Rev-O-Noc Renewal

Rev-O-Noc 5C in pretty rough condition

I can count on one hand the number of planes I’ve refinished (vs. restored) over the years, but this Rev-O-Noc 5C jack plane had some issues that made an anti-rust dip and repainting the best course of action.

Disassembled for assessment

The entire body was a rustbucket with very little japanning remaining. The lever cap fortunately looked worse than it actually was, and while the cap iron was salvageable, the Rev-O-Noc iron had some pretty deep pitting on the business end. While I was able to sharpen through that, there was something off with the temper of the blade that I didn’t like, so I added a Vaughan & Bushnell iron I had on hand that’s better suited for use. The break in the tote was clean, so I epoxied it back together and then spent the better part of a week refinishing it to match the knob. The repair turned out really nice and is completely invisible.

Repaired Tote came out incredibly nice

HSB Rev-O-Noc was a store brand from Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co., a Chicago hardware dealership that formed in 1882, but whose origin dates back to at least 1855 in the form of Tuttle, Hibbard & Co. In 1932, the company introduced a new line of hand tools under the brand name “True Value” and by 1948, Hibbard’s annual sales reached nearly $30 million. Business slowed and profits shrunk, however, as new hardware cooperatives began to bypass traditional wholesalers. In 1962, the company’s owners sold both the hardware operations and the “True Value” brand to John Cotter for $2.5 million. Yes, that’s the True Value brand we know today.

Also interesting, the name Revonoc is the reverse spelling of Conover. Conover was the name of an officer of the company, and apparently had a separate hardware company prior to joining Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co. They used this backwards spelling of his name for their brand of planes sold by HS&B from about 1920-1940. They were made at times by both Stanley and Sargent, but this one is clearly Stanley made based on the casting, frog, and hardware.

As far as I can tell, this plane likely falls somewhere closer to 1920 given the short knob and small adjustment nut. Of course, it’s also possible it’s an earlier plane and the Revonoc blade was a later replacement. I just don’t know.

Despite a gnarly looking rust damaged sole, the mouth area was in decent shape and the plane functioned true to Stanley’s level of excellence. Once everything was cleaned up, oiled, reassembled, and tuned, this old plane shaved wood like a champ, producing some wispy thin shavings with no effort at all.

Restoration completed, sharpened and tuned for use again

The Myth of Sole Flatness

I’ve never understood the obsession some people have over sole flatness. Somewhere along the way, a lot of folks got the impression that enough of the millions of vintage planes out in the wild are warped or distorted enough to warrant suspicion when buying. Worse, some even insist that for a vintage plane to be viable for use, it’s sole must be flattened.

Lie Nielsen states that their modern manufacture plane soles are ‘ground flat and square to .0015″ or better, regardless of length.’ Veritas planes have similar tolerances. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against either of these two companies. Heck, I own products from both of them. Certainly, if you’re spending $325 for a LN No. 5 Jack Plane made in 2020, you expect it to be dead flat. But is this a reasonable expectation in a plane that was made in 1920, and more important, is it even necessary?

In my opinion, sole flatness is a myth driven by modern day influences and perspective. We’ve been conditioned to believe that a couple hundredths or thousandths of an inch will somehow make or break the functional viability of the tool. But it’s silly to apply expectations of tolerances we get from computer driven milling equipment to mass produced hand tools made +/- 100 years ago. This is misguided at best, and completely unnecessary.

I suspect those who obsess over sole flatness fundamentally misunderstand how hand tools were originally used and likely have some pretty big misconceptions about 18th and 19th century furniture construction and finish. Hand planes were never intended to be precision instruments, at least not in the same way we think about precision instruments today. In today’s world, we tend to rely almost solely on the tolerance of our tools to produce precise results. 100 years ago, that was simply not the case.

Craftsmen and journeymen of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century mastered the tools they had available and learned to compensate for any imperfections and limitations. Sure, some of them produced very precise pieces of furniture and cabinetry, but it was due to their skill and mastery, not the precision of their tools. And to be honest, most of the handmade furniture made during that period was anything but precise. Look closely inside and behind and underneath period pieces. The beauty and craftsmanship doesn’t lie in precision as we think of precision today. On the contrary, it lies in the subtle imperfections that reflect the hands of the maker and mark of his tools. That, in my opinion, is what makes it beautiful.

