Introduction: Restoring a Vintage Hand Plane

Picture of Restoring a Vintage Hand Plane
  On a recent trip to North Carolina my wife and I had stopped at an antique store where i found a few decent Stanley Bailey hand planes. For those of you that don't know, a hand plane is a woodworking tool that's been around for a few centuries and is used to flatten and smooth wood.

  I absolutely love these tools. Their design has been virtually unchanged for over a hundred years now. They're aesthetically pleasing, ergonomic, long lasting, and exceptionally good at what they do. All around, it's an amazing tool. So, how could i pass up the opportunity to restore one of these to their original glory?!

It's a pretty simple procedure that anyone can get into with very few tools/equip. Keep in mind that with any tool restoration, you get out of it exactly what you put into it. If you like the look of semi-oxidized metal then you don't have to buff it to a mirror shine; you can make the tool look as "antique" or as new as you want.




  • scotch brite pads
  • wd-40
  • steel wool
  • various grits of sandpaper (i went as low as 100 and as high as 2000 wet/dry)
  • evapo rust or krud kutter (you can find this stuff at any lowes/home depot for about $10 a bottle)
  • plenty of rags/paper towels
  • machine oil
  • boiled linseed oil
  • buffing compound (i think i used mother's brand compound i bought at auto zone)
  • screwdrivers
  • drill press would be ideal, but if not a hand held drill works fine (that's all i had)
  • all the elbow grease you can muster

Step 1: Assessing the Damage

Picture of Assessing the Damage

  Before you delve into anything it's good to know what you're up against. It's a good idea to inspect the tool before you buy it...check for any cracks and gouges; loose, missing, replaced or ill fitting pieces, and deep pockets of rust. Surface rust no matter how bad, can be cleaned off, but if a part is rusted through then you're in trouble. If possible, try to identify the piece you're looking at to give you an idea of its age and worth. If it's a stanley plane you can use this chart to identify it.
 Once you've got the tool, take it apart carefully (you don't want to strip any screwheads or crack any wood). Make sure the screw threads are in good shape, and that the wood is in tact. 

Step 2: Time to De-rustify!

Picture of Time to De-rustify!
And now the fun begins! There are a few different methods for this part and depending on your available space, time, money, and know how you can try any of these:
  • soaking rusted parts in apple cider vinegar
  • using a chemical remover like naval jelly,  evapo rust, or krud kutter (this is what i used)
  • electrolysis
  • wd-40 and scotch brite and steel wool (i used this technique as well, but it's hard to do on rounded or small parts)
If you decide to go the chemical method like me it's pretty straight forward...i filled a ziploc bag halfway with krud kutter and put all the small screws and knobs in it to soak for about 2- 3 hours (the soaking period will vary depending on the amount of rust you have).

After the chemical bath, i dried the pieces, and gave them a quick scrub with wd-40 and steel wool to clean off any leftover bits and pieces.

To soak the frog and the plane i just a gallon sized ziploc bag to accommodate for the size of the pieces

Step 3: De-rustification Part Duex

Picture of De-rustification Part Duex

 While the smaller pieces are soaking i tried out the wd-40 + scotch brite pad method on the larger flat pieces (i.e. plane iron and chip breaker). This method works wonders in a really short time since i can really put some pressure on the pieces.

Step 4: Getting a Handle on Things

Picture of Getting a Handle on Things

  After you clean up your metal parts, you can move on to the handle (aka tote) and knob. Simply take some sand paper (100 or 120 grit) and have at it! The tote is a little tricky because of all the curves and angles, but just be patient...the old finish comes off pretty quick. Once you've got the finish off you can progress to 220. I finished with about 320, but feel free to go higher (anything above 600 grit is overkill though).

 For the knob, i took a thin dowel, wrapped some tape around it until it was nice and snug in the hole for the screw and chucked the other end into my drill and voila! A mini lathe. This makes sanding the knob a breeze....just be sure to wear a dust mask (that stuff will get everywhere and you don't that in your lungs).

