Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ – Part 1

Part 1 – Tear Down and Cleaning

When I first got the crazy notion to start this blog, I had been restoring old tools continuously for a solid year.  I had found several places online showing various methods of tool restoration, and incorporated several of these into my way of doing things.  I’d also experimented quite  bit with my own ideas and I thought that it would be worthwhile to have a blog that showed how these things can be done.  However, the blog really started after most of my restorations had been done and, I was getting a little tired of continuous restoration projects.  I love restoring old tools, but I also love woodworking.  Both are fun to do, but I prefer to have a mix of the two.  Also, you can only collect and restore so many tools before you realize that you have majority of the tools you want or need.

After starting this blog, the first big project documented here was my Ambidextrous Grizz-oubo Bench.  That took thirteen months and only a few occasional tool restorations were thrown in along the way.  I’ve done about a dozen full restorations of hand planes, but never documented the whole process here before.

So, with that in mind, I figured that it was high time I showed a complete start-to-finish, nuts-to-soup, plane restoration.  Since this project ended up with about 110 images, I am breaking it into 4 separate posts.

First, let me say that I probably have too many planes.  They seem to find their way to me.  Most have already been restored, but there are a few that I haven’t touched yet.  Here’s the current hand plane corral.

My current (excessive) collection of hand planes.

My current (excessive) collection of hand planes.

I have not yet had the time to restore the planes below.  The group consists of:

  • A number 5c (Type 11) that my good friend Bruce gave to me.
  • Two number 5¼ (Type 15) and an extra frog. Type 15 are my favorite planes.
  • A number 4 ½ (English, so no type known).
  • A number 4 (Type 11) found at the local flea market for $10 (like I needed another one).
  • A number 220 block plane.
  • A number 9 ½ block plane.
  • and a random block plane that I think is a craftsman (the mint green one).

On a separate note, if you are interested in the various type numbers (assigned by collectors) to the Stanley planes, look no further than the Rex Mill Type Study.  It’s the best one I’ve ever found.

There are 8 planes in the collection that I have not touched yet.

These are the 8 planes in my collection that I have not touched yet.

I’m not going to show the step-by-step process for all eight of these planes, so I need to pick one to focus on.  They are all going to get the same treatment and showing the process once will suffice.

I chose the Stanley No. 4½ jumbo smoothing plane that I bought on eBay UK.  I wrote about the suitcase full of tools that I brought back from England a few of years ago. You can see that earlier post HERE.  Man, I can’t believe that it has been three years since that post!  It also means that this plane has sat untouched for three years.  Yikes!

The Stanley No. 4½ (Jumbo) smoothing plane. Mine is an English version.

The Stanley No. 4½ (Jumbo) smoothing plane. Mine is an English version.

Compared to many of the tools that I have restored, this one is not in bad shape.  But, it could still benefit from an overhaul.  This being a “Made in England” version of the plane, it does not fit into the usual American type studies.   The kidney-shaped hole in the lever cap and the raised ribbing on the frog all suggest that it is certainly more recent than 1933.  The absence of rosewood, perhaps indicates that it is much later too.  One thing that does stand out to me is how thick and heavy the casting is.  The side walls are much thicker than on any of my other planes. This thing is a beast.

It's dirty, but I've cleaned up planes in far worse condition than this.

It’s dirty, but I’ve cleaned up planes in far worse condition than this.

You can still make out the model number through the crud.

You can still make out the model number through the crud.

The markings show this one was made in England.

The markings show this one was made in England.

Ok, let’s start to tear down this plane.  With any old tool, disassembly is the fist step to check for any broken or missing parts. It’s also a good time to look for any hidden rust.

Removing the lever cap and iron.

Removing the lever cap and iron.

Removing the frog.

Removing the frog.

The knob, tote, and frog adjustment screw removed.

The knob, tote, and frog adjustment screw removed.

The complete breakdown.

The complete breakdown.

Now that it is all in pieces, I don’t want to lose any of them.  In the past, I have used ziplock bags to store all the little parts, but of late, I’ve started using magnetic parts trays.

The parts ready for stripping and cleaning.

The parts ready for stripping and cleaning.

A magnetic parts tray makes it very easy to keep track of all the bits.

A magnetic parts tray makes it very easy to keep track of all the bits.

To clean all of the parts of crud and surface rust, I start out at my bench grinder.  One side of the grinder has a fabric buffing wheel and the other has a soft wire wheel.  This lets me clean and then polish the metal parts.  Others have asked me in the past what I mean by soft wire wheel so I should probably touch on that topic once more.

You can buy wheels that have individual strands of wire of various thickness.  Some are crimped and some are straight or twisted into groups.  Also, wheels come in various densities and thicknesses.  What I look for is a wheel with thin wires, that are crimped, and of low density.  The results in a wheel that is far less aggressive and that will remove the things I want to, without damaging the surface underneath.

Most of my cleaning is done with a soft wire wheel at the bench grinder.

Most of my cleaning is done with a soft wire wheel at the bench grinder.

The wire wheel removes the surface rust and crud.

The wire wheel removes the surface rust and crud.

The buffing wheel side of the grinder adds a nice shine to all the bare metal parts.

The buffing wheel side of the grinder adds a nice shine to all the bare metal parts.

Once all the small parts were cleaned and polished, I took the body casting to the wire wheel.   Due to the shape of the body and the diameter of the wheel, there are several areas that couldn’t be reached.  I cleaned these using a tiny wire brush in my Dremel.

The body casting cleaned up quite nicely!

The body casting cleaned up quite nicely!

The frog gets the same treatment.

