Monday, April 6, 2015

The Buck Rogers planes

These are the tools, the smoother No 709 and the Jack No 714 that helped coined the nickname Buck Rogers to a series of tools. A reference to the futuristic look of red Tenite handle that gives it an appearance of a Buck Rogers space gun.

These planes were designed by Robert.W. Huxtable a draftsman at MF (brother to Garth) and were in fact a re-designed of a similar planes by Samuel Oxlander for Sargent in 1944.

Sargent's Oxlander Design pat 137,230 awarded 8 Feb 1944
Oxhandler’s tool was never produced, and the streamlined Millers Falls planes were not copied by other manufacturers, making them truly unique.

Robert Huxtable Design pat 159,339 awarded 18 Jul 1950

One notable design departure with the current plane's construction of the days was the integral, one piece construction of the frog and tote support, secured at three points

Buck Rogers frog design

LV first series of bench planes

You may have notice a strong resemblance with the first LV plane frog design? Its no coincidence, they used these planes as a starting point for their design.
Notice how the frog is one piece with the tote, and recognize the infamous shape of LV totes? Yap, its the shape from the 709/714 totes
I know lots of people don't care for LV totes, blocky, not as nice as the classic Stanley and blah blah. But I must say, that 714 plastic tote feel good in the hand,
It's made of Eastman Tenite No 2, the oldest plastic still in production. It is based on wood cellulose by the way and its virtually indestructible.

One big improvement of the Veritas design over the MF is the provision of easy adjustments for the frog assembly, which the Buck Rogers does not have. This elevate the functionality of the Veritas plane over the Buck Rogers for finer woodworking.

It is not the only MF plane to inspire LV, their new DX60, in my mind, has some resemblance to another Garth Huxtable's design for a Buck Rogers block plane, which was never produced.

The new Veritas DX60, a true works of art.

When I first saw it, it immediately reminded me of Buck Rogers tools: futuristic looking, seems to be in motion at rest; it's a work of art! Hummm do I need another block planes? I only got 13 :-)

A prototype block plane from Garth Huxtable to complement the Smooth and Jack planes. It never went into production. Notice the lever up front to adjust the mouth? 
It reproduce the red Tenite button detail on the lateral lever of the Buck Rogers planes.

A great deal of thought went into the ergonomics of the lateral and depth adjustments with the result that the tool steel cutter is easy to set. The depth adjustment wheel angle and its size makes it easy to reach with your finger extended on the side. The shape of the lateral lever makes it easy to find and adjust.

Taking the plane apart
To remove the frog, you must first remove the tote from the frog assembly in order to access the third screw fastening the frog to the bed.

After removing the 2 Chicago bolts that secure the tote, it is slid up to removed it

With the tote removed you can see the 3rd screw behind the tote post, securing the frog assembly down to the bed. The remaining two are where you would expect, under the blade on the frog surface.

This is why it is always a good idea to separate the frog from the bed, you will almost always find wood chips under which if left alone would promote rust. 

A soaking in Evaporust will take care of rust.

No 714 at parade dress. Notice the cross bar for the front knob? 
It is because the toe piece is hollow, that cross bar is what you screw the knob in

As I mentioned in a previous post, this plastic suffer from plasticizer leaching out and leaving behind a waxy whitish residues. I was told by Doug Orr that mineral oil works to clean it up good. I tried it on the 714 he got me and it does indeed the job. I read about the plasticizer problem in Eastman Tenite and mineral oil is not going to compound the problem by making it worse. It also restore some of the shine.

The blade assembly is also unique to this plane. In typical MF fashion, the blade is made of HSS tool steel, unlike most blades which only have a laminated cutter portion forge welded to it (like an axe). This mean that you can sharpen this blade to the last inch of its life and you are still getting tool steel.  
MF blades take a keen edge that last. And they get even better if you stop and strop as you uses it.

Blade assembly out of the Evaporust bath, ready for sharpening.
Both the smoother and Jack uses a 2 in blade.

The lever cap uses the patented MF three points contact design

Patented MF articulated lever cap, as used in their flagship bench planes line up.
Contacts points are at Nos 28, 35, and 24

MF articulated lever cap 

In addition to the usual contact at the edge, the additional points of contact 
are the two raised dots and at the back under the lever.

Close up of the roller on the lever end (not shown on patent).
 Eliminate wear and makes it a smooth operating lever which lock securely. 

The frog assembly is cast aluminum, with a baked on grey enamel paint 

If you look at the elongated holes in the frog and the opened end screw tab at the bottom of the tote post, you can see that the frog assembly has some adjustment to help close the mouth.
An often heard complaint about this plane is the large gaping mouth, 
well now you know how to close it!

The blade advance mechanism, pretty well fool and bomb proof

The yoke assembly is of split steel parts, not cast iron and very sturdy.
The lateral lever fell out on my example, I peened it back on. 
Go easy if you do, its aluminum remember? 

The plane bed is made of grey cast iron. The combination of a hollow nose piece and cast aluminum frog assembly, plastic tote and knob gives it a weight of roughly 4-1/2 pounds and it is a very well balanced tool.
All in all, not only is it a different looking streamlined plane, it is also a good working tool.
The Millers Falls Company’s “Finest planes in the world” hyperbole aside, these tools were outstanding products within their limitations: The mouth is a bit large and while there is some provision to adjust the frog in order to close it, it is a very awkward operation. You have to pull up the tote  to do it. Probably why many do not know...

And they sure look cool on your bench :-)

Bob, looking for his desintegrator ray gun and jet pack


  1. I'm going to look for these planes when I go antiquing. I have seen them before but I always ignored them. If I remember correctly they are a lot cheaper than a comparable stanley.
    It's a shame the block plane was never produced - I like the look of that and how the tote folds up and over the adjusting screws.

  2. Be prepared for sticker shock, some Buck Rogers tools are expensive (read highly collectable) especially the planes. My No 714 cost me $175, which was a fair price.

    Regular Millers Falls and Sargent tools have long been under the radar, while everybody is looking at Stanley, but their prices are coming up...

    The Bob effect ? :-)

  3. I am lucky enough to have been able to get a pair of 709 and 714 at a fair price and very good condition recently and while cleaning them I found this white gunk on the tote. At first I believed it was something like bird poo or any kind of farm residue! To clean it I just put the tote in warm water with dish soap for 1h and brush it with an old tooth brush. Very easy to clean that way.