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Union Jack Plane - identification and dating

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AndyT

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Continuing the wet weather theme, I was browsing a well known auction site and spotted a "Vintage Jack Plane" which looked a bit unusual. It was a "transitional style" - a metal blade holder and adjuster on a wooden body, which is not very common, but this one also had a steel base, and the pictures showed that it had an unusual adjuster. A quick bit of on-line research was enough to identify it, and a few days later it arrived. This is it, as found:



Here's the adjuster:



and the base:



By now you will have realised that it's from the Union Manufacturing Company, of New Britain, Connecticut.
Thanks to the generosity of Gary Roberts and his Toolemera site I could look back and identify it as an X26, listed in the catalogue* on page 23 at $2.25 or 9s 5d. That makes sense of the marking on the toe:



Under the model number is a date - Jun 28 04. That's not a manufacturing date, but the date of the patent for the adjuster, which can be read here and looks like this:



So we have an earliest possible date for the plane, in 1904.
It's quite possible that this one is an early one, as the upper adjuster is still marked "Pat Appl'd For"



But in any case, it must be before 1919, which is the date they closed, according to the ever useful Davistown Museum site here.

According to the catalogue, this adjuster is "the best that has yet been designed by any plane manufacturer." It eliminates backlash and lets the user retract the blade and then recover the previous setting. The Datamp Database of tool and machinery patents shows that the late 19th and early 20th centuries were a boom time for inventive tool makers - it lists 115 patents for plane iron adjustment mechanisms, not a few of which would also have come from New Britain, where Stanley were beginning to dominate the trade on both sides of the Atlantic.

So, all in all, a nice example of an unusual plane with a bit of history, all made accessible by this interweb thing. I'll post some more later showing it cleaned up a bit.

* EDIT: I can't find this catalogue on Gary's site any more, but it's available (alongside others) in the International Tool Catalogue Library here https://archive.org/details/UnionIronAndWoodPlanes1905
 

jimi43

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Wow Andy..nice find!

I was looking at a transitional just now...thinking "do I need another slope" and realising that this might put me in the category of "the C word"....I declined any further interest...and went back to woodies.... :oops:

Until your thread..... #-o

Jim
 

Cheshirechappie

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When I saw the title of the thread, I thought someone was getting patriotic in time for the Jubilee celebrations!

Interesting that it has a metal sole. I'd always assumed (possibly wrongly) that transitional planes were basically woodies with added adjustable gubbins. Actually it's more like a Bailey with a bit of wood packing between sole and adjustable gubbins.

By the way Jimi - you're only a C...... if you put them in glass showcases and never use them. You've published several piccies of assorted fine tools with shavings, or actually in use - so you can't be a complete C...!
 

Richard T

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Very interesting that Andy.

I spent a while a couple of years ago trawling through alternative adjuster designs and was very taken with that one. I'm sure it was on a very different plane though - can't possibly remember what - and it struck me that this could be used for a low angle; keeping the combined screw and lever that works so well in the Bailey underneath the iron where everyone else uses a Norris type.
I might have a go at one yet.
 

ac445ab

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Andy, nice find!
Have you seen this Union ads?





Union claimed thicker irons and their new adjusting mechanism.

I have a X5 jack plane in very nice conditions, although it isn't ready to work yet (I have it since few weeks).
The iron is really better (thicker) than Stanley ones.





Ciao
Giuliano :D
 

AndyT

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Nice to see the interest in these - great ads too. The adjuster is similar to what is on a 78 / 078 rebate/fillister plane, which has a similar lever but not the pairs of locking wheels. The pairs of locking wheels turn up on several of the Stanley scraping planes, or their modern equivalents.

I have given this plane a fairly conservative clean up. First, some turps on a toothbrush to get the dirt and general crud off. This revealed that under the dirt, the ironwork was a mixture of some remaining paint and some very superficial rust.



No need for acids or abrasives - I used some Zebrite polish, which is sold for use on cast-iron parts of open fires. It gives a bit of a blackening, which can then be buffed up with a rag, until it stops making your hands dirty.



The woodwork got treated with Tru-oil, as recommended by Jim. It's brilliant for handles, but initially maybe a bit glossy for the body, so I rubbed it back a bit on there.







Sadly, this specimen does not have the extra thick Union iron - hardly surprising after a century or so - but instead has a nameless Stanley-alike which bends nicely into position when installed with the cap iron.

The steel bottom cleaned up nicely with some Micromesh (thanks to Jim again for a good tip there) which seems to be very long lasting - I used it with some WD40 to flush the dirt away and it seems still to be good as new.

As for the plane in use, well, yes the adjuster works, and I may use it a bit, but the grip is a bit awkward and I shall probably still reach for my Stanley 5½ first, or one of a selection of wooden jack planes for anything rougher or quicker.
 

jimi43

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Nice one Andy...it's come up really well.

Couple of things. Tru-Oil can be cut back using OOO wire wool and then polished up to whatever level of gloss you need by using MicroMesh when hard (2 weeks)....the closer you get to 12000M the glossier the finish will be but the finish must be allowed to harden totally first.

Contaminated Micromesh can be washed in the washing machine on 60 degrees fast wash...fast spin... :mrgreen: (this is all Dodge's fault you know! :oops: )

I love that type of adjuster. I think I shall be making a scraper plane soon with this type of technology....it suits the purpose admirably.

Thanks for posting...a really interesting piece of hand tool history.

Jim
 

ac445ab

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Good job!! =D> it Reborn as the Arabian Phoenix!

curiously, it seems only Union transitional planes have an iron bottom, nor Stanley, nor other plane companies I have seen having "transitonals" with such a feature.
From that shaving would seem the bottom of yours was flat, but I should have some doubt to add a metal sole on wooden body.
Do you think the metal is enough thick in order to avoid wood movements?

Ciao,
Giuliano :D
 

AndyT

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ac445ab":kfqzxydf said:
Good job!! =D> it Reborn as the Arabian Phoenix!

curiously, it seems only Union transitional planes have an iron bottom, nor Stanley, nor other plane companies I have seen having "transitonals" with such a feature.
From that shaving would seem the bottom of yours was flat, but I should have some doubt to add a metal sole on wooden body.
Do you think the metal is enough thick in order to avoid wood movements?

Ciao,
Giuliano :D
From the catalogue, I reckon Union took a simple approach to things - they offered a range of 17 wooden bodied planes in three styles - smoother, jack and jointer, in various widths and lengths. Actually it was twice that - there was a choice of two different, patented adjusters. You could then double the choice by adding a steel sole to any plane. Almost like the range of choice in a coffee shop!

You could also buy a steel sole on its own, which presumably you could then attach to a Stanley plane if you wanted - and Union would have had their few cents profit.

The whole approach must be an example of the change in manufacturing that spread at the end of the nineteenth century with the introduction of interchangeable parts made to exact dimensions, most famously on the Winchester and other rifles.

However, it was not unknown in the UK - I have a small smoother and a wooden compass plane which are steel-shod, probably as a user modification.

On this Union plane, I would say that the sole is flat enough for a Jack plane, so I have left it as it is. There's no noticeable wear on it.
 

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