The Stanley Works was a behemoth, a force to be reckoned with, a standard-bearer for progress in the development of all sorts of tools for the professional craftsman, as well as the home owner.
That said, Stanley also made some junk. I mean some real junk! Then too, they made other stuff that just kinda is, ah, I mean, well… I mean you wonder if they fell asleep in the marketing department, or what. Many people think that Stanley’s line of transitional bench planes falls into a category which might best be described as “what were they thinking?”
Personally, I like ‘em. Hey, they’re light, plus they offer the same type of lateral and depth adjustment that was available on Stanley iron planes. You could drop them from a scaffold and there was a pretty good chance that they would survive. Try that with a Bailey type! I have no doubt that they were great for carpenters in the field. But I’ve gotta believe they were never taken very seriously by cabinetmakers and joiners. My guess is that those two groups uttered the mantra “wood or iron, nothing in between”.
But there is one little subdivision of the transitional species that I find particularly appealing, the Liberty Bells. They are unmistakable with their raised Liberty Bell boss on the lever cap. There is no lateral adjustment and only a simple depth adjuster. And, it is their simplicity that makes them something special, especially in the hands of someone with an imagination.
LB’s have a movable pawl that fits into the depth adjuster (stirrup). This allows the iron to be projected well past the chipbreaker. This is very difficult, if not impossible to do with Bailey design plane irons. What this means is that the LB can be turned into one of the nicest little scrub planes you can imagine. It has a 1 3/4″ wide iron and the depth can be controlled with the adjuster, a distinct advantage.
The moveable pawl also allows for the iron to be easily reversed, thereby allowing the plane to be used as a scraping plane in a pinch. You might dig up an old iron, crown it ever so slightly and use it exclusively for scraping (try that with one you “bevel-up” planes). One might also consider making a very heavy single iron for really fine polishing work. The LB’s lever cap would allow for an iron of that nature to be used. And, while we’re at it, how ’bout making a reversed toothing iron? Easy enough.
The small LB smoother is an incredibly comfortable plane to use, even for a mugg with big hands. The iron frame is made with a “tongue” that fits into the web of the push hand. It has that “extension of the craftsman’s spirit” kinda of feel. Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but it feels good when you’re using it.
The other great thing is that these things are cheap (usually). I’ve seen them with replacement bodies that make them look like little “objet d’ arts”. Hey, these kind of tools connect us with our past and they are great little “multi-use” platforms. Imagine. Enjoy. And remember, like so many other aspects of a woodworking vocation or avocation, you can heat your shop with the stuff you don’t like or screw up. Life is good.