This post will be about something different: D:D Today I will write about… a hand plane. What? A hand plane? But why? How? This is a blog about kitchen knives you could say… Yes, it’s true, but it is also about sayas, handles and similar stuff, so there is little woodworking involved. Two or three years ago, while being on JNS gathering, I bought my first traditional Japanese plane. I have used it couple of times since. It is a piece of oak with cutting iron slotted in the middle and covered with a second blade which works as a wedge and chip breaker. I have seen my colleague Bo preparing it for me on the same gathering and he explained me a couple of things about Japanese hand planes. Using and maintaining them is harder that you think. I have a book by Toshio Odate - ‘’Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use’’ which is explaining a lot about these tools and their history. It’s very interesting. Anyway… I am not using it that often. Construction of western planes is different. They are made of cast iron and their construction is more complicated. You are also using them in different way, because Japanese planes are pulled and western planes are pushed to cut. Some time ago I was wandering on the car boot and waiting for my girlfriend. Usually, I can go through it couple of times while she is always somewhere in the middle. I have seen people selling a lot of junk including loads of old tools like saws, screwdrivers, files and hand planes, usually in a very bad condition, totally covered with rust and almost falling apart. I have heard name Stanley before and this time I have noticed an original Stanley plane in one of the stalls and I bought it for £8. I believe that they used to be very popular. It was in a very bad shape and condition. A tote (rear handle) was broken and split in half. The iron was too short and not much life was left there, but I didn’t know about it at that time. Rust was everywhere and there was some deep pitting here and there. I thought that it will be a nice project and maybe I will be able to rescue it. Before I show you some pictures I would like to quickly talk about history of hand planes. I will not write a book here. If you really want to know more, then I can refer you to read a book by Garret Hack - ‘’The hand plane’’. In this book he is explaining in detail what is a hand plane, its history, use, maintenance, types, etc. I will use few quotes from this book below. Also, later, when I will be explaining process of restoration I will refer to youtube video by Paul Sellers, as well as other youtubers.
Hand planes were with people since centuries. I think that you can easily categorize them as a basic woodworking tools. Even in prehistoric age someone has an idea to chip a crude cutting edge from a hunk of flint to scrape wood or other materials with it. The next step was to shape a handle, attach it to the flint with strips of animal hide to create an axe. The first documented hand planes dating from A.D. 79, were found in Pompeii. Their construction was improved over the centuries. At the beginning they were made entirely of wood with cutting iron slotted in, but then also other materials were involved: iron, steel, cast iron. Some of them were decorated in such way that they were not only tools, but also eye catching things.
Now I would like to skip centuries of hand plane development and jump straight to 1855 when Leonard Bailey has patented his cast iron and later he and his company was bought by Stanley Rule and Level. Leonard Bailey was a cabinet maker who wanted to improve his tools. From 1855 to 1869 he was experimenting with and improved many designs for bench planes and scrapers. He invented such things as the depth adjuster and the lever cap still common on planes today. To be honest, hand planes didn’t change much from that moment and remained unchanged for over a century.
If you want to know more then get a book mentioned above. There is an amazing amount of information.
Let’s get back to my plane. It is a Stanley Bailey NR.4. I think that it is the most popular of Stanley bench planes. I was searching for some information about my tool in the internet and I found that mine is quite old. According to some websites, which helps you determine type of your Stanley hand plane ,mine is probably Type 19 and it was probably produced between 1948-1961.
There are few different ways to determine that (text copied from http://www.hyperkitten.com/tools/stanley_bench_plane/type_study.php#Type%2019):
''Type 19: Planes made by Stanley 1948-1961.
All of the features of the previous types, except:
- The frog receiver, in the bottom casting, now is y-shaped.
- Rosewood is re-introduced, and is often varnished so heavily that it almost obscures the grain.
- "STANLEY" is now incised in a vertical direction on the lateral adjustment lever.
- The original type study doesn't mention this, but on some of the models of this type "STANLEY" is stamped on both sides of the lateral adjustment lever. I've seen enough of these to convince me that's it wasn't accidental, or if it was, it was a big screw-up.
- The knurling on the brass depth adjuster is now parallel on most examples.
- Later examples have the familiar black paint on the hardwood tote and knob.
- Type study doesn't mention this, but the cutters now have rounded tops instead of the angular top. This change happened in the mid--1950's, in my opinion.
