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.

Thoughts on the Art of Restoration

10-Gauge-stock-&-receiver-right-Comp-1

There are definitely artistic elements to restoration, and while mostly technical, I would argue that compositional elements also come into play in an unconventional sense. It’s very much like creating something with found objects. I approach restoration projects with the objective of finding the fine, although often fuzzy, line between age and damage, removing the latter while keeping the former. Instead of graphite, ink, or paint, the media used here were a variety of abrasives, lubricants, and chemicals that effect specific desired changes in metal and wood.

***

The Complete Lee Enfield No. 1 MKIII Restoration

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

For those of you who have followed along, I finally finished up the Lee-Enfield this past weekend, and I’m pretty pleased with the results. To recap, this rifle was given to me by my father-in-law back in early January. It’s a Lee-Enfield SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) model No. 1 MKIII (.303 British caliber) produced at the Birmingham Small Arms Co. in England in 1940. Lee-Enfields were manufactured from 1888 to the early 1970s, and total production was nearly 14 million rifles. This one appeals to me because it was made in England during the Battle of Britain, and shows evidence of actual deployment in combat.

The WWII No. 1 MKIII rifles are plentiful even today, and not particularly valuable. I probably exceeded the value of this one in the parts alone that I purchased, but I didn’t restore it to sell. It’s a keeper and a shooter that will be enjoyed and passed down.  As it happens, the first high-powered rifle I ever shot as a kid was an old WWI vintage Enfield that belonged to my uncle.  I remember that .303 kicked like a 12 gauge.  I may even still have that first casing somewhere in a box of my childhood stuff.

The Enfield before restoration with new forestock and hand guard above

The Enfield before restoration with new forestock and hand guard shown above

As I wrote in earlier posts, the rifle had been ‘sporterized’ at some point, or at least someone started that process. Unfortunately, this was a popular practice in the post war years. The guns were plentiful and cheap, and guys who bought them apparently preferred the look of a traditional hunting rifle. Since the Enfield featured a barrel fully shrouded in wood, sporterizing them usually began with removing the nosecap and hardware, the upper hand guard, and cutting off the front part of the forestock.  Sometimes the rear sights were removed or altered to accept a scope, but fortunately the bubba who hacked away at this rifle didn’t get that far.

The forestock had been cut and the upper hand guard removed

The forestock had been cut, the hand guard missing

The forearm on this rifle had been cut just behind the swivel band. The entire nosecap assembly at the front was missing, along with the swivel band, forward swivels and a variety of related hardware, and the upper hand guard. The rear hand guard was still there, but its ears had been cut off and so it needed to be replaced. It appeared all of the remaining wood on the rifle was scrubbed with a heavy wire brush, leaving the surface pretty rough and scarred with brush marks. All of the original finish was long gone.

After the initial disassembly and inspection, I was happy to find the action and barrel in surprisingly good condition. Areas of rust were minimal and superficial. All the serial numbers thankfully matched, so I knew everything was likely original. The action and barrel had significant areas of olive drab paint, which I discovered was routinely applied to rifles used in tropical climates during WWII to help prevent rust. I was careful to leave that intact.

Enfield Serial

Receiver with bolt removed – original forestock still on the rifle (note the olive drab paint)

I was able to identify and source all the missing parts without too much trouble. Since there was such a long bedding space on the Enfield’s full length forestock, I decided to go with an unissued but old forestock and hand guard assembly. With so much hand fitting required, I didn’t want to take a chance on a stock that had already been on another rifle. I may have been misguided in this assumption, but that’s what I did. I left the original buttstock on the rifle since there was no need to replace it other than the aesthetic contrast between it and the new wood. I preferred to keep the rifle as close to original as possible.

Enfield New Stock Fit 1

Fitting the new forestock to the receiver – completed

The new wood required quite a bit of fine tuning and adjustment to get it to fit the receiver and barrel correctly. There are several fairly critical areas on Enfield rifles where the wood needs to fit very flush against the metal, so the work was slow and cautious. With so many parts all needing to come together and a half-dozen attachment points that all had to be aligned, I spent more than a few hours wondering why I ever started this project. But in the end, it all finally came together and I feel really good about the fit. It seems to fit like a glove where it’s supposed to, with the appropriate generosity in the other areas where called for.

