sharp/dull blade drawing Nov 2002 test results small map
Finest abrasives.
Microbevels front and back.
Use a jig.
Copyright (c) 2002-17, Brent Beach

Test Changes

In November 2002 I picked 15 typical blades and tested them all again.

The idea behind testing a large number of irons at the same time was to try to reduce the variation between tests. Although I follow the same basic sequence of steps in all tests, by doing 15 blades in parallel (perform one step on all 15 blades before going on to the next step), I felt more consistency was possible.

I also developed a new jig to hold the blade for viewing with the microscope. In all former image captures the blade was horizontal. This is not very good for images of the bevel since it means the surface being viewed is actually sloped down at the bevel angle - typically around 30 degrees. With the very limited depth of field at 200 times magnification, this usually meant that only a very narrow section of the bevel was clearly in focus.

The new jig holds the blade at about 30 degrees to the horizontal. This means that the bevel is almost horizontal. Usually now the entire image is in focus.

There is no gain without a little pain though, and the pain in this case is that it is now harder to light the surface with an external light. The light in the microscope is not bright enough to provide clear pictures, so external illumination is required. When the bevel was sloped at 30 degrees it was easy to reflect an external light off the bevel into the microscope camera. Now that the bevel is horizontal, this is much more difficult.


All blades have primary bevel at 25 degrees, secondary at 29 degrees using 15 micron paper, third at 31 degrees using 5 micron paper, fourth at 32 degrees using 0.5 micron paper.

In all cases I angled the jig only when doing the third bevel. The scratches for the other bevels are perpendicular to the edge.

I put back bevels on all irons.

The Test

In all cases, the test involved 100 passes along a 4 foot long, 1" wide piece of douglas-fir. Since I was "jointing" the board, I was able to get full width shavings, full length, on most passes. I was careful to confine the shaving to the middle of the blade (using my fingers on the sole as a fence). I was careful to position the blade in the microscope to get an image of the middle of the blade.

The width of the wear bevel, expressed in pixels, was estimated from the image. By taking a picture of a ruler, I was able to determine that an object 1/32 inches wide was 440 pixels wide in the image. That is, one pixel corresponds to about 0.00007".

A plane works pretty well until the lower wear bevel gets over 8 pixels wide. At that point, the downward force required to take a shaving starts to making planing difficult.

The Results

Maker Steel Type Wear bevel width Worn blade
Academy Saw Works HSS 4 ASW
ECE Alloy 7 ECE
Ekilstuna High Carbon 7 Ekilstuna
Hock High Carbon 7 Hock 1
Hock High Carbon 7 Hock 2
Holtey HSS+ 5 Holtey
Lee Valley A2 6 LV A2
Lie-Nielsen W1 6 LN W1
Lie-Nielsen A2 6 LN A2
Marples BB High Carbon 8 Marples BB
Parplus High Carbon 7 Parplus
Parplus High Carbon 8 Parplus 2
Smooth Cut High Carbon? 7 SmoothCut
Stanley V logo High Carbon 7 Stanley
Stanley V logo High Carbon 6 Stanley 2

Stanley Laminated Blades

Stanley produced laminated blades - high-carbon steel cutting edge with low-carbon steel backing - for many years. However, not all cutters produced during that time were laminated. The two blades discussed below are from the same time period, with the same logo, but one is laminated while the other is not. [Stanley literature also calls these Composite blades.]

Stanley made a number of claims in favour of their laminated blades, some of which may be true. I include a few observations here.

  1. Forming the primary bevel on a bench stone is faster for laminated blades. I have done both the blades shown below at the same angle using a Silicon Carbide bench stone and the laminated blade took about half the time.
  2. The laminated blade was slightly more durable than the non-laminated blade.
  3. Stanley claimed that they could use higher carbon steel in the laminated blade than was possible in a blade from sheet steel of uniform composition. It is not clear why this was the case. Was it a cost issue (highest carbon steel at a competitive price), from a production point of view (problems with making a completely high carbon steel blade), or user (too hard to grind) point of view.
  4. At least later on in the laminated blade period (the notched rectangle logo blades after 1925) the lamination was high carbon steel "alloyed with tungsten, manganese and other elements in ideal proportions." Even later notched logo blades were still alloyed, but no longer laminated.

Here is an item from the 1870s - taken from Handbook for Artisans, Mechanics, and Engineers, 1870 - discussing the sharpening of laminated blades:

Stop! Stop! Stop!
Yes, I first encountered the quote below in the book named here.

I later read Turning And Mechanical Manipulation, Volume 3, by Charles Holtzapffel, published in 1850.

It turns out that Oliver Byrne copied the entire volume 3 and published it in the US soon after Holtzapffel published in Britain. It is an exact copy.

I recall reading that Charles Dickens had a problem with pirated editions of his books appearing in the US. Turns out it was a viable industry in 1850.

I have corrected the introduction to this quotation.

