The Stanley Tool Co. and Defiance Line

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Defiance catalogs: 1952 (left) and 1940. Note table of contents on the front right of each.
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No. 1507 nickel-plated pliers, in one of three sizes offered. The Defiance name is just right of the pivot bolt.
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Top: A Defiance claw hammer, one of five offered. Bottom: A machinist’s hammer, one of four offered. Both have the original paper Defiance label.
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Two 10-inch wrenches. The wrench labeled by Defiance is a pipe wrench offered in three sizes. The angle wrench was offered in four sizes; note Better-Grip name and the box-end wrench at end of handle.
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Top to bottom: Regular, stubby and Phillips screwdrivers with wood handles. Screwdrivers were sold in seven sizes, each with a red wooden handle.
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Defiance drop-forged end wrench set. The piece is not pictured in any known catalog.

With a history as long and storied as that of many manufacturers of American farm equipment, Stanley tools are familiar to farmers across the U.S. Stanley Tool Co. has been making tools since 1843, starting as A. Stanley Co. in New Britain, Conn., and becoming Stanley Rule & Level Co. in about 1858. In 1919, Stanley Rule & Level merged with the Stanley Works hardware company to form the largest tool and hardware company in the world at the time, Stanley Works, with Stanley Tools as a division.

Stanley has manufactured just about every hand and power tool ever invented. The company started out making rules in the 1840s and progressed over the years to making a complete line of hand tools. Stanley has made tools for carpenters, mechanics, hobbyists, cabinetmakers, repairmen, homeowners and farmers.

Birth of the Defiance tool line

In 1929, Stanley introduced the Defiance tool line. Marked by less expensive, quality tools, the line included all the customary tools, braces, drills, hammers, levels, screwdrivers, squares and planes. By 1939, the line expanded to include awls, bevels, wood and metal chisels, a crowbar, drill bits and bit extensions, files, a hatchet, an ice pick, nail sets, pliers, punches, saw sets, tape measures, tin snips, vises, wrenches, zigzag folding rules and, by 1952, even a wedge vise. With the onset of the Great Depression, company officials sensed a large market of farmers and homeowners who wanted to do their own work with a cheaper, quality set of tools.

The Defiance name was acquired in the 1880 purchase of Bailey Wringer Machine Co. That company made planes with the Defiance name and a battle-axe trademark. Stanley Rule & Level Co. first used the Defiance name on a cheaper screwdriver line in 1904. In March 1923, Stanley included the Defiance name in the patent office’s book of product names for future use on a general line of tools.

By 1926, the Defiance name was being used on a line of cheaper planes marketed by Stanley. The planes became more standard and other tools were added to the line. The Defiance line was marketed from 1929 until the summer of 1953, when the name was changed to Handyman. Many of the same tools were remarked and continued in the Handyman line. Handyman was a relatively new name acquired with the purchase of North Brothers Mfg. Co. in 1946.

The farm and home line grew until 1938, when 135 tools were offered. The Defiance line was rarely listed in the regular Stanley No. 34 catalogs, but was included in the smaller Defiance Tools catalogs available by mail and in stores. The 1940 catalog offered 138 tools in 12 pages; the 1952 catalog expanded to 14 pages showing 136 tools. One of the extra pages in the 1952 catalog highlights store displays; the other features Yankee Handyman spiral ratchet screwdrivers. Otherwise, there was a lot of overlap in the two catalogs. The line’s colors were red and black.

Included in the 1940 catalog were 15 planes, 13 screwdrivers, 10 hammers, nine squares, seven levels and six pairs of pliers. These tools were of differing design, materials and uses. During World War II, many tools in the Defiance line were temporarily discontinued. By war’s end, only 26 Defiance tools remained in production.

Quality tools at a savings

The farmer liked the Defiance line because it offered quality tools at prices up to 30 percent less than other Stanley tools. The initial cost was lower and if the tool was lost or destroyed, it was not as big a loss. Having worked on farms from age 14 on, I rarely used a new or nearly new tool. In fact, according to one farmer I worked for, the standard tool set was a hammer, pair of pliers, screwdriver or two and an angle wrench. Every tractor or implement that went to the field was sent with that tool set. If you needed other tools, generally you went to the barn. And if you needed an end wrench, heaven help you. There would only be one wrench missing from the set when you found it, but that was always the wrench you needed!

