The Millers Falls No.42 coping saw

working by hand

Finding a good vintage coping saw can be challenging. A few years ago Christopher Schwarz wrote about the Millers Falls No.42 coping saw on his blog. Shortly afterwards trying to get ahold of a No.42 became very challenging. I searched for a few years, and as luck would have it ended up with three saws last year. What’s interesting is that the three don’t look the same – for quite a while I thought one of them was missing a part of the adjustment mechanism – but things aren’t always what they seem. This required further investigation. Fig.1 shows the catalog entry from 1938. This version of the No.42 is the one most often seen, and sports the adjustment knob at the end of the saw, which wasn’t specified in the original patent.

mf42_cat1938 Fig 1: Millers Falls catalog entry for No.42 coping saw (1938)

The patent for the No.42 appeared…

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Sometimes You Just Have To Work Out of the Bed of Your Truck

I love this little Stanley no. 18. It’s my first go-to for anything a block plane might be able to handle. It dates from the 1910s (V Logo), and is as close to mint condition as a 100 year old plane can be. The nickel plating on the cap is p e r f e c t, and the japanning 100%. Aside from a little patina on the cheeks, it looks like it just came out of the box.

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Justus Traut’s Early Adjustable #110 Block Planes | Early American Industries Association

As I told you in my last post, Stanley Rule & Level Company introduced the #110 non-adjustable block plane sometime in 1874.  The plane was derived from Justus Traut’s patent No. 159,865 grante…

Source: Justus Traut’s Early Adjustable #110 Block Planes | Early American Industries Association

Setting Up and Tuning a Block Plane

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Stanley Bailey no. 9-1/2, c. 1952-55 ~ one of the most popular block planes of all time

As a follow up to an earlier post about setting up and tuning bench planes, this one will focus solely on block planes. Some of the information is taken directly from that post, so if you’ve read it, it may sound familiar.

On to Setting Up Those Block Planes…

It’s no surprise that so many ‘modern’ woodworkers, especially those used to plug-and-play electric tools, eschew anything that requires sharpening, let alone tuning and fettling to make it work properly.  But the fact is, whether 100 years old or brand spanking new, virtually all planes benefit from some degree of tuning to bring them to their full potential.  Fortunately, this is not a difficult proposition, and actually aids in better understanding how the tool functions and how to get the most out of it.

Below are the basic steps for setting up and tuning a block plane for use.  Block planes tend to be less complicated than bench planes, but there are still many variations, both new and used. I’m purposefully keeping it fairly generic, so some interpretation may be necessary when applying the concepts to the tool in front of you.  But don’t worry, there are no tool police surveilling workshops and garages.  Feel free to skip a step if you don’t think it’s relevant or needed.

Step 1 – Soles Need Saving

I’m not a stickler when it comes to flattening the sole of a plane.  After owning hundreds and using dozens of planes over the years, it’s fairly rare to come across one with a sole so warped, cupped, or bowed that it’s unusable.  If you happen upon one that is truly unusable, my advice is to return it, sell it, or throw it away.  The only possible exceptions are block planes, which are pretty easy to flatten due to their smaller size.  Bench planes are far more difficult, especially the larger ones.  You can take them to a machine shop and have them milled or lapped flat, but forget trying to flatten them yourself with sandpaper unless the problem is very minor.

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The sole of this plane was lapped by hand using a granite surface plate

If you do decide to lap your plane’s sole flat, you’ll need a dead flat substrate.  The cast iron bed of a table saw or jointer works well, or if you don’t have one of those available and want to keep it on the cheap, a piece of 12” x 12” or larger granite surface plate will work for block planes.  Just make sure you retract the blade and tension the lever cap as you would in actual use.  This puts the correct stress on the plane body.  I start with 60 grit and progress up to about 320.  Removing high spots (convexity) is more critical than low spots (concavity).  Keep in mind that you don’t even need the entire sole dead flat.  As long as you have smooth contact at the toe, around the mouth, and at the heel, the plane will work just fine.

