Part 2 – Fettling the Body and Frog
This is the second post in a four-part series in which I show all the steps that I took to restore an English Stanley No. 4½ Jumbo Smoothing Plane. You can read the earlier post here:
I ended the previous post with the plane completely disassembled and all the parts having been cleaned and even polished where necessary. The next part of the process is to fettle the plane. This involves flattening the sole and the sides, flattening the face of the frog, and checking the mating surfaces where the frog mounts onto the body casting. I’m going to do this twice. The first fettling is the hardest one and requires the most elbow grease. It is done before the parts are painted. After painting, the parts are fettled one more time very lightly to remove overspray and for final finish.
To flatten parts, I use a granite reference slab and self adhesive sandpaper. Mine is a Grizzly Reference Slab that I bought at the Grizzly showroom in Bellingham a few years ago. Luckily I was able to pick it up in person, as shipping would have been ridiculously expensive. This thing weighs 150 pounds!!! You’d never think so to look at it, but man is it heavy. I hate having to move it, so it has become a more or less permanent fixture at my sharpening area.
For sandpaper, I like the Klingspor brand. I buy the 2 ¾ wide rolls and get them from EdenSaw Hardwoods in Port Townsend. You can also get them from WoodworkingShop.com where they are cheaper, but you have to pay shipping and wait for the small mail.
Since I’m aiming for a flat surface, I stick the paper down using a pressure roller. It needs to be stuck close to the edge as you can only flatten on half of the frog face at a time. I suppose you could knock out the pins holding the lateral adjuster and the depth wishbone, but then they would have to be re-peened in place later. This would likely chip the new paint. Instead, I throw the lateral adjuster all the way over to one side and then flatten the opposite side on the slab. I then switch sides and repeat. Lastly, I push the whole frog back and forth on the slab, advancing in as far as the depth pin.
In the US, with the beginning of the Type 16 planes, Stanley went to a raised rib style frog as seen above. Previously the whole frog had one flat surface with no recessed (black painted) areas. The older style frog is regarded (arguably) and the better frog, and I tend to agree. In the older style, the entire face of the frog is in contact with the cutting iron, providing better support. One good thing that can me said about the newer style is that they are easier to flatten. As you are only sanding on the raised metal ribs, very little metal has to be removed.
The bottom of the frog also has to be trued up. Go easy here! You don’t want to change the geometry of the mating surfaces as you could easily screw up the plane. I used slow, even strokes with a firm downward pressure on the frog.
All of these areas will get touched up one more time later in the process after the painting is done. But for now, the frog is finished. Time to address the body.
The sole of the plane was not in bad shape. It looked ugly, but a few passes on the sandpaper revealed it to be pretty flat. The important thing here is that the plane be flat down the sides, in the front and at the back, and right across the front of the mouth opening. Any low spots in the middle of the front or the middle of the rear, will not affect the cutting.
I stopped here:
There was no need to continue lapping the bottom until all the lows were removed. Once the body is painted I will repeat this process.
This is probably a good time to point out something else that is rather important. You will notice that I am lapping the sole here without the frog installed. That’s fine for now, but the final lapping will need to be done with the frog in the plane. The act of tightening the bolts that attach the frog to the bed can cause the sole to flex a little, so final lapping will best be done after the parts are painted and the frog re-installed.
Once happy with the sole, I moved on to the sides.
110 images and yet I find there is still a step that I forgot to take a picture of. The next thing I did is to take a piece of 120 grit paper and sand all the edges of the plane. The leading edge, the tailing edge, and the top edges of the sides. I’ve seen some restorations where these edges get painted and left that way, but I think they look great once sanded up to about 220 grit. They take on a nice satin appearance when done right.
After the edges were done, I turned my attention to the frog mounting lugs. These parts are cast into the bed of the plane body and are where the bed mates with the bottom of the frog. If these parts are uneven and do not mate flatly with the frog, the frog will rock and performance of the plane will be awful. Sanding these lugs by hand would tend to round them over and ruin the mating surface. I needed to create a jig that will allow me to lightly sand them but keep them dead flat.
I tape a piece of masonite to the plane body and keep adding layers of masking tape to build up this shim until it is the same height as the top of the lugs.
I tried to adjust the focus to show you what I’m lining up.
You can also use a piece of flat stock to test the setup.
A file would be too aggressive here. I just want a very light sanding to clean and flatten the top of the mounting lugs. I went to the firewood pile and picked out a scrap of madrone left over from my chisel handle projects. I ran one face over the jointer to flatten it and then stuck a piece of self adhesive sandpaper to it.
Don’t over do this. This process will be repeated one more time after the body is painted.
The last areas to touch up are the small flats right behind the mouth opening. These are very hard to get to. A milling machine would do the trick, but my shop is too stuffed with woodworking machines to ever think of adding metalworking tools. Instead, I stuck some sandpaper on the end of a stick and sanded the area manually.
As I sit here writing this, a lightbulb just went on. The thought occurs to me that I could take a pice of dowel rod (⅜” or perhaps ½”) and square up one end at the shooting board. I could then affix some sandpaper to the end and mount the dowel in the drill press. Light downward pressure on the handle would create an overlapping circle/swirl pattern. But with a light touch, and a well squared up table, might just do the trick. I will have to experiment with this next time I restore a plane.
In any case, this brings me to the end of this installment. All of the parts are fitting together beautifully and are ready for paint. As my painting process is rather involved, I will save that for the next post.
– Jonathan White