These tools were used in 90 percent of all minor repairs and adjustments. Hammers were used to straighten, adjust and fabricate. Screwdrivers, besides their normal use, could pry, scrape, clean and chisel wood (and metal in some cases). Pliers worked with wire, bent metal, held nuts, hammered and gripped to pry. The least versatile tool was the crescent wrench, which could bend metal and adjust nuts of various sizes.

The Defiance line addressed these needs. There were five claw hammers, four curved and one straight; four 16-ounce and one 7-ounce; three polished and two painted heads. There were four ball peen machinist hammers in 16-, 20-, 24- and 28-ounce sizes, and a 32-ounce blacksmith hammer. All hammers had hickory handles.

1940 Defiance line

The 1940 Defiance screwdriver grouping included 14 screwdrivers in seven blade lengths; the shortest measured 1-1/4-inch, the longest was 10 inches. They came with round blades, square blades, flared tips, parallel-side tips, lacquered (natural color) or painted (red or orange-and-black) wooden handles or plastic handles. In 1952 the line included 23 screwdrivers (expanded to include Phillips screwdrivers).

The Defiance line included 11 pairs of pliers and one each of diagonal cutting (6-inch) and electrician pliers (6- and 8-inch). There were 6-, 8- and 10-inch pliers with satin or nickel finish. There were also 6-1/2-inch thin-nose pliers and 6-1/2-inch side-cutting pliers. All were discontinued by 1942.

The line included four angle wrenches (6-, 8-, 10- and 12-inch lengths), three pipe wrenches (8-, 10- and 14-inch lengths) and two sheet metal, five-wrench sets (one with oil finish and one with nickel finish). A drop-forged set of six end wrenches was also offered.

The angle wrenches were made by Better-Grip. Some were marked “Defiance” without the Better-Grip name on them. At least one wrench is known marked only Better-Grip but in a like-new box marked “Defiance Angle wrench #1536.” This is the case with many Defiance tools. They are not marked Defiance, but they are clearly Defiance tools. Defiance items may have been sold to use as a house brand.

Tape measures enter the line

In 1940, two Defiance tape measures were offered: #1260, with a blade that could be extended and locked at any length up to 6 feet, and #1261, with a removable 6-foot blade. Both were in round cases.

In 1952, three round-case tapes were offered: #1260, #1261N and #7506. All had 6-foot blades. There were also four tape measures with D-shape cases: #1262, #1206, #1208 and #1210. The first two had 6-foot blades; the third, 8-foot; and the last, a 10-foot blade.

In 1932, when Stanley marketed its first tape measures, there were three in the Defiance line: #1266 and #1266A (both 6 feet) and #1268 (8 feet). Again, in 1939 when the company introduced the first locking tape measure, it was #1260, also in the Defiance line. Finally, the #1262, one of Stanley’s first new, D-shape models, was introduced in the Defiance line.

Varied offering

The rest of the Defiance tools were of use to the farmer in his daily work, but not nearly to the degree of the hammers, screwdrivers, pliers and wrenches. Other tools included: awls, a bevel, braces and bits, a bit extension, chisels (metal and wood), drills (breast and hand), files, a hatchet, ice picks, levels, a marking gauge, nail sets, planes, punches, rulers, saw sets, squares (combination, mitre, carpenter and frame), tin snips, a utility knife and vises. These tools used cheaper woods and metals in their manufacture, but were still good-quality tools.

The most unusual tool offered was the wedge vise in the 1950s. It was made of sheet metal and mounted, with screws, to a workbench. With the aid of the wooden wedge, you could hold a piece of wood and work on it with other tools.

Because these tools sold well, there are still many examples available at farm and home sales, on the Internet and in antique shops, in every level of condition from poor to unused. You just have to look. You may still be using one! FC

President of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn., George Wanamaker has been collecting measuring, carpenter, farm and kitchen tools for 35 years. He is the author of Stanley Tape Measures: The First Forty Years and articles on Siegley and Stanley planes and the Master Rule Mfg. Co. Contact him at

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