The frog, after the wire wheel.

The frog, after the wire wheel.

I polished the lateral adjuster at the buffing wheel.

I polished the lateral adjuster at the buffing wheel.

The lever cap needs a little more delicacy.  The chrome was starting to flake in areas, but I didn’t want to remove that which wasn’t flaking.  For this part, I start straight on the buffing wheel.

The chrome was starting to flake on the lever cap.

The chrome was starting to flake on the lever cap.

The green buffing compound (which turns black in use) builds up in the recessed parts of the  lever cap.  To remove this, I used mineral spirits and a toothbrush.

Cleaning the buffing residue off the lever cap.

Cleaning the buffing residue off the lever cap.

One other part that requires special attention is the depth adjustment wheel.  It has fine knurling around the edge and it would be a royal pain to remove the buffing compound from all those fine cracks.  Because of this, it goes nowhere near the buffer.  Instead I take it inside to the utility sink and clean it with Barkeepers Friend and another toothbrush.

The brass depth adjustment wheel.

The brass depth adjustment wheel.

Barkeepers Friend. This stuff cleans brass amazingly.

Barkeepers Friend. This stuff cleans brass amazingly.

Barkeepers Friend contains oxalic acid and, with very little effort, leaves brass parts looking like they were fresh from the production line.

The brass wheel after cleaning with Barkeepers Friend and a toothbrush.

The brass wheel after cleaning with Barkeepers Friend and a toothbrush.

So, you remember that tray of dirty rusty parts?  Here’s how they look now:

The steel and brass parts came out nearly like new.

The steel and brass parts came out nearly like new.

All of the "Cleaning" done.

All of the “Cleaning” done.

For many people, this would be the end of the tool clean up.  I suppose you could stop here, and after a quick sharpening, put the plane to use.  But that wouldn’t be a benchblog restoration.

In the next post, I will show the fettling of the body and frog.  In part three, the re-painting of it all.  Lastly, in part four, I will cover the sharpening a fine tuning of the iron and chip breaker and the refinishing of the wooden parts.

Stay tuned, and I will publish the next installment as soon as I can.

 

– Jonathan White

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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15 Responses to Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ – Part 1

  1. I like the Barkeepers friend tip. Cleaning my adjuster wheels with Brasso I never got anywhere near the shine you got. And I do like my brass to be shiny.

    • Jonathan says:

      Ralph,

      Yeah, it really works well. No polishing at all, just a scrub with the powder and a wet toothbrush. Comes out looking polished. I’m guessing its the acid eroding a very minute layer at the surface of the metal.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  2. dpawson says:

    How safe are the wire wheel brushes? I hear stories of the wires flying out?
    I’m curious if you’re going to strip / paint the body!
    I did (No. 4 ~ converted to scrub) and think it worth it.
    I’m envious of the polish you have on the steel parts – I had to make do with
    using wire wool.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Dave,

      I’ve never had a safety problem with a wire wheel. It’s true that they do occasionally lose a wire or two, but I’ve never found this to be a problem. Of course, good safety glasses are an advisable item. The plane did get a new paint job, that’s going to be shown in part three. Thanks for the comments.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  3. Brian Eve says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I look forward to reading the whole series.

    Depending on the plane I’m working on, I am often a bit reluctant to get too crazy in making it shiny and new. However, I have no problem whatsoever in grinding or sanding metal away in order to make a tool work better.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hello Brian,

      I hope to make it worthwhile. I get what you are saying about restoring to like new. This plane was not in such bad a shape as others I have done, and I probably could have gotten by with the initial clean up. However, all of the other planes that I have acquired have been restored in this way, and my crazy woodworker OCD wants all of my planes to match. Most of those planes really needed the full monty. Once done, I’ll have a full set of vintage planes that are mostly in better than new condition. I’ll try and have the next post out tomorrow.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  4. Matt McGrane says:

    Regarding the small parts after cleanup, I’ve just gotta say WOW! That’s just fantastic. Looking forward to the rest of this series. Love the Barkeeper’s Friend tip. You answered a question I had about it in response to Ralph. Thanks.

  5. Pingback: Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ - Part 2 | The Bench Blog

  6. Impressive looking for sure, you never cease to amaze me. But how on earth do hold the small screws, washer etc while going at ithem on the wire wheel??
    They would be flung across the room if i tried?? Using pliers etc, i would be needing a death grip on them…

    I am most impressed with how all the small screwswasher and etc came out, Wow, simply Wow

    Bob and Rudy, on a tool hunt trip.
    Pst, you do not have an excessive plane collection… I do 🙂

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Bob,

      When I first started doing it, I did manage to launch a few screws across the shop. Now, I hold the small parts in a pair of pliers and barely touch them against the wire wheel. The lightest of touches is called for. They do come out quite nice though.

      Where are you tool hunting? Are you looking for anything in particular or just seeing what’s out there?

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  7. Pingback: Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ - Part 3 | The Bench Blog

  8. Pingback: Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ - Part 4 | The Bench Blog

  9. DW says:

    Noticed before that lever caps have that dark color. Did not think of removing the buffing compound. Why use mineral spirits instead of the barkeepers friend?
    So you clean the small parts on the wire wheel only? You don’t use barkeepers friend on those?

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey DW,

      I don’t know, I just find that mineral spirits seem to work pretty well at dissolving the buffing compound. You can see in the photo, just how much black gunk came off on the paper towel. I’ve never tried to use the barkeepers friend to remove it. The acid in that might dull the polish that the buffer just added.

      The small parts were wire wheel only. The barkeepers friend was just for the brass. I hope this helps.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, or questions.