- Furthermore, the original type study doesn't mention the change in the finish applied on the forked lever. For a short while, some models had a nickel plated appearance on them as a finish rather than the usual black japanning. Where in the sequence of actual manufacturing this subtle change fits is unknown to me, but I've only noticed it on those planes equipped with rosewood knobs and totes.''
Before I start I would like to apology for bad quality of the pictures at the beginning. I took them with my phone in very poor light conditions. Later I have started using my dslr camera, but as you can imagine, restorations like that are very messy and your hands are always covered with mud, wd-40, oil etc and picking up an expensive dslr is not a good option. I am using Nikon D750 with Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens and that cost over £2500, so making it dirty without a reason is not a solution. Anyway, I have started using it later on:D
Let's start then. Pictures below shows a Stanley NR.4 plane as I bought it. The biggest problem as you can see is rust and broken handle. I will evaluate other problems later on.
I have started from taking plane apart. Picture below is showing all parts. Here is the list:
- Plane Body
- Lever cap
- Cap iron
- Rear handle or tote
- Front knob
- Knob bolt and nut
- Cap screw
- Frog adjusting screw
- Handle (Tote) bolt and nut
- Frog screws
- Lever cap screw
- Depth adjustment wheel
- Adjuster tab and screw
Cap iron / chip breaker
Rear handle or Tote. Below is frog adjustment tab and screw
Frog with lateral adjustment lever and depth adjustment lever
Frog and ''Y'' adjustment lever and lever cap screw.
Depth adjustment wheel
The very first task was to clean every single part from rust. I took a glass container big enough to fit all parts and poured in some distilled malt vinegar to cover all parts.
To boost chemical reaction I have doctored some table salt in to the vinegar. I could see some bubbles going up not long after I've started. In total all parts were laying there for about 48 hours.
In the meantime, when everything was soaking in the mixture of vinegar and salt, I had a time to fix the handle. I had two options. I could make a new handle or repair the old one. Making a new handle seemed hard for me at the beginning, but I did some research and found out that there is a new original handle plan on the internet. It seemed hard, because bolt and nut are going diagonally through the handle and matching it with the base of the plane would be very hard, but also it was tempting as a challenge Fortunately people from Stanley thought about everything and later it didn't seem to be hard at all. Here is the plan:
However, I thought that it would nice to try to restore the original handle. I am not wood specialist, but if to trust description of Type 19 Stanley planes, it should be Rosewood.
I have used Araldite epoxy to glue pieces together. I even didn't bother with cleaning it with sandpaper, because this handle broke in a very nice way and I could put two parts together without any problems.
The only problem I have encountered was that due to the curvature of the handle it was quite difficult to put them together and hold them like that. Fortunately I have managed to do that with a Deep-Throat Bar Clamp held in a vice.
In the meantime, when glue on the handle was drying, I could start cleaning all parts from rust.
When you do that part, you don't have to be gentle. I wanted to get rid not only from rust, but also paint and any other stuff attached to the bare cast iron and steel. To do that I have used wire brush attached to my pillar drill. To keep my kitchen clean I made a cardboard fence behind the drill.
Three different wire brushes were used to clean everything.
All places that couldn't be cleaned with big wire brushes were cleaned by Dremel tool with smaller wire brushes.
I have even cleaned threads inside the screw holes.
Next, brass parts were polished with polishing mops and some paste.
So here it is before cleaning:
Here it is after cleaning:
Now, when all parts are clean we can start proper tweaks and adjustments to the plane.
First, and one of most important things to do is to flatten the sole. It is crucial and even the best and most expensive hand planes needs that. Once you do that you can repeat that in a few months or even years, depending on how do you use your plane.
To do that I needed flat reference surface. First, I bought some granite tile from tile shop, but when I brought it home and inspected it I knew that I cannot use it. It was flexible. Even when you think that it is hard it will flex if there is not sufficient thickness to it. On the following day I went to town with a mission to find something better. If you will plan to do that, go to the kitchen shop straight away and ask for a sample of granite counter. That guy wanted £30 for the piece pictured below, but I told him that I cannot pay that amount of money and I ended up paying only £15. It is quite big and heavy (30 x 26.5 x 3 cm), but I wish that it would be little bit longer, however I have managed to work on it and it was fine. Granite like that will not flex at all and I am pretty sure that it is flat enough for what we need it for.
I have marked most important places on the sole. It's very front, rear and place near mouth. The rest is not as important, but it would be best to get it as flat as possible.
Before you start flattening the sole, make sure to assembly your plane. It is very important, because if you don't do that then the whole body may flex.