I’ve owned and restored many hundreds of vintage hand planes over the years dating from the 1870s to the 1980s. Some were in near mint condition, while others were closer to landfill fodder. Most fell somewhere in between, but the point is I’ve never seen one that was warped or cupped significantly enough that its usability was affected. All of them needed some degree of tuning and refining, but none required flattening. In fact, the only two planes I’ve ever “flattened” were two of my own block planes, and that wasn’t so much because they weren’t already flat, but because I wanted completely clean metal.

I’m frequently asked what kind of camera and lighting I use for my photos. I always respond that the secret to good photos doesn’t lie in better equipment or tools, but in mastering the equipment you have, learning to leverage its capabilities and overcome its limitations. Creativity isn’t stifled by constraint. On the contrary, constraints fuel creativity, innovation, and invention.

I think the same holds true for most other pursuits, as well. It’s certainly true for woodworking. Could I take even better photographs with a newer camera and broader selection of lenses? Sure. But that’s not the point. That’s not what makes me a better photographer, just as flatter plane soles won’t make me a better woodworker.

Don’t Strip or Dip! Scrape That Rust Away!

I read so many posts and articles online from guys doing absolutely heinous things to old tools. From chemical strippers to electrolysis, sanding to anti-rust dips, everyone has their own ideas about how best to remove rust. While any or all of these methods work, they’re all destructive on some level. I suppose that’s fine if your objective is to refinish the tool for use, but in my opinion it strips away all the character and beauty of the tool. Certainly some tools are so far gone there’s no other viable choice, but in many cases, there is a better way.

When I started collecting and restoring tools, I spent almost a year researching everything I could find on archival restoration and preservation, the techniques museums use. I didn’t want to simply refinish tools to make them appear new, I wanted to restore them to functional use while maintaining the aesthetic character that only decades of use and age can impart. My goal was (and remains) to bring them back to a point where they look and function as if they had been properly cared for over the years.

Like anyone else, my learning process came through trial and error. I quickly discovered that the anti-rust dips, while working well, left the metal with a dull and lifeless grey phosphate coating that I found unnatural and unappealing. Likewise, vinegar, citric acid, electrolysis, wire brushing, and sanding all do the job, but at the cost of all the color, character, and charm that makes old tools so appealing. What I really wanted to accomplish was to remove the rust while leaving (at least most of) the patina intact – that lovely brownish gray darkening of the metal that only comes from age and use.

Stanley no. 4C base, as found with considerable surface rust

I found that on many tools, specifically those that haven’t been exposed to overtly wet conditions, the rust is really only on the surface and in many cases hasn’t yet eaten into the metal, causing the cancerous pitting that we all despise. It has been my experience that often times a really gnarly looking rusty crust will come right off, leaving relatively undamaged metal that still retains that desirable patina below.

By using a 3 or 4 inch glass scraper with a very sharp blade, held at a fairly high angle, I slowly and carefully begin scraping the rust off the surface of the plane body. This does require a sharp undamaged blade. Once it gets knicks in the edge, it will start leaving light scratches in the underlying patina, which you don’t want.

It’s a slow and methodical process, but the payoff is worth the effort. As you can hopefully see in the photos above, there’s a distinct line where the rust is removed. You can also begin to see the underlying patina on the metal surface, and thankfully in this case, no pitting.

Scraping using the glass scraper

Once all the rust is removed, the metal surface will be dusty and dirty, and you may well see some micro-scratches from the scraper. I’ll take care of those in the next step.

Using a cleaner/degreaser, gently buff the surface with very fine steel wool (000 or 0000). You want to clean the metal, smoothing out and blending in any scratches in the patina without removing it. Careful here, as that patina is fragile. Go slow. Follow up with the cleaner/degreaser on a paper towel or rag until it’s completely clean.

