Introduction: Hand Plane Restoration
I've been enamored by tools for a long time - the look, feel, and design of something that is both beautiful and practical is fascinating to me. When I got into woodworking, hand planes stood out as aesthetically pleasing and exceedingly utilitarian, so I knew I wanted to restore one.
I was recently gifted a very rusty and worn hand plane -- the perfect candidate for a restoration. From my experience, if you're looking to try your hand at this, it's best to start off with a beater. Many of the techniques take some time to figure out and finesse. This plane was not a name-brand plane, nor a particularly rare size, so there wasn't much at stake.
The first step was to carefully disassemble the plane and take inventory. I wanted to make sure there was enough plane here to restore. There's not much worse than realizing a project is worthless halfway through a restoration. The time to check for fissures, missing parts, and deep pitting is now (or before you buy)!
I removed tension from the lever cap screw, then released the lever. Removed the irons, the back iron screw, and separated the iron from the cap iron (also referred to as the chip breaker). On my plane, it's easiest to work on the frog with the handle removed. After the tote and handle were off, the reverse-thread brass adjustment nut (looks like a thumbscrew) can be removed and the two frog screws removed.
I was lucky -- all parts accounted for and the rust all appeared to be superficial/surface-only.
Step 2: Flattening
For my purposes, flat enough is flat enough. I won't be jointing anything wth such a small plane, so as a fore plan or scrub plane, MDF would make a suitable lapping surface. I started by lapping/rubbing/sanding the sides and sole of the cast body with 80 grit paper - taking the steel to the paper, not the other way around. If you were doing this to a higher level, the bench surface would need to be truer -- flattened granite, heavy glass, etc... Given my intended use, condition, and budget, this was good enough.
My plane's sole has a bit of pitting and deep scratches. I didn't see the need to grind down to them. I went up through the grits to around 320. This was the highest grit I had and was also wet/dry, so I used window cleaner to carry away some of the removed stock while lapping. Again, 320 was good enough for me, but on a nicer plane, I'd definitely look into a finer finish.
The lever cap, plane iron, and iron cap all got a similar sanding treatment. I used some round objects to act as forms for my sandpaper and mimic the curves on the lever cap and chip breaker (and the wooden parts as well).
From here, the rest of the sanding either needs to be done by hand or with media blasting. I went the cheap route.
My frog is stamped steel, while the sole is cast iron. It obviously lived in some wet conditions at some point -- most of the rust seems to have affected the body more than the frog. I didn't need to do much to the frog. If yours is cast, you'll probably get a greater benefit from flattening and truing up the frog.
I chose a bright color to set my plane apart. Most are black, and I've seen a few red. I decided to invoke the neon green hue of Matthias or Izzy Swan's respective workshops. Masking only the bottom and side faces, I let the paint dry and scraped the top of the sides with an Xacto and sanded smooth. This left the sides and sole clean while ensuring that the inner sides received paint all the way to the top edge.
I then buffed the sides and the lever cap with rubbing compound on my automotive buffer, turned upside down and steadied with a hand screw clamp. If you do this, be sure to keep the sole away from the buffing to keep it flat. I also found it difficult to keep the corners of my lever cap from catching in the foam buffer cover. I believe mine was dried out, so your mileage may vary.
My screws were all different. One was decidedly more brass than the others, which were all in varying degrees of paint/rust. I used sandpaper and even rigged my random orbit sander up in the screw clamp to clean up the screw heads. Had there been more brass (I believe they were plated), I'd have gone with Brasso. You might find chucking the screws up in a drill to be easier. Use caution when hand-holding small parts against a sander!
My wood finish was some leftover Tung oil - 2 coats so far.
Step 5: Sharpening?
At this point you might be wondering about sharpening. I've yet to successfully sharpen the iron. I'm not sure if the problem lies in my method or the condition of the iron. I'd refer you, reader, to any number of articles written on the subject.
What I've tried, though, is lapping the iron on the sanding sheets, then sharpening the bevel across the paper, as well as a combination stone. So far I have a bevel and a not-so-sharp edge.
So what good is it without the iron sharpened?
I've learned a great deal in the process about selecting a good plan in the first place. This one arrived with the iron bevel-up, such that the iron could not retract above the sole. The wood was in decent condition, but all the parts under fastening tension held gunk and his rust --all things to note for future purchases. Likewise, the stamped frog is harder to set properly than the cast ones I've seen in video, but for my first try, I'm glad to not have risked ruining a solid plane.
Step 6: End Results
I think she turned out pretty nice. I've definitely caught the restoration bug and expanded my experience to include working with metals.
Were I to do it over again, I'd take more time with the heavy grits and eliminate any pitting. This may not have been the best candidate for fully-smooth sides, but that would make a huge difference. I'd like them to be somewhat reflective and buffed to a decent polish. I plan on seeking some help with the iron or getting a modern replacement.
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