Hand Tools Archive

Norris Vs. Stanley

david weaver
I've been picking up some planes lately, usually I do something like that when I am looking for a plane to copy. I like spiers panel planes a little better than all but the oldest norris planes, but I haven't been able to find anything long in spiers that I think I'll be able to get back out from under when I'm done (translate, I want to be able to resell one for what I pay). So I've gotten three beech norris planes - one panel plane and two A5s. I'd rather have the older planes as their style is a little better, but they are priced to the moon.

I like to play with the planes, of course, to see if I can find what people really thought was wonderful about them. I've only received one of the smoothers so far, and I can't find any deficiency with it other than the adjuster - which would be a deficiency for all of them, and which I thought was a dud in a spiers copy that I made years ago.

I'm looking for tips for anyone who has really thought about fine adjustment on those planes. For coarse adjustment, I just loosen the lever cap and turn the adjuster. Leaving the cap tight creates several problems (above and beyond the fact that it's known that it can damage the adjuster eventually). When you loosen it, the adjustment changes slightly once you tighten it - not a big deal for coarse adjustment.

When you are doing fine adjustment, though, the only way I can get reliable small changes in the adjuster are to leave the lever cap tight, put a little bit of tension on the adjuster in the direction that I want to make the change (deeper or shallower cut), and then loosen the adjuster slightly to let the tension off and re-tighten it. I don't know if that makes sense, but it works. It's also about 40 times less handy than just tapping the top of an iron with a small hammer to adjust depth.

The vs. stanley part is that with the cap iron working and the depth set, I think it works about as well as a good stanley plane (with the cap iron set). The A5 that I have is 5 ounces heavier than my stanley, but I can't notice that much in use. There is more slack in the stanley adjuster, but it's something you don't actually notice in use because the fine adjustments can easily be made, anyway, whereas there is a little more trickery needed in coaxing the Norris to make fine adjustments.

When I copy these planes, two things come to mind - the handle shape will be a little bit more human and less machine, and I will not put an adjuster on the plane as it is a complete piece of cake to set feathery iron depth on an adjusterless plane by just loosening the lever cap while the plane is on a board, re-tightening it (at that point, it will just be pushing a little dust off the surface and almost cutting) and giving the iron one tap with a small hammer.

One other thing comes to mind, I think the stanley is more practical once one knows how to use the cap iron, both perform about the same. I'm sure that the norris planes may do better without the use of the cap iron unless one fiddles with things on the stanley that are otherwise a waste of time once you know how to use the cap. BUT, slowly getting to the point - the discussion for a novice plane buyer talks about how great the early Norris planes are, how great the norris type adjuster is, and how the late model norris planes are no good. The first statement is probably true - the shaping, cap iron screw, irons (when they were Ward), infill...those are all better on the early norris. The mouths are consistently tighter on the early ones. The rosewood probably leads to a more stable plane (the smoother I got needed significant lapping on the bottom to function as a smoother, it had twist as well as low spots that I didn't expect to find). But once both types would be cleaned up, I seriously doubt that the early norris planes are any better users than the late ones. The later ones with their fat handles tend to have less breaks and chips off of the handles, too.

I think the fascination with the adjusters is overblown, though the lateral adjustment is better on the originals than it is on the modern LV copies solely because the rod is much longer and the lateral adjustment less sensitive. Thus far, I'd conclude that the Norris adjuster is technically more interesting to look at and harder to make, but functionally inferior to stanley's adjuster design for an experienced planer.

All that said, if someone wants to buy me this heavily cleaned boat anchor to copy, I do take donations!! :)


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