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Stanley Handplane Restoration


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Haven't done a build thread for a while. Have been building, but not documenting at the moment (how many iterations do you really need to see of my headless guitars?), so here's something a little left of centre, for me at least.

Recently my Father in Law passed away and between all the chidren and in-laws we've been helping clean out the old shed to make what little remaining space inside somewhat usable. He wasn't really much of a tools man or a DIY-er, but he somehow managed to acquire some minor gems over the years, possibly inherited from his father or some other family member. In the big cleanout I was given a couple of old-ish (probably 50s or 60s) handplanes - a Stanley No, 110 block plane and a 5 1/2 bench plane. I've since given the 110 a full once-over and brought it back to servicable condition, but I figured the 5 1/2 might make an interesting pictorial.


Aside from being a bit unloved it actually isn't as bad as some other examples out there. It's all present and everything adjusts and moves as expected. It just looks a little tired and rusty.


The white dust is a bit odd. If I didn't know any better I'd say it was used to plane plaster??


Some odd corrosion marks on one side. Given where it was stored it's possible something caustic has dripped on to it over the years. All looks pretty superficial though, along with the light surface rusting over the rest of it, and should clean up OK later on.


Dismantling the plane reveals all the screw threads are all free, which is a good sign. And lots of trapped crud between the frog and the sole. And more rust.


Blade is surprisingly square given how blunt it is. I'm willing to bet it has never been sharpened in 30 years, even assuming it's been used.


Other side is ground just plain weird though. There is evidence, however that it has been sharpened at least once in its life, with that leading edge looking reasonably freshly re-ground in a straight line:


Next task will be cleaning up the majority of the rust, the most fiddly of which is on the frog:


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49 minutes ago, curtisa said:

If I didn't know any better I'd say it was used to plane plaster??

Jointing cut plasterboard edges?

Looks like a fun project, I'll be watching this.

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I could dunk the whole shebang into a pot of rust converter, but I'm somewhat leary of handling such chemicals if I don't need to. Plus the black japanning on the sole and frog is actually in OK-ish condition and there's no real advantage to stripping the whole lot off and respraying it with modern black paint. So the decision has been made to get rid of the majority of the rust using soft wire wheels on the grinder and with a Dremel.

The iron and chip breaker are the most straightforward of the parts to de-rust, so it's off to the bench grinder to wire-brush it off:


I may revisit these later on with some wire wool to even up the sheen, but for now I'm not going to fuss over it too much. At least the worst of the rust is gone:



The frog is the next to get tackled. Common internet concensus appears to be that the mounting surface of the frog where the blade is pressed against should be as flat as possible, and that a fine file will get most of the surface rust off while flattening the surface again. The again, the internet is full of crap, so don't judge me too harshly for what I'm doing here:



A 600 grit diamond stone helps true up the overall surface a bit more evenly than the file:



And then a baby wire wheel in the Dremel to remove the rust from the more fragile parts and to avoid the black japanning:



One final scrub with a nylon-bristled brush and some naptha, and the frog is starting to look a bit more respectable at last:



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I have that same plane, my dad gave it to me last year and it was in similar condition. I didn't go to as much effort as you have to bring it back but got it back to full working order. It's one of my favourite planes now, a good size for rough radiusing fretboards and rough jointing tops and body blanks before switching to the no7 :) 

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Yes, they're a good in-between size, useful as a jointer on shorter stock and a smoother/leveller for general purpose use too.

This is actually my second 5 1/2. I bought the first one from a second hand store for not a whole lot of cash some years ago. Same make and era, but in better nick. I haven't done anything more to that one other than keep the iron sharp and re-varnish the tote. Given how little I paid for it and compared to some of the eye-watering prices that other older Stanley's go for, I'm assuming that the 'made in England' and 'made in Australia' hand planes aren't considered the proper collector's items or museum pieces, so I don't feel so bad giving them a full strip back and polish (and occasionally a respray).

Fun fact - the Australian Stanley factory was actually located here in Tasmania, about a 20 minute drive from my house. They wound up operations back in the mid 90s. The building is still there, but has since been subdivided up and leased out to various other small industrial businesses.

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Turning my attention to the flaky varnish on the wooden components, by some careful scraping it all just peels off relatively quickly and easily. No jokes about polishing knobs please. It's a good idea to wear safety squints while doing this as the tiny flakes of old varnish have a tendnecy to shoot off in all directions while being scraped.