The hand guard sat too high for the nosecap to slide on

The hand guard sat too high for the nosecap to slide on

Of everything on the rifle, the nosecap I sourced ended up being the most difficult part to get properly installed. Initially the upper hand guard sat too high for the nosecap to slip over it properly. That required carefully reducing the height of the guard along its full length, but not so much that the top of the barrel would bottom out preventing it from seating against the forearm. Once that problem was resolved, I then found that the screw holes through the forearm were just lightly out of alignment, preventing the front nosecap screw from engaging the threads on the opposite side of the nosecap. Eventually, with a lot of patience and careful filing, everything fell into place and the wood was ready for the finish.

While not the most practical by today’s standards, I wanted to keep this rifle as true to original form as possible, and so went with the tried and true linseed oil finish. This is what was used when the rifle was made. Since boiled linseed oil is chemically different, I used raw linseed oil. Or at least I assume it’s raw. I had a can of artist’s grade linseed oil that I bought when I was in college 30 some years ago and never opened. I cut it with 50% turpentine to help ensure it would dry sometime this decade. Following the old adage, once a day for a week, once a week for a month, I’ve applied about 8 ‘coats’ and the results look great. The wood has a nice rich low luster and even the contrast between the new wood and the old stock doesn’t jump out too much.

Enfield Complete 4

Rear Sight with new upper guard in place

 

I completed the restoration with an original WWII vintage Enfield sling, also dated 1940, that I found on eBay. That and the war vintage bayonet I previously wrote about are the icing on the cake. Not that I need a bayonet, but it’s in unissued condition and the price was too good to pass up. I’m looking forward to putting a couple dozen rounds down range sometime in the next few weeks.

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

***

Restoring a WWII Vintage Lee-Enfield Rifle – Part 3 (Bayonet)

I bought this WWII vintage Enfield Bayonet to go with the rifle, because… well… who doesn’t want a bayonet?  This one is date stamped 1943, so it was made three years after the rifle, but it’s period correct and close enough.  Besides, it was never used and still caked in 70 year old cosmoline.  As you can see below, while the bayonet was in pristine condition, the scabbard looked pretty rough.

Enfield Bayonet, c. 1943

Enfield Bayonet, c. 1943 ~ Before cleaning

As I’m prone to do, I researched how best to clean leather scabbards, and of course came up with a whole lot of opinions that varied considerably.  In the end, I decided to use saddle soap.  The scabbard is 70 years old and will never again see a hard life, so I don’t think saddle soap is going to do it much harm.

Starting with the bayonet itself, I used mineral spirits with a cotton rag and toothbrush to clean the cosmoline off the metal surfaces.  Using a non-abrasive brush ensured I didn’t scratch the bluing, which is absolutely perfect.  The cosmoline melted right away and I was quickly rewarded with a stunning mint condition WWII vintage bayonet.  If the wooden scales ever had any finish on them, it was long gone, so after everything was dry and wiped clean, I rubbed them down with some of the linseed oil finish I’ve been using on the stock.  The rest of the metal surfaces got a wipe with Kramer’s Best, which is a linseed oil, turpentine, and vinegar based solution that is an outstanding wood and metal conditioner.

After cleaning and conditioning

After cleaning and conditioning

The scabbard required some additional care since most of it is comprised of hard leather.  I cleaned the metal surfaces first, removing the cosmoline and leaving the natural patina of the metal.  Then I went to work on the leather surface itself using the saddle soap.  It was a very slow process with little apparent progress at first.  After a half dozen or so cycles of applying it, wiping it off, buffing it out, I felt like I had reached a point of diminishing returns.  At this point the leather was sufficiently clean, but very dull in appearance.  So I went out on a limb and rubbed it down with shoe crème (not shoe polish).  The shoe crème has always been recommended to me by the place that sells Allen Edmonds.  It’s basically a leather conditioner with some black dye.  It has no wax so it lends itself well to subsequent treatment.  I also doesn’t shine like wax, which is perfect in this case.

The result, which you can see in the image above as well as below, is pretty remarkable.  It’s hard to see in the photos, but the leather looks like it’s brand new.  Yours truly is a happy camper, and I’m looking forward to seeing my boys’ reaction to the transformation.

