The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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New Year, Old Tools, New Attitude.

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Now that 2015 is finally over, I will say that it was a bit of a tough year for my family. That being said, I will no longer dwell on it.

As far as woodworking was concerned last year, I built less, I blogged less and perhaps grew less as a woodworker than I had in prior years. It was not for lack of desire, but more the culmination of a crumby year. But it’s over.

Thankfully we had a nice holiday season, and hopefully that will serve as a springboard to better times. Being that I’m no longer a kid, I don’t receive many or expect to receive many Christmas gifts (nor should I), but to my surprise my Father-in-Law gave me in a wrapped box some of his grandfather’s woodworking tools: A PS&W 10 inch brace, a set of Irwin augers #4-16, a Tryon’s block plane, and a Sargent no 3415 transitional jack plane. It was quite honestly one of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever received. Because I had the week off from work, I got to the restoration process.

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The tools, having sat in a basement probably for fifty years, were not in great shape, but they weren’t in horrible shape either. The first thing I did was take apart the planes and brace and clean off any grime. The next step was soaking all of the metal parts in a mixture of warm water and citric acid. After approximately two hours the tools took on a clean, even shiny appearance, and the vast majority of rust was easily removed with just some steel wool and a rag. To give full credit, until I had seen Christopher Schwarz do this on a plane restoration video, I would have never tried it. Up until then, I used citric acid to clean the coffee maker.

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The brace and bits were particularly impressive after the soaking. Most were still sharp, and the chuck on the brace works as smoothly as the day it was made. I sharpened the #4, 5, and 6, lightly oiled the chuck and ratchet, cleaned up the handle and knob with some steel wool and linseed oil, and with that I was finished. The only unfortunate part is the original box for the augers is beyond salvaging, as it is cracked across the grain. Instead of reusing it I placed the augers in a tool roll.

The Tryon’s block plane looked a mess, but it really wasn’t so bad. The soaking took care of most of the old paint and rust. I flattened it using 100 grit and 220 grit sandpaper, I then did the same to the iron. At first I was a bit worried about the iron, but it actually worked quite easily. It took me maybe 20 minutes from front to back, but it is now razor sharp and works just fine. The only thing left to do is clean up the front knob.

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I saved the transitional jack for last, as I knew it needed the most work. The sole was in rough shape, with both warp and twist. It took quite a bit of work to get it at least in the neighborhood of square. I removed all of the parts and gave them a good cleaning and polishing, using brasso on the adjustment knob and the tote cap nut. I sanded and smoothed the tote and knob and used two coats of tru-oil for finish, though they need at least two more. I then turned my attention to the iron.

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The iron was in rough condition, not because the bevel was misshapen, but because from the looks of it the back had never been flattened. It took a lot of work, a lot of elbow grease, and to be quite honest I’m still not all that happy with the result. I started off with 80 grit sand paper, went to 120, then 220, then 320. I then used 800 grit diasharp, 1000/8000 grit water stones, and finally the leather strop and I’m still a bit disappointed with the results. Thankfully, the bevel was a bit easier and took far less time. Still, my hand is hurting even as I type this sentence.

With all of that work, I’m not sure if the Sargent will ever be a worker again. It at least looks nicer, and I did get it to take shavings, but the sole is still in need of some major maintenance. and I already had to remove quite a bit of material to get it where it is now, so much so that the iron will not retract into the body anymore, at least not the way it should. Still, the hardware is in pretty good shape, and I could use the body as a template to make a new one.

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Whatever the case may be, I will cherish these tools. Just attempting the restoration taught me some valuable lessons, and the brace and bits will last several more lifetimes if they are reasonably taken care of. For me, the greatest gift was not the tools, but the fact that my Father-in-Law thinks enough of me to put them in my hands. As I said, it was not an easy year for my family, in particular for my wife and her dad, and when the holidays roll around difficult times can be even more trying. So for him to be thinking of me when he easily could have and should have been thinking of himself was one of the nicest, most thoughtful things that anybody has ever done for me.