Now that you've sanded them down to a buttery smooth finish you can apply the oil. There are a few different finishes you can apply, or combine such as danish oil, tung oil, or shellac. I tried to avoid using any kind of varnish like polyurethane because it leaves the wood with a "plastic" look and feel, where as the oils tend to pop the grain and keep the wood feeling soft. This is great if you intend to use the tool...if you just want to display it, then a varnish, or oil-varnish blend might be the way to go.

Step 5: Make It Shiny!

Picture of Make It Shiny!

So now your parts have been de-rusted and cleaned...but they still look a bit dull. An easy way to fix that is with some wet/dry sand paper, a rag, and some buffing compound. This video from Mrballeng is basically what i did to get all of my screw heads nice and shiny.

I just wrapped some paper towel around the screws to protect the threads, chucked it into my drill and polished away! The lever cap was a bit tough because i had to polish it by hand. But i went through the same process as the video in the same order. I suppose if you have abrasive wheels or pads you can use your drill to to the time i guess.

*Side note: many planes (like the one on the left in step one) have brass components. As you may or may not know, brass does not rust! So, you don't have to treat it chemically, you can actually skip right to this step after a light cleaning.

Step 6: Flat and Sharp

Picture of Flat and Sharp
This step is only if you intend on using the hand plane for woodworking. If you just want to display it, you can skip to the last step.

If, however you plan on putting this guy to use, then you're gonna need to lap both the back of the plane iron and the bottom of the plane bed. As this isn't a tutorial on sharpening hand tools (i could do an entire instructables on it), I won't go into too much detail for this. Basically you glue varying grits (roughly 80, 120, 220, 400) of sandpaper to a flat surface (plate glass, or piece of granite, etc) and run the plane bed over it repeatedly until you get an even scratch pattern. Make sure to check for square by putting a straight edge across the bottom and holding it up to a light source. If you see light peeking through you've got more flattening to do. If not, you're all set!

For the plane iron, you could use the same set up, but you're gonna need a set of water stones at much higher grits (1000, 4000, 8000) to really put a shaving sharp edge on it. First lap the back of the iron through all the grits to get it nice and flat. Then flip it over, put it into a honing guide set at your desired angle (typically between 25-30 degrees), and once again run your gambit of grits. To get that razor sharp micro bevel at the end, simply run your iron across the 8000 grit about ten times at a slightly higher angle than normal.

You should also smooth out the point of contact between the chip breaker and the plane iron, to reduce any possible chatter.

If you're interested in doing your own sharpening, this was my setup:
if you have any questions on this step feel free to leave questions in the comments or just email me. I'd be happy help!

Step 7: Step Back and Admire!

Picture of Step Back and Admire!

Now that you've put all that hard work into it, it's time to reassemble your masterpiece! Give it one last cleaning with a rag and a light coat of machine oil, and carefully put it back together!

Just like that you have a truly vintage tool ready for another 65 years of service.


khodgson2 (author)2016-04-20

I didn't see anything about it so I'll just suggest it anyway. If you haven't heard of Kroil to remove the rust, you should check it out. It is the single best rust penetrating fluid I have ever used and I have been in maintenance and repair for over 30 years.

flnatv (author)khodgson22017-12-02

Kroil also works great at preventing rust in rifle barrels. Use it after every cleaning. Great stuff!!

warehouse32 (author)khodgson22016-06-02

Hmm, I've never heard of it. I'll have to check it out! Lately, I've just been soaking any small rusty parts overnight in white vinegar and that seems to do the trick without penetrating so deep so as to damage the metal.

khodgson2 (author)warehouse322016-06-02

There are a few methods for electro rust removal too if you want to do the setup. It seems to work really well and removes rust at a molecular level.

warehouse32 (author)khodgson22016-06-02

Electrolysis has always been on my list of things to try out! I want to see how it compares to the conventional chemical methods.

Amanda8971 (author)2017-08-12

Awesome instruction, Thank you.

eagleapex made it! (author)2016-05-05

I followed this to shine up my new [old] Hudson Forge Co. plane. Thanks!

warehouse32 (author)eagleapex2016-06-02

Nice job!! That looks great, I'm sure you'll get a lifetime of use out of it. Glad my 'ible was helpful!

curmudgeon666 (author)2015-07-26

Super instructable. Really appreciate the mouseover boxes on the pics.