I’m cycling through the daily application of oil on the rest of the rifle’s furniture, and in fact think today is probably the last one.  I may just go ahead and reassemble the whole thing tomorrow and make sure everything fits properly.  I only wish I’d done a better job of labeling all those parts on my work table.

Bayonet and Scabbard completed

Bayonet and Scabbard completed

***

Restoring a WWII Vintage Lee-Enfield Rifle – Part 2

It’s been a couple of months since I first wrote about restoring the old 1940 vintage Lee Enfield no. 1 MKIII rifle.  (See the earlier post)  I managed to source all of the missing parts, including a new forearm and hand guard set.  I found an unused set of unknown date, but I figured I’d be better off fitting a new stock than buying an old one and hoping it would fit properly.  Enfields, especially the no. 1, are notoriously finicky when it comes to proper stock fit.

Relacement Wood

The Enfield with original furniture in place, just before disassembly

In the photo above, you can see the rifle in its original, butchered forearm.  The lower forearm was cut off and the hand guard discarded, along with the entire nose cap assembly.  The new replacement stock, forearm, and hardware are shown above the rifle.  The new wood appears darker in the photo, but once I work on the buttstock a little and the oil finish is applied, I think it will look okay.

After removing the entire lower forearm, I found that the action in excellent condition.  There was a couple of traces of light rust, but nothing of any consequence and no corrosion damage.  I tried to remove the buttstock, but the screw that attaches it is deep inside the stock itself, and requires a very long screwdriver. Unfortunately, the screw is locked up pretty tight, and rather than risk buggering up the slot, I decided to just leave it on and refinish the stock in place.

The first order of business was fitting the new stock. It wouldn’t seat at all on the first try and required some fine tuning to get it to slide over the receiver.  Going slow, I had it properly adjusted and fitting like a glove in short order.  Moving on to the upper hand guard, I had to take a little off the inside of the ears to get it to slide easily into place around the rear sight.  This is not supposed to be a tight fit, and I may have to take a little more off after it’s finished.

Enfield New Stock Fit

The new stock slides right into place after fitting

With everything looking good, I put both forearm and hand guard in place and slipped on the nose cap for a dry fit assessment.  As you can see in the photo below, the upper hand guard sits too high for the nose cap to slide on properly. Using some folded paper, I was able to determine that I had about 0.5mm of surplus height within the hand guard to work with.  By sanding the bottom edge of the hand guard on my trusty flat granite sharpening surface, I reduced the height enough to let that nose cap slide into place.   Everything looks good at this point, so onto cleaning the action and applying the finish.

The hand guard sits too high for the nose cap to slide on all the way

The hand guard sits too high for the nose cap to slide on all the way

All of the wood on this rifle was stripped at some point in its past and scrubbed with a heavy wire brush, leaving a lot of marks in the wood.  I lightly sanded the worst of these marks, but didn’t want to lose all the character of the wood, so I really did just enough to open the grain a little for the new finish.  At this point, I went ahead and cleaned the action and barrel thoroughly.  There was some crud, but not as much as one might expect from a gun this old.  Thankfully, I think the gun was cleaned after it was last shot, so it didn’t take a whole lot of effort to get it looking good.

Action cleaned up.  I'll lightly clean and oil it again before final assembly to remove any dust or grit that accumulated during finishing

Action cleaned up. I’ll lightly clean and oil it again before final assembly to remove any grit that accumulated during finishing

I decided a while back to use the original type of oil finish that was applied when this gun was made (or as close as I could reasonable come).  In WWII and earlier, most military gun stocks were finished with linseed oil, or something close to that.  Although not very effective against the elements, it is very easy to maintain. Rather than use Boiled Linseed Oil common today, which is modified with petroleum distillates to speed drying, I’m using artist grade linseed oil, which I assume is basically raw oil.  I happened to have an unopened can that is about 35 years old and it doesn’t specify.

