Tools of Yesteryear – Ohio Tool Company 16in Transitional Jack Plane

Wednesday 11 July 2018

This unusual jack plane was another recent acquisition; I saw it online and I was bemused by its rather bodged-together appearance. In fact, the 'transitional' design isn't so unusual and they were produced in decent numbers, mainly in the USA, but to a lesser extent in the UK. They were being produced at the same time as both traditional all-wood designs and the newer Bailey pattern that were in production. The term 'transitional' is a more recently adopted term to try and pigeonhole this type of crossbred design, but at the time they were presumably marketed to persuade traditionalists to change over to more modern tools and also bulk out the manufacturers' tool catalogues. Ohio Tool Company produced this model roughly between 1884 and 1910. Up to 1880 they used quite a lot of prison labour building their tools, they then merged with, and effectively subsumed, the Auburn Tool Company NY, who also used prison labour, so this plane with its Auburn 'Thistle' blade mark and Ohio production number 356 may have been through convicts' hands!

The Bailey-type castings sit on the beechwood (Fagus grandifola) body, which exhibits hammer marks at both ends for some strange reason. It proved easy to strip off all the parts, although the knurled brass blade depth-adjusting knob wouldn't separate, unlike the Stanley design. A good dewaxing all over, some brass dipping and a body polish before reassembly made it look respectable, even with some paint loss evident on the castings. The tapered blade and cap iron had been 'restored' by some uncaring person but looked reasonable. On sharpening the blade it proved quite hard and slow to get an edge on the grinder and without discolouration, the reason being it was a laminated blade! This meant they had gone to some trouble to create a superior cutting edge for this tool. Unfortunately, the japanning on the 'half frog' had originally slumped into a couple of slight lumps which prevented the blade assembly from seating perfectly – once scraped off I could then align the frog assembly and the blade nicely. I also scraped a lot of paint gunk off the base, presumably from door trimming work, and then checked it was flat and didn't need levelling before it could be used.

When correctly sharpened and set, this plane cuts really well and makes a really good tool not just to collect but to use. If you keep a keen eye open you may well find one of these unusual but very functional planes, too.