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:
Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ – Part 1 – Tear Down and Cleaning
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
I agree you’re making it look clean / pretty, are you going too far after producing a functioning plane?
I’m definitely going beyond making it functional. Once cleaned up, it was usable. At this point I’m making it beautiful.
Interesting idea with the dowel and sandpaper. I had the casting of a 5 1/2 sandblasted with the finest grade the guys had available and I wouldn’t do it again . They went to a great deal of trouble to mask off all the machined areas bar the small flats for the frog and even a light pass of blasting took out too much material by pitting the surface. I resorted to completely bastardising a very hard drill bit into a milling bit for my drill press (which is not the height of accuracy) and very slowly and lightly cleaned it up and a little on the area near the mouth to try to match the material removed. It worked extremely well but having worked with a machinist it pretty much was contrary to what you should do. The plane came out great in the end but I think a lot of your techniques are better then what I have tried so far.
That sounds like quite the ordeal. I once bought a cheap-o sand-blasting gun from Harbor Freight. I just used construction sand and tried it out in the back garden. Since it was not done in a cabinet, sand gets absolutely everywhere, but I did find that it was able to remove the japanning without adversely affecting the metal casting. It was slow going though. It sounds like the stuff your guys used was considerably more aggressive. I’m glad you got it fixed in the end.
As always, thanks for commenting.
All the best,
Your planes always look great, but I have to disagree with the popular wisdom of sanding the frog mounting areas. The upper and lower surfaces have to have the exact same offset for “perfect” mounting. Also, they need to be parallel. At the factory they are milled with precision metalworking machines to achieve this fit.
Of course, the fit may be imperfect from the factory but I don’t believe that independently sanding the surfaces freehand will get closer to perfection, only further from it. I would recommend a wire brush or scotchbrite pad just to get ruse off the surfaces, so you can see the machining marks. To prevent rust on these surfaces in the future, I would use a 50/50 dilution of Jasco paint prep which is phosphoric acid based. Paint on the dilute mix and let it dry. Clean off any residue and you are good to go.
Fine Woodworking had an article on plane tuning years ago by Roland Johnson and he used valve lapping compound between the frog and its seating surfaces to clean things up. That will ensure the fit being improved since you are working all four surfaces at the same time using the same method.
When I am shopping for a used plane I shy away from planes with obviously sanded surfaces where they don’t belong because I trust machining to freehand lapping in most cases. Hope I am not coming off as critical – I’m trying to be constructive.
Thanks, I really appreciate your constructive feedback. I do agree that there is the potential to alter the geometry of the mating surfaces and I do think the milling machine would be the best tool for this job. If this were a modern plane (Lie-Neilsen or Veritas), there is no way I would suggest using this process. Those tools are machined to such precision tolerances, that what I’m doing would only mess them up. I just don’t think that many of these old bailey planes were machined to particularly great tolerances. I have found some, where the top of the frog mounting lugs were rounded over and the frogs rocked a little. When I sanded the bottom of the frog, I first set it on the granite slab, and pushed down quite firmly. While maintaining this downward pressure, I slowly move the frog along the sandpaper. This should keep things flat and remove only the barest of metal. The same thing goes with the feet at the front of the frog, I lock in the angle with downward pressure first before taking short strokes. So far, I don’t think that I’ve screwed anything up, but I do agree that the potential to do so exists.
Thanks for the tip about the Rowland Johnson article. I went and took a look in my Fine Woodworking archive and found the article that you mentioned. For anyone else following along, it can be found in Issue #216, which is the “Tools and Shops” edition from 2011. The valve lapping paste was an idea that had not occurred to me. I think that it is probably a superior method to what I have been using and will have to explore this more in the future. It would be interesting to see what scratch pattern the lapping compound would leave on one of the frogs/beds that I have already done using my method. If the scratch/wear pattern was even, that would indicate that the mating surfaces were in good contact. It would also clearly show if they weren’t.
Also, thanks for the tip about the Jasco paint prep, I’ll have to check that out. I have used a product called Ospho in the past, which I think is similar. I used it as a rust neutralizer when restoring a pitted back saw.
I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your thoughts!
All the best,
Without measuring anything, you are duck hunting with a blindfold on. You may hit your target, but a miss is far more likely. I have seen cheesy Stanley planes with cast surface for mounting the frog and I would agree those are low tolerance tools, basically useless and not worth any effort.
