The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Clean your tools. It’s free.

Before I get started, I would like to say for the record that I try to keep my tools as clean as possible.

Last week when I finished up yet another little box I noticed that my smooth plane was covered in what looked like powdered cocoa. As I was working with Walnut this wasn’t much of a surprise, because Walnut seems to me to be more “dusty” than other typical furniture woods, but the sheer amount of dust was what threw me, so to speak. I didn’t do much sanding, and the sanding that was done was done by hand. I decided that it would be a good time to take apart the smooth plane and give it a quick cleaning, and while I was at it I decided that I may as well do the same to the jack plane, as that was used as well. So when I took apart both planes I was appalled at what I saw…they were both filthy.

As I said, I keep my tools clean, or at least I thought I did. After each use I use a brush to remove dust and then I wipe them down with a lightly oiled cloth. It turns out that this isn’t nearly enough to keep the tools truly clean. Plane frogs and chipbreakers invariably collect dust and shaving particles during use, that is nothing unusual, but mine seemed to have a layer of gunk that had permeated every nook and cranny of the tools. So I used a soft cleaning brush to really scrub them out, lightly oiled the tools and wiped off the excess, and then returned them to their proper place on the shelf. Afterwards, the rest of the tools in the bench area were cleaned, because they were not as clean as I thought they would or should be, either. And for good measure, I even lightly planed the bench top. This all took several hours of work, but it was well worth it.

Some will say that this is a good reason to keep tools in a toolbox or chest, and of course there is some logic to that line of thought. But I prefer to see my tools when I am working rather than to dig through a chest looking for them. Regardless of where your tools are stored, do yourself a favor and clean them; clean them even if you think they are already clean; it doesn’t cost you anything but a bit of your time. I thought mine were clean and they were not. Dust build-up can wreck your tools either hand or power. Dust collects moisture, and moisture makes rust…I just witnessed it. A few minutes per tool is all it takes. And while you’re at it…make your bed…that’s free too.


  1. Sylvain says:

    You might like:
    “How a Cheap Paintbrush Improved My Handplane Skills”
    published on “the literary workshop blog” on 5 October 2012.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. Believe it or not, but I keep a 1 1/2″ round artists brush for the sole purpose of cleaning my planes. The problem was that from the outside they looked just fine, it was when I removed one of the irons to give it a quick honing that I noticed the horrible grime build up.

      I use the #4 and #5 plane the most, and at the end of the summer I sharpened both. Because I’ve only made a few projects since, and because when I do sharpen I never remove the frog, I haven’t really had them apart in a while…I was quite surprised at what I saw.\

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December 2021



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