The debate rages on. Why are hand planes corrugated. Some say it reduces friction. Some say it does not. Here is what I can dig up on the subject. This is historical facts of why early plane makers thought it was a good idea. Marketing? Maybe. You can decide.
Keep in mind, Stanley was far from the first to offer corrugated planes, but it’s possible its marketing capabilities helped carry on the tradition, although I can find no evidence it marketed corrugation as an advantage.
Birdsill Holly is said to have the first successful production metallic plane. These planes are Circa 1852. His patents do not mention corrugation however.
The first patent for plane corrugations.
E. G. Storke – Auburn, NY, US Patent: 96,052, Method of Preventing the Adhesion to the Wood of the Faces of Metallic Planes (Elliot Storkes founded the Metallic Plane company in 1867)
Manufacturer: Metallic Plane Co. – Auburn, NY
Granted: Oct. 19, 1869
Description: A metallic plane having the sole grooved in lines parallel to the sides. Storke says this is to decrease the points of contact between the plane and work piece and to form free air-channels so that no vacuum can be formed. The overall intention is to reduce friction. Although these channels are commonly known today as corrugations, Storke only refers to them as fluting, grooving, or channeling.
Excerpt: “Those flutes, grooves, or channel, may be more or less in number, and cut to a greater or less depth, provided the object be thereby attained of relieving all extra and unnecessary friction.”
And it goes on to say
”The practical effect of this has been to prevent in large degree the introduction of general use of metallic planes.
The object of my invention is twofold, namely to remove about one-half of the surface of the face of the plane, so that there shall be fewer points of contact, and to form free air channel, so that no vacuums can be formed, or any trouble arise from atmospheric pressure, however perfect the plan e or true the surface on which it is moved.”
Chaplin’s Patent the idea as well in a slightly different approach, May 07, 1872. Improvement in Carpenters’ Planes. US Patent: 126,519. The patent says “My invention relates to the means to reduce the adhesion of the plane-stock to the material being dress.”
This was actually a series of hole instead of corrugation.
Bailey Tool Company, circa 1878
Laflin Manufacturing Co. – Westfield, MA
US Patent: 212,986, Granted:Mar. 04, 1879, Improvement in Bench-Planes, Louis C. Rodier – Westfield, MA
“In Fig 7 it will be seen that I cast sinuous grooves in the face of stock. A running longitudinally thereon. The general objective of such or straight grooves—viz., to prevent adhesion of the plane to a very smooth surface—is well understood, and to accomplish that objective straight grooves are sufficient; but in using a plane so made it is found that in planing sharp corner of a board the corner will often drop into a groove and thus become scraped or injured; bur if the face be corrugated with sinuous grooves as shown, this inconvenience is entirely obviated.”
William Steers – Sherbrooke, QC Canada, US Patent: 284,919, Bench Plane, Plane Sole with Rosewood Inlay, Granted:Sep. 11, 1883
The Steer’s patent, had a particularly unusual method of reducing friction with the surface of the board that was being planed. Recessed grooves were machined into the sole of the plane so as to accommodate rosewood strips into the dovetailed joint. The natural oil of the rosewood, together with its lesser surface tension, probably accomplished the intended function, but it is hard to believe that a feature that would have consumed so much time in the manufacturing and assembly process would have been of sufficient perceived merit to justify the additional expense by the woodworkers of the day. Whatever its economic success, the Steer’s patent is an extremely well made and interesting antique hand tool.
A Steers advertisement from 1885 states,
“A Composite Bottom, the bottom of the Plane being inlaid with Rosewood strips firmly and immovably dove-tailed into the iron, and so combined as to prevent the wood from wearing away, by which improvement one of the greatest objections to Iron Planes is avoided, viz. : the clinging of the Plane when in use to the work. This great improvement will be appreciated at sight.”
And a C.E. Jennings & Co advertisement for Steers patented planes dated 1890
“The bottom of the Plane is inlaid with Rosewood strips firmly and immovably dovetailed into the iron, and so combined as to prevent the wood from wearing away, giving the ease in working of a wood plane. while retaining all the advantages of the Iron Plane.”
A later Chaplin’s Plane Advertisement in 1887 says, “the corrugations afford air spaces, and reduce friction to the minimum.”
Jacob Siegley – Wilkes-Barre, PA, US Patent: 510,096, Bench-plane, Granted:Dec. 05, 1893
“The underside of the main part of the bottom “a” and the underside of the throat piece “b” are provided with longitude corrugations “f” by which the friction of the bottom of the plane with the surface to be planed is considerably reduced and an easier working than with the solid smooth bottom produced.”
Stanley’s first corrugated sole came out in 1898
As of this writing, I can not find a Stanley advertisement to mention the advantages of corrugations, and the following post seems to suggest just the opposite stance.
The Making of the Cast Iron Carpenters’ Plane at the Stanley Rule & Level Company – The Iron Age, Vol. 62, November 3, 1898, where its section about corrugations says:
“The corrugated plane is shown in Fig. 7. While a plane of this general character was introduced many years ago it met with but little success. Recently it has been once more placed upon the market and there now seems to be a steady demand for it.
The common supposition is that these corrugations lighten the plane a trifle, and since they present less surface in contact with the wood are thought by some to reduce the friction of working. Since the user is willing to accept this theory the manufacturers provide the corrugations.”
In a Siegley Advertisement in 1901 it was written, “The bottom of the plane being corrugated and will therefore will greatly reduce the friction common to all solid iron planes.”
And an Excerpt and Images from “Sargent Planes And Other Tools” Published by Sargent & Company 1928
“The Iron Plane. The principal advantage of the iron plane lies in the fact that its contact surfaces wear well, which avoids the necessity of frequent “truing-up” as in wood bottom planes. In Order to avoid the friction mentioned as characteristic of iron planes some woodworkers prefer the corrugated bottoms, the theory of which being that the grooves permit the passing of air and so serve to cool off the heated metal. The iron plane is more readily adjusted than the wood bottom plane. “
Other examples of early corrugation