Once clean and dry, I usually wipe it down with something to help protect and preserve it with Kramer’s Best Antique Improver. Howard’s Feed-n-Wax, Camellia oil, or Renaissance Wax, etc. will also work. Camellia oil, by the way, is really good stuff for protecting tools and knives, and is food safe. What you should be left with now is a clean surface free of rust, but retaining that beautiful patina.

The stanley plane body after cleaning, degreasing, and a wipe down with Kramer’s Best

With all the rust removed from the surface, you can see the underlying patina is still very much intact. Once the rest of the parts are cleaned and the plane reassembled, its beauty really shines through. I find this method of restoration produces superior results to any other I’ve found thus far. Mind you, it’s a workout! But that’s okay, too.

Working Wood by Hand

I like working with hand tools much more than power tools whenever I can. Aside from the fact that they’re infinitely safer – no spinning blades, etc. to slice through flesh – they’re also quiet. And rather than making sawdust, which is unpleasant to breathe, non-powered tools make shavings, so a mask isn’t necessary. But more than that, hand tools bring me into physical contact with the wood, in exactly the same way that intaglio printmaking requires physical contact with the plates and paper.

I enjoy the way a tool feels in my hand, the way it responds to my direction, and the way it interacts with the surface of the wood. Using hand tools is similar to playing a musical instrument. When well tuned and skillfully employed, they literally sing as they cut, shave, and shape the surface of the wood, achieving the desired effect.

Five Confusion-Busting Facts About Type Studies

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Five important confusion-busting facts about Type Studies:

    1. Type Studies are modern-day timelines used to identify the age of a tool by referencing important changes in its design, manufacture, and physical characteristics.  Different ‘Types’ within a Type Study refers to a particular period of manufacture in which a particular feature or set of features was unique.
    2. Manufacturers didn’t adhere to Type Studies because Type Studies did not exist at the time.  They simply manufactured tools and made periodic changes to design and manufacturing processes, just like manufacturers today.  We identify those periodic changes in the Type Study, and subsequently assign ‘Types’ based on the time period in which they were made.
    3. Type Studies are not interchangeable.   They only apply to a specific model or series of tools.  Different tools and different lines will have different Type Studies.  For example, Stanley’s Bailey line of bench planes have a completely different Type Study from the Bed Rock series.   Some tools, like the no. 71 router plane, have their own individual Type Study.  Many tools have never been studied in depth and don’t have a Type Study at all.
    4. Type Studies are approximations.  The manufacturing timeline was constantly evolving.  Even when design changes were made, existing (old) stock parts were used until their supply was depleted before moving to new parts.  Therefore, the changeover of features sometimes took months or even years, resulting in multiple variations of the same product being released at the same time.  While Type Studies imply that these changes were aligned with a specific date or year, collectors need to understand that the transitions were more evolutionary than revolutionary.
    5. Type Studies are not all-inclusive.  With some manufacturers and some tools, and some tools made during certain periods, features and materials varied quite a bit.  A good example of this is Stanley’s offering of Bailey bench planes made during World War II.  Brass was in short supply, and subsequently, the so-called Type 17 planes made during the war years have a variety of inconsistencies.  Some had brass hardware, where others have steel.  Some have rosewood knobs and totes, while others have painted hardwood.  Some have frog adjustment mechanisms while others don’t.   All made during this period, however, are considered Type 17, regardless of features.

Tool Profile – The Stanley Bailey no. 2C Plane

033 SB2C Type 8 - 1

Stanley Bailey no. 2C Smoothing Plane, Type 8 (c. 1899-1902)

The diminutive Stanley no. 2 plane has long been a collector’s favorite, second only to the tiny no. 1 in its appeal among bench planes. Produced from 1869 to 1961 and measuring just 7 inches long with a 1-5/8″ iron, this smoothing plane is useful for working smaller pieces or in confined spaces.

The corrugated version of the no. 2, designated the no. 2C, was never a popular model. Although offered from 1898 to 1943, comparably few were actually produced, making this one of the rarest of Stanley planes. The corrugations were provided to help reduce friction. Whether or not they actually help, or were a marketing gimmick, is debatable, but the feature was more popular on the larger bench planes than on the no. 2.

