RESTORING VINTAGE PLANES
Using vintage planes is an affordable way to get great results in woodworking. As a shop teacher for many years I have supplied my shop with vintage planes as opposed to buying the cheap ones being offered today made overseas. I prefer the Bailey professional model Stanley plane. It is a great plane and is the plane that newer makers base their planes on. Tuning up these planes is not a big job and you get a great plane for the right price. There are many opinions and techniques on restoring vintage planes and I respect them. Thus the following is my opinion and my techniques to bring a useless plane back into usefulness, as well as look good.
Lets take the plane and look at the different areas that need restoration.
Removal of rust/ pitting and getting flat. Protecting the top surface from rusting. The easiest way to prep the base is to belt sand the bottom and sides. This removes the rust/pitting and flattens the bottom. I also like to lap the bottom on my workbench or table saw with a couple of medium grits of sandpaper to flatten perfectly. If the original japanning is not in good condition I scrape it all off with an old chisel and repaint the base to protect it from future corrosion. Mask off areas that you do not want paint on or you can scrape off the paint after it dries from these areas. This should have the base ready for use.
I have taken the plane all apart except for the wood handle and front knob. They help me sand the bottom. If badly pitted you can sand on a 6" wide belt sander first followed with hand sanding. I sand with 100 grit sandpaper on a work bench with 3/4" ply for a good flat surface. Also the sides of the plane are cleaned up here. I lap the bottom with 22 grit on the table saw top for a perfectly flat bottom. I don't go crazy here but focus on the front portion of the plane. To protect the metal from rusting and darkening the brightness I use a gun bluing. I brush it on and use a xx fine steel wool to blend it in and give it a protective coating as well as a good looking finish.
Before painting the base I throughly clean it and give it a vinegar wash. The mild acid in the vinegar helps to rid any traces of rust. I apply a couple of coats of enamel and let it dry. I then clean all surfaces as original - especially the frog mating surfaces. I also touch up the frog japanning as needed at this time. I prep the areas on the frog to paint and brush it on. I blend it in with my fingers to get a good looking amalgamation.
On this plane the lever cap was in terrible condition. At first I could not tell what I had. I wire wheeled it and found it had the original orange paint in the logo. I also found it to be badly pitted. A belt sander took care of the pitting and a lot of hand sanding down to 600 grit, then a light buffing.
WOOD HANDLE AND KNOB
For most of the Stanley years they used rosewood for their handles and knobs. This is a great wood with a spectacular look. Of course if your plane has a broken handle another wood of your choice can be used. If the handle is cracked as many are it is an easy job to re-glue the handle and still use it, as it will hold up to more use after a regular good glue job. Of course I do like using Gorilla glue. It works well to separate the two broken parts and clean out the cracked edges with alcohol to get them ready to glue. After applying glue it often works to reapply the bolt through the handle and tighten it to the base while being glued. If this does not work some large rubber bands will often hold the two parts together while the glue is setting. Often I can use my woodworkers vise or wood parralell clamp. Re-sand and finish to your taste.
The handle here is sound but has a tattoo and a cut in the back side. I sanded the tattoo out and filled the cut with wood putty. The whole handle is stained and finished with a french polish.
I like to wire wheel to remove any rust before reusing the hardware. All screws, washers, and other small parts need good cleaning before reassembly. A little WD-40 spray on these parts protect them from future rust.
The iron needs to be cleaned and sharpened. I sand the entire blade with medium grit sandpaper then fine sandpaper to clean it. I then sharpen the iron using a white stone grinder to get a beveled hollow edge. The face is lapped with rough to fine stones to get a sharp edge. Every woodworker has their own method of sharpening irons. Make sure the blade is flat - tapping on a small anvil will straighten bent irons. Also make sure the chip breaker has a slight bend to it to lock down the cap edge on the irons edge. The chip breaker should have a good "FLAT" at this edge - if not use a stone to get a flat edge so you do not see and light gaps when looking under the cap iron. This is important as wood fibers will get caught in any gaps and tend to clog the iron.
The base of the frog needs to seat perfectly with the base of the plane. Make sure the plane base has all paint/japanning removed where it is machined to receive and seat the frog. I lightly file the top of the seating bed where the frog will sit to get it perfectly flat. Inspect the frog and make sure the areas the seat on the plane are clean and flat. If not file them a little to perfect this connection with the base. On top of the frog you can also lightly file the iron seating bed. It is important that the iron sits perfectly flat on the frog. Check the brass adjuster that it turns smoothly. a little oil will help this smooth movement.
Problems - Trying to take off a frozen brass depth adjuster nut the whole stud unscrewed from the frog. I then put some oil on it and put it in a wood vise to hold the stud. I then used a wood clamp to unscrew the nut from the stud - very slowly!
Below you can see the sanding plywood with a notch cut out for the lateral lever disc. This way I can sand and perfectly flatten the frog face so it has a good mating surface with the cutter.
After you have assembled the plane try it out. For fine shavings the frog should be moved forward so the iron is tight in the mouth when set to work. For heavier work move the frog back to open the mouth. If the plane chatters while planing tough wood check the bedding of the frog and iron. Re-tune these areas to further tighten their connection. Lastly a really sharp iron will stop most chatter if the bedding is tight. You can also have more than one iron with different "attack" angles on the grind. A steeper angles will cut through tougher wood with less chatter if this is a problem.
Photos of the final product
Of course you may ask why I went through so much work for this plane. Well I had a missing spot in my Stanley tool cabinet for a Sweetheart Stanley 5 1/4 plane. Now that spot is filled!