Should I flatten sole of Stanley No.18 (Nickel plated)

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  • #309701

    Hello everyone,

    I bought a Stanley No.18 knuckle-cap Block Plane a while ago, intending to clean it up, flatten the sole, sharpen the blade, and use it as my general-purpose block plane. It wasn’t cheap, but the nickel plating is still 100% complete, it looks wonderful and fits my hand like a glove.

    My problem is: the mirror-finish nickel-plating is all over the plane. Not just on the lever cap. It’s plated on the sides and even the sole. Photos of others I’ve seen only have nickel (or what’s left of it) on the cap.
    How could I ever attack this with sandpaper, without wearing it away and ruining a beautiful plane?

    I read recently that Stanley made some ‘special edition’ planes for display only. If that’s true, then I guess this could be one of those?
    Do these really need flattening at all?
    I didn’t intend to become a collector of planes, I just wanted to use them. But I wouldn’t want to ruin something special especially when its survived for so long.
    I’d appreciate any advice you could give me please.

    I attached a photo of someone else’s #18 (I cannot get my camera to talk to my PC) whereas mine is plated at the sides and sole too.

    Hugo Notti

    My first question: Does it need flattening? Nobody can tell you, you have to check for yourself. Use a really straight metal ruler to check for high or low spots, then decide, whether these will affect your work. If not, you are fine.

    The second question is: Is nickel a suitable surface for a plane sole? I have no idea, others have to answer that. If your plane is in good condition, and the nickel is bad, you should probably sell it or use it for decoration.


    David Perrott

    I think I have an older model of those, a pre-redesigned lever cap one. Check Patrick Leaches I think its difficult to find a stanley tool that is actually rare. As you know, they made a few of them!


    Is it possible it’s an A18 which has an aluminium body?


    Hello Hugo, David,
    Thanks for your replies.

    I’m new to woodworking, so the tools I’ve been acquiring are usually completely rusted when they arrive. Some of them were so bad, I could have attacked them with an angle grinder and still improved them!

    I’ve been learning from YouTube videos and reading Paul’s book, to build a collection of usable tools. So far, I’ve restored smoothing planes and chisels. Now that I’ve got a few nickel-plated items (71 Router, and 18 Block Plane..) I cannot see where anyone has fettled a nickel sole. Everyone stresses how important it is to fettle regular soles; even from new.

    Is it just the rusted junkers and sub-standard modern tools that make flattening necessary?
    Does intact nickel mean its flat-enough already? – as it left the factory.
    Was nickel intended to be hard enough to last the lifetime of the tool?
    Or does nickel wear down with abrasion from wood?

    If we’re to fettle planes to within a few thou, on dead-flat granite, I don’t think I’d spot that kind of discrepancy using a straight-edge. I’d need to use a Sharpie and start abrading. I suspect the nickel would be lost pretty quickly on abrasive, leaving nickel/copper/iron contours.
    This is where I’m lost. Would I have just perfected a quality tool, or completely ruined one?


    Hello Cragglerock,

    No, its definitely not aluminium.
    It’s the same weight as my 1930’s-1940’s Stanley 9 1/2 Block Plane and the finish is the very bright, highly reflective, chrome/nickel.

    I used the word Chrome there because it does look like Chrome – although everyone refers to this finish as Nickel. To be honest, I don’t think I can tell the difference between Chrome and Nickel, but I am certain it’s not Aluminium. It looks exactly like the top of a Stanley 90 / Stanley 92 Shoulder plane.


    Ah, it was just a thought. I can’t find anything that mentions a completely plated one although I did find some info on a No2 bench plane that was and it was thought to be very early.

    So I follow with interest to see if someone has an answer. If it were mine I think I wouldn’t try and flatten it-not until you have more info at least.

    I work with nickel plated items and I find that 0000 steel wool is very good but gentle at removing the tarnish.

    Best regards


    Larry Geib

    Great looking plane.

    Is it just the rusted junkers and sub-standard modern tools that make flattening necessary?
    Does intact nickel mean its flat-enough already? – as it left the factory.
    Was nickel intended to be hard enough to last the lifetime of the tool?
    Or does nickel wear down with abrasion from wood?

    The last part is easy.

    The nickel process Stanley used is not even close to a lifetime process. The plating was done directly onto the cast iron, and plating shops will tell you that to be durable, you need to copper plate first and then nickel plate.

