A Would Have Been Legend Millers Falls Prototype.

Written and Photographed by Robert Porter

With a special thanks to a fellow Millers Falls Collector Glen Canaday

The one and only of its kind, recently unearthed

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Plane Prototype

The story behind the discovery

After decades of existence, this unique, never before seen skewed jack plane finally emerged out of hiding. To our delight it was finally available to be studied.

At some time after its completion and the company’s determination that it was not to become a mainstay for their plane lineup, this plane was obtained by a Millers Falls employee and held quietly in their private possession. This is where this important piece of Millers Falls history remained until some time later when it was procured from the employee by what was reported to be a nephew of the employee.

In late 2017 the nephew contacted an antique tool seller about placing it up for sale. The tool seller stated that they were representing the plane for the family member and were charged with selling it for them. After some multi-party dealing, the seller sold the skewed jack to a collector and after some time it ultimately wound up in our hands to study. After a significant amount of thorough inspection and comparisons, this is what we have managed to learn from this 60 year old piece of history.

1. Sole Details –

(Type 4- No. 14 Standard Jack Plane)

– The Skewed Jack exhibits an enamel coating consistent with Millers Falls Premium line bench planes. The typical ‘bumps’ and the sheen level used as general practice by Millers Falls are clearly consistent in each specimen as with other known examples.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-1

– Both planes exhibit a similar size and location of raised nib on the heel and toe. A casting feature that Millers Falls are well known for having.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-1

– The knob receivers on both examples are of the same size, shape, and design, with the exception of the anti-rotation ribs being omitted on the prototype. The Skewed Jack does have a more refined shape around the area of the base of the knob receiver. This is consistent with what is to be expected as one-off pieces tend to have crisper lines and finer details because the mold hasn’t had the same wear as a mass production model mold would have experienced over years of constant use.

Note: The No. 14 does have the recess typically found for the frog adjustment screw, whereas the skew does not. It would have been normal during the development process for manufacturers to omit elements, like the recess for the frog adjustment screw and plate, the embellishments and anti-rotation ribs on the knob receiver to reduce cost for proof of concept models/ prototypes.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-1

– The structure rib in front of the mouth opening is the same height and thickness on both examples. The lengths are different because of the prototype being at a skewed angle.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-2

– Front frog seat landings are of similar design, however size and shape are different due to the fact that the prototype is skewed and the No. 14 is not, which is to be expected.

(Figs. 3-4)

– The webbing between the frog seat screw holes is spaced identically, uses the same screw pitch, is of the same screw size, and is of almost identical design.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-3 Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-4

– The primary and secondary slopes between the upper and lower frog seats are identical from start to finish, despite one being skewed and of different design.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-3 Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-4

– Frog seat uppers are identical in location, height and width on both examples. The prototype does have a flat back on the upper frog seat because it does not have a frog adjustment screw feature. Frog adjustments were omitted for Type 5 planes made by Millers Falls.

 

Note: The No. 14 does have the recess typically found for the frog adjustment screw, whereas the skew does not. It would have been normal during the development process for manufacturers to omit elements, like the recess for the frog adjustment screw and plate, the embellishments and anti-rotation ribs on the knob receiver to reduce cost for proof of concept models/ prototypes.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-3Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-4

– The beds behind the frogs are marked differently between the skew and the No. 14. The No. 14 has “Made in USA” cast into the area directly behind the frog and the skew is blank. Type 5 era planes are known to be blank behind the frog. This is one of the features that helps us identify the age of the prototype.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-5

– The tote receiver is the same size, shape, and location, utilizes the same toe screw pitch, shape, and size, and uses the same tote rod in screw pitch shape and size. Note: The casting surface finish is identical, however the shape is more refined on the prototype, which is to be expected given the amount of attention the skew got at the foundry versus a mass production plane being cast from worn molds.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-5

– The soles are almost identical in shape and width, with the skew being ever so slightly wider. The skew is also a little more flat across the toe and heel edges, this can be attributed to hand finishing outside of the production line and the fact that sole didn’t come from a standard production mold.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-6

2. Frog and Components –

(Type 4- No. 14 Standard Jack Plane, No 900, Worthington 400W(the 900 shares the same frog and components with the No. 814 jack plane), and Type 2A- No. 22)

– The center holes for the lever cap screws are the identical size from the skew to the 900 with the slot at the top of the keyhole of the skews lever cap being obviously changed to elongate the hole. Making adjustments and fine-tuning would have been normal in the early stages of development of any new product.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-7 Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-8

