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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 frog gets the same treatment.
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 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.
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.
Barkeepers Friend contains oxalic acid and, with very little effort, leaves brass parts looking like they were fresh from the production line.
So, you remember that tray of dirty rusty parts? Here’s how they look now:
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