Vintage planes often have raised dings from bouncing around in tool boxes, especially along the edges, toe or heel.  A flat mill file makes very quick work of these minor problems.  Finally, some woodworkers file a very small 45 degree chamfer along each edge of the sole.  This is completely optional, but helps prevent inadvertent gouges when using the plane should you tip it slightly.  I’ve seen some Stanley planes from the mid 20th century that appear to have been made that way at the factory.

Step 2 – Flatten ‘dem Frogs

The hole in the iron straddles the lateral adjustment pivot disc and seats against the tiny frog where it engages the tiny pins on the height adjustment lever mechanism

The hole in the iron straddles the lateral adjustment pivot disc and seats against the tiny frog where it engages the tiny pins on the height adjustment lever mechanism

Block planes do not typically have removable frogs like bench planes, but there are some exceptions, mainly on some of the specialty and low angle planes where part of the frog moves with the iron when adjusting depth of cut. Either way, the function of the frog is the same on all planes. It provides a secure platform on which the iron is supported.  In order for the plane to shave wood correctly, there must not be any movement (wobble, play, rocking, etc.) to the iron.  It must be firmly seated against the frog, so the face of the frog must be as flat and secure as possible. This platform on most block planes is frequently very small, especially when compared to bench planes. Click on the photo to the right and you can see the frog is less than 1/2 square inch.

Since the frog on your block plane is typically not removable, you only need to touch up the seat with a firm sanding block to ensure it is flat.  Also, because the flat sloped area behind the mouth on the plane’s base provides much of the forward support for the iron, it needs to be flat too.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get to, and since you don’t want to enlarge the mouth at all, just a touch using a small piece of angled wood with fine sandpaper wrapped around it is about as far as you want to take it. Thankfully, this is all that is usually needed to remove old crud. A Dremel or quality flexible shaft tool with a wire wheel brush will also work if the problem is limited to dirt and light corrosion.  Finally, as on the bench plane, clean the threads on all the hardware and add a little light oil to help retard moisture and rust.

Step 3 – Lever Caps (This is not a drinking game…)

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Just the leading edge to the underside of the lever cap at the bottom of the photo needs to be flattened. This photo, taken before flattening, shows the edge to be a little rough, which will compromise flush contact with the iron.

Block planes don’t have cap irons, so the lever cap plays a more important role.  Use your coarse sharpening stone or take a fine file to the back side and remove any rough spots, giving close attention to the leading contact edge.  This is most important on block planes with cast iron hooded style lever caps, such as the old Stanley 9-1/2.  The back sides of these caps are notoriously rough and unfortunately japanned. You don’t need to remove all the japanning, but you do want to get a smooth line of contact down front where it touches the iron along the front edge.  File it smooth and give it a couple of swipes across your 1000 grit stone. If your plane uses one of the nickel plated knuckle style lever caps, just flatten the bottom of the front edge in a similar fashion.

Step 4 – I Pity the Fool Who Don’t Sharpen His Tool!

The iron has been sharpened with a small 2 to 3 degree secondary bevel added (the dark line at the very edge)

The iron has been sharpened with a small 2 to 3 degree secondary bevel added (the dark line at the very edge)

The simple fact is, even with brand new planes, the irons require final honing before use.  This is not due to some lack of attention on the part of manufacturers.  Irons are provided this way on purpose, since the manufacturer has no way of knowing what you will be using the plane for, and subsequently how the iron would need to be honed. You may want a perfectly straight edge if working on joinery, or you may want it cambered (with a slight radius) for smoothing out small surface areas. It’s up to you, but if you do nothing else in the way of tuning or preparing your plane for use, at least take the time to properly sharpen it.  Do not skip this step!  Sharpen the iron.  Again, sharpen the iron!  Sharpen it I say!

Since sharpening is such an expansive topic in and of itself, I will leave the specific details for other posts.  What you need to know in the context of tuning, however, is that any plane, new or old, requires initial sharpening and honing.  At a minimum, new plane irons need to have their un-beveled side honed flat and polished to at least 4000 grit and preferably 8000 grit.  You don’t need to fuss with the entire surface; just the first 1/8” to 1/4” along the cutting edge will do.  You also need to put a final honing on the bevel edge itself.  It may look sharp, but it needs to be honed, again, to at least 8000 grit.  The goal is to get your cutting edge to as close as possible to a zero degree radius.

