Stanley Sweetheart Block Plane

A highly serviceable alternative to an upmarket block plane.

Stanley Sweetheart Block Plane

Stanley Sweetheart Low Angle Block Plane

MANUFACTURER:Stanley Black & Decker
SOURCE:Find a Retailer
Dimensions:2-1/8" W x 2" H x 6-1/2" L
Weight:2 lbs 1 oz
BladeA2, 1/8" thick, 1-5/8" wide
Body:Ductile cast iron
Blade Adjuster:Norris type
Bed Angle:12°
Warranty:1 year limited warranty

A block plane is a fundamental shop tool – certainly one that most woodworkers wouldn't do without. There are some great models on the market, notably Clifton, Lie-Nielsen, and Veritas, but they can be quite expensive. If you're new to woodworking and have a lot of tools to purchase on a limited budget, or if you've been woodworking for some time and are looking to add a reasonably priced block plane to your tool kit, then the Stanley Sweetheart 60-1/2 (#12-139) just might fit the bill.

There are two versions of the Stanley 60-1/2, the contractor grade #12-960, and the premium grade #12-139 – the 'Sweetheart'.

Quite a few years ago I bought a Stanley #12-960. It required a fair amount of maintenance before I could use it. The sole was rough and took quite while to flatten. The blade wouldn't hold an edge and eventually was replaced. Even tuned up and with a new blade, on end grain, figured wood, or very dense wood, it had a tendency to chatter.

While the Stanley #12-139 has been on the market for about a decade now I've only had my first opportunity of using this plane over the past month. It's a marked improvement over the #12-960, and, as I've found, didn't take a lot of time to prep.

A crucial part of any hand plane is the sole – you want it to be flat, particularly ahead of the mouth. On the Sweetheart the sole is very flat along its length and just ahead of the mouth. There was a slight hollow just behind the mouth that I measured at about .005". This isn't, in my view, enough of a deviation to lose sleep over. And, if you don't mind investing 30 minutes or so you can flatten the sole to decrease the depression so that it just about disappears. I started with a 180-grit abrasive, worked up to 400-grit, and then finished the job with on a 3 micron diamond benchstone. The depression is still there, but it's down to about .002" – though a bit more work might have eliminated the hollow altogether. After dealing with the sole I eased the edges, which were a tad on the sharp side, using a 400-grit abrasive.

The body of the Sweetheart is well machined – everything is crisp and clean and all the parts fit together snugly. While the body is made of ductile cast iron, for some reason Stanley chose to use an aluminum alloy for the lever cap. Perhaps it's to keep the overall weight down – the plane weighs in at just over 2 pounds, making it a heavyweight in the world of block planes – too heavy in my book to carry around in a shop apron. The sides were reasonably square to the sole, again, in the .005" range, which means I can use the plane for shooting end and edge grain on narrow stock.

The lever cap screw is an odd egg. It doesn’t’ have the ubiquitous screwdriver slot, which means you have to turn the screw using your fingers – awkward at best. Stanley might have chosen this design to prevent users from inadvertently applying too much torque on the aluminum lever cap, as one might do with a screwdriver. Nonetheless, it's likely something I'll replace once I get an appropriate sized screw.

The A2 steel blade comes fully honed, ready for work. I found it very easy to set the depth of cut and square up the blade with the Norris style blade adjuster. However, there is considerably more backlash with the adjuster than I would like – it takes about 6 complete turns of the adjuster knob before the blade begins to move forward or backward. Annoying, to say the least. The throat plate is adjusted by means of a brass knob with an eccentric lever – it enables you to quickly and easily adjust the mouth opening.

The A2 blade holds its edge quite well. I did hone the blade after a week of use. While you might find that A2 blades take longer to grind than O1 blades, I find they don't take appreciably longer to hone.

Over all, the Sweetheart 60-1/2 is a capable block plane, though the blade adjuster requires more effort (and patience) than what you can expect from an upmarket plane. However, I was able to take very fine shavings in sapele, alder, maple and oak, chamfer edges on a display cabinet, and to do final fitting of a set of small cabinet drawers. It's not as refined (or as handsome) as some of the more posh block planes on the market – but it does the job, and does it well. And after all, this is what matters most.

Photo Gallery

Flat along the length of the sole with a very slight slight deviation in back of the mouth (throat).

More crucial - dead flat just ahead of the mouth.

Adjustable mouth plate fits flush to the sole.

Crisp, clean machining on the mouth plate bed.

The Norris style blade adjuster works well. The lever cap screw lacks a screwdriver slot.

Smooth, flat frog (flat section in back of the mouth).

Lever cap is aluminum with a brass locking wheel.

A2 blade comes well sharpened and honed, ready to go to work.

Ready for some soleful work on 180, 220 and 400 grit abrasive.

A few minutes work on the 180 grit - you can better see the hollow just south of the mouth.

Almost done. On to the 400 grit and then a polish on a 3 micron diamond benchstone.

Handles well, delivers full width, thin shavings.

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