Look-A-likes – Sargent Auto-Set and Stanley/Gage Self Setting Planes

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By James A. Clarke (Hilton NY)

Some Background:
To put my following comments into perspective — I am retired from engineering of signal control systems for the railroad, and rapid transit Industry, but most especially, a longtime woodworking hobbyist, and tool enthusiast (member of WNYATCA of Western NY, CRAFTS of New Jersey and M-WTCA), and amateur plane collector/user with a meager few samples of all-wood, wood-bottomed transitional, and iron planes from each of the major manufacturers Stanley, Sargent, Millers-Falls, Siegley, Ohio, Union, Shelton, Record, Gage, and some others, as well as the OEM hardware/department store brands, along with some more current offerings from Thomas Lie-Nielsen.

But, as you might suspect my main interest, has been, over the years, Stanley/ Bailey/ Bed-Rock, more recently Gage, and now Sargent planes, and subsequently, the “Look-Alike” aspects of the Sargent “Auto-Set”, and the Stanley/Gage “Self-Setting” offerings, and thus, the main reason for this writing.

Preliminary Work:

I have done considerable research into the John P. Gage plane, the business, and the family, with the kind assistance of Carl Bopp, James Aber, and several others at CRAFTS, of New Jersey, and as a result have gained some good insight into the early-Gage, and subsequent Stanley/Gage (Edmund Schade, and others) offerings, and now armed with your Sargent books, along with Sargent catalogs, I will be able to continue a more thorough analysis of the Sargent, and Stanley/Gage “Look-Alikes” and their respective features.

Critical Review:

My main Interest is more about the underlying engineering, and functioning of the adjustment mechanisms of each manufacturer in their attempt to get ahead of the competition, and their efforts to avoid patent infringement, and other liabilities. It is fairly obvious that, although these two designs are visually similar, at a brief glance, they are, in fact, vastly different.

But I have found that both have several shortcomings, as compared to the “standard” Stanley/ Bailey design, not the least of which is the inability to open/close the Mouth! I have further concluded that, in neither case, do these designs achieve the claims that when reinstalling the Cutter, following sharpening, it will eliminate readjustment. There is simply too much slack, and backlash inherent in the threaded screws and linkages to avoid readjustment, especially as the plane wears and in continued use! In my opinion, these claims were largely exaggerated and over-hyped! Further, Sargent’s claims that “2 pounds lighter” is an advantage, is also a fallacy, since any plane user will discover that, although it might be more fatiguing, a heavier plane will provide extra assistance In keeping the wood fibers pressed down at the leading edge of the plane’s mouth to avoid splitting ahead of the Cutter, not to mention providing additional inertia to the plane’s forward motion. (Case in point Stanley’s 1/2-sizes, “H” series, and British Infill planes). Also, a heavier plane
feels better in the hands – with more “heft” that means business! Another misconception is that an “Auto-Set” Lever Cap/ Chip Breaker will control fine/medium/coarse shavings. This will control “Chip” size, not depth or size of ‘Shavings’, they’re controlled by
(a) Longitudinal Depth of Cutter, and
(b) Mouth opening size ahead of the Cutter!

Admittedly the “Auto-Set” Chip Breaker is an ingenious mechanism, but has more to do with minimizing “tear out” than anything else by breaking the shaving into the pre-selected chip size as it is forced against the Chip Breaker on up through the Throat! So, Sargent might better have retained the “l -2-3′ type, and spent the time on, say, an adjustable Mouth or other feature! But on the other side of the ledger, it would be grossly unfair to overlook the quite effective Sargent Lateral Adjustment feature that John Gage, and then the
Stanley/Gage version neglected to adequately address. (It is more intuitive to use than the Josef Nicht/Justus Traut design as used on the Stanley/ Bailey type!)

Patent Applications:
And then, there’s the matter of the Page, and Sparks patents (setting aside the separate Vaughn patent). Sparks’ patent has, of late, by some, been referred to as a Refinement”. It is not really a “refinement , it is more of a clarification, claiming of credits, and disclaiming others for the complementary features of the combined designs — ie – Page for “clamping the bit to the frog” and Sparks for “adjusting the bit or cutter”. Note that the drawings filed with each Application (notwithstanding the slight errors* on both) are Identical! (Not copied but redrawn exactly). The Description and Claims sections of each of these applications/patents have disclaimers giving partial credit to the other inventor! It’s unfortunate that Sparks’ contribution wasn’t recognized by casting his patent date on the plane itself under Page’s. In my opinion his design was equally as important! Also note the inordinately long time to process Page’s application — almost 3 years! Was this due to “Prior Art” issues, due to similarities with the John P. Gage/David A. Bridges patents, of several years earlier? Was it due to an ongoing dispute about whose name should be on the Patent Application? Was it due to Sargent’s
haste to get the (all-important) earliest possible Filing Date and filed design details incrementally, and still retain the initial date? (Which isn’t allowed today, I don’t think!).

* Note: Page’s Fig. 6 (drawing detail omission), and Sparks’ Fig. 11 (wrong part #) (See if you can spot them)



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