Transitional Planes – Looking for Opinions Based on Experience

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    Ivan Kawaler

    I am looking for advice and opinions on what we nowadays refer to as transitional planes, preferably from people who have experience working with them. Most opinions on transitional planes on the Internet are not favorable. However, manufacturers sold these planes for decades. What are the drawbacks of a transitional plane when compared to an iron plane? Do transitional planes have any advantages over iron planes? Are there differences in the tune up process of a transitional plane when compared to all iron or wooden planes?

    I ask these questions for a couple reasons, the first of which is personal. I purchased a Winchester transitional jack plane, which was made by Sargent (Sargent No.3415 equivalent), for a nice price. It is in decent shape, with no significant cracks and only some pitting on the lateral adjuster. I flattened the sole per Paul Sellers’ instructions in his wooden plane tune up video. I squared up the iron and sharpened it, and I tuned up the cap iron as well. However, the plane does not perform well. It is difficult to extend the iron far enough out of the throat to remove much wood. The iron does not appear to be significantly shorter than when it was brand new. When the iron is extended as far as possible, the throat still has an acceptable opening, too. Regardless, the iron is not able to protrude nearly as much as any of my iron planes. Are there any suggestions on how to alleviate this issue?

    The second question is in regards to these planes not being suggested to new woodworkers. Since these planes are fairly common, and they do not usually command high prices, would these not be an acceptable plane for someone starting out? I realize that my experience with a single jack plane has not proven to be very positive, but I am sure there are plenty of iron planes out there that are not worth more than their scrap material value as well.

    I guess to summarize, I would really like to know if there are legitimate reasons why transitional planes are overlooked. While I have found a couple nice critiques of transitional planes, most discussions appears to be from a collector’s perspective, not a user’s perspective. I have appreciated thoughts by one woodworker who actually prefers them when planing green wood (the sole will not rust), and another who stated that they are not “secretly awesome,” but they are “secretly adequate.” I would appreciate opinions from others. Forming my own opinion based on experience might be enjoyable, but it would prove difficult to justify purchasing a dozen or more transitional planes simply to form an opinion.

    Larry Geib

    It’s pretty hard to give advice as to why your plane isn’t working without at least some pictures to show how you have it set up, and not knowing what condition it is in.

    Beyond that, you have to keep in mind why transitional planes were made and marketed as they were.

    The 1906 H&S catalog had the full gamut of plane types for sale at the same time. To compare apples to apples, I’ll list the price point each type 5 1/2 or equivalent were sold at.
    Iron planes :
    Bedrock 605 1/2 : $3.60
    Bailey 5 1/2 : $3.15
    Stanley adjustable : $2.60 ( this was adjusted with a lever like a Stanley 78 is)

    Traditional wooden plane.
    15” double iron warranted : $1.50
    15” Double iron not warranted : $1.00
    Single iron “Schrup” $.65 ( schrup means scrape in German, so it’s not clear if this was a scrub plane as shown or a scraper plane)
    All these boasted a Buck Brothers iron.

    Transitional planes
    Bailey 27 or27 1/2 :$1.90
    Elsewhere in the catalog you see transitional planes in the cheaper manual training kits. I suspect this was to get students used to adjusting modern planes.

    Winchester sold transitional planes made by both Stanley and Sargent. Sargent made transitional planes after they started making iron planes, presumably to have a product at a lower price point.

    While they weren’t as cheap as the wooden offerings, they were very cheap, at nearly half the price of a Bedrock. A union carpenter in New York City could expect to make $5.62 for a 10 hr day back then, so the choice was spending more than half a Day’s or a couple hours wages to pay for that plane. Compare that to a union carpenter’s wage today and the cost of modern planes and they were pretty cheap.

    It really can’t be expected that they were great performers even new without tweaking them a lot.

    Benoît Van Noten

    The maximum protrusion of the cutting- iron depends on how far away from the cutting edge you set the cap-iron. Try something like 4 mm.
    Paul doesn’t set the cap-iron very near to the cutting edge and furthermore, this is a jack plane, not a smoother.
    It might be that
    – the cap iron is not the original one; or
    – the distance between the hole for the yoke and the edge has been shortened.

    I had the reverse problem with a cheapo metal #4; I could not fully retract the cutting-iron.

