Rehabilitating Old Planes

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I was in the market for a large framing chisel on Ebay and wound up with a package deal for 30 bucks…an old Stanley 5C Type 16…the Lakeside 2” Framing Chisel I wanted…a beater chisel with a mangled socket…and an old cooper’s shaping chisel:


This article will deal with the Stanley 5C…the cooper’s chisel was usable as is with some cleaning and sharpening, and the chisels I’ve covered in another article, although I’ll rehabilitate them together. These will be put back to work as users, like all my tools…conservation/restoration of collector items is another subject.

For this article, I’ll purposely use only the minimum tools and techniques necessary for a first-class job…and all the work done in a crude, temporary 12’ by 12’ shop. My intent is to provide a model for newcomers to the craft who will benefit greatly from acquiring older but high-quality tools in need of a hug for very little money…and putting them back into service without a lot of machines and fancy gizmos you don’t have yet. Moreover, with enough practice rehabbing old tools, making new ones like in other articles I’ve written, and doing traditional joinery for your workbenches and other shop necessities…by the time you create for yourself a nice workshop, you may find you no longer feel a need for all the trendy doodads being shilled at you weekly. I’m not saying that all those expensive tools and jigs aren’t useful or don’t have a place, I’m merely trying to provide you something to help set those purchase priorities.

I use a large; 8” gunsmith’s pedestal buffer-grinder for most of my grinding and polishing chores, but a smaller 6” bench grinder will also work fine. I’d have used a smaller bench grinder for the picturess…but I don’t own one.


I use a soft steel wire wheel to clean all metal parts thoroughly…the cooper’s tool has been cleaned in the shot above.


Then I treat them with a phosphoric acid solution (above) available at home improvement chains to kill any remaining rust. This is the functional equivalent of using an electrolysis solution for those not so inclined. The phosphoric acid is allowed to sit over night to work. The next day, the black oxide rust residue is removed with the wire wheel in preparation for buffing and finish later…we need to do the blade and chip breaker, and some frog, sole and bearing surface inspection, first.

It’s impossible to get all the phosphoric acid’s oxide residue out of mortises and screw holes, but I don’t worry about it and will simply oil over top of it later. The phosphate surface imparted in those deep recesses will deter future rust much better than simple electrolysis rust removal, and that’s important to me in a wet climate and unheated shop. It also seeps into any chips in the japanning, and prevents future rust deterioration there.


As the plane blade is in good shape, and I don’t prefer to leave the bevel with a hollow grind (although not important…merely personal preference), I do the grinding stage for my 25-degree bevels on the belt sander chucked in the Workmate. I use 60, 80, 100 and 150 grits lubed with WD-40 and lots of water, checking my bevel angle and edge with protractor and square as I go. Cool the blade frequently in water…turn that blade edge 600-degree blue and it has lost its temper and all the blue must be ground away.



Final honing of 25-degree bevel and 30-degree secondary bevel will come later.


Next I polish bearing surfaces on frog and plane body using whatever is needed…this Type 16 plane (1933-1941) has decent machined surfaces but many newer models and later Record planes do not. Here I just use 0000 steel wool, but files and the Dremel Tool with sanding and polishing disks are handy for the rougher ones. The bearing surfaces of frog-body and frog-blade should be dead flat and polished. Use Prussian Blue layout paste to check for uniform bearing, and take down the high spots for a perfectly-flat fit. Also insure the plane’s mouth is square and not chipped…do some light filing if needed…and that the frog mounts dead square with it.

As an aside, never buy an old plane without looking at a good photo of the mouth and sole. Pass them by if they are chipped or worn…there are plenty of Type 8-16 pre-war common Stanley models out there dirt-cheap and there’s no reason to buy a bad one. I look for rosewood totes and knobs and corrugated soles when I buy them, but that’s just personal preference…these have all the desirable later adjustment features.