Starting with a 50/50 ratio of oil to turpentine (to help it dry), I began applying coats with 4-0 steel wool.  I really hate steel wool.  It just makes a mess with steel wool fibers everywhere.  I abandoned the wool after the first application and just rubbed it on by hand after that.  Using the old adage, once a day for a week, once a week for a month, and once a month for a year, I’m on day three and the wood looks fantastic.  I don’t think I’m going to go for the full seven applications.  This morning I upped the ratio of oil to turpentine to about 70/30.  If it doesn’t dry within 24 hours or so, I might add a little japan dryer to the next batch.

The stock and hand guard with 3 coats of oil applied

The stock and hand guard with 3 coats of oil applied

The next update will cover cleaning up the 1940s vintage bayonet I found for this gun!

***

New Address: www.virginiatoolworks.com

Virginia Toolworks can now be accessed directly through the domain name virginiatoolworks.com!

It’s a humble achievement, I know, but it reflects the growth and increasing popularity of this site.  Thanks to all who visit, and a very special thanks to those who follow this blog and the Virginia Toolworks Facebook page.

Thank You!

Stanley Bailey no. 60, Type 2, c. 1901-04

Stanley Bailey no. 60, Type 2, c. 1901-04

***

Renewed Life for My Dad’s Stanley Level

My dad died when I was still a teenager.  Unlike his father, who was a carpenter, my dad wasn’t much of a woodworker.  The few tools he left behind were mostly garden variety homeowner tools purchased from the local hardware store.  So when my brother gifted me my dad’s old level this summer, I didn’t give it much thought.  It was in horrible condition from decades of neglect.  I brought it home and with barely a glance, set it aside on my workbench to deal with later.

With cooler fall temperatures here on the east coast, I recently pulled it out for a closer look.  Upon closer inspection, I found that it is a Stanley no. 3 level, which was somewhat of a surprise in and of itself.   More interesting, the trademark stamp dates it to the 1890s, approximately 30-35 years before my dad was born.  It could have been my grandfather’s, but even he would have had to have purchased it as a teenager, if acquired new.  Of course there is no way to know where it came from or who originally owned it, but it ended up in my father’s hands, then my brother’s, and thanks to him, it now belongs to me.

As you can see from the quick shot I took before I got started on it, virtually all the original finish is gone and the wood faded from exposure to the elements.  It appears to have spent a good deal of time in a shed or barn.  The primary glass vial was intact and serviceable, but the plumb vial was broken long ago.  Otherwise, all the parts were in place and thankfully, the vial adjustment screws were not frozen.

Level Pre-Restoration

My dad’s 1890s vintage Stanley no. 3 Level, partially disassembled

I disassembled and removed all the hardware to better evaluate what needed to be done in terms of cleanup, and to assess the broken plumb vial.  After cleaning the rust off all the screws and the vial adjustment mechanisms, I cleaned the crud off the brass plates and end caps.  I never polish old brass hardware, but I decided in this case to clean off most of the oxidation in order to better see the center scribe line.

With the hardware cleaned up, I moved on to the wood.  Despite its condition, there were numerous paint specks and splatters from years of use that I wanted to protect.  The wood itself is evidently cherry.  I cleaned it lightly with Kramer’s Blemish Clarifier to remove any loose dirt and crud.  I then applied 6 or 8 applications of Kramer’s Best Antique Improver, which I’ve written about before.  It’s great stuff, all natural (no petrochemicals), and restores life to finished and unfinished wood.

In the meantime, I went to work sourcing a proper replacement vial.  I preferred to keep it as close to original as possible, so new acrylic vials were out of the question.  I found a few glass vials for sale on eBay, but the prices were absurdly high.  So, I started trolling for a suitable “donor” level of approximately the same vintage.  It took 2 or 3 weeks, but I finally found one for under $10 that had the plumb vial intact.  When it arrived, I was surprised to find the condition actually better than the photos reflected.  I actually felt a little guilty stripping it of one of its parts.

Plumb Vial Before Repair

Plumb Assembly Before Vial Replacement

Now if you’ve never replaced a vial in an old Stanley level, you might be surprised to learn that they used Plaster of Paris (or something similar) to cement the glass vial in the tube shaped holder.  This both held it in place and also protected the fragile ends.  Getting the vial out of the old plane was much easier than I anticipated.  Pulling the split holder tube open slightly, the vial and plaster slid right out in one piece.  Once out, the old plaster easily released from the glass vial.  The vial has a paper backing that wraps around the back side, but it isn’t attached.  So carefully removing that paper and setting it aside, a quick cleaning of the glass had it looking very much like new in short order.  Positioning the vial along with the paper backing into the assembly on my dad’s plane, I dabbed some plaster into place at each end and allowed it to dry.

