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
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.
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,
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.
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,
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.
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,
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.
Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. The barkeepers friend stuff works really well, and with not a lot of elbow grease.
All the best,
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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 🙂
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,
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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?
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,
Amazing article on how to restore this hand plane. It is a pitty I only found your blog now after I have restored my No 4 1/2 Stanley Bailey hand plane. I made a video of my restoration if you would like to check it out. You can find the restoration on my website and I have a the full restoration video linked there too. I only found out about Japanning after I did the restore so my wooden handles were just varnished but I think it still came out looking really nice. Let me know what you think of my attempt at restoring it. My restoration videos can be found here https://resetresto.com
It looks good, nice work.