I also check the sole on the ground jointer table using a dash of Prussian Blue layout fluid, the subject of much needless suffering concerning planes. On a short smoother, I like the soles as flat as possible and have honed them on lubed abrasive paper cemented to plate glass. But our plane today is a longer jack used for relatively coarser work. Jacks, Trys and Jointers are too long to flatten to the degree possible with a smoother, and frankly, I don’t understand why folks even try. All I’m looking for on this one is that the sole bearing surfaces at the front of the sole, the area in front of the mouth, and the surface at the rear of the plane are reasonably in the same plane…and they are, so no flattening is required. Much more important to the plane’s function are no wear at the mouth, frog adjustment and chipbreaker fit.

And remachining the plane sides dead square in anything other than a badly-warped shoulder, rabbet or coachmaker’s plane is, in my opinion, a needless endeavor.

Continued on Part II



After removal of the black oxide residue, all metal visible on the outside of the plane is buffed with stitched muslin wheel and Knifemaker’s Green rouge…a light abrasive, so you can polish as long and as hard as you like. Light buffing does not remove the grey phosphate coating imparted by the acid…heavy buffing does. It’s simply a matter of how polished an appearance you desire. I prefer to leave the phosphate surface on everything but the sides and sole.


Then all the metal parts are washed in TCE…air dried without touching…rubber gloves donned to prevent finger prints…and the metal treated with Brownell’s Oxpho Blue, a gunsmith’s cold bluing solution that adds a dark phosphate coating atop your grey phosphate coating. It’s also a rust inhibitor, and several coats are desirable, rubbed in hard after swabbing it on and waiting for the color change using a coarse brown paper towel. Then buff with more brown paper towels, and oil immediately and thoroughly with motor or gun oil…not WD-40, but oil.

Note that TCE (trichloroethylene) is available at gunsmith’s suppliers but is an industrial solvent…and a carcinogen…wear rubber gloves and use only in small quantities in a ventilated room.

Allow this to sit overnight for the oil to neutralize any solution still active, then you can selectively degrease and apply a hard carnauba wax to sole and sides if you so desire. That’s all I degrease in my climate…I need that oil just about everywhere else.


My last task with metal is to hone the blade and chipbreaker iron. It doesn't matter whether you use sandpaper/glass, waterstones, Arkansas stones or carborundum stones.... all can be made to work well and easily.... I see more need to practice rather than to spend big bucks on "systems".

I use the set of 4 Arkansas stones because I have them...but were I starting from scratch, I’d merely have my glass shop make up a half dozen thick glass plates and I'd use plain old alum oxide wet-or-dry paper mounted with spray adhesive (cleaned with razor-blade scraper) and lubed with WD-40. That's what I do for plane bottoms to overcome the stone's lack of width.

You can buy a honing guide or simply memorize your angles using your kid’s plastic protractor to set them. Clamping your sharpening media to a bench set at belt height or just below will facilitate maintaining your bevels without putting some rocker in them when freehanding…although a little rocker in your bevels is no big deal and you will undo it in future sharpenings as you gain practice.

I begin by flattening the lower inch of the iron’s back rather thoroughly through all four of my stones…then I hone the 25-degree main bevel using my coarse stones, followed by tipping the iron up to 30 degrees (softwoods) or 35 degrees (hardwoods) to put in a small secondary bevel using all four stones. This jack plane blade will be kept dead square with sharp corners…on smoothers, I apply more pressure toward the edges one at a time to ease those corners a bit for the last dozen or so strokes on the fine stones. If your jack is used primarily for faces instead of edges…mine is used mostly in oar making…you may desire to put a 32nd to a 16th of crown into the blade as you hone it. Crowning a blade edge is similar to relieving the edges, only is more pronounced.


The chipbreaker iron is also honed dead flat on the coarse and medium stones to maintain a perfect interface with your newly flattened blade back.


I finish the blade with a light stropping on the 8" wheel with Knifemaker’s Green Rouge. All that matters is that you get that edge dead straight and this sharp...note the hair above the bevel.

Now we’ll turn to the broken tote…no reason to sculpt a new one in these days of good boatbuilder’s and stockmaker’s epoxies…we’ll repair and preserve the original.