It appears the pale band of unstained timber around the fattest part of the knob was always present under the old varnish. Will attempt to add a bit more unifying stain to the knob and tote once it's all stripped back, and then revarnish them to seal it back up. The earlier (more prized) Stanleys used rosewood for these parts, whereas the later ones apparently used beech with a dark stain. No idea if this applied to the UK-made ones, though. Whatever timber this is, it is fairly pale underneath but quite hard:



A light sand with 320grit to remove any remaining surface imperfections. I'm not particulalrly interested in stripping all the original stain back to bare wood, as it will take me forever and likely result in significant and undesirable reshaping of the parts by removing too much material. I'm more keen to use the plane for it's intended purpose than admire it on a shelf:


The stain I'm just a generic oil-based walnut-ish brown from the hardware store. Looks pretty ugly on first application but buffs off again to reveal more of the original character of the grain. A screwdriver and an old drill bit held in a pair of clamps make some quick and dirty stands to permit handling of the parts while applying the stain...and prevent me getting covered in the stuff while doing so:




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The bigger chunks of that strange rust/paint on the edge of the sole can just be scraped with an old razor blade to get the worst of it off. I've seen some people use old chisels for this process, but my collection of chisels is small and get used for the woody stuff, and I don't have any that I'm willing to turn into doorstops just yet:


Cleaning up the sole and flatening it out can be achieved at the same time. Here I've just got a sheet of sandpaper laid out flat on the jointer infeed table (the flattest, most solid surface I have at my disposal) and just repeatedly running th sole up and down until all parts of the surface being flattened are equally shiny.


Any area that remains dull and/or rusty indicates more work needs to be done, as can be seen on the upper trailing edge of the righthand wing (is that even the correct name??). Cast iron vs sandpaper is a slow process, so frequent cleaning of the paper and changing it out is needed:


The oddball corrosion spot has permanently stained this area, but again, I'm not going to keep flogging the horse to get rid of it completely. It's cosmetic only, so flat enough is flat enough:



Internet opinion seems to be that the sole should be flatened with the plane fully assembled under the assumption that everything gets pulled around as screws are tightened. Considering we're essentially dealing with a C-beam made with 1/4" thick piece of cast iron I find it pretty unlikely that the clamping pressure of a couple of extra screws could influence the shape of the sole enough to make a difference (sod you, internets. I'm doing things my way). Nevertheless the rusty spot up the middle of the sole underneath the throat is evidence that the sole of this plane isn't as flat as it could be:


But after a good hour of mindless scrubbing, we're getting pretty close to perfection. The hollow section behind the throat is now level with the rest of the sole, and there's only the faintest area of discolouration just above it.:


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My memory may fail on me but I recall having seen in a Crimson video that there often is an intentional gap up the middle of the sole underneath the throat to reduce friction or something like that.

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Haven't heard of that one. All the information I can find suggests that the goal is to make the whole thing flat. The wear pattern on mine in the photos above is decidedly off-centre, which looks to be more of a deformation rather than a deliberate attempt to hollow grind the trailing edge of the throat.

You may be thinking of corrugated sole hand planes, which were specifically (supposedly) made to reduce friction?

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Rust cleanup continues. The edges need to be done somewhat gently as the black japanning is just over the ledge and I don't want to chip off any if I can avoid it. There a re already a couple of minor knicks at the leading edge of the sole, but I'm not going to worry too much about it. I suppose I could drop fill them with some black enamel, but they'll then always look like repairs compared to the rest of the existing black:


A final scrub with the nylon brush and some turps gets things as far as I feel is really necessary for this one. Not perfect, just enough for that 'scrubbed up old timer' look:



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7 hours ago, curtisa said:

You may be thinking of corrugated sole hand planes, which were specifically (supposedly) made to reduce friction?

Nope. If I can find the vid I'll post it. Anyhow, as you said, the wear pattern was off-center so most likely it was not intentional. The location was close to what my memory told me. And I may remember wrong.

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I had seen your linked tutorial before as well, but there's nothing in the text that indicates that the hollow behind the throat is desirable or should be left in place. From the article:



...In a perfect world, the entire sole should be dead flat. Realistically, a few minor hollows aren’t likely to compromise accuracy in use. (Compare the “Before” and “After,” below)...


 Essentially, 'don't bust yer balls trying to get that last 1% of uneveness out as it won't matter much to the operation of the plane'.

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I fully agree. I did some more research and found out the same. Guess I was thinking about sharpening chisels or something like that...

For Future Readers: FLAT is the right answer!


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OK, now the knob polishing jokes can start :D



Just Brasso, an old cloth and a few seconds whizzing in the cordless drill. It's odd what you remember about some things - I had a vague recollection from my childhood that Brasso came out of the can somewhat pasty and opaque-looking, but the Brasso I've got here is quite clear and fluid. Maybe they've changed the formulation of it over the years? Maybe the earlier formulation was known to induce memory loss, halucination and vague moments of thinking out loud in public forums? Maybe I'm a teapot?