    I have several tools I bought new in the 60’s that have lost their plating, so by definition it’s not lifetime. My Stanley router plane has almost no nickel left on its sole, and it wasn’t particularly flat by modern standards when I bought it. ( it is now). The plating on my #65 block plane knuckle is largely lost where I grip it.

    If you look on eBay, Stanley routers are in two classes. Either they are unused or nearly so and the plating on the soles looks great, or they are well used and have lost plating. Wood is an abrasive medium.

    As to whether your plane is flat enough, only careful examination can determine. The level we currently expect isn’t necessarily the Stanley standard when the plane was made. Stanley was a mass market producer, not Lie Neilsen.

    Your plane is post 1947, judging from the model number stamp. The Virginia toolworks type study says the weren’t stamped before then.
    Production of a roughly 60 year production ended around 1950.
    Virginia toolworks

    Some argue Stanley quality started going down after the start of the depression, as marked by Stanley with the end of the sweetheart era. Others argue that older craftsmen expected to fettle their tools.


    Thanks Craig.
    I’ve only applied a small amount of Autosol Polish using a soft cloth, so far.
    Unable to find another one similar (except references to other ‘Limited Edition’ show-pieces) I’m concerned I may have spent quite a bit on a white-elephant. Too good to actually use.
    Then I started questioning everything. Now I cannot determine whether people fettle Nickel soles at all.
    Mitch Peacock (YouTube) fettles a wonky nickel 71 Router, but you can see where the finish is now contoured layers of different metals.
    This one has a few fine scratches on the sole from use, but I’d guess it’s only been put to use a few times.
    I’ll work on getting my old digital camera talking to my ancient PC and try to post a couple of pictures over the weekend.


    Hi Larry,

    I must have been typing while you were posting and answering ahead of me.
    Very interesting to read what you’ve said. Thank-you.

    I know what you mean about their plating onto bare steel; on my Stanley Brace, some of the plating just fell-away in chunks, revealing nothing beneath.

    Where Mitch Peacock (YouTube) fettles his 71 Router, I’m sure I can see a layer of copper revealed? This led me to suspect Stanley may have had a better process at some point, or used copper first for certain products?

    Sorry for the confusion with that No.18 photo. That isn’t my one. I thought it might help illustrate my plane-type; ‘cos my PC’s too old to recognise my digital camera. I’ll work on that.

    This No.18 doesn’t have any numbers on its side.
    I haven’t managed to narrow-down the date yet.
    Its not the earlier two-pronged cap, it’s the later design.

    Larry Geib

    You mentioned the plane felt great in your hand.

    Use it.

    I have a couple tools that should be on the shelf but I get such a kick out of using them I get them out at any excuse. I have a Stanley 289 (Clover nicker) filletster plane that is pristine. It has been assessed in the $500-800 range. I use it, and when I do, I get a big smile on my face. That’s cheap entertainment in my book.

    My heirs can worry about how much I degraded its value. Screw’em.

    Larry Geib

    I don’t think Stanley ever copper plated under nickel. I have planes form before they nickel plated the lever caps until production stopped. No evidence of copper in any of them. Ditto my Sweetheart router and my end of production version. Ditto both of my 45’s, one flower pattern and one a Sweetheart. ( it was cheaper to buy the plane than to buy cutters alone)

    The sweetheart plane is maybe 90% raw iron. If I keep it polished, it’s pretty hard to tell the nickel is gone.

    And Stanley wasn’t alone. I had the same thing happen with both a Stanley brace and a neat little Miller Falls quickbrace. Nickel came off in sheets.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 10 months ago by Larry Geib.
    Steve Brookes

    I agree with Larry; I’d just use it as you would any other plane – but, I’m not a collector – I like to use all my planes even when I get lucky and pick one up that is in pristine condition.

    Having said that – it does look really nice 🙂

    Some things puzzles me from the photo: the sides don’t look like nickel plating, just nicely polished steel; the cap is certainly coated but not convinced it is the original nickel. Are you sure it hasn’t been really nicely restored. I have a couple of small rebate planes that are nickel plated and they don’t have the same appearance as that one.

    Anyway, nice plane – enjoy using it.


    Going to second Steve above me, does not look full nickel so much as well polished (that is what a properly polished #18 should look like). So it is probably already flattened and ready for use, just give the blade a touch up and go to town.

    Tuscloosa, Alabama
    Lung T'an Hu Huesh Kung-fu Woodshop


    As Alan said in the OP the photo is not his plane. I wonder if you’ve got your camera working with your PC now Alan?

    I’m really curious to see it!

    Kind regards


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