Part 3 – Painting
This is the third 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 posts here:
- Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ – Part 1 – Tear Down and Cleaning
- Tool Restoration: Stanley No. 4½ – Part 2 – Fettling
I ended the previous post with the plane cleaned, fettled and ready for paint. As you can see, I didn’t completely strip the plane of its original japanning. What was there, was very well bonded to the metal and shouldn’t create any problems if painted over. I have done planes in the past that required sandblasting to strip the casting back to bare metal. I have also experimented with electrolysis to clean up significantly rusted planes. Considering the condition of this plane at the start, none of that is needed here.
However, I do want the new paint to stick to the plane. Any dirt, oils, or grease will make this difficult, so the first step is to degrease the casting. You could do this with degreaser soap and hot water in your utility sink, and I have done this in the past. The thing to keep in mind is that we are dealing with freshly sanded bare cast iron. It will rust very quickly. Using very hot water and thoroughly drying the plane immediately after removing it from the water helps. You can also use an air compressor to get any water out of the threaded holes.
In this case, I chose to spray down the casting with brake parts cleaner. You can also use caliper cleaner, or other degreaser sprays. I just used what I had on hand.
After degreasing I masked off all the little threaded holes. The paint is going to be applied quite heavily and I don’t want it getting in the threads. I tear off small pieces of masking tape and roll them into balls. I then shove the balls into the holes to seal them off from paint.
On the frog, I also cover the lateral adjuster arm and the threaded rod for the depth adjuster wheel.
At this point the project moves outdoors. On a nice warm dry day (preferably above 55°f), I set some cardboard on top of my trashcan. I move the trashcan around until the cardboard appears reasonably level, and place the plane on the cardboard. I then check things with a spirit level.
If I was just painting this would not be so important, but I’m trying to recreate the look of the black japanning that was originally on these planes. Japanning is much thicker than paint and plane bodies just don’t look right when done with just a thin/light coat of spray paint. I’m going to build up a lot of paint on this plane body, to the point where you can’t read the letters cast into the bed. If the plane is not level, the paint will run. This paint will shrink some as it dries, but it will shrink much more when I bake it in the oven.
With the plane level, I’m ready to start building up the paint. For paint, I use the Dupli-Color Gloss Black Ceramic Engine Enamel. This was another great recommendation from the RexMill site and one that has served me well. He recommends to use the hi-gloss for all the build-up coats and semi-gloss for the final coat. I have done this in the past, I agree that it does look better. This time, I only had the high-gloss paint on hand, so that it what I used. I probably should’ve driven to the auto parts store and spent the seven bucks on a can of semi-gloss for the final coat. It does look more like real japanning.
There is also a primer available in this paint line. You might remember that I used it when I restored a hand cranked grinder several posts ago. However, with plane refinishing, I sand the edges of the plane after the paint has cured and I don’t want to see a thin gray line of primer in between the metal body and the black “Japanning”.
I started with a light coat and gave it about 15 minutes to dry.
Since I’m doing this outside and under the trees, I covered it with an upturned box to prevent dust and dirt from settling into the wet paint.
For the frog, I found a bolt that would (sort of) fit the lever cap screw hole and hung it from a piece of copper wire.
I continued this process, adding another coat every 15 minutes or so, until I had built up a really thick coating. So thick that you could no longer see the “Made In England” text that was cast into the bed of the plane. The first time I did this, I was sure I had gone to far, but it needs it. After the paint dries for a day, and after baking, it will look just right.
After about an hour, the paint had tacked up enough to move it without the paint running. I moved it back inside and put it on the bench to let it dry for a day.
Even after a day, this paint isn’t really dry. The surface is, but you could still mark it with a fingernail if you pushed. Using a dental pick, I carefully removed all the masking tape.
I’ve written on this blog before about my method for baking on engine paint. Since I’m trying to be thorough in this series of posts, I will go over it again.
Once the paint is mostly dry (after about 24 hours) I bake the paint onto the parts. The paint that I’m using seems to get really hard and durable once baked
Before proceeding, either make sure your wife has an incredible amount of patience, has no sense of smell, or has gone out for the day. In short, this stinks up the house pretty badly. Here’s my baking schedule:
- Put the parts in a cold oven
- 170°F (the lowest my oven goes) for 30 minutes
- 200°F for 20 minutes
- 225°F for 20 minutes
- 250°F for 20 minutes
- 275°F for 20 minutes
- 300°F for at least 1 hour, sometimes I forget about it and leave it for three.
- Turn off the oven, but leave it closed and allow it to cool slowly overnight.
I do it this way, to avoid damaging any of the cast parts or inducing them to warp. Metal expands and contracts with changes in temperature and throwing the plane parts into a ripping hot oven seems like a bad idea to me. I raise the heat slowly, and then let it cool slowly. So far, I’ve had no problems with this method. Perhaps, I’m wasting my time with all these slow temperature changes, but I don’t want to damage anything and this just seems like a reasonable precaution to me.
I hang the frog from the top rack with a wire.
The next morning the parts go back out to the shop. Look how much the paint has shrunk! You can clearly read all the text cast into the bed and the corners (like where the sides meet the bed) have that nice curvy, soft, wet look of japanning. It looks more dipped and coated than painted.
So, now it is all painted, but I just managed to get a bunch of paint in places where I don’t want it. It’s time to go back to the granite slab for a second round of fettling. Don’t worry, this one goes way quicker than the first time, as all I have to do is remove the paint. I started with the frog.
Sanding the edges of the plane takes the longest time of all the things in this step. The paint really has gotten quite hard after baking. I sand up to 220 grit and the cast iron takes on a really nice soft satin look.
The sides of the plane got a fair bit of overspray, but this comes off very quickly as I had already flattened the sides earlier.
The shim that I made in the previous post goes back onto the plane bed, so that I can clean off the paint from the frog mounting lugs.
To remove the paint from the small flats that sit right behind the mouth opening (where the front feet of the frog sit), I use a scalpel. I scratch at the paint in a crosshatch pattern until I can chip it away.
With all that done, I can finally re-install some of the hardware that I cleaned a polished in the first post. Before installing any screws, I put a couple of drops of oil into each hole. I don’t want any internal rusting on the threads.
The frog goes back into the body before final lapping of the sole.
I spoke about this in the previous post, but it is important to re-install and tighten down the frog before the final flattening. Tightening the bolts can cause the body casting to flex slightly and you want the sole to be flat “in use” not disassembled. It wouldn’t make much sense to perfectly flatten the sole without any hardware attached, and then attach the hardware and throw things back out of flat.
Since I had done the majority of the fettling before painting, this went very quickly. Once the sole was flat, I removed the frog from the bed and wiped away any sandpaper grit or metal dust. I then wiped everything down with a good coat of Jojoba oil and reinstalled the frog.
So, that’s the bulk of the plane done. In the next post, I will address the cutting iron and chip breaker, and will strip and refinish the wooden knob and tote. And of course, I’ll have a whole bunch of photos of the finished plane.
– Jonathan White