    Matt Sims

    I’ve got a Stanley 34 transitional. I got it on eBay 5 years ago, with two other wooden planes, a small smoother, and a “jack” plane. I only bid because the seller was local to me, and I could collect to avoid postage.

    I won the bid, (I think I was the only bidder), and got all 3 for a total cost of £1.50, (plus petrol cost of driving 3 miles!)…

    Anyway… The large transition works very well, once I’d cleaned it up and sharpened etc. However, it is long, and heavy-ish, and hasn’t had a lot of use, because I haven’t needed to use it… more often that not the wooden jack, or my Stanley 5 1/2″ does the job of straitening just fine. The one advantage it does have is that it’s a wide blade… I’m not sure, off the top of my head how wide,, but it’s wider that the Stanley 5 1/2″ blade.


    Larry Geib

    H&S shows three Stanley 15” transition jack planes.
    The #26 had a 2” blade. The 27 and 27 1/2 had 2 1/4” blades.

    The 18” fore plane and up had 2 3/8” wide blades until you got to 26” and longer, when the width jumped to 2 5/8”.
    The longest in their catalog was the 34, which was 30” long. it sold for the princely sum of $2.60

    Does your 5 1/2 have 2 1/4” or 2 3/8” blade? They switched sometime in the 20’s.
    I had a devil of a time years ago getting the proper width iron for my older one.

    Ivan Kawaler

    Larry, here are some pictures. It is the Winchester 3045 jack plane (could you either confirm that this is the Sargent No.3415 or correct me?). I used a rule to get the position of the frog lined up with the angle of the wood behind the throat. There are some scratches, but no cracks. The edge of the iron is not square, but I did not think it was off enough to cause any issues (this is something to correct at some point). There is some pitting in the iron, but not close to the edge. I tuned the edge of the cap iron so it is flush with the iron. I planed the bottom of the plane closer to flat – I did not take much off.

    The bad picture is supposed to show how far the iron protrudes when extended fully. The other picture from the bottom of the plane shows how much room is in the mouth when the iron is fully extended.

    Larry, thanks for the perspective on the costs of the planes and the average wages of the time. I knew the transitional planes were cheaper than the iron ones, but knowing an average wage of the time helps clarify some things.

    Benoît, I think I had the cap iron closer to 1/16″ (1-2 mm) from the edge of the iron. Backing it off to 4 mm might help. Will that cause an issue with chatter or tear out?

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Ivan Kawaler.
    Benoît Van Noten

    Chatter? I don’t think as the iron has a good support from the bedding.
    Tear out?
    1. it is a jack not a smoother;
    2. it probably depends of the thickness of the shavings, the sharpness of the iron, the wood, etc

    Ivan Kawaler

    Thanks, Benoît. I have not been woodworking very long, and have never tried backing the cap iron off more than somewhere around 3/32″ from the edge of the iron, with the exception of my converted scrub plane. I will give this a try the next chance I get.

    Larry Geib

    It’s always a little hard to say for certain. A lot of planes are Harlequins from that era , but your lever cap looks like a Stanley product.

    The Sargent models looked a bit different ( see attachment of a 3415 and the cap Stippled pattern instead of your chevron pattern.)

    As to performance, the plane looks to be in good shape, almost unused. The chatter could mean the iron is poorly bedded, but before I messed with that, I’d make sure the iron is SHARP and ground at the correct angle, which was traditionally 30° for carbon tool steel ( similar to modern O1). That will allow clearance and is also the angle which carbon tool steel holds it’s edge best. Make sure also that there is no gap at the capiron edge. Paul has tutorials on that.

    The way I was taught the correct was to check the the FACE of the bevel should be twice the thickness of the iron ( sin 30° = .5 from HS maths)
    It’s hard to be certain, but it looks like your iron might be ground at a steeper angle.

    It’s been a while since I messed with transition planes ( 30 years! Yikes!) but I believe the cast bits are wedded with oval holes. You might just have to loosen the screws and slide them forward or back until the iron is properly seated.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Larry Geib.
    Larry Geib

    I take it back. I told you it’s been a while.

    Here is a Sargent lever cap, so that’s probably your Winchester as well. Looks like they made more than one kind ( as did Stanley)

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