Sooooo, I’m building a workbench, or at least I’m supposed to be building one. However, what with going to work every day and trying to watch all of the world cup matches, it just isn’t happening.
I got a few hours in the shop this week and decided to clean up the Union No. 41 Tongue and Groove plane that I bought at the swap market last weekend, and wrote about in my last post.
I don’t know if I should really call this a tool restoration as I’m not repainting or re-plating anything. What the plane really needs is a through clean and polish. Oh, and the knob could use refinishing.
First, I took everything apart. I did not remove the pin and spring in the front of the plane as the retaining pin holding it in place looked as though it would be damaged if I tried to pull it out. In any case, I didn’t need to remove it as I was able to clean all parts of it simply by rotating the pin.
Some people will be appalled by how I do this, but I want to put this plane back to use and have it look nice. I’m not trying to keep a collectors piece in original condition. My favorite and go-to tool for cleaning up old hand tools is my bench grinder. I have removed the stones and guards and have installed a buffing wheel on one side and a soft wire wheel on the other. My wire wheel is sort of worn out and doesn’t have densely packed wires. This is great, you don’t want anything that is going to be aggressive. Look for a wheel that has fine wire that is crimped and spreads out loosely. You don’t want thick wire or a densely packed wire wheel or it will eat into the metal of your tool. You just want to remove the rust and surface grime.
I lightly and gently went over every surface with the wire wheel. I do mean every surface. Make sure to get in the threads of all the screws. Then I polished all of the accessible surfaces with the buffing wheel and compound. I have found that this will normally not remove the nickel plating and will polish the steel where the plating is already missing to such a degree that it tends to blend with the plated areas.
The one problem with using this polishing compound is that it tends to leave a black residue in all of the nooks and crannies that has to be removed. To remove this and any other remaining grime, I took the parts to my utility sink and ran the water nice and hot. I used a nylon bristle nail brush and some barkeepers friend. Normally, I love using barkeepers friend, it quickly removes all of the compound residue and any remaining dirt. However, there was one major setback to using it this time. All of the steel parts that were not nickel plated had polished up very nicely on the buffing wheel, but the oxalic acid in the barkeepers friend darkened them. It did not look good. In retrospect, I should have used the nail brush and either some mineral spirits or some rubbing alcohol to remove the compound.
No problem, I can fix this. It is important to quickly dry the plane so that the water doesn’t cause any further rust. I used a hairdryer to ensure that no moisture was left on any of the parts. To remove the darkening caused by the barkeepers friend, I gave the plane a quick rubdown with brasso. I think any metal polish would have worked, but brass is what I had at hand. This brightened up the dark spots a little.
The front knob was very dirty and looked as though it had been knocked around quite a bit. I have restored many bench planes by now and developed a process for refinishing the knobs that I am quite happy with. First, I wrap a little masking tape around a driver bit so that it matches the size of the hole in the knob. Then I push the knob onto the bit so that it is a good snug fit. Once installed in the drill, it is very easy to sand the knob back to clean wood.
I worked my way up through the grits and finished at 320. This leaves a very nice surface. I go this high because almost all of a knob is end grain and going to 320 or even 400 leaves a visibly nicer finish.
Next up is my favorite wood finish. Watco Danish Oil in the Red Mahogany color. Many stores that sell Watco Danish Oils have a Watco display that shows all of the available colors. Red Mahogany is listed as one of the colors, but no store I have ever been to has it in stock and all of the stores that I have asked to order it for me say that their suppliers don’t carry it. I don’t get it. I think it is by far the nicest color that they offer, but no one carries it. Perhaps it is being discontinued, I certainly hope not. I checked my favorite store, Amazon, and found quarts of it on there for less that $11. However, shipping was going to be $12 since it is not sold by amazon directly. I ordered 3 quarts and the shipping only went up to $13, bringing the average price way down.
First, I put on a very heavy wet coat. You may have to keep adding finish as the wood will soak it up. I keep applying the finish until it will soak up no more and then let it sit wet for 20 to 30 minutes. After about 30 minutes, I wiped all of the excess finish off of the wood. Danish Oil’s cure by oxidation not evaporation, so a coat this heavy can take a long time to properly cure.
Once I had cleaned and polished all the metal parts, I put everything back together.
Keeping in mind that all of the parts had been washed in hot water, it was very important to make sure that all of the moving bits get a coating of oil to prevent binding and future corrosion. On my last order from Lee Valley, I added two Precision Oiler Pens to the order, hoping that they would prove useful. I got one for oiling tools and general use and the other I filled with CLP for oiling firearms. I was very impressed with these. They work fantastically and are very well made. I can’t believe that the sell them so cheaply. Garrett Wade sells them also, but they’re twice the price.
I oiled the pivot pin/screw that attaches the base, the pivot pin that attaches the lever caps, the retention pin at the front of the plane, and all of the threads on all of the screws. I also wiped down the whole plane with jojoba oil.
I flattened the back of the cutters and polished them to 8000 on my water stones. I then sharpened the bevel to the same grit. I looked at the cutters and it appeared that they were ground at 35°. I kept the same bevel angle when I sharpened them.
In my previous post, I stated that the two cutters were of differing widths. It must have been an optical illusion, because when I removed them, I found that they were identical.
With the cutters sharpened, I wiped them down with jojoba oil and reinstalled them in the plane.
With the plane done, I just had the knob left to finish. After the Danish Oil had dried for a couple of days, I started adding coats of Watco Wipe-On Poly. I really like the satin finish that Watco makes, and when it’s applied properly, I think it makes the totes and knobs on old bench planes look like bare polished rosewood. A super glossy finish just looks out of place to me. I do like the added protection that the poly provides though and think that it is worth going through this process.
Here’s the thing, the satin poly has flatteners in it that can obscure the beautiful grain in the wood when multiple coats are applied. The best way I have found to avoid this it to use the gloss finish for all but the last coat.
Since it is a wipe on formula, it goes on thinly. Multiple coats are needed to build it up and it’s too thin to sand after each coat. You will sand right through it if you try to sand after each coat. I usually allow for about eight hours between each coat if I am not sanding and 12-24 hours if I am going to sand. I apply the finish while the knob is still mounted on the drill. After 2-3 coats I sand it on the drill with 320 grit paper. I apply another 2-3 coats and then sand one last time. The gloss finish is very, very glossy and looks wet. It’s not what I’m going for, but it is very clear and shows the grain below well.
For the last coat, I switch to the satin finish and apply a nice even coat.
I think that the knob came out looking fantastic.
Overall, I’m very happy with how this plane came out. I wish that some of the dark spots where the nickel is missing weren’t there, but it is about 100 years old, so some deterioration should be expected.
Now I need to test it out, but don’t I need a workbench to hold a board on edge? I seem to recall I was supposed to be building one… I’ll have to get back to that.
I also have the panel saw and drawknife that I picked up at a garage sale to restore.
The plane turned out great Jonathan. The knob especially looks nice. What a difference a little TLC can make. This plane is ready for another lifetime of use.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think you’re right about the plane being ready for another lifetime of use. I find something very rewarding about putting these old tools back to working condition. It’s far better than them rusting away in someone’s shed.
It’s kinda funny I was doing some research on a 41 that some one in the woodworking club had redone. its a good read even though I had already heard the story.. hehehehe
We missed you at the woodworkers club meeting last night. I hope you are well.
All the best,