033 SB2C Type 8 - 5

The corrugated sole of the rare Stanley no. 2C

The no. 2C shown here is part of my personal collection and is currently offered for sale for a limited time.

Solving Those Pesky Blade Depth Frustrations

New users of hand planes frequently have trouble figuring out just how to get the iron (blade) to fit through the mouth on the plane’s body. I get this question in both emails and I also see it reflected in the search parameters for those who visit the site. The challenge is to get everything set so the iron extends through the mouth without jamming up at the front of the opening.

Well fear not, for here is a simple illustrated guide to getting it done quickly and hopefully without frustration!

There are basically 5 things that have to be set correctly in order for shaving wood to begin:

  1. The iron must be attached to the cap iron correctly, with the cap iron attached to the flat unbeveled side of the iron. This may very well be the greatest cause of problems. The cap iron should be positioned to within about 1/32″ to 1/16″ of the cutting edge of the iron. (Figures 1 and 2)
  2. The frog must be positioned correctly, neither too far forward or too far toward the rear.  There’s room for adjustment, of course, but it’s a good idea to start with it aligned with the rear edge of the mouth. You can then move it forward to fine tune the cut as appropriate. (Figures 3 and 4)
  3. The iron and cap iron assembly (once screwed together) must be positioned absolutely flat against the face of the frog. You may have to jiggle it around a little to make sure it falls into place over the frog’s adjust yoke. (Figure 5)
  4. The Lever Cap must be set with enough pressure to hold the iron firmly, but not so tight that the depth adjustment can’t work. There’s a sweet spot there, you just have to find it through trial and error.
  5. Use the lateral adjustment to align the cutting edge so it’s parallel to the mouth opening. In some cases you may have to tap the edge of the iron a little to get into a workable position. I use a small brass hammer so as not to mushroom the edge of the iron, but it’s not critical. (Figures 6 – 8)
Figure 1 - Note the cap iron is attached to the Unbeveled side of the iron

Figure 1 – Note the cap iron is attached to the Unbeveled side of the iron

Figure 2 -

Figure 2 – View from the bottom, the attachment screw should be on the same side as the iron’s beveled edge

Figure 3 - Loosed the frog bolts (blue arrow) and position the frog so it aligns with the rear edge of the mouth (red arrow)

Figure 3 – Loosen the frog bolts (blue arrow) and position the frog so it aligns with the rear edge of the mouth (red arrow)

Blade Set 4

Figure 4 – Stanley planes made after 1907 have a frog adjustment screw, which is used to easily fine tune the position of the frog.

Blade Set 5

Figure 5 – Ensure the iron seats flush against the face of the frog

Figure 6 - The edge of the iron should extend over the mouth opening as shown

Figure 6 – The edge of the iron should extend over the mouth opening as shown

Figure 7 - Viewed from the bottom, the iron when retracted should look like this

Figure 7 – Viewed from the bottom, the iron when retracted should look like this

Figure 8 - As you turn the big brass adjustment knob, the iron will move forward and extend down through the mouth opening just enough to shave wood!

Figure 8 – As you turn the big brass adjustment knob, the iron will move forward and extend down through the mouth opening just enough to shave wood!

Note that if you’re doing fine finishing work you may need to go back and move the frog forward slightly to reduce the space between the front of the mouth opening and the cutting edge. This space should approximate the thickness of the shavings you expect to produce, so it’s typically very small on smoothing planes, while a little larger on jointer and fore planes.

Hopefully this provides answers to questions and solves one of the initial frustrations when using hand planes for the first time!

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Stanley Trademark Stamps

The following reference guide provides examples of Stanley’s trademark stamps from 1872 to the present. It is by no means comprehensive or complete, but this covers the main trademarks. There were often variations used on block planes and other tools. Some of the photos are pretty poor. I will try to photograph better examples as time goes by.