Also paint the sole with marker pen, paint in spray etc. It will indicate you which areas are touching sand paper and which still need to be ground.
After first few minutes of sanding you can see that it is not bad at all. Area in front of mouth is clean, as well as rear. The very end or butt is of less importance. Don't get me wrong. I mean only the round heel is not that important. Also the front of the plane is looking good.
Here is a picture after next session. I think that I will leave it as it is, because the sole is flat now and all critical areas are flat and clean.
Do not forget about sides of the body. Clean and sand them in the same way.
Next step is quite important as well. Paul Sellers in one of his videos is explaining that the sole shouldn’t be completely flat on the corners and sides. This is because when a planned surface is not even, then your plane may occur a problem after hitting uneven spot on your piece of wood. This is why we should make sides of your sole a little convex, to help them slide over an uneven surface.
Doing that is very easy. Just lay something thin and flat on the sand paper and then lay your plane body against it to lift a sole a little bit. The change will not be huge, but it will make a difference in a way your plane behaves. In this case I have used long stainless steel ruler.
Can you see narrow line on both sides of the sole? This is it. It is a place which is higher than the rest of the sole. It is very infinitesimal, but it will definitely help your plane to slide over unevenness.
Once I was finished with the sole I have decided to work on the ‘’Frog’’. That is very important part of your plane. First of all it’s a bedding for your cutting iron. It also contain cap screw, lateral lever, ‘’Y’’ adjustment lever, adjustment tab and depth adjustment wheel.
First, I have removed pin which holds ‘’Y’’ adjustment lever in place. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to clean everything properly and that was not possible before.
Then, I have masked cap screw with masking tape and covered place underneath lateral adjustment lever with blue tack. I've decided to do that, because paint would be scraped by lever anyway.
Original planes were japanned inside. I didn’t wanted to replicate original plane and I just have painted it black inside of the plane body and the frog, as well as ‘’Y’’ adjustment lever.
Here is the outcome of such operation:
Later it was a time to take care about iron cap. I have noticed that it was covered with some kind of chrome-like paint. I couldn’t remove it with wire brush, but as you can see on the pictures below, the paint was chipping off. I really didn’t like the look of it, so I took it to the grinder and gave it a try to sand it. I had a problem with holding it, so I have used magnetic holder. Using belt grinder was a good idea, because it looked clean and shiny after sanding. Of course I have sanded front and the sides, as well as lever, as much as it was possible.
Original Stanley planes has niche between letters painted in colour depending on type of the plane. I know that mine supposed to be something like orange, but I had only rest of the red paint which was kept in my drawer for past few years. It wasn’t even enough for that project, but I gave it a try. Of course I have masked the rest of the lever cap prior to painting and then polished it on the belt grinder to clean the letters.
How do you like it? It almost looks like new.
Here you can see all parts assembled together.
When I was done with parts mentioned above, it was a time to take care about the ‘tote’ and a front ‘knob’. First, I have taken care about chips, holes and unevenness’s in a front knob. I just simply have poured super glue over it. Once it was dry, I had to attach it somehow to my pillar drill. Bolt and nut from the tote was long enough and worked perfectly for that purpose. I have also used some blue tack and washers to prevent it from spinning on the bolt. Once attached to the pillar drill I have cleaned it with rough sand paper followed by finer grits. I didn’t go too fine, though. I don’t have a pictures from restoration of rear handle, but I just simply held it in the vice and worked it with rasps and sand paper.
Once they were done, I have covered them with some deep mahogany wood dye and a moment later sprayed it with semi-gloss lacquer. I think that they’ve turned out very good. And honestly, I like impurities in colour. I didn’t manage to remove all stains from wood and now, after dyeing them they turned out to be nice stains.
Later on, once again I laid some sand paper on my granite reference surface and then laid the frog flat on it. Of course it is a good idea to paint it with marker pen to see where you are abrading material from this part.
Picture below shows that frog bedding is almost flat. It is important to make it flat, because otherwise your iron laid on the bedding might flex or vibrate, and this can lead to lower performance of the plane or even damage to the iron.
I have cleaned frog ''legs' as well, because later that part will have constant contact with the plane body and you will be able to adjust its position which will lead paint to be removed anyway.
As you have seen before, the whole body of the plane was painted black and there was some charm in the way it looked, but after a while I thought that I like the way it looked originally. I took it back to the grinder and quickly ground the sides.
Isn’t that better now?
Next thing you can do to improve performance of your plane is to take the corners off with a flat file. Few strokes are enough.