Sharpening is too often the deal breaker that dissuades woodworkers from trying hand tools.  This in unfortunate, for it requires little monetary investment to get started, is not particularly difficult to learn, and can be accomplished rather quickly with surprisingly good results.  For detailed information on sharpening, I recommend investing in one of the outstanding books on the subject by Ron Hock or Leonard Lee.   Chris Schwarz has also written a number of fantastic articles on sharpening plane irons.

Step 5 – Final Adjustments

Now that you’ve finished tuning and sharpening your plane, it’s time to put it all back together and adjust it for use.  Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what each part does and how they all function together.  This will make adjusting it for use, and while in use, more intuitive and fluid.

A few points of consideration…

The adjustable mouth plate on the Stanley no. 9-1/2. The mouth opening is adjusted by loosening the knob and rotating the eccentric throat lever left or right (to open or close the mouth).

The adjustable mouth plate on the Stanley no. 9-1/2. The mouth opening is adjusted by loosening the knob and rotating the eccentric throat lever left or right (to open or close the mouth).

While the frog’s position on bench planes is adjustable, meaning you can shift if forward to decrease the size of the mouth opening or backward to increase the size of the opening, many (but not all) block planes have adjustable mouths.  Use a larger mouth opening for thicker cuts, and a smaller mouth opening for fine shavings.  For details on this please see my post on adjustable mouth planes.

Holding the plane upside down, and looking down the sole at a low angle, lower the iron until it just begins to appear through the mouth – just a whisper.  Note that it’s not unusual for there to be quite a bit of slop in the wheel that lowers and raises the iron, as much as a full turn or two.  Just turn it until you begin to feel resistance. Make any lateral adjustments necessary using the lateral adjustment lever if your plane has one (some do and some don’t). If yours doesn’t, just tap the side of the iron with a small hammer to properly align it. I use a brass hammer so as not to mushroom the iron’s edge, but what you use is up to you. Turn it upright and make a test pass on a piece of scrap wood.  If the plane digs in, back off the depth just a bit.  If it misses entirely, lower the iron a little.  You will quickly get a feel for when it’s ‘right,’ as evidenced by the rewarding ‘thwack’ sound a plane makes when it cuts a perfect curl.

Tuning a hand plane is not a difficult endeavor.  Once practiced, the whole process can be accomplished in about a half hour, even less depending on the tool. Rather than view it as an unpleasant chore, I actually enjoy it, especially later in the evening when the dust has settled and the world is quiet.  Pour yourself a measure (or two) of your favorite Kentucky brown, put on some music of choice, and saddle up to your work bench.

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Stanley Bailey no. 18, c. 1936-42

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Tools shown in the photos were returned to functional condition by Virginia Toolworks using museum quality archival preservation techniques.  Sharpened and tuned for use, every tool is fully tested and adjusted until perfect.

Plane Restoration for Use – Extreme Salvage Edition

Let’s face it, not all planes and tools are salvageable.  Sometimes, the neglect and decay is so extreme that the best you can do is pilfer them for parts. Other times, the tool can be saved, but nothing short of a full refinishing effort is in order. As anyone who reads this blog will know, my principled philosophical approach is one of preservation, to retain as much of the original finish and character of the tool as possible. I focus the majority of my time and effort on tools that are good candidates for that sort of conservative preservation methodology. However, there are tools that occasionally cross my path that require a heavier hand.

In this post, I will detail one of the many methods you might employ to restore a heavily rusted plane for use. I found this Stanley no. 4 on eBay for around $10 plus shipping. It’s a Type 19, dating from the 1950s, and as you can see from this eBay auction photo, was in horrible condition.

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Stanley No. 4 – eBay Auction Photo

And here’s a shot I tool myself before beginning the restoration. As you can see, it actually looked a little better that the eBay photo indicated. Just a little…

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Photo taken just before restoration

As with any restoration, the first step is complete disassembly.

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Plane completely disassembled

With heavy rust like this, I used a razor blade scraper to remove as much of the surface crud as possible. I started with the iron and cap iron, then continued with the plane body and frog face.  With a little care, this can be accomplished without scratching or gouging the surface of the metal, and it’s amazing how much of the rust you can remove. You can see in the photo below the effect of having scraped the right half of the cap iron, and the lower three quarters of the iron.