I reattached all the hardware, and calibrated both vials using another level as a guide.  Completed, my dad’s old level is once again accurate and ready for the workshop.  You can just make out the replaced vial in the photo on the left.  Now, as to the donor level I bought, it’s still sitting here in need of a plumb vial.  There’s clearly something wrong with this scenario!

Complete Full ViewComplete Full View 2

Working Within the Limits of Tool Preservation

198 SB3 Type 9 Pre0I spent a long time researching and learning about tool preservation before I ever touched a plane. Even so, it was a couple or three years before I really settled into a comfort zone where the hands on experience I gained began to gel with the “book knowledge” I’d accumulated. For me, the greater appeal has always been geared more toward preservation than restoration (although I use the word restoration more often when casually talking about “cleaning up” a plane or tool). It’s probably a matter of semantics; I think most people equate restoration with refinishing, while preservation, by it’s very definition, speaks to preserving and sustaining. To me, that’s more accurate, and is a key part of my guiding philosophy and approach to tools.

It’s very easy for me to “go too far” when cleaning up a tool, to make it pretty vs. simply making it functional. My underlying intent is to preserve the character, finish, patina, etc. whenever possible. Dirt and rust are not sacred to me (as they are to some collectors), they are destructive elements of neglect. When I’m cleaning up a tool, I try to stay within the same boundaries that a woodworker of 100 years ago would have stayed within. He would have only been interested in preserving his tools, keeping them clean and in good working order, not making them pretty to sell on eBay. I constantly remind myself of that, not because I’m right and everyone else is wrong, but because it’s consistent and true to the values and parameters I defined when I started this venture. It’s my mission statement, if you will.

198 SB3 Type 9 Post7

***

Tune Your Block Plane Tonight

Following the popularity of the recent post, Tune Your Hand Plane Tonight, let’s now talk about block planes.  Much of the information will be the same, but block planes are different enough to warrant a dedicated set of instructions.  Besides, since there are probably more block planes owned today and sitting unused in garages and workshops than there are bench planes, they deserve a little love of their own.

As I’ve written before, I have a particularly strong affinity for block planes.  They are  the sexy two seater sports cars of the hand plane world – quick, nimble, and fun to handle.  But more than that, they are extraordinarily versatile and practical for many handy-man chores around the house, as well as indispensable tools in the wood shop.  Even the most ardent power tool user, and certainly the average homeowner, should have at least one or two block planes in his or her arsenal.

Keeping a block plane in good working order is quite easy.  Tuning one for optimal performance is a simple proposition that can be accomplished in an hour or so, if not less.  As I did with the bench plane instructions, I’m going to assume that your block plane is already in a mechanically functional condition and doesn’t require a full blown restoration.  For that level of detail, I recommend reading the posts under Preservation on the menu bar at the top of the page.  Since there are multiple mechanical styles and configurations of block planes, I’m going to try to keep it fairly generic, so you may need to interpolate for your specific plane.

Step 1 – Pour Drink of Preference

High-West-WhiskeyFor working on block planes, let’s go with something a little more exotic than the bourbon we enjoy with our bench planes.  I recommend Rendezvous Rye from the High West distillery.  It is… complex and superb.  Of course, what you drink is up to you, but moderation is certainly recommended, for while you won’t be working with electrically powered tools, you will be handling very sharp objects.  (5 minutes)

 

 

Step 2 – Disassembly & Cleaning

064 SB9.5 -Type 18 Post8The second step is to completely disassemble your plane and clean all the parts.  Using screwdrivers of the appropriate size, remove all the parts – lever cap, cap bolt, lateral lever, eccentric lever, adjustment screws, knobs, etc.  If you’re not completely familiar with what and where everything goes or are worried you might have trouble putting it all back together, take before pictures or notes.