Remember to repeat that on every corner - front, rear and sides, as well as the heel. You must do that on the heel, because if you don't, then there is a possibility that your plane will catch the wood when you move backwards.
Follow that with sand paper to smooth the edges and to remove the burrs.
Ok. Let's take a look on iron and cap iron.
First thing you must check is how cap iron is laying on the iron. It suppose to be flat and there shouldn't be any gap between them. Remember, that cap iron is working as a chip breaker, and if there will be even a small gap, then wood shaving might get inside and clog it.
Once again my magnetic holder came handy and let me keep cap iron flat on the sand paper.
Don't forget to flip it over and polish top part of it.
It was really hard to get that picture, but you can compare it to the previous one. I believe that it is good now and there is no gap.
Next and one of most important steps is to repair and sharpen the iron. As you can see the iron is not square. At this point I didn't think that it was a problem. I thought that I will grind it square easily.
To set up a proper bevel I have used my sharpening jig. 5 cm distance from the cutting edge to the front of the jig indicated on the ruler gave me an angle of 25 degrees.
Once you get a burr, flip it to the other side and grind it flat.
Repeat that on the finer stones.
And eventually strop it on the leather.
Also it is good to clean and ''sharpen'' the mouth of the sole, but be careful, because you don't want to open the mouth too much.
At that point I thought that everything was done, so it was a time to assembly the plane. I have started from frog adjusting screw.
Then adjustment tab. There is a slot in the tab which is going onto the adjusting screw. This is allowing you to make micro adjustments of frog position.
Next was a time for a frog. You use two screws to attach it to the body. You don't have to screw it extremily tight, because you want to have ability to adjust it later on.
Every single thread and moving part got a drop of oil. 3 in 1 oil would be perfect, but I have used the same oil as I am using on my bike chain.
Next part - Depth adjustment wheel.
And now the tricky part. This plane is very old and it is natural that wood shrinks over time. The tote on my plan was very loose and bolt was too long. In every video about restoring hand plane I have seen people cutting 1/8 of an inch to shorten the bolt and therefore tightening the grip. Instead of cutting it I have used small washer... it worked great.
And of course the last part was an iron with cap iron and lever cap.
The screw which hold the lever cap is usually tighten with screw driver. This is not a good thing. I have screwed that by hand and micro adjusted it to my needs. It has to keep the iron in place, but also it has to allow iron to move to sides and to front and back.
I have tried my plane and I have noticed that it is not cutting as it should. It was cutting only in the middle of the cutting edge.
I have inspected iron thoroughly and have noticed that corners were lower than the rest of the cutting edge. I kept grinding it on the 300 grit stone, but it seemed to me that instead of getting better the problem was developing.
As you can see below, the iron was leaving marks on the 8000 grit stone only on sides. That made me thinking and I came with an idea that if I am grinding only corners then the iron is bent / curved. That would be a reason, because there was no other possibility. Simply said, the corners were lower than the middle of the cutting edge. I hope that you know what I mean.
Also, when cutting edge is straight you can use lateral adjustment lever to move it to the sides. If it is curved then it doesn't work this way and there is no use for that lever.
So I thought that it would be a good idea to bent it to the other side by hitting the iron with an hammer.
I think that I have managed to flip it over and after painting the back side with marker pen and then grinding it flat I have noticed that I am abrading metal from sides, but not from the middle. Also I wasn't abrading material from the very edge in the middle of the cutting edge on the back side...
...but I was removing metal from the middle on the front. It's still not what I wanted...
...So I have used my hammer again.
And this time it was better.
I was able to ground it flat.
Then I have realized that probably this plane has seen a lot of use in the past. Just compare Stanley iron (on the right) to the other iron on the left. There is not much life left in my iron. I was thinking about buying new iron, but it cost about £16 for the cheap one and it would be overkill, especially that I have paid £8 for the whole thing.
That's all folks. I think that you didn't go sleep while reading my post, which probably was the longest post I have ever wrote. Before you will see the pictures of the finished product. I would like to say that it was a fun project. I have learned a lot about planes and probably I will buy another one next time I visit a car boot. I will be aiming for Stanley NR. 5 and Stanley block plane. Even if I will never use them I think, that it is good to have a quality tools, especially that you can have them cheap. Also it is important that when you decide to restore any tools, you have to do some research and you learn about your tool. This plane is not perfect and it doesnn't cut as I would wish, but I think that it is due to lack of sharpening skills and that it will get better in the future. Thank you very much for your time and wait for more posts.