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Note the contrast of scraped vs. unscraped metal

Here’s a close up. Note the difference. The nice thing about this is virtually all of the patina remains on the surface of the metal. You can leave it this way if you prefer, or continue on as I will show in the next step.

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Close-up showing the scraped and unscraped iron and cap iron

Since this was a later model Stanley (less valuable) and destined for shop use, I decided to scrub it down to a clean surface, removing all traces of rust, corrosion, and subsequently age and patina. There are several ways to go about it at this point (chemical anti-rust agents and electrolysis for example), but I decided to stick with doing it the old fashioned way – elbow grease. Using 220 grit sandpaper lubricated with WD40, I scrubbed down all the exposed surfaces. The light oil really softens the effect of the sandpaper, greatly reducing any visible scratches.

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Oil sanding using 220 grit wrapped around a wood block

The screws, nuts and hardware were brushed using a soft steel 6″ brush on my bench grinder. Finally, everything was scrubbed using a general purpose cleaner. Low and behold, the japanning on the bed was actually quite good under all that crud.  I finished up by using an citrus degreaser (not shown in the photos). As you can see, the difference from where I started is pretty striking.

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Big difference, huh? This is starting to look like a plane again.

I don’t like my brass components highly polished. I used oil lubricated steel wool and a small steel brush to clean them up for this plane. The lighting in the “after” photo makes the brass look a bit brighter than it actually was.

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Brass before cleaning

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Brass after cleaning

The final consideration is the hardwood tote and knob. Much of the original finish was gone and what remained was in bad shape. I lightly sanded the entire surface, applied a gel stain, and when dry, topped it with a couple of coats of varnish.  Once completely dry and cured, I polished it up using paste wax.

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Tote and knob in original condition

After refinishing

After refinishing

With all the parts refinished and restored, the iron was sharpened and the plane reassembled and tuned for use. Naturally it doesn’t have the charm of a Sweetheart era, or even the character of a fine condition 1950s vintage, but this plane was saved from the landfill and with proper care, can easily shave wood another 70+ years.

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SB4-T19 Rest17

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Professional Services Now Offered by Virginia Toolworks!

VA Toolworks Condensed Logo - LetterheadI am pleased to announce that Virginia Toolworks is now offering professional restoration, identification, and valuation services at very competitive prices!  While the primary focus is, and has always been, on vintage hand tools, I also offer restoration of faded and damaged photographs, as well as cosmetic restoration of firearms.

Restoration

Tools – Adhering to the archival principles of restoration that have always been the foundation of Virginia Toolworks, we now offer archival cleaning and rust removal, and tuning and sharpening (if desired), with starting prices as low as $25.  For more information please see the Services Page.

Photographs – With 35 years of experience as a photography enthusiast, including considerable darkroom exposure (see what I did there?) before transitioning exclusively to digital approximately 16 years ago, I offer digital restoration of old damaged and faded photographs with prices starting at $50.  Examples of my work can be viewed on the Photo Restoration page.

Firearms – As most followers of this blog have seen, I occasionally do restoration work on firearms.  This work is primarily cosmetic – I am not a gunsmith. I offer cleaning of the action, restoration of wood, and light (cold blue) refresh of metal surfaces.  I can also help with missing parts.  However, to verify or ensure safe functionality before firing, you should see a qualified gunsmith for a safety inspection.

Identification

Virginia Toolworks now provides simple assistance identifying tools for a nominal charge of $10 per tool.  For more information please see the Identification Page

Valuations (Appraisals) & Research

Virginia Toolworks now provides written valuations (retail value) and historical research at a rate of $50 per hour with a one hour minimum.  For more information on Valuations, please see the Valuations/Appraisals page.

For more detailed information on these and other services provided by Virginia Toolworks, please see the Services Offered page.

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When a 2×4 is No Longer a 2×4 – Living Life by the Lowest Common Denominator

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There was a small news story recently that went largely unnoticed across the country.  Home improvement retailer Lowes lost a $1.6 million lawsuit in Kalifornia (see what I did there?) for its the labeling of building products, specifically, dimensional lumber.