Once disassembled, brush off all the sawdust and dirt.  If the filth is excessive, use a toothbrush and orange degreaser (available at the hardware or grocery store).  Also take a few minutes to clean the threads and slots on all the screws and bolts.  I use a small wire bristle brush with a little turpentine or light penetrating oil like WD-40. Once cleaned, wipe them down and set them out of the way so they don’t attract grit.  (10 minutes)

Step 3 – Hello Froggy

160 SAR5306 Post7Unlike frogs on bench planes, the frogs on block planes are usually fixed platforms cast into the body of the plane.  The top of the frog provides a small platform for the iron to sit, while the flat area behind the mouth offers support near the cutting edge.  Both surface areas should be clean of dirt and debris.  A toothbrush or brass bristle brush with degreaser works well, although you can also use WD-40 or turpentine.  The face of the frog is one of the more critical surfaces of the plane.  Once clean, fit the iron against the frog and verify that it sits flat and securely with no wobble.   You don’t want any wiggle or movement, so any high spots or irregularities in the casting need to be carefully filed or sanded flat.   (5-15 minutes)

Step 4 – Adjustimability of the Mouth

165 SB9.5 Type 12 Post7Many “premium” models of block planes feature an adjustable mouth opening.  This typically means the front section of plane’s sole is a separate piece than can be positioned toward the toe (thus opening the size of the mouth) or closer to the iron (closing the size of the mouth opening).   It is necessary to periodically remove this piece to clean out sawdust that has accumulated, and to clean and lubricate the tracks upon which the plate rides.  If it doesn’t adjust easily forward and back, it needs attention.

Since you’ve already disassembled the plane, make sure both the plate itself and the receiver in which it sits are both clean of debris.  Brush the edges of the plate and tracks of the receiver with a brass or wire bristle brush lubricated with light oil or turpentine.  Fit the plate in place and verify that it moves fairly freely.  It is not normally necessary (nor desirable) to sand the edges of the plate to make it move more easily, although this is sometimes necessary if the plane is vintage and the plate a replacement.  If you decide metal removal  is absolutely necessary, be careful and go very slow.  You can’t un-sand.  (5-15 minutes)

Step 5 – Inspect the Sole

165 SB9.5 Type 12 Post5Take a look at the sole (bottom) of the plane.  Inspect for dents or dings with raised points around the edges that might dig into your wood surface when planing.  If you find any, carefully file them flat with a mill file, followed by a little 220 grit sandpaper.  Unlike bench planes, which have a lot more surface area, flattening the sole of a block plane is a relatively painless process.  Although not usually a critical requirement, flattening the bottom will often provide superior results in use.

First, temporarily re-install the iron and lever cap and tighten to normal pressure.  This ensures the body will be under the same stress (and any possible distortion) as when in actual use.  Working against a dead flat substrate such as a granite sharpening block or the iron bed of a table saw,  start with 60 grit and go through progressively finer grits until you are satisfied that the toe, heel, and areas just in front of and behind the mouth are all completely flat and smooth.  I usually stop with 320 grit.  Aluminum Oxide sandpaper is my preference. If you don’t want to invest in a granite sharpening block, granite floor tiles from your local home center are just the right size and cost around $5 each.  (30-45 minutes depending)

Step 6 – Time to Sharpen

Sharpening SetupYes, sharpening is the step everyone loves to hate, the step that prevents so many people from ever trying a hand plane.  The trick is not to wait until you need to use the tool.  Make time for sharpening in advance, and make a party out of it!  Okay , so maybe not a party, but there is something truly rewarding about getting an edge you can shave with.  It’s relaxing and I really do enjoy it.  Since this is not a sharpening tutorial, I’ll leave the particulars on methodology to another post or reference.  But if you do nothing else, take the time to put a keen edge on your plane’s iron.  A 25 degree bevel works perfectly on most block planes – both low angle and standard angle models.  The angle of the plane’s bed varies on these models, usually either 12 degrees for low angle planes or 20 degrees for standard angle planes.  Add the 25 degree bevel and you end up with a 37 degree low angle of cut, or a 45 degree standard angle of cut (same as bench planes).  Add a micro bevel if you want, and don’t forget to polish the unbeveled back edge. (30 minutes)

Step 7 – Lubrication

Pure Oil 1Lubrication is a good idea, but should be done sparingly since oil attracts dirt and grit.  I add just a drop of light oil to the threads of all the bolts and screws before re-installing them.  I also add a drop to all the moving/adjustment parts, but wipe them with a rag afterward so that only a light film is left.  They certainly don’t need to be dripping.