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14 Comments

  1. Wesley Beal says:

    Congrats on both the tools and the sentiment that came with them.

    I bet you’ll get that transitional working. What’s joinery between the metal and the wood like? I’ve never seen one up close before. If you wanted to go that route, I bet you could pick up some others secondhand to work on, or put together a franken-plane.

    For me taking these old tools apart, cleaning up and restoring each part, making them work like they should, it’s as fun as woodworking is.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’m thinking about rebuilding the entire body. I can get a small piece of beech or cherry at a place like Woodcraft that should fit the bill. The problem with the sole was/is it had about 1/4 inch of twist from one side to the other. I took out a lot of it, but it’s still pretty bad. I’m at the point where the iron is at the mouth of the plane even when it’s fully retracted. I moved the frog back a bit but that didn’t do much. I’m not overly worried about it and I will get around to it sooner or later. Like you were saying, the sentiment is what is important here.
      Thanks.
      Bill

      • Wesley Beal says:

        I’m surprised the wood ended up with that much twist. I’d of thought that wood chosen for tool making would have been much more stable than that, but then that’s what makes working with wood something that’s always full of surprises. Some things can’t be predicted.

      • billlattpa says:

        Playing Sherlock Holmes, I’m pretty sure that at one point this plane was sitting in water. The front of the sole had some rot. Like you said, most old tools are actually quite stable if they were reasonably cared for. I have several planes well over 150 years old that are still in nearly new condition. Unfortunately this Sargent had a bit of a rough paper route. I’m going to do what I can to get it up and running. First step is getting that sole dead flat.
        Thanks
        Bill.

  2. Greg Merritt says:

    Great gift of tools. Looks like you are well on your way to giving them a second life at doing what they were made to do. Moreover, they will have special meaning every time you pick them up and put them to work.

    Wishing you and yours the best for the new year Bill.

    • billlattpa says:

      The augers and brace are all ready to go. The brace just needed a cleaning and some oil, though I gave it the full treatment. The augers took a bit more elbow grease but it was well worth the effort. Most were still sharp, and the bits that weren’t sharpened easily enough.
      It was a thoughtful gift, and I’m going to do my best to take good care of it.
      Thanks! And I hope you and your family have a great New Year!
      Bill

  3. dzj9 says:

    Happy New Year, Bill!
    Odd people woodworkers are, when a bucket of old rusty tools makes us happy.
    Just a suggestion, you could re-sole that plane. Easier than making a new body. A lot of wooden planes used “in anger” wind up being resoled. A half inch of some nice flatsawn hardwood will do.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve said before that woodworkers are the only people I know who would brag about paying $1 for a rusty old chisel.
      I’ve considered a re sole, but I’m not overly sure what to use. Obviously beech would work, but what about hickory or cherry? This is a first for me so I need to do some research.
      Thanks, and have a great New Year!
      Bill

  4. Kinderhook88 says:

    What a great gift. If you’re father-in-law has read this blog at all, then he surely knows those tools are in good hands now. Happy new year, Bill.

    • billlattpa says:

      I don’t think he reads the blog, but he knows how seriously I take woodworking. I just hope I can get that plane up and running again somehow.
      Thanks and have a great New Year!
      Bill

  5. orepass says:

    Great Post, I love the tools that people give me especially knowing the thought behind the gift. I have a couple of transition planes which I really enjoy using. I also think that they are the most attractive planes, the wood offsetting the black iron(can’t believe I said that). All the best for the new year. Richard

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve always loved the look of transitional planes though this is the first I’ve ever used. To me, the transitional plane and the coffin smoother look the most like “real” woodworking tools for whatever reason. Maybe when I was a kid I saw somebody use one somewhere and it was burned in my brain ever since. Who knows. I will probably have to either rebuild the body or re-sole the plane to get it up and running properly again, but I’m actually looking forward to it.
      Thanks, and have a great New Year!
      Bill

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