The original cuts made on a mill were very flat, even if not done to a high finish. Unless you can freehand a 2″ chisel so the bevel is dead flat and at the correct angle within a couple of thousandths over the face you can’t improve over the original “tolerance” using the methods in your post.
Do you check the fit in any way to see which surface, upper or lower, needs more material removed? Because they are such different size they will require different amounts of work for a given height change.
I have not seen any untouched baileys with rounded machining, so I’m not inclined to throw them under the bus tolerance wise. I did buy a plane from someone whose blog is also on Norse Woodsmith that had the frog worked with abrasives and was not impressed. I detect no advantage over a well cleaned and flattened bailey when this is done.
Stanley did have competitors and really couldn’t afford to be sloppy until the market size and competition dwindled. Don’t forget that these planes were made for real users in their day and were appointed with nice brass and rosewood fittings. Laminated blades were another indication that Stanley was offering the real deal.
These surfaces see very little wear if any. Think of how many miles a 100 year plane has slid versus how much travel the frog surfaces have been moved. Even if you adjusted the frog every day it would be a 1/4″ round trip per day.
More likely the problem is rust and if so, the rust will penetrate into the metal. As long as you see machining marks still, the fit is reliable once the rust is removed.
Again, I’m not trying to bust your chops but I see this repeatedly on the internet and hate to see people harming their planes because of something they saw on the web. I am planning a full repaint type restoration soon but under the frog I think less is more for tuning, unless you can get accurate measurements. It’s all risk and no rewards.
You raise some very good points and others that read this should seriously consider them before proceeding with their own restorations. I think your valve lapping suggestion is something that I will definitely have to try. I truly don’t think that I have done any harm to the plane. The project has been finished for over a month now and I have put the plane to use several times since then. It cuts like a dream.
Thanks for taking the time to write your comments, you clearly put a lot of thought into them. Having the ability for others to submit their comments, feedback, and suggestions is one of the things I love most about having a blog. Without this feature, and people willing to take the time to comment, this would simply be a diary. I often find that feedback and suggestions push me in a new direction and help improve whatever I’m working on.
All the best,
Great stuff, Jonathan. I’ve a question and a comment. First, when you flatten the sole, do you rub the plane on the sandpaper in only one direction, or do you rub both directions? I’ve worried that friction might cause the leading edge to be sanded more than elsewhere, resulting in a convex sole front to back if you rub both ways.
Second, With the dowel in the drill press idea for cleaning up the spot where the frog’s “front feet” lie – how would you make sure that you didn’t sand down one side more than the other?
I rub the sole on the paper in both directions. I use both hands side-by-side, and put my thumbs in the rear bed of the plane (behind the frog lugs) and my fingers right in front of the mouth opening. I try to keep consistent pressure to avoid sending one area more than any other. You raise a very good point though, it would be very easy to round over the sole if you weren’t careful.
As far as my drillpress idea goes, there really wouldn’t be any way to make sure you didn’t overdo one side. All I can say is, I would use a very light touch and stop as soon as the metal was clean. As I said, I haven’t tried this idea yet, but likely will the next time I restore a plane.
All the best,
I have 2 questions. Do you use the sharpening machine much, and do you like it? Ok 3 questions.
Due to the fact I’m not made of money it took me a long time to acquire a 4 1/2 at a reasonable price, I now know why. It doesn’t have an adjustable frog. Couldn’t tell on ebay( my bad) How important is that in the real world of everyday woodworking?
I’m not a huge fan of the Grizzly wet grinder. It’s ok, but I find myself tending to use other sharpening methods. As to your other question, and adjustable frog is designed to allow you to shift the whole frog and cutting iron assembly forward relative to the mouth of the plane. This means that you can create a very fine gap between the front edge of the mouth and the cutting edge of the iron. The downward pressure of the sole of the plane a few thousandths of an in in front of the cutting edge helps to reduce tear-out when planing.
There are other steps you can take to reduce tear-out if you cannot adjust your frog. A well tuned chip breaker set only a few thousandths of an inch back from the cutting edge will reduce tear-out phenomenally. Check out this video for a good explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56DpxEOpxz0
Best of luck with your plane.
Thanks ,I’ll check out the vid. I have a new hock iron and chip breaker that goes in the plane and I expect when it is finely honed, it should do a decent. Tell you followers to use ‘Walnut hulls” as blast medium, it doesn’t remove much if any metal .