Some guys believe in waxing the sole.  Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t use a silicone based wax.  However, I just wipe down all exterior surfaces with a little Jojoba oil for storage.  (5 minutes)

Step 8 – Assemble, Adjust, Cut

187 SB18 Type 14 Post1Time to put it all back together.  Re-attach the eccentric lever and front plate (if it has one), adjustment wheel, lateral lever, knobs, etc. and all related hardware.  Carefully put the iron and cap iron assembly in place being careful not to fould the newly sharpened edge, and install the lever cap.  It should lock down securely, but not so tight as to inhibit raising and lowering the iron.  Adjust the front plate (if it has one) forward or backward as needed for the type of planing you intend to do (again, see open vs closed mouth).  Once set, lower the iron into the mouth to take your first test cut.   All of your hardware and adjustment mechanisms should move freely and smoothly. (10-15 minutes)

Unless you run into an unexpected problem, the entire tuning and sharpening process can be completed in about 1 to 2-1/2 hours, and even quicker if you’re tuning a new plane or re-tuning a plane that has already been tuned or well cared for.  It’s easy, rewarding, and builds both knowledge and confidence in your ability to master hand and block planes.

***

Tune Your Hand Plane Tonight

Among the most frequent web searches that lead people to this site come from those looking for information on tuning a hand plane.  Admittedly, for those new to the craft, or at least new to using hand tools, the prospect of setting up and fine tuning a hand plane is daunting.  After all, the nomenclature of parts is bewildering, the functional mechanics are an exercise in geometry and physics, and then there’s that whole issue with sharpening.  It’s no wonder so many people would rather spend an evening prepping for a colonoscopy.

But yea I say unto you, fear not!  Tending to a neglected (or new) hand plane is both relaxing and rewarding, and in most cases takes just an hour or two.  Best of all, the gratification is instant, the rewards immediate.

Now in the interest of keeping things simple, I’m going to assume that your plane is already in a mechanically functional condition and doesn’t require a full blown restoration.  For that level of detail, I recommend reading the posts under Preservation on the menu bar at the top of the page.  I’m also going to focus solely on bench planes.  I’ll cover black planes in a later post.  For simple tuning in one evening, read on…

Step 1 – Pour Drink of Preference

PVW-trio-4What you drink is up to you, and moderation is certainly recommended, for while you won’t be working with powered tools, you will be handling very sharp objects.  I personally prefer a finer bourbon, perhaps Maker’s 46 or Elijiah Craig 18 year, or if I’m in a particularly festive mood, a little Jefferson Presidential Select 17 year or Pappy Van Winkle.  Either way, begin by putting on some relaxing music and have a drink.  (5 minutes)

 

Step 2 – Disassembly & Cleaning

Disassembled Plane, Ready for TuningThe second step is to completely disassemble your plane and clean all the parts.  Using screwdrivers of the appropriate size, remove all the parts, screw, bolts, washers, etc.  If you’re not completely familiar with what and where everything goes or are worried you might have trouble putting it all back together, take pictures or notes.  Or just pay attention; it’s not that complicated for heaven’s sake.

Once disassembled, brush off all the sawdust and dirt.  If the filth is excessive, use a toothbrush and orange degreaser (available at the hardware or grocery store).  Also take a few minutes to clean the threads and slots on all the screws and bolts.  I use a small wire bristle brush with a little turpentine or light penetrating oil like WD-40. Once cleaned, wipe them down and set them out of the way so they don’t attract grit.  (10 minutes)