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it:)

bmazing (author)2015-06-18

I just wanted to let you know this has really helped me. My father collected this stuff and after he passed away I sold it on ebay and probably made an extra grand just by doing half the cleaning you did.

Dadplanes (author)bmazing2015-07-22

Haha when I first glanced this comment I was expecting it to read "...and after he passed away I decided to restore his collection as a mark of respect and to try to take in interest in some of the things he was interested in, in an effort to feel closer to the man he once was" or something like that. Enjoy your grand.

warehouse32 (author)bmazing2015-06-22

Wow! Bmazing, I'm so sorry to hear that your father passed, but it seems like you got to take part in something that he clearly enjoyed. I'm really happy to see how my instructable helped you to do that. Thanks for sharing!!

LucasK3 (author)2015-05-14

What oil you use for the wood? That's a beautiful finishing!

warehouse32 (author)LucasK32015-06-22

thanks! LucasK3, all I did to finish the wood was sand it up 320 grit, put a few coats of boiled linseed oil on, and then buff on a little bit of furniture wax.

ArthurR2 (author)2015-05-07

Hi, my dad recently got me a bailey no5 type 11 and it looks to be in pretty decent condition overall, except for the woodwork which isn't original (i'll have to fix that) and the sole was broken. However, they seem to have done a really nice repairing job and the sole is dead flat. I know this greatly reduces the value but do you think it is compromised as a user too? What would you do with it? I'm reluctant to let go of it since good old planes are hard to come by where I live. Cheers

warehouse32 (author)ArthurR22015-06-22

ArthurR2, I'm surprised that the repair on the sole was well done! Often times they pretty much ruin the plane. I completely agree that throwing it out would be a waste. I would suggest that you give the bottom a quick flattening and put an edge on the iron. Test it out, and if you're getting relatively smooth and even results I'd say you've got a nice project ahead of you! And if you're not happy with it...Polish the sides a bit, oil the wood and set it on your mantle as some "manly" decoration!!

Btw, that is some interesting work on the tote, definitely not original haha

ultra magnus (author)2015-05-03

What do you do if you break a screw that is rusted into the plane?

warehouse32 (author)ultra magnus2015-05-04

i would suggest soaking it in a rust remover until the screw loosens. Once you remove it, there are a few site's online where you order replacement hand plane parts. here's one o found that has quite a selection of parts:

hope this helps!

reynolpe (author)2014-10-06

Thanks for such a thorough and awesome write up. I will be doing this on a new plane I picked up for $3 dollars at a garage sale this last weekend. Interested to see how it turns out.

warehouse32 (author)reynolpe2014-10-13

I'd love to see how it turns out! If you have any questions let me know

EoRaptor013 (author)2014-01-14

Yeah, I can see a gallon-size plastic bag for a No. 4, but what am I going to do with my No. 8? ;-)

(For those who don't know, a No. 8 is two feet long and weighs in at just under ten pounds.)

warehouse32 (author)EoRaptor0132014-01-15

haha, ya a plastic bag might be a little small! you could always get a big plastic tub and try out electrolysis for rust removal...that's probably my next step

papagun (author)2013-09-03

Nice job. A couple of comments. As an antique restorer, I rarely ever sanded the finish off of a piece I was restoring, including hand tools. To some, removing the original finish devalues the piece. I would ususally clean the finish with fine steel wool and a mixture of 50% mineral spirits or turpentine and 50% boiled linseed oil.

Also, to replace the "Japanning" on the plane (the black finish) if it needs it, strip ff as much of the old Japanning as you can and polish as with the other metal. One doesn't need a mirror finish, but one does want the metal to be smooth as possible as it was originally. You then paint a thin layer of asphaltum where the Japanning is to be. I used roofing tar (available at any home center) thinned to a paintable consistency. It should be free of any and all lumps. After painting the tar onto the metal, let it set overnight, then bake in a dedicated toaster oven. Unfortunately, I don't recall the temp or time required, but it was like 220 degrees for 20 minutes. Some experimentation on your part is recommended. Try some tar on pieces of pieces of hardware to get the finish correct. Do this outside. The process has a distinct odor. One can also mix varnish with the tar (2:1 tar: varnish or so) to get a brushable consistency. Both mixtures will eventually dry and harden without the oven but we're talking days and weeks of curing time.

warehouse32 (author)papagun2013-10-02

thanks for the good advice! I'll usually check the age, condition, and rarity of the piece to try and get an idea of it's value before i do anything because, like you said, removing finish and and changing too many things can devalue the piece. In this instance tho, it was a pretty common plane that i fully intended to use so i wanted the wood to be soft and smooth.