A Superior Court judge laid out terms by which the retailer must advertise its 2x4s and other dimensional materials in response to a civil “consumer protection” action. Judge Paul M. Haakenson, handed down the order in response to a case involving claims by the Marin County, Calif., district attorney’s office that the retailer “unlawfully advertised structural dimensional building products for sale.” His finding lists three main rules for the retailer to follow going forward:

  • “Common descriptions” must be followed by actual dimensions and labeled as such. For instance, a 2×4 must be followed with a disclaimer that the wood is actually 1.5-inches by 3.5-inches and include a phrase equal or similar to “actual dimensions.”
  • “Popular or common product description,” like the word 2×4, must be “clearly described as ‘popular name,’ ‘popular description,’ or ‘commonly called.’”
  • Dimension descriptions are required to use the “inch-pound unit,” meaning they must include abbreviations such as “in., ft., or yd.,” and can’t use symbols like ‘ or ” to denote measurements.

According to a 1964 publication by the U. S. Department of Agriculture titled History of Yard Lumber Size Standards, the national standard for lumber dimensions was established in 1924, with several revisions made over the years since. How is it, then, after 90 years of national, government affirmed standardization, the “consumers” of Kalifornia are so bewildered that one company can be singled out and levied such an exorbitant fine for “unlawfully” labeling it’s product?

Surprised?

The real underlying issue, the greater concern if you will, has nothing to do with lumber dimensions.  This case is a mere symptom of a much deeper problem. There’s an increasing ideological divide in this country in which the courts and our government continually impose laws and rules that pander to the lowest common denominator. I believe the birth of this mindset originated with the McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit in 1992, which paved the way for these frivolous progressive “consumer protection” actions.  Common sense and personal responsibility have long since given way to this “nanny state” mentality, through which we all must be protected from our own stupidity and negligence.  After all, anything that threatens (reveals) our intelligence, or lack thereof, must be dangerous and offensive, yes?

Clearly not everyone thinks this way, hence the ideological divide. And make no mistake, the divide is real and gets wider every day as a result of the cultural and social dependencies nurtured by actions such as this lawsuit. I have no doubt that a significant proportion of the population is cheering this as a legal and moral victory. For every one of us who is outraged at the frivolous absurdity of this Lowes finding, there’s no doubt at least one counterpart in America who celebrates this as a victory against capitalistic dominance and discriminatory business practices.

We are a nation completely obsessed with taking offense. It dominates our news, our daily conversations, our social media, and shapes our political alignment.  Somebody please tell me, where is it written that anyone anywhere has a “right” to live without offense? Just because you’re offended, uninformed, underprivileged, or blatantly stupid, doesn’t mean you’re being discriminated against. And just because you’re inconvenienced certainly doesn’t mean you’re entitled to compensation.  Or at least it didn’t used to.

Everyone and his brother is fixated on one label or another, and any word, term, phrase, color, pattern, sign, or whatever that might cause someone hurt feelings is suddenly deemed insensitive if not discriminatory. Even our own US flag is under attack by those who worry it might be viewed as offensive. Imagine that!  Offensive!? Offensive to whom? And who cares?  This is America, and this is our flag, is it not?  But I digress.

We are becoming a nation of helpless entitled pathetic crybabies, more interested in reality television, selfies, and a government provided free ride than in learning and earning our way in this world. And God forbid, anything that offends any one of us, the lowest common denominator, might be socially and politically unacceptable. Perhaps all adjectives should be banned and we should all wear homogenous pattern-less uniforms of beige or some other benign color. While we’re at it, we can do away with nouns and names and just assign everyone a serial number. Equal income, equal distribution of wealth, equal opportunity regardless of effort or intelligence.  Socialism, Marxism, Communism…?  Where does it end?

You know what’s really scary?  There are plenty of “Americans” who think that’s a great idea.  How’s that for offensive?

I’ll tell you one thing, bub… if you don’t know that a 2×4 isn’t actually 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide, do us all a favor – instead of getting sawdust in your mangingo and lawyering up, put down the hammer, go buy yourself a box of tampons and a Midol, wash it down with that skinny soy milk double latte frappawhatever, and hire someone who knows what the hell he or she is doing.

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