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JOEL Joel's Blog

Stanley and Stanley Bedrock Premium Line of Planes

08/17/2022

L-R Late model Bedrock 604
L-R Late model Bedrock 604, Stanley #4

There is a lot of information out there about Stanley planes - even the minutia associated with small changes in their design. But I am more interested in the major changes that affect performance.

The basic Stanley mechanism that all know and love, was invented by Leonard Bailey, marketed by the Stanley Rule and Level Company and introduced to the market in 1867. It was a masterpiece of manufacturing engineering. It took advantage of the introduction of precision machine tools, which at the time were still uncommon, to make a metal, adjustable bench plane that could be made by machine, bolted together and work really, really well.

By 1898, the original patents had all expired, and maybe for that reason - or more likely the need for something to set their planes apart from copycats - Stanley introduced a new line of premium planes that they called their Bedrock planes. To reflect the new line, a new numbering sequence was used, Over time Stanley made Bedrock models going from 602 through 608, reflecting the original bench plane numbers of #2-#8. There is no Bedrock 601.
L-R Post 1911 604
L-R Post 1911 604, 1898 605 1/2, late #4

The regular frog on a Stanley bench plane is machined only on four small points of contact
The regular frog on a Stanley bench plane is machined only on four small points of contact, of which only two are bolted down

The 1898 Bedrock frog is bolted down. The only change is the wide machined mating surfaces
The 1898 Bedrock frog is bolted down. The only change is the wide machined mating surfaces

The new line tried to address two problems with the original planes. Admittedly, these were high class problems. The basic Stanley plane consists of two castings that are bolted together. The plane bottom (part 16 in the diagrams below) has two machined posts and a small machined area behind the mouth of the plane. The frog (part 6) has four small machined which correspond to the machined areas on the plane bottom and the two pieces are bolted together with two bolts. In 1867, this was high tech. In 1898, not so much. The problem is with just a small area of actual contact, really just the two bolt posts, any resistance to the blade caused by spots of hard wood or anything could cause the entire frog to vibrate slightly, resulting in chatter and other bad things. The only real way of stopping this is have a very, very sharp iron.

The second problem is that, should you decide to adjust the frog to move it in or out, opening or closing the mouth of a plane, you would have to do it by removing the iron and loosening the two frog clamping screws (part 10 below). There's really no positional reference once the frog is loosened, so it's very hard to adjust the frog and then tighten it square to the mouth, so that everything works properly once reassembled. Since 1907, Stanley planes have had a frog adjustment screw (part 46 in the diagrams below) that makes this considerably easier, but there's still a lot of play in the two castings, and in 1898 the base Stanley planes bench planes did not have this feature.

In 1898, the Bedrock line was introduced with three major new features. The first and most important feature was the replacement of the two-points-of- contact between frog and base with a large, flat, machined bed, so when you clamped the frog down, there was a tremendous amount of contact (thereby reducing chatter) and a smooth channel so the frog could also move back and forth and stay parallel to the mouth of the plane. A frog adjustment screw (part 46) was added so you could precisely move the front back and forth (even though you still had to take the blade off to move the frog).
Frog adjustment screw on early c. 1898 Bedrock 605 1/2
Frog adjustment screw on early c. 1898 Bedrock 605 1/2


The frog adjustment screw was a big improvement, and in 1907 it was added to the basic bench plane lineup. At the same time Stanley beefed up the regular frog casting. With this improvement, there still was only two points of contact, but the frog was slightly better aligned. These additions made the added features of the Bedrock a little bit less important. In 1911, Stanley added something brilliant to the Bedrock line. The two clamping screws on the frog were replaced with pins that slid into holes in the sole casting. On the side of each pin is a little v notch (part 44). In the sole casting two screws (part 45) were added running parallel to the sole so when tightened the screws engaged the notch in the pins, pulling them tightly down. Now, without removing the plane iron, all you had to do to adjust the frog position was to loosen the two screws on either side of the frog adjustment screw, and - by turning the frog adjustment screw - move the frog precisely to where you wanted it. Finally you could see what you were doing. To further denote that these planes were special: the round sides of the typical bench plane line were replaced on the Bedrock line with square sides.

The line continued being made by Stanley up until 1943. When Clifton and Lie-Nielsen revived making bench planes, they copied the Bedrock mechanism.

The early Bedrocks were made from 1898 to 1911. They are readily found in the wild, but they're not particularly desirable. The square sided ones fetch a premium.

Whether or not you think a Bedrock plane performs better than a stock Stanley, you must admit that the mechanism itself, which uses pressure on pins to clamp the frog in place, is an ingenious piece of mechanical engineering.

Does a Bedrock plane perform better than a stock Stanley? In my opinion the answer is yes, but there are far more important criteria for performance then having a Bedrock design. Another thing to remember is that your Bedrock plane is at least 80 years old and can have all sorts of issues depending on if they were used or abused. If you are interested in Stanley tools, having a copy of the 1914 Stanley Tools Catalogue No. 34 is extremely handy.

When the plane is disassembled the frog clamping pins and the wide bearing surfaces for solidly mounting the frog can be clearly seen
When the plane is disassembled the frog clamping pins and the wide bearing surfaces for solidly mounting the frog can be clearly seen


Back of a Bedrock 604 showing frog adjustment screw and frog clamping screws
Back of a Bedrock 604 showing frog adjustment screw and frog clamping screws


Diagram of Stanley bench plane parts
Diagram of Stanley bench plane parts


Diagram of Bedrock bench plane parts
Diagram of Bedrock bench plane parts

Join the conversation
08/17/2022 CT Engineer
Finally I understand why the square side Bedrock planes are so desirable. I used to think it was collectors driving up the price of rarer, premium planes. You have really (finally) driven home the origin of the name "Bedrock". Sadly, that realization likely comes after the opportunity to affordably own one has passed.
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