As far as removing the japanning, i've never heard of using roofing tar. I'll definitely have to try that! I was planning on using electrolysis for my next restoration to remove any rust under the paint, brush off any remaining paint, and use a spray on lacquer to replace it.

thanks again for the feedback!

Declan Bartels (author)2013-09-18

I also have a Stanley bailey plane I found mine at the dump and I also been restoring mine.

GerryMcQ (author)2013-07-03

Hi, fantastic outcome! Quick question; could the same technique for removing rust be applied to an old handsaw?

warehouse32 (author)GerryMcQ2013-07-04

ya. as long as you can fully submerge the blade in the solution (you may need to take the handle off) it should loosen everything up. Then just finish up by scrubbing it by hand with wd-40 and a scotch brite pad to get all the loose stuff off.

jbrauer (author)2013-05-22

Nice write-up.

While you have that sandpaper and flat surface, the frog can be lapped flat to get better contact between the iron and frog, and reduce chatter. Same goes for the washers, a little flattening makes the adjustments a bit silkier. And I like to buff the top of the chip breaker to a mirror finish to help the shavings slide off easier.

warehouse32 (author)jbrauer2013-05-22

Thanks! i never thought to polish the top of the chip breaker. I'll have to try that next time around

warehouse32 (author)2013-05-20

glad i could help! i'd love to see that blowtorch when it's all done!

same goes for you randall sly, i haven't seen too many sargent's

wobbler (author)2013-05-20

Thanks for this. I've just got my dad's old brass blow torch that is well rusted and gunked up, so this will prove a good way to restore it for father's day. I've also got his old Stanley plane that will need some love and attention after I've done the blowtorch. I hope it ends up looking as good as this one.

Randall Sly (author)2013-05-20

Good job, I was just about to post my entry restoring a late 40s' Sargent, your far more thorough and I was totally going to skip sharpening.

pfred2 (author)2013-05-20

Hey I just got another No. 4 Stanley bench plane myself last weekend. People are just giving them away anymore. I got mine for a dollar. I also picked up a #2 along with it for the same price, but the #2 is in really tough shape. I won't be able to restore it. I should be able to repair it though. The #4 I got is like new. Well, there are some chips out of the finish on the front knob, but I'm not going to fuss over that.

warehouse32 (author)pfred22013-05-20

it sounds like you got your hands full! cheap planes are hard to come by in my area...i found the one for this instructable in VA

mikeasaurus (author)2013-05-20

I have the exact same Stanley plane and mine could use some love. Thanks for posting this!

pfred2 (author)mikeasaurus2013-05-20

I have two. Perhaps because a #4 is the most common plane in the world? Shame it isn't the best plane. My personal favorite bench plane is a Stanley #5. They're still pretty common too. I have two of those as well. I really need three of each, so I can have close set, wide set, and a scrubber of each. Just because it is a plane doesn't make it simple.

warehouse32 (author)2013-05-20

Thanks everyone! Glad you guys like the 'ible...mikeasaurus, i'd love to see some pics when your planes' all done!

SlickSqueegie (author)2013-05-20

Nice work! It turned out beautiful!

tsa'ad (author)2013-05-20

Ooh childhood memories!

Raigmoul (author)2013-05-20

Very ell documented and photographed 'ible, well done sir for rescuing those beautiful planes. Electric ones do make life easier (sometimes), however - IMHO - hand planes in the right hand produce a better finish and allow you better control and feel of the wood you're working with.
Thanks for sharing,

warehouse32 (author)Raigmoul2013-05-20

Thanks! I completely agree. For bulk work a planer is indispensable, but for an almost glass finish with minimal work...a smoothing plane is your best friend.

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