Stanley developed this combination plane with an adjustable fence which is capable of accepting an assortment of straight blades, beading planes, and match groove blades. This design removed the need to have multiple wooden planes for different sized grooves, dadoes, rabbets and beads. This particular series of plane, the Stanley No. 45 - 55 , was developed at the peak of the metal hand plane design era ( late 1800's). It is interesting that if one were to develop a similar-featured plane today, the design would probably look not too much different than the Stanley No. 45.
This particular model, the Stanley No. 45 has been in production from the late 1800's to
the middle of the 1900's with many different variants along the way. Each variant was either adopted for manufacturing efficiency or to implement a new feature into the plane.
For example, my Stanley No. 45 has the floral motifs along the main body and sliding,adjustable skate which date this plane to before 1910 when the motif became a pebble-effect. The knob was also moved from the main body to the fence in the very late 1800's. All wood components are original rosewood, the plane body itself is nickel-plated. Very early No. 45's were japanned and had brass fittings. Nickel-plated bodies were introduced afterwards.
The No. 45 has a small learning curve and a series of adjustments to complete even before beginning to plow grooves or dadoes. There are spurs or nickers on both the main body skate and the sliding skate, just ahead of the blade. The skates are called that either because they skate along the surface of the wood, and they look like ice skates in shape. The skates serve to both support the blade at the rear and to create a bearing surface for the plane to ride in along the board being grooved. The adjustable, sliding skate can be removed for the narrowest, 1/4 in. cutter. The fixed, single skate is sufficient for support of the smallest cutter.
I read about and also noticed that there is a large built-in gap ahead of the interchangeable blades which results in a large mouth opening. This presents an issue with gnarly woods, so it is recommended that straight-grained woods be used. I set the blade for a very light cut to compensate for this, however this translates to many more strokes to arrive at the same point. This No. 45 has an adjustable depth stop which works very well. The next variant ( post- 1910) of this Stanley No. 45 had an fence adjustable with a fence adjusting screw setup which makes it easier to tweak the fence.
I disassembled and cleaned this particular plane, to become familiar with the different components. I sharpened and honed 3 of the straight cutters ( 1/4 in, 5/16 in., 3/8 in. blades), and honed a 3/8 in. beading cutter
to perform testing of the plane. I ultimately used cherry and birch. Initially I tried the No. 45 on mahogany, but the grain is interlocking and reverses presenting opportunity for tearout with this plane. This plane does however easily plow through straight-grained woods creating straight, symmetric and accurate beads, grooves, dadoes in no time! Setup time isn't a whole lot more than a setting up a router and bit in a router table.
Photo of dual skates and cutter (1/4 in. blade). The skate between the main body at the right and the adjustable fence at the left is the sliding, adjustable skate. Notice the edges of the dual skates are set slightly narrower than the edge of the cutter, this to not inhibit or bind the plane in the groove. Also notice the dual skates ahead of the cutter have spurs or nickers along their edges, used to score when cutting dadoes ( cross-grain).
Stanley No. 45 set up to make 1/2 in. rabbets along the length of a birch board. The two necessary adjustments the depth of the cutter in relation to the skates and the sliding skate location. This skate supports the outboard part of the 7/8 in. cutter. The depth gauge adjustment also needs to be set for the vertical depth of the rabbet.
Stanley No. 45 set up to make 1/2 in. rabbets along the length of a birch board. The two necessary adjustments the depth of the cutter in relation to the skates and the sliding skate location. This skate supports the outboard part of the 7/8 in. cutter. The depth gauge adjustment also needs to be set for the vertical depth of the rabbet. It is important to keep the plane vertical for a level rabbet, along with keeping the fence along the edge of the board throughout the cut.
Below is the Stanley No. 45 with a 7/8 in. rabbet cutter installed. I sharpened the cutter, flattened and polished the back, and set a primary bevel at 30 degrees, honed and polished to 4000 grit. Notice the fence is actually beneath the cutter when making rabbets and is set to the width of the rabbet. The sliding skate (supporting skate in this instance) is at the outside of the cutter or blade, hidden by the rosewood fence. Also, the adjustable depth gauge is in plain view.
Side view of the main body of the Stanley No. 45 with adjustable depth stop and scoring cutter. Notice also the floral motif on the body which significantly narrows the age of this plane to circa 1895- 1905.
Competed 1/4 in. groove (drawer bottom) and 3/8 in. bead ( below) in cherry board.
Below, an assortment of cutters that come with this particular model. I also have a few extra cutters and other parts for specialized applications (slitter, cam). The cutters in the middle of the box have been sharpened, backs lapped, and honed to 4000 grit. The 3/8 in. beading cutter used above has only the back lapped to not deform the profile of the cutter. Match cutter is at the right, used for creating tongue and grooves.
The original box this Stanley No. 45 was purchased in with 100 years of wear showing. It was enjoyable to bring this plane back to life as a nice user plane. I intend to use it to create joinery on some of my future projects.
More information on hand plane techniques available in the WoodSkills Woodworking Course DVD