– The skew, Type 4 patented lever cap for the No. 14 as well as a Worthington 400W (No. 9 equivalent) all share an identical flat spring with identical bends in shape, size, location and retaining peen pin. All examples exhibit the Millers Falls lever cap pointed lever top.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-9

– Both the No. 900 and the skew jack are enameled on the back of the lever cap with the skew being a little finer finished.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-10

– The Worthington iron slot is identical in shape, size and location to the skew. The chip breaker features are identical between the Worthington and the skew with the exception of the top of skew chipbreaker being obviously more rounded at the top corners.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-11 Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-12

– While the iron on the skew was obviously cut using a die or pattern at the Millers Falls factory, the iron is not touch marked. This however is very common on late Millers Falls planes and can be also seen on a great deal of the secondary and sub-manufactured products made for other companies like Sears and Roebuck.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-11Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-12

– Despite the differences in shape of the frog face to accommodate the skewed design, the major details are all identical, including the center lever cap screw being the same pitch, shape, size, and overall design. In addition, note that the No. 900 lateral washer is the same as the lateral washer in the skew. Also note lobes around the center screw for the lever cap, they are slightly different than what is seen on the frogs depicted and matches more closely to a Type 5 lobe pattern.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-13

– The depth adjuster on the skew and a Type 2A No. 22 are identical in shape, size, machine marks, and knurling. Note: Frog bottoms and backs are fairly different between the skew and the others which is to be expected given the drastic accommodations required to make a skewed jack over a traditional jack plane.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-14Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-15Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-16Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-17

3. Tote and Knob

(Type 4- No. 14 Standard Jack Plane and Type 2A- No. 22)

– The tote is an absolute identical match for a Type 2A in shape, size, species of wood, and bottom hole location.

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-18Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-19Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-20Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-21

– The tote post screw is the same in overall length and shape as the No. 14. The waist nut and screw pitch are also the same, with the exception of the length of the threading being longer in the No. 14. (There is a slight variation in the lower lip of the waist nuts on both the tote and knob post screw.)

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-22

– The knob itself is an identical match with only the marks left by the anti-rotation rib being present on the No. 14 knob. The post screw is the same length, shape, and size as the No. 14. Unlike the tote post screw, the threading length is the same. (There is a slight variation in the lower lip of the waist nuts on both the tote and knob post screw.)

Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-23Millers Falls Skewed Jack Prototype Skew Fig-24

So what did this plane tell us?

For starters, the plane tells us its approximate conception timeframe, confirms its manufacturer and origins and helps us see into what was going on at the time it was being thought up and developed at Millers Falls. Being the only known example, some of the details in the workmanship and quality also tell us it was a proof of concept model, or as most like to call it, a prototype.

So what did this plane not tell us?

The plane fails to tell us exactly when or why Millers Falls decided to develop it. It would be very easy to come to the conclusion that it was an attempt to gain ground that had been lost for many years and thrust the plane side of the business back into its once glorious existence or to say they were trying to impress possible suitors to buy the company by showing the innovative nature of such a concept. All of these possibilities are exactly that, possibilities. The plane however can’t confirm or deny why. So where do we try and understand why? By looking at what was going on in the company at the time.

What does history tell us?

The late 50’s into the 60’s was a tough time for Millers Falls. Offerings in their catalogs decreased, sales were likely in the tank and they needed help to stay alive. The writing was on the wall. Excel, be bought or die. A lot of companies in similar circumstances would likely have just folded. This company however had become such an integral part of the local community and the industry it likely morally wasn’t an option.

So what’s the company to do? This was the multi-million dollar question for executives, designers, engineers, and employees at the time. Packing it up and going home wasn’t a good option, neither was doing business same as always. So the company allowed Ingersoll-Rand to come in and buy them out. The deep pockets and fresh eyes were likely hoped to be the fix to the bad spot the company was in. Instead the company was slowly taken apart and products the company was once famous for were cut from the catalogs until the company was nothing but a pile of bones. The bones were then sold off the highest bidders. The company is still around today offering cheap Chinese tools to the Far East and Australia and is not the innovator it once was. The name and logo are all that’s left.

So where does this prototype fit in?

 

Based on the information available and the years of collecting Millers Falls made products and studying the Company, I’m confident it was a plane that was in development to retake some of the market share back. With the Ingersoll-Rand buyout, it was scrapped because it was too much of an investment to re-tool and setup a new production line for a sector of the industry that was virtually all but dead to start with. Just like the company starting in the plane game almost too late, this plane was too late to make it. And it’s unfortunate because this plane would have been a game changer!

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