I removed the previous nail repair and ground the broken surface flat on the sanding disk…but files will work just as well…


…then I retrieved the rosewood scraps from the bin and sliced off a chunk that matched the handle’s grain as best I could. I jointed that faying surface to reach fresh wood…and very importantly…swabbed both surfaces to be glued with trichloroethylene (TCE) solvent…quick-drying and cuts the rosewood’s natural oil…allowed the solvent to dry and glued with thin then thickened and dyed gunstock epoxy immediately. West Marine has great free booklets on the subject…you need them for your library.


I simply rubbed the two pieces to a light friction fit like I would do with a furniture carcass glue block and set them in a safe place with normal room temperature heat to cure…normal room temperature in my shop being directly on the space heater.

Continued on Part III



After curing, the shape is traced from another tote and cut on the band or fret saw. Note that I’ve left the old varnish finish on the tote. This is important, as I need that deteriorated varnish to color my repair later. Never sand or strip the finish off an original piece when all that’s required is to remove the deteriorated finish coats and add a topcoat of compatible finish. Why duplicate the hard work of others in sanding, staining and filling while destroying the patina and tripling your work in the process? Solvents other than strippers and a tad of elbow grease with 0000 wool can remove precisely the layers needed without ruining the underlayments. Alcohol melts shellac…acetone lacquer…TCE and Formby’s Refinisher melts varnish…and methylene chloride just about everything, although some modern poly and epoxy finishes do need to be sanded off.


Meth chloride in a light, careful application is used to remove the red enamel from the rosewood knob without crinkling the original varnish beneath. The little bits of red paint embedded in the dents I will leave so as not to damage the original finish any more than I have to…I don’t want these old tools to look new when I’m done…I prefer the character only age and use provides.


Next the tote is shaped with fine patternmaker’s rasps and files. Note the selection of finer rasps and various old machinist files on the bench. The better you become at cross and draw filing and the better your selection of file grades, the less sanding you will have to do. And smile knowingly but ignore pundits who claim only cutting blades should ever touch fine wood. Like those folks who claim planes should always be left on their sides instead of their soles when laid down, these practices are hardly universal among master craftsmen…or even important, for that matter. I’ve seen it done both ways in a dozen or more shops I’ve worked in and observed…and I’ve seen it done both ways well. In fact, all the master stock makers I know always reach for the rasps when working thousand-dollar blanks of figured walnut for wealthy and discriminating clients…no risk of tear out in swirled grain that is impossible to read, let alone slice cleanly.

If you are confident using successive grades of abrasive paper, you should be just as confident with rasps. The work looks ugly, but the ugliness only extends to the depth of the teeth, and is removed with successively finer rasps with finer teeth…just like sandpaper. Rasps are really precision instruments. And those large old 3-dollar machinist files in flea markets do yeoman service on hardwood long after they are too worn to cut steel. Learn to use them, and you will never need or even be inclined to use a power sander on a sculpted surface like these…finish sanding becomes a snap.


Also note all the different file and other shop-made handles on the bench throughout this article…some are nicely shaped…some are as ugly as toads. Like you rehabbing your own tools, they were all lathe practice from 30 years ago. And it’s good to have your reject work around in the shop to look at every day…the stuff that makes your teeth itch every time you look at it…helps keep your ego where it belongs.


Of course our spliced repair has partially covered the tote’s bolthole…drill it out from beneath with a 3/16” bell hanger’s bit.


Now you have the through hole too large to act as an effective pilot for the 5/16” counterbore required for the tote’s brass nut, and a partially-filled hole to boot. The solution is simple…align a Forstner bit by eye and tap it with a brass hammer…Forstners cut on their circumference edge and do not require pilots. Chuck it in a brace and bit or slow-speed drill next and finish that counterbore slowly, testing as you go with the tote’s assembled mounting nut and shaft.

The repair is finish sanded through 220 grit…the grain raised by dampening with water, dried…and finish sanded again with 320 grit. Then enough coats of dark walnut oil stain to match the colors are applied to the new wood only and allowed to dry.