Here is an item from the 1850s - taken from Turning And Mechanical Manipulation, Volume 3, by Charles Holtzapffel - discussing the sharpening of laminated blades:

The irons of moulding-planes, like those of ordinary planes, are always made principally of iron, with a thin facing of steel to constitute the cutting edge; the file may therefore be successfully applied to remove the bulk of the iron, leaving little more than the thin steel edge to be abraded by the oilstone slip.

In evaluating these claims about usability, we have to put ourselves in the times the claims were made. Until I tried to grind the primary bevels with a bench stone, it did not occur to me that one was easier to grind than the other. On powered grinders, the difference would not be noticed. Perhaps the hype is true.

Stanley V logo blades This picture shows two blades, both with the V logo, but with slightly different looks to them. Stanley used this logo from about 1914 to 1918. At least some earlier WW logo irons, made from 1909 to 1914, are laminated. Stanley stopped making laminated blades some time in the 1930s 1941. [Blades made in the 1930s and on into the mid 1940s are stamped with a 3 digit date code. The first digit of the code stands for the quarter of the year the blade was made, the last two digits the year. Chris Hudson found an article explaining the coding scheme by David Parke in the Dec 2001 Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association. Laminated blades have been found with codes as late as 241 (second quarter, 1941). I have had email reports of an iron marked 341 that also has the Sweet Hart logo. The Sweet Hart logo was thought to have been phased out in 1935. This iron was also stamped Made in Canada, so start and end dates of particular trade marks was different in Canada.]

The blade on the left, with T2 scratched on the left side, is a laminated blade, while the blade on the right is not laminated. Notice that the laminated blade has a more deeply stamped logo.

Stanley V logo primary not laminated This is a 600 dpi scan of the primary bevel of a non-laminated blade. The blade shows a single primary bevel, that is uniformly scratched.

Stanley V logo primary laminated This is a 600 dpi scan of the primary bevel of a laminated blade. This bevel clearly shows two bands. Starting from the edge, the first band, about 40% of the width of the bevel, is the high-carbon steel. The second, wider band, about 60% of the width of the bevel, is the low carbon steel.

Stanley Promotional Literature

While going through images in my WW folder I ran across this image. I no longer remember where I got it. Click for a larger view.

I am going to reproduce the text here in case people search for items related to Stanley Laminated Plane Irons.

Notice that the text mentions the steel was produced in a Sheffield Steel mill. The logo on the blade is the notched logo with Made in England. This is commonly referred to as the BB logo and was first used in 1935. That dates this promotional flyer to some time after 1935.

Stanley planes were first marketed in the US in 1872, so the 65 years experience mentioned in the ad copy brings us to 1937.

A complete set of Stanley plane iron logos and their time frames.


The cutters In Stanley Planes have been designed scientifically and years of satisfactory use by craftsmen have proved the excellence of this type of construction. Every care Is taken to maintain the highest possible standard of quality both in regard to workmanship and materials.

The remarkable cutting qualities of Stanley Plane Cutters are explained as follows :-

For several generations the steel used In Stanley Plane Cutters has been especially made for Stanley, in one of the Steel mills in Sheffield, England, and it is called "Composite" Steel.

The shaded cutting edge (marked A) is made of a very high carbon, crucible steel, alloyed with tungsten, manganese and other elements in ideal proportions. The remainder of the cutter (marked B) is made of lower carbon crucible steel, and its function is to act as a backing for the high carbon cutting edge.

The best quality Swedish pig iron is the base of both steels.

Both parts (A and B) are welded together when originally cast in the Ingot and positively cannot be separated.

Users of Stanley Planes are sometimes deceived into thinking, that the cutters are soft because they can be readily filed at the heel of the bevel (marked C). This part is made softer intentionally for a backing to the cutter edge and has absolutely nothing to do with the cutting edge.

Why the Composite Steel Cutters used in Stanley Planes are better than those made from Sheet Steel of uniform composition :-

1. Composite Steel permits using a higher carbon content steel far the cutting edge (with resulting harder edge) than is practical with ordinary sheet steel.
2. A high quality crucible steel with high carbon content is generally conceded as making the best cutting edge for any Hand Woodworking Edge Tool.
3. The backing of soft steel above the lower end of the slot readily yields to the pressure of the cap and lever and insures a firm seat on the frog of the Plane.
4. Composite Steel permits much easier honing or grinding of the cutter than if the entire bevel was high carbon steel. There is also a much less likelihood of burning while grinding.

In the heat treatment of Stanley Plane Cutters the utmost care is used. All cutters are Individually hardened and tempered, using equipment designed only for this purpose. SIXTY-FIVE YEARS OF EXPERIENCE in making the finest cutters is the guarantee behind these tools.


Every Stanley Plane Cutter is tested for hardness after heat treatment. Cutters are also constantly tried out under actual planing conditions in a special testing machine for this purpose.

Stanley Planes and Cutters have been the standard of expert craftsmen for over sixty-five years. Improvements in materials and design have been made and will continue to be made to insure that Stanley Cutters are the best that can be bought for taking and holding a keen edge.


Check out my jig page for a simple jig you can make in your shop, along with a sharpening set up using sheet abrasives, that reliably produces excellent edges, for all types of irons.

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