For true OCD-levels of anal retentiveness, I should also polish up the last few screws. The slot in the chipbreaker screw has been a bit chewed up in a past life which is a bit of a shame, but I guess it's just part of its history:



Edging closer to completion now:


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11 hours ago, curtisa said:

Maybe they've changed the formulation of it over the years?

Maybe the formulation had changed over the years in your cupboard? At least that's what has happened to most of my "easy spreading" stuff. As a kid I thought shoe polishing paste was supposed to be cracked pieces of coloured wax in a tin as that was the only phase I had ever seen.

I'd like to own that plane!

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15 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

Maybe the formulation had changed over the years in your cupboard?

Dunno. It still works the same as it always used to, just appears to be more watery than I remember.

The chip breaker needs a little bit of work to flatten the edge that presses against the iron. In this photo you can see after a little bit of work that there's a bit of a hollow behind the middle of the leading edge and a knick at the right. The whole thing appears to be ground a bit oddly too, with the trailing edge curving away in the middle. No idea if this was how it came from the factory or someone's attempt at grinding a new lip on it:


By elevating the diamond stone and sliding the chip breaker along its length it doesn't take long to re-establish a flat surface on the chip breaker lip. I'm not going to try and get rid of the wavy grinding job that was already there. As long as the immediate suface that clamps against the iron is sufficiently flat to 'seal' the blade and prevent shavings from working their way underneath it should work adequately




I can now make a start on restoring the cutting edge of the plane iron. I didn't actually take any pics of the process, but over at the grinder I made multiple careful passes to remove the worst of the wonky grinding and restore a rough 30 degree angle to the cutting edge. It's also important to go gently while doing this as it's very easy to overheat the iron while grinding and remove the tempering in the metal and soften it. As soon as the ground edge starts appearing to go blue it's probably too late. At that point the metal can still be sharpened, but it won't hold a cutting edge for very long under normal use and you'll be forever honing it any time you want to use the tool. I also keep a small tub of water handy while doing this to dunk the iron in every second pass on the grinding wheel to keep the metal cool and remove the risk of bluing the iron.

Flattening the rear of the iron is next. Again the goal is not to get the entire iron completely flat as that's only creating more work for myself (and making the iron flat where it doesn't actually have any contact with the work), but as long as the first quarter inch or so gets level it should suffice:



Flipping the iron over I can now make a start on restoring the business end. My diamond stones aren't quite wide enough to take the full width of the 2 3/8" blade, but with some careful left and right shuffling I can get it all equally honed. I'm using the Veritas honing guide for this process as it takes all the guesswork out of keeping the iron at a constant 30 degree angle as I work it. Maybe some traditionalists will sniff at using a honing guide to resharpen chisels and planes, but I don't think there should be any shame in using a mechanial aide to ensure that every tool I use can be resharpened the exact same way every single time without fear of messing the cutting edge by accidentally getting the blade just a hair away from 30 degrees while honing:


I'm not going to attempt to try and get that curved misgrind out, otherwise I'll be here forever. Again, it's the immediate edge where all the cutting happens, so that's the edge I'm chasing. In the below photo the right side has about 15mm that hasn't been in contact with the diamond stone:


Getting smaller:


And smaller:






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Finally, it's interesting to see the two 5 1/2's I have side by side. The restored one that was the subject of this thread is on the right. My original is on the left. If nothing else it's curious how many differences there are between the two (ignoring that my original one is now looking like it needs a good scrub in comparison). On first receiving the hand-me-down I had just assumed on looks alone that it was identical in age and origin to my original one. Sitting next to each other it's pretty plain to see that there's some differences between the two. Whether that's due to age, origin or some frankenstein-ing of some of the parts to make up one or both of these planes by somebody else I guess I'll never know:



The casting of the original definitely looks a lot rougher. Also note that while the original has about the same thickness casting as the newer one, there's a ledge just behind the forward lip that steps down and reduces the thickness of the sole by about another 1/16"



The shape of the top of the iron differs between the two. Also notice the difference in the quality of the chrome plating on the lever cap.



The ledge in the casting on the sole is also present on the trailing edge, as is the poorer quality casting. The original one also has rounded edges to the tops of the sides, whereas the new one has square edges.



The 'Made in England' casting differs in size:



A little hard to make out n this pic, but the Stanley logo stamped into the lateral adjustment levers are oriented differently. On the left the letters are smaller and oriented vertically top to bottom. On the right the font is bigger, but the entire word is swung around 90 degrees and reads bottom to top.


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