A.1 Trademark (1872-1874)

A.1 Trademark (1872-1874)

A.4 Trademark (1879-1885)

A.4 Trademark (1879-1885)

A.5 Trademark (1886-1890)

A.5 Trademark (1886-1890)

J Trademark (1874-1884) *Longer on Block Planes

J Trademark (1874-1884*) *~1909 on Block Planes

JJ Trademark (1890-1910) Used on Block Planes

JJ Trademark (1890-1910)
Used on Block Planes

P Trademark (1886-1890)

P Trademark (1886-1890)

Q Trademark (181-1904)

Q Trademark (1891-1904)

S Trademark (1907-1909)

S Trademark (1907-1909)

T Trademark (1909-1912)

T Trademark (1909-1912)

V ("Victory") Trademark (1912-1918)

V Trademark (1912-1918) Also called “Victory”

X Trademark (1919-1920) 1st "Sweetheart"

X Trademark (1919-1920)
1st “Sweetheart”

X Trademark (1919-1920) Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920)
Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920) Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920)
Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920) Block Plane Variation

X Trademark (1919-1920)
Block Plane Variation

Y Trademark (1920-1921) 2nd "Sweetheart"

Y Trademark (1920-1921)
2nd “Sweetheart”

Y Trademark (1920-1921) Block Plane Variation

Y Trademark (1920-1921)
Block Plane Variation

Y Trademark (1922) Canadian Variation

Y Trademark (1922)
Canadian Variation

AA Trademark (1922-1935) 3rd "Sweetheart"

AA Trademark (1922-1935)
3rd “Sweetheart”

AA Trademark (1923-35) Canadian Variation

AA Trademark (1923-35)
Canadian Variation

BB Trademark (1935-Present)

BB Trademark (1935-Present)

 

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.

SB4-T19 ebay

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…

SB4-T19 Rest1

Photo taken just before restoration

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

SB4-T19 Rest2

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.

SB4-T19 Rest3

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.

SB4-T19 Rest4

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.

SB4-T19 Rest9

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.

SB4-T19 Rest10

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.

SB4-T19 Rest12

Brass before cleaning

SB4-T19 Rest13

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.

SB4-T19 Rest14

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.

SB4-T19 Rest16

SB4-T19 Rest17

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Setting Up a Stanley Gage Plane

Stanley Gage Plane - Frog and Iron Assembly

Stanley Gage Plane – Frog and Iron Assembly

Stanley Gage planes are a little finicky to set up initially, but once you get them set accurately, they do tend to stay that way.  The main benefit of the design is such that once properly set, you can remove the lever cap, iron and cap iron, and then replace them again, returning to the exact depth adjustment at which you had it set initially.  Further, since the iron/cap iron is positioned via an indexing block, there is no slop (movement) from side to side, and therefore no need for a lateral adjustment mechanism.

Indexing Block on Gage Iron

Indexing Block on Gage Iron

Some people will tell you that in order for the design to work, the cutting edge of the iron must be perfectly perpendicular to its edges.  Ideally, that is true.  However, I don’t think it’s actually all that critical.  What does need to be perpendicular to the cutting edge is the sides of the indexing block, which can be loosened and adjusted via the screw on the top side of the iron (show here on the left).

The indexing guide itself, which is attached to the lever cap, is not laterally adjustable, so in order for the iron to extend properly through the mouth of the plane, the iron’s edge needs to be perfectly aligned.  As I said, you ideally want everything to be at perfect right angles, but that’s not always what you end up with. By adjusting the indexing block so that it’s properly aligned in conjunction with the cutting edge on the iron, even a skewed edge can be aligned properly.

I admittedly don’t have a lot of extensive personal hands-on experience with the Gage planes.  I’ve owned a couple, and right or wrong, here’s how I set them up for use:

  1. Remove the lever cap and set it aside.
  2. Loosen (slightly) the indexing block that’s attached to the iron, just enough so it moves independently against the iron.
  3. Put the iron in place (seating the indexing block to engage the depth adjustment).
  4. Align the iron with the mouth opening, and carefully tighten the screw on top of the indexing block.
  5. Put the lever cap in place and tighten it.  You should be good to go.

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