Leonard Bailey (1825-05-08 in Hollis, New Hampshire – 1905-02-05 in New York City) was a toolmaker/inventor from Massachusetts, USA, who in the mid-to-late nineteenth century patented several features of woodworking equipment. Most prominent of those patents were the planes manufactured by the Stanley Rule & Level Co. (now Stanley Works) of New Britain, Connecticut.
Commonly known as Stanley/Bailey planes, these planes were prized by woodworkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and remain popular by today’s wood craftsman. A type study of his patented planes and the rest of the Stanley line may be found at Patrick Leach’s “Blood and Gore”.Bailey’s design ideas are still utilized by Stanley and other plane manufacturers to this day.
Leonard Bailey was a tool designer in the 19th century, who, working on his own and later for Stanley Rule and Level Co. (now Stanley Tools) , designed Bailey, Victor, and Defiant bench planes, or tools used to smooth the surface of wood. His designs became models for most planes made after mid-1800s.
Bailey started out as a cabinetmaker before becoming a toolmaker in Boston, where he produced innovative bench and block planes, scrapers, and spokeshaves during the 1850s. Bailey’s first patent, in 1855, describes a scraper plane with an adjustable cutter. The blade was mounted on a plate that pivoted near the sole of the tool. As the angle changed, the depth of cut changed.
Soon after, Bailey adapted the principle to metal bench planes. He mounted the cutter on a pivoting casting installed between the sides of the metal body. Angling the blade forward simultaneously increased the depth of cut and the mouth opening. Shifting it backward decreased the opening and depth of cut for fine work. Bailey also patented the lever cap that held the blade in place.
Bailey’s 1867 patent shows the plane design we are most familiar with today. The plane’s cutter moves along a 45 degree bed by means of a forked lever that’s activated by a knob. This mechanism was used on both wooden and cast-iron planes. Bailey is also credited with the adjustable frog – the bed on which the cutter rests – and the cap iron, a thin piece of metal with a curved edge that’s fastened to the cutter to keep it stiff.
Until May, 1869, Bailey ran his own factory – Bailey, Chaney & Co., which he sold to Stanley Rule and Level Co., giving them the right to manufacture tools under his patents. However, in 1875, after inventor Justus Traut patented the No.110 block plane Stanley had in production for several months, Bailey terminated his contract with Stanley, claiming that sales of the plane cut into his royalties.
Shortly thereafter, he developed the ‘Victor’ plane line to compete with the Stanley/Bailey planes still in production by Stanley. He fought several unsuccessful patent infringement fights with Stanley and lost a significant battle in 1878 when the Stanley company won a decision against Bailey and the Victor line of planes. The decision resulted in Baileyís sale of the Victor business to the Bailey Wringing Machine Co. of Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He moved there to produce Victor and Defiance planes and tools.
However, in 1880, Stanley took over as the sole agent for Bailey’s Victor planes. After a series of patent-infringement suits and charges of industrial espionage, Stanley bought the entire Victor production facility in 1884 and then discontinued the line. (In 1936, Stanley resurrected the Victor name for a few years and applied it to a series of inexpensive homeowner-grade tools.) Bailey, meanwhile, stopped inventing nearly altogether and became a manufacturer of copy presses. Though his ideas are often taken credit for by the Stanley Co., his genius as an innovator is indiminishable.