Then I wet a small pad of 0000 steel wool with Formby’s Refinisher solvent (proprietary formula, but I suspect it’s mostly TCE) and melt the deteriorated layers of old varnish, spreading them onto the new wood as we go. Just enough of the old finish is removed to take it back to good varnish…no sense redoing satisfactory work already done…and buff the tote and knob with steel wool lightly dampened with mineral spirits when the solvent dries. I then touch up the new wood as needed with more walnut stain and allow it to dry.

Continued on Part IV



Then holders are fashioned and a coat of Birchwood Casey Truoil varnish mixed with a couple drops of art store Cobalt Drier is applied. The heavy metal drier is useful because the new finish has to amalgamate chemically with both the old finish and remaining Refinisher residue…makes drying time a whole lot quicker. Truoil is a proprietary linseed product and more a soft exterior varnish than an oil finish…I like it for a finish on hard-used wood because it is renewable. It’s soft and wears off, but there’s never a need to destroy that lovely age patina with strippers…merely buffing with fine steel wool and applying more coats renews the finish. . And for those who prefer only oil finishes on tool handles, try this material – has the same blister-free feel as oil with more body and depth and without the dirt accumulation.

You’ll notice various dents and dings with red and white paint left in them. I could remove them without stripping merely by steaming them out using a wet cloth and soldering iron, followed by more Refinisher, but I choose not to. Like repairing the old tote rather than simply making…or, ugh…buying…a new one, they are part of the tool’s history and I feel they belong there.


Three coats of Truoil are applied…each coat is allowed to air dry and is buffed back to the wood surface with 0000 steel wool. With most woods, I’d use a heat gun to speed up the drying process…but with oily rosewood, heat is unwise. The final step is to rub out the cured finish. For a high-end piece and a semi-gloss finish, I would allow it to cure for 30 days while in use before rubbing out with pumice and rottenstone slurries on hard felt pads. But on these user tools, I will rub out immediately using 0000 steel wool lubed in Kiwi Clear Shoe Polish, a high-quality hard carnauba wax…and buff when dry.


just the frog’s face perfectly in line with the openinThe plane is assembled, with attention given to the mouth opening provided by the adjustable frog. For this jack plane to be used mostly on softwoods, I adg in the sole, which provides me about a 16th opening at the mouth.



Here’s the rehabilitated plane to compare with original photo at the beginning of the article. The remaining hanger hole isn’t important to me, but if it was, I could have easily filled it in with dressed weld.


The final process is to adjust and test the assembled plane on a stick of wood as wide as the blade…when the shaving is full-width and of equal thickness throughout its width and length, your plane is tuned as well as it needs to be. Note the brass hammer…metal planes when locked into place can be very lightly tapped to fine tune just like wood planes…it’s the easiest way to do it, in fact.


I’ve laid out the Ebay Stanley’s I’ve acquired and rehabilitated over the last several months with the family’s old beech planes they will replace…the planes I’ve used exclusively my entire adult life. I didn’t pay more than 40 bucks for any of those Stanleys…in fact, the most expensive one was the crude scrub plane…


…and here are the specialty heirloom planes too useful to replace…between the hollow and round set and the molding/beading plane, there are few antique cabinet moldings I can’t duplicate easily in small quantities.

My next snow day project on the old beech planes will be to resole the transitional jack, inlay a new mouth into the coffin smoother, and fix some miscellaneous cracks. Then I’ll give them to my oldest boy…the one with new house and new wife-to-be…the one who’s developed the nesting instinct and a renewed interest in woodworking…and also in the family sawmill and stack yard.

That will be the fifth generation of craftsmen for a couple of those old planes…

“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think...that a time is to come when those (heirlooms) will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our father did for us.’ “ --John Ruskin…Audel’s Carpenters and Builders Guide, 1923 Theo Audel & CO. New York.


Established Member
24 Nov 2003
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Dorset, England.
Great stuff-Thanks for posting your exploits, seems a lot of people are cleaning up old tools at the moment :lol:
Keep us up to date with future finds,
Philly :D