Anthony Bailey looks at a number of jack planes, from the 1930s to the present day
From left to right: unmarked modern; technical jack; StaySet and Gage
The unusual quick setting mechanism with Gage and Stanley stampings
Cleaned up, this Gage No.5 looks quite sleek for a jack plane (PHOTOGRAPHS BY GMC/ANTHONY BAILEY)
This month I've got a perfect excuse to return to my pet subject - or obsession? - bench planes. By now I have a wide selection of both modern and vintage planes to choose from and one of the advantages is to see which actually handles and performs best. This is very much a subjective matter and we wouldn't all agree I'm sure. On the bench from left to right I have an unmarked modern No.5 jack, which is probably of Indian origin and well turned out, usable and cheap. Next is a vintage Record T5 technical jack, which I use for shooting end grain with a replacement Ray Iles blade. Then we have a vintage Record No.5 Stayset with the split cap iron feature, and lastly, a No.5 Gage plane from a 1930s Stanley USA production.
Modern versus old
Of course there are modern Irwin, Stanley and the much more expensive types like Veritas, Lie-Nielsen and Quangsheng to be considered, too. Sticking with the four shown here they are all usable of course, but apart from differences in blade steel, how do they stack up otherwise? The modern cheap version is quite heavy but unexceptional to hold and use. The T5 has the well-known defect of thin castings, which seems like a bad idea in young untutored hands as it was intended for school and college use. The base of this one needed flatting where it had deformed around the mouth. The Record Stayset was typical of that line of standard jack planes, the Stayset feature allowing the blade to be reset quickly after honing but more of a marketing feature in its time. Lastly, the Gage plane is a funny one. Originally, it was the separate Gage brand in America, but later to be bought up by Stanley like so many brands were - and still are. Stanley did allow this pattern of plane to survive until the 1930s before killing it off completely. When I got this one, it was rusty and uninviting and I thought I had made a buying mistake. A good oily cleanup and loose rust removal later, has to my mind turned this ugly duckling into a really ace jack plane. Why? The low side profile has a sleek 'wave form', the body is relatively light and not clumpy in design, the rosewood (Dalbergia retusa)
handles are smoother and slightly smaller, while the quick setting blade that featured on all the Gage series holds a really lethal 'edge'. The only downside is no lateral adjuster, but a light hammer tap deals with sideways adjustments perfectly. So, to date this is my number one choice, not often found but if you a lucky enough to stumble across one, snap it up and get it working - it's a pleasure to use.