (#225), 1/4" (#235)

The optional sash cutter is an ogee profile, which differs from the standard sash cutter's ovolo profile.

The image below shows the common packing method Stanley used for the #55; 4 wooden boxes, with covers (not in the images) hold the cutters. Each box has a label to illustrate each cutter within the box. The four boxes illustrated here show the 52 cutters that were offered with the plane when it made its debut. It appears that one of the boxes was made for the Australian market, so don't adjust your display.

The plane came packed in many different containers. The earliest is a finger-jointed chestnut box with a sliding cover. After that, Stanley shipped the tool in a tin box that has a sliding cover. For a short time, they shipped it in an hinged orange painted wooden box that had supports to hold the plane steady (these are good boxes in areas prone to earthquakes). Both the metal box and the hinged wooden box were offered during the sweetheart era. Eventually, Stanley settled upon a stiff pasteboard box, with the earlier ones being tall and slender, and the later ones being more like a common shoebox. It's not too difficult to find this plane in its original box as many of the craftsmen found them convenient to hang onto them to keep the plane's parts from entering the dimension socks enter. It's also possible to find a good number of the tools in nice craftsman-made boxes. If you're dying to own one of these beasts, it's a better buy to get one complete and in the original box. You'll eventually grow to hate it, and it's easier to recoup your investment, when you go to sell it, with the tool complete and in its original box.

OK, that's enough now. My head hurts just thinking about this monstrosity....

#56 Core box plane, 4"L, 3/8"W, 2lbs, 1909-1923. *

This is one of Stanley's scarcer planes. When most woodworkers (or anyone who thinks they are) see this plane, as well as the #57, they think it's for planing into corners. It certainly could do that, but that's not its gig in the woodworker's stand-up act.

It was used by patternmakers to plane out semicircles 9/16" to 2" in diameter. These semicircles, or cores, need to be planed to great accuracy for the casting of parts that have semicircular or circular voids in them, and you fans of Euclid know that the only angle that can be scribed in a semi-circle is the right angle.

The plane's sole, like a good many similar core box planes, is machined to a perfect right angle. On the right portion of the sole is a shallow 'groove' milled down at the vertex. This groove allows the cutter to be set very shallow in order for the plane to cut. The vertex of the sole, just behind the cutter, is machined to a sharp point; check for any signs of damage there as the casting is weakest there and can chip.

The cutter fits into a diagonal groove milled in the left portion of the sole; the left side of the cutter is ground so that it's flush with the sole. The cutter is sharpened so that it only cuts along the right side of the sole, which is different than how the cutter for the #57 is sharpened (see that one for its cutter description). The heel (top) of the cutter sticks up above the casting, right where it can rip unsuspecting flesh to a bloody mess, so many of the planes have the cutter reshaped to minimize bloodletting during use.

The cutter is held to the main casting with a simple slotted screw. Many planes have screws all munged from repeated use. The main casting 'swells' to accept the cutter, and the early ones are embossed with the patent date of "PAT 3-23-09" above the slotted screw. "STANLEY" and "No 56" are embossed on the inside of the casting.

The handle is turned from rosewood and resembles a dowel. Some guys would reshape the handle to make for a better grip (the plane is an uncomfortable bugger to grip) so make sure the handle is 3 1/4" long and has a diameter of 1". The handle is positioned parallel to the tool's sole, which partially accounts for the uncomfortable grip. The handle is pinned, not screwed, to the plane, on an extension that rises from the main casting. The insides of the main casting are japanned black, while the outside of the casting has a machined surface.

The procedure to make a core box is to layout the diameter of the semicircle, and then rough the waste out with gouges, a router (non-electrical, of course), whatever, with great care given to the area of the endpoints of the semicircle. Then, due to simple geometry, a perfect semicircle is planed since a right angle is the only angle that can be scribed in a semicircle while maintaining three points of contact; i.e., the sides of the plane make contact with the semicircle's endpoints, the sides of the core box, and the cutter sweeps across the arc at a constant radius.

None of these planes is 4"L. They are all 6"L. The catalog descriptions were either a typographical error or Stanley was playing a joke. It's probably the latter, if one is to judge the plane by how well it sold; i.e., it was one big joke. hohoho! Why Stanley felt they needed to make this plane, when the #57 could do all that this plane can do and more, shall forever remain a mystery in tooldom.

If you're not a patternmaker, and are looking for household uses for this tool, it makes a great bacon press for lefties and righties both.

#57 Core box plane, 10"L, 7/8"W, 6 3/4lbs, 1896-1943. *

This is another plane designed for pattermaking use, although in the earliest literature about the tool it lists it as being "A tool much needed by Pattern Makers, Wheelwrights, and others...". Other than the hubs, which normally are cut from the solid, but may have been pieced together, I can't think where else in the wheelwright's trade a core box plane could be used. It may have simply been over-zealous marketing where Stanley was trying to over-describe the uses of the tool, not that that hasn't been done before, nor that some today do the same with their wares.

It is larger than #56 and thus can cut larger semicircles - up to 2 1/2" in diameter. The earlier models can be found with the March 10, 1896 patent date embossed in the main casting of the tool. The V-shaped cutter is manually adjustable; i.e., there is no mechanical cutter adjustment like that used on the common bench planes, probably because patternmakers have a finer touch than the ham-fisted (by comparison) carpenters do. And while on the subject of the cutter, this plane's cutter is sharpened with two bevels so that they form a V at the leading edge. This allows the cutter to cut on the left side of the sole and/or the right side of the sole. The left side of the sole has the shallow groove milled along the vertex, which is opposite how the #56's sole is milled.

The plane, like many of the products Stanley made during the era, is nickel plated. And very much so, at that, as it seems that Stanley wanted to deplete the free world's nickel resources, with this plane as proof. Even the nuts used to hold the knob and tote in place are nickel plated. The plane is often found with its nickel peeling or tarnished. Patternmakers also had the nasty habit of scratching their names, or their company's, in the extensions almost as if to prove that they were well schooled in their ABC's. Identifying marks scratched into this plane, and for that matter, all others, seriously decreases their value to collectors.

This plane came equipped with extensions, one for each side of the plane, which would then allow the plane to cut semicircles up to 5" in diameter (the extensions are often MIA on these planes, decreasing significantly the tool's value). These extensions each fit onto short metal rods, which, in turn fit into corresponding bosses that carry slotted screws to hold them firmly in place. These bosses are prone to breaking and cracking, so check them carefully. The slotted screws are nickel plated and have flat heads.

There is a cast iron turnbuckle that keeps the extensions rigid by forcing the extensions outward. Flanking the turnbuckle on each side is a rod (one end of the rod threads into the turnbuckle with the other end unthreaded to slip into a hollow boss in the extension) and a lugged locking nut to keep the turnbuckle firmly in place. The turnbuckle is first turned to force the rods outward, and the nuts are then tightened, often with the end of screwdriver or similar tool, against the turnbuckle. One or both of these nuts is often missing or is all munged from repeated tightening.

The turnbuckle can place a lot of pressure on the extensions when they are overtightened causing the extensions to crack. The turnbuckle is often missing on these planes, which greatly diminshes their value. Some patternmakers would chuck the turnbuckle, substituting it with a common round rod.

Additional side extensions could be bought - each pair increases the plane's capacity to cut by 2 1/2". The maximum diameter semicircle that can be cut by the plane is 10". In total, counting the 1 pair supplied with the basic plane, there are 3 pair of side extensions that can fit this plane. Each has a turnbuckle mechanism to secure them. When all the extensions and turnbuckles are on the plane, it is a scary looking beast with its industrial, Bahausian configuration.

The plane is pushed and held in the hands with a conventional bench plane style knob and tote. The earliest models have beech while the later have rosewood for their wooden parts.

Check that there is no chipping about the plane's mouth. I've seen some examples that have replacement lever caps taken from a #78, #180, #190, etc., that's been reground to fit the #57. A proper lever cap is nickel plated and has its sides bevelled along its length and the bearing surface at its bottom isn't straight across but is more a cross between a U and V.

This is one tool that looks better as a bookend than it does as a lamp, which is about all they're worth in today's woodworking arsenal. Don't stare at one of these babies that are in mint condition, or you'll go blind from all that glaring nickel plating.

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Copyright (c) 1998-2012 by Patrick A. Leach. All Rights Reserved. No part may be reproduced by any means without the express written permission of the author.