Step 3 – Inspect the Sole

Stanley No. 7 Jointer PlaneTake a look at the sole (bottom) of the plane.  Put a straight edge against it if it makes you feel better.  Once you’ve convinced yourself that it’s flat enough (which it undoubtedly is), set it aside and have another drink.  Seriously, after owning hundreds and using dozens of planes over the years, I’m convinced it’s rare to come across one with a sole so warped, cupped, or bowed that it’s unusable.  If there are any dents or dings with raised points around the edges that risk digging into your wood surface, carefully file them flat with a mill file, followed by a little 220 grit sandpaper.  You can also use the sandpaper or steel wool to remove any heavy crud – I suggest lubricating it generously with WD-40, Mineral Spirits, or Turpentine.  Working against a dead flat substrate such as a granite or the iron bed of a table saw is recommended.  Go easy.  No need to overdo it; you just want it to be clean and smooth.  (5-30 minutes depending)

Step 4 – Address the Frog

Lap frog face on edge of stone to protect yokeFirst inspect the seat for the frog on the top side of the plane’s base.  This is the area of contact where the frog attaches to the body of the plane.  The mating surfaces must be clean and flat.   Use a toothbrush with the degreaser.  If there is stubborn crud to be removed, use a brass bristle brush.  If the crud is really bad, you can use a small steel brush, but be very careful to to damage the surrounding finish.  Mating surfaces on the frog itself should also be cleaned in the manner described above.

The face of the frog is one of the more critical surfaces of the plane.  It needs to be as flat as you can get it so the iron sits completely flush against.  You don’t want any wiggle or movement, so any high spots or irregularities in the casting need to be filed or sanded flat.  I go back to my granite surface and sandpaper for this.  Taking care not to damage the tip of the yoke that engages the iron and cap/iron, carefully sand the face surface of the frog until it is as flat as possible.  Change directions periodically to keep it even.  You only need to do enough to ensure the iron sits flat against it.  (15-30 minutes)

Step 5 – Polish the Cap Iron

Cap IronThe leading edge of your cap iron (also called the chip breaker) will need a little attention.  Flatten the leading edge of the cap iron where it contacts the iron so that it seats completely flush against it.  You don’t want any gaps that shavings can slip through.  While you’re at it, polish the top side of that leading edge as well (the hump) to make it nice and smooth.  Less friction makes the shavings pass over it more easily, helping to prevent clogs.   The smoother the better, but don’t obsess over this step.  (10 minutes)   

Step 6 – Sharpen the Iron

Sharpening SetupYes, I know, the step everyone loves to hate.  Even for me, it’s often a task that I procrastinate over, but once I get going, I actually enjoy it.  Since this is not a sharpening tutorial, I’ll leave the particulars on methodology to another post or reference.  But if you do nothing else, take the time to put a keen edge on your plane’s iron.  A 25 degree bevel works perfectly on bench planes; add a micro bevel if you’re into that, and don’t forget to polish the unbeveled back edge. (30 minutes)

Step 7 – Lubrication

Pure Oil 1Lubrication is a good idea, but should be done sparingly since oil attracts dirt and grit.  I add just a drop of light oil to the threads of all the bolts and screws before re-installing them.  I also add a drop to all the moving/adjustment parts, but wipe them with a rag afterward so that only a light film is left.  They certainly don’t need to be dripping.

Some guys believe in waxing the sole.  Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t use a silicone based wax.  However, I just wipe down all exterior surfaces with a little Jojoba oil for storage.  (5 minutes)

Step 8 – Assemble, Adjust, Cut

Stanley Bailey no. 5, Type 17 - WWII VintageTime to put it all back together.  Re-attach the frog and all its related hardware first, but don’t tighten just yet.   Put the knob and tote back on if you took it off.  Carefully put the iron and cap iron assembly in place and install the lever cap.  It should lock down securely, but not so tight as to inhibit raising and lowering the iron.  Adjust the frog forward or backward as needed until the iron’s cutting edge is positioned appropriately for the type of planing you intend to do (see open vs closed mouth).  Once set, tighten down the frog and lower the iron into the mouth to take your first test cut.   All of your hardware and adjustment mechanisms should move freely and smoothly. (10-15 minutes)

Unless you run into an unexpected problem, the entire tuning and sharpening process can be completed in about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours, and even quicker if you’re tuning a new plane or re-tuning a plane that has already been tuned or well cared for.  It’s easy, rewarding, and builds both knowledge and confidence in your ability to master hand planes.

***

Wait!  What about the tote and knob, you ask?  You can read all about their care and repair right here.

%d bloggers like this: