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Sunday morning I was in my garage working on my coffin smoother plane when a neighborhood kid happened to be walking by the driveway. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he cautiously approached the opening. I turned to face him and he called out “I really like your tools!” And with that he was gone. I had thought about inviting him in, but in this day and age inviting a kid you don’t know into your garage is asking for trouble on many levels. In any event, the kid thought my tools were cool, and that’s all that really matters, doesn’t it?
The coffin smoother I recently refurbished was not a tool I needed, it was a tool I wanted only because I thought it was cool. The truth is I have two smoothers already, a Stanley #4 and one I made myself. Both of those tools work fine. This coffin smoother is as redundant as it gets when it comes to what I will use it for, but it’s freaking cool, and that’s all that matters.
Two things worried me going into this purchase; one was the condition of the wedge and the other was the condition of the cap iron. That is why I am glad for Patrick Leach, as I believe he is a guy who would not sell a plane with a bad wedge, at least not without telling you first. The wedge scared me because on planes like these they can be the fussiest part of the plane, and to make a new one is not easy, at least not for me. The cap iron scared me only because of my inexperience in dealing with vintage models. Happily, both the wedge and the cap iron were in remarkably good condition. I was particularly impressed with the wedge, which was as crisp as I’ve seen on an old plane.
I began the first part of the rehab on Friday night by flattening the sole of the plane. I decided to use my LN jack plane because it is by far my best and most accurate plane. I know that statement may upset some purists but it’s the truth. My jack plane is a near perfect design; it never gives me any trouble, and the only thing I ever had to do to it was sharpen the iron. If I have one complaint about it I would have to say it was the cap iron, which is an extremely well made part, but every so often I get shavings caught in it. But that is something that can be fixed. Anyway, I honed and stropped the iron, fastened the coffin plane in the leg vice, and started planing.
I set the jack plane to take very fine shavings. There was a high point just in front of and just behind the mouth, and hollows between the middle of the plane and the sides. Also, the front of the plane had some shallow nicks which needed removing. I proceeded cautiously, and after a few minutes it became clear that the leg vice was not the place for this job, so I clamped the plane between a Veritas wonder dog and a bench dog. The task did not take long, and I checked my work carefully. Once I was satisfied with the sole I used sheets of 220 and 320 grit sandpaper on the bed of my table saw to clean it all up. All in all the whole process lasted less than ten minutes.
The next step I copied straight from the Paul Sellers playbook. I used boiled linseed oil and 0000 steel wool to give the plane a thorough cleaning. When I took the plane out of the shipping box it seemed clean to begin with, but the steel wool did wonders, and the photos I took do not do it justice. The cleaning clearly revealed the plane to be a “ Varvill & Sons, Ebor Works, York” and above that “J. Strafford Bolton The Tool Depot”. Either of those marks I’m not familiar with, but I’m sure that somebody out there is. Once the plane was clean I wiped it down, took the cap iron/nut, soaked it in WD40, and called it a night.
Part two of the rehab I started on Sunday. I began by working on the bevel of the plane iron. I always thought that it was a hard and fast rule to always flatten the back of a plane or chisel before working on the bevel. But both Graham Haydon and Paul Sellers worked on the bevel first on their plane rehab videos. Maybe it’s a wacky English method, but I decided to go that route as well. The bevel was in nice shape, with a slight camber and a few small nicks. It was clear to me even before I began the grinding that this plane iron had been hollow ground. I am not a fan of hollow grinding in the least(which I will not get into on this post), but there was little I could do about it. So I progressed from 320 grit wet/dry sand paper, to the diamond plates, to the water stones, to the leather strop. It probably took near an hour, and I was dripping with sweat (woodworking still isn’t exercise, which I will also not get into on this post). I never did manage to completely grind out the hollow, but I did get the iron sharp. It’s not pretty, but it works. I then turned my attention to the back.
During the initial inspection of the plane out of the box I noticed that the back was nice and flat across the face with no hollows, but from front to back had a slight hump. That concerned me at first, but when I reattached the cap iron that hump “straightened”. I’m not sure if this is a characteristic of this style iron/chipbreaker or not, but my concern was alleviated at that point. After the marathon with the bevel, the flattening of the back was mercifully fast and easy. I used the same sharpening mediums as for the bevel, and after 15 minutes I had an iron that was nice and sharp.
The last task of the rehab was cleaning up the grime on the iron and chipbreaker. The chip breaker had already been soaking in WD40, so I wiped that with steel wool, for the iron I used steel wool and linseed oil, same as with the plane. The cleaning revealed the iron to be manufactured by “Ward”, which is a maker I had heard of before.
Later, on Sunday evening, I added a coat of wax, buffed it off, and put the plane to work. The good news: The wedge and iron adjusted easily. I could seat it tightly and unseat it with just a firm tap of the hammer. I decided to use the plane to clean up the workbench top. Immediately I heard the throaty whisk that a wood-bodied plane resonates when it is working. The shavings were thick, so I backed off the iron and the shavings became better. In fact, I was able to take a shaving across the entire length of the bench top. Better news was the fact that the chip breaker did not trap any shavings, which is always a concern. The only not-so-good news was the sharpness of the iron. I think I can get it sharper; I know I can. But overall I am very pleased.
As of this moment the coffin smoother is perched along with most of my other planes on the new shelf above my workbench. I’m not sure how often I will actually use this plane, but that doesn’t concern me so much. There is something about these wood-bodied planes that has a timeless appeal. Quite obviously they were the only woodworking planes in existence for more than 1000 years, and at that they must have worked just fine. I don’t know the whole reason why the Bailey Style plane usurped the wood-bodied but I would guess that it had something to do with production methods. Some people may lament that fact, but I don’t, because the Bailey plane is a good plane, too.
Yet I can’t deny that the wood-bodied tools are special. I’ve heard dozens of different descriptions praising them: They have a warmth. They are more comfortable. They are aesthetically more appealing. Etc. The truth is, I agree. This smoother is extremely comfortable in the hand, and it does have a certain elegance that would make Obi Wan Kenobi proud. I love the way the sole of the plane feels silky smooth after it’s flattened; I love the way it sounds when it’s being used. I love the makers mark on the iron. It really is a beautiful tool.
The funny thing is that I don’t feel like I own this plane; I feel like I am borrowing it. I’m not trying to be all sappy because I’m not a sappy guy. But it feels like this plane will find another owner when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Maybe some of my other tools will as well. Who knows? But the next person who obtains this plane will be borrowing it, too. Borrowing it from me just as I borrowed it from its previous owner. I hope it isn’t a collector; I hope it is somebody just like me. Maybe they’ll see the tool and think the same things I thought. Maybe they’ll just think it’s cool, and worth saving, and worth using, because it will be. And in the end, that is all that really matters.
Another long, cruel winter is mercifully and slowly crawling to an end. My region had the coldest February on record from what I’ve been told, with an average high temperature of only 24 degrees F. And though spring is just around the corner, it still hasn’t sprung yet. I’ve vowed to never again start any woodworking projects in the dead of Winter, and this year I stuck to it. The problem with that vow is that it left a minimum 3 month time frame where I didn’t make any furniture. So what have I been up to, then? Well, besides insulting people who read this blog, I’ve been taking care of my tools.
Last week I picked up my first set of hollow and round planes. The planes are matching, meaning that they are from the same maker, and they arrived in pretty good condition. The irons were a little rough, in particular the round iron. But before I got to work on the irons I started on the plane bodies. Because the plane soles are obviously profiled, I needed a way to flatten them other than the bed of my table saw. So yesterday afternoon I stopped at Lowe’s, which apparently is the IKEA of home centers, and picked out the straightest 5/8 inch oak dowel I could find. I sawed off a foot long piece from the dowel, wrapped a piece of 220 grit sandpaper around it, and used it to clean up the hollow plane. Once that was done, I used the hollow plane and sand paper to clean up the round sole, which was luckily in pretty good shape to begin with. Once that was finished I turned to the irons.
As I said before, the irons on both planes were in pretty rough shape, especially the round. My sharpening method was the same as nearly every other ancient plane iron I’ve ever sharpened: coarse diasharp, fine diasharp, 1000 grit water stone, 8000 grit water stone. Flattening the bottom on the round took 15 minutes, and my arms were actually sore afterwards. The hollow was thankfully much easier to flatten. I then used the dowel/sandpaper once again to sharpen the hollow plane, using 220/400/600 grits, then the 4000 grit slipstone. I also plan on stropping it, I just didn’t have the time today to do it. As far as the round, I plan on dedicating next Saturday to taking care of the bevel. now that the back is flat I will be able to concentrate fully on it. On a side note, I’m not sure who the previous owner of this set of planes happened to be, but whoever that person was he didn’t know how to sharpen. I’m not an expert sharpener, I’m not even all that great, I’m good enough to get a sharp edge. I don’t know any magic tricks, but I do believe that the woodworkers of yesteryear sharpened a lot less than we believe they did, and I don’t think there was much science to it. I think they brought their irons to a grinding wheel and sharpened willy nilly just so they could get back to work. I can understand why they did it, but I’m not so happy about it.
As far as the bodies of the planes were concerned, I lightly sanded down any rough spots, then saturated them in linseed oil. As with my other moulding planes, I poured the oil down into the throat of the plane, let it soak for a few minutes, and then cleaned up the excess. Whether or not this is considered proper plane maintenance I cannot say, but it so far hasn’t caused any issues, and the planes all look much better after the fact.
There were two other maintenance tasks I wanted to complete before the end of the weekend. The first was to oil the tote and knob on my jointer plane. That actually started earlier in the week. Each night after work I coated the knob and tote with Tru-Oil, lightly buffing between coats with steel wool. Last night I added the 5th and last coat. I also took the plane apart, gave it a cleaning, and sharpened the iron. With the plane looking new I used it to clean up the top of my workbench, which was starting to look pretty ratty. It worked brilliantly, and as always the #7 is a pleasure to use.
Lastly, a while back I made a shoulder plane from a kit purchased from Hock Tools. Admittedly I don’t used the plane often, but I was never satisfied with the shape, so I decided to do something about it. I drew an outline on the plane side and roughed it out with a coping saw. I then used a spokeshave to clean it up, followed by sandpaper to smooth it out. I flattened the sole (making sure to keep the iron and wedge set), and then gave the plane a few coats of linseed oil. As it was drying I honed the iron, afterwards taking it for a test drive. The plane performed well, and while it is hardly spectacular looking it no longer looks awful. After I cleaned up, and before I called it a day, I gave all three planes another light coat of linseed oil and set them on the side to dry. I’m happy that I got the hollow plane in working order, now I just have to get the round up and running. Most importantly, I have to start making furniture again.
A few weeks back I contacted wacky woodworking tool dealer Patrick Leach about purchasing a 1/4 beading plane he had listed for sale. Unfortunately it had sold, but Patrick mentioned that he could probably find another for me fairly quickly, that was fine with me. Lo and behold I received an email last week notifying me that a serviceable plane had been found, I sent Pat the check, the check cleared, and Pat sent me the tool, which arrived on Friday. On a side note, I don’t know Patrick, at least not enough to call him “wacky”; I just base that on the wording of his monthly email, which sometimes are pretty amusing. What I do know is that Patrick has an impeccable reputation of finding high quality “user” tools that he sells at a very reasonable price.
This morning I went into my garage to work on the plane. Thankfully, the plane was in very good condition when it arrived. The iron was in decent shape, and at the least it didn’t look like the last owner attempted to sharpen it willy-nilly with a power grinder. The tang was a little bent, but I easily straightened it up with a ball-peen hammer. As for sharpening, I started with the back on the coarsest grit of the DMT diamond plate. There was a bit of a high spot, but the diasharp fixed that easily enough. I then moved to the fine grit, then to the 1000/8000 grit water stone. I had the back flattened in less than ten minutes. I then sharpened the bevel. For this iron only one of the bevels really matters, as the other one doesn’t really do any cutting. Still, I went the same course as I did with the back: coarse and fine diamond plate, and 1000/8000 water stone. Next was the bead.
To sharpen the bead I once again started off with a dowel, 3/16, with 120 grit sand paper. I moved up to 220 grit, 400 grit, then finished it off with the 4000 grit slipstone. Once again, I had wanted to strop it, but you will have to forgive me. The high temperature today was somewhere around liquid nitrogen, and my garage wasn’t much warmer, even with space heaters running, and I wanted to get my ass out of there ASAFP. I ran a practice bead on the same junky piece of pine I used for the 3/8 beading plane. After a few adjustments, I very quickly had a very respectable bead.
I finished off the plane by lightly sanding the wedge, and wiping the entire plane with linseed oil. I even poured some in the cavity because it was looking a little dry in there. After letting it soak for a while, I wiped it dry, placed it in the tool chest, and got the hell out of my garage with the water stones in tow. As I said, it is too cold in my garage to leave them in there. Still, I can’t complain, for less than $50 including shipping, and around 30 minutes of rehab, I got myself a very usable tool. I just wish it was warm enough for me to use it.
Saturday evening was cold, very cold, as in so cold it was not worth leaving the house. I had two things in mind, getting a coat of wax on my car, and hopefully finishing up the beading plane I’ve been working on for the past week. While my garage is attached to my house, it is technically an unheated space, and on a day when the high temperature is still 15 degrees below freezing, the garage can be a fairly uncomfortable place to be, in particular for your feet, legs, and knees. I decided to be proactive and run not one, but two 1500w space heaters for several hours before I even attempted to do any work in there. So I braved the local car wash, brought the car back to my semi-heated garage, and got a coat of wax applied; I then turned my attention to the beading plane.
As I had mentioned in previous posts, I spent a few hours cleaning the old plane and getting the iron back in shape. While the iron was not in the best condition, it was at least fairly square across the front, and the bead profile was clean (as in no nicks), but dull as sin. I spent a decent amount of time grinding, squaring, and honing the front edge as well as flattening the back. I then used some 220 grit sand paper wrapped around a 3/8 dowel to hone the bead. That did wonders, and the plane actually produced a clean bead. On Saturday evening I took it a step further and honed with 220, 320, then 600 grit sandpaper, once again using the dowel as a profile guide. I then used my 4000 grit slipstone to finish it off. While the appearance of the iron did improve somewhat, the cutting action improved greatly. On an 18 inch piece of scrap pine I produced a clean bead in less than a minute. The shavings were all even and nearly full length, though a bit thicker than I felt they should be. It’s now up to me to find the optimal depth of cut. That process will be little more than trial and error, as this is my first moulding plane. As far as the rest of the plane is concerned, I cleaned up any fuzz, and while the ding on the boxwood is still there, it does not seem to be affecting the functioning of the plane. Though I do have a plan that will hopefully help with both using the plane and keeping it repaired.
A few weeks ago when this process started I decided that some help wouldn’t be a bad idea. My search for books on the subject did not lead to anything that really caught my eye. I did, however, notice a video being offered by Lie Nielsen entitled “Making Traditional Side-Escapement Planes with Larry Williams”. I ordered the video and it arrived on Friday afternoon. I set the video on the kitchen counter and it strangely “disappeared”, not to turn up until yesterday. Being that my wife and myself were the only two people in the house who could physically reach the video where it was placed, and being that my daughter was the only other person present…..Well let’s just say that a conspiracy theorist may just surmise that the video was purposely misplaced. However, I would never presume to accuse my wife of such a dastardly act. Either way, I have not watched the video as of yet, but I do think it will offer a lot of insight on how moulding planes are made, operated, and maintained. Best of all, if I ever decide to attempt to make a pair of hollow and round planes, or purchase an old set to refurbish, this video should give me an excellent start.
Yesterday afternoon I began the refurbishing of my old beading plane that I “rediscovered” in my garage a few weeks back. Going into this, I don’t have high hopes to turn this tool into a precision piece of equipment that I purchased for peanuts. But I am hoping to learn more about moulding planes, as in how they work, how they are made, and what their potential happens to be.
I started by clamping the plane to the workbench and lightly sanding down any breakouts in the wood. There was some minor splintering that I managed to remove, and the boxwood does have a small chunk missing, but at the moment there is little I can do about it. I then turned my attention to the wedge, which I sanded by placing the sheets on my table saw, and going from 40 grit up to 220. I did a test fit with the sanded wedge and it was perfect, so I moved on to the iron.
Because I’ve never sharpened a profiled plane iron before, this was obviously going to be the most difficult part. I started by working on the back. I spent around 5 minutes on the diasharp with both grits, and then used the 8000 grit water stone to finish it. It definitely polished up nicely, and considering this plane is probably close to 150 years old I can live with that.
To sharpen the bevel, I once again used the diasharp and 8000 grit water stone, and just like all of my sharpening lately, I did it freehand. I’ve come to a conclusion that will contradict my earlier beliefs, but I truly think that freehand sharpening is just as easy as using a honing guide, and in some cases it is actually easier. Anyway, once I got the bevel sharp and square I used a slipstone to sharpen the actual bead. I have only one slipstone, which is a 4000 grit. That should be fine for most steel as long as it doesn’t need to be reground. In this case, I will probably have to go to a lower grit, or perhaps some sandpaper and a dowel, because I did manage to improve the bead, but it took tool long a time, and it still needs work.
I did a test bead on a piece of scrap pine and I am encouraged by the results. The shoulder of the bead is very crisp and smooth, which hopefully means that I managed to get it sharpened the way it was meant to be sharpened. The bead, on the other hand, isn’t too bad, but still needs work. The purpose of these planes was to produce profiles that would not need additional work for finish. As of now the bead would probably need a light sanding before I could apply a stain, but I’m definitely not unhappy with the effort. As I said, I believe that some 220 sandpaper wrapped around a dowel would do wonders. Now I need only to keep using the tool and learn its peculiarities, such as how tightly I should set the wedge and how thick the shavings should be. But I like the profile, it has much more character than a bead made on a router table, and its less messy and a hell of a lot quieter. If all goes well, I may just have to attempt to build one of these for myself.
If you happen to own a garage, or barn, or perhaps a workshop, eventually you will find something in there that surprises you. Before I go on, let me say that there is not one item in my garage that wasn’t put there by me or my wife. When we purchased our house the only things left in the garage were an old door, an old workbench, an old vice, an old shovel, and an old cabinet. If combined the value of all of the items (including their usefulness) they may have been worth roughly one dollar. It wasn’t long before I ridded myself of that small pile of junk and went to filling the garage with my own junk.
To be clear, I have a lot of tools. I spent more than 10 years operating a printing press and almost 7 years as a field electrician. Not to mention, I also have many of the tools of your average homeowner: carpentry, plumbing, masonry, and gardening. While I hardly have a large set of woodworking tools, I don’t work with just a saw, hammer, and chisel. Most of the people who happen to read this blog have seen my woodworking tool set and the tools I use on each project, and it is average in just about every way.
Recently on many blogs and forums I’ve been noticing some tool purges going on. They don’t necessarily affect me all that much, as I don’t have enough tools to warrant a purge of my own, and at the same time, since I already have most of the tools I need, I’m not heavily in the market for purchasing a lot of new stuff (or at least new to me stuff). But, there does happen to be a few tools I’ve been looking around for, among those are a 3/8 and ¼ beading plane. It seems that these planes are becoming more and more scarce on the used market, so you can imagine my surprise when I found that I had a 3/8 already in my garage.
The truth is that I immediately recognized the tool, and this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen it in years, but it was the first time I’ve taken notice of it in quite a while. I can’t necessarily remember when it was purchased, though I do know that it was purchased on EBay, and it was inexpensive. I honestly didn’t know what size it was until I looked at it last night. I’m guessing that it was purchased somewhere around 4 years ago. Why did I purchase it if I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was getting? There are a few reasons; I like beaded profiles, I don’t care for electric routers, and sometimes you have to bring the tool to the work.
I’m no expert on woodworking tools, not even close, but I like to think I have a good overall knowledge. Moulding planes, however, are not one of my strong suits. I took the plane apart last night and it seems to be in decent shape. The iron looks pretty good; I flattened the back and the front bevel, probably when I originally purchased the tool. The wedge is in decent shape but could use a little work, and the interior of the plane is a little rough. The boxing seems okay, but there is a little ding in it, which may or may not affect how the plane functions. If I happen to get a free hour or two this coming weekend, I think I will give the plane a good going over and see what I end up with. I’m not worried about saving the patina, or the character, or the Soul of the tool. I am only concerned with making it a functioning plane again.
With these tools becoming more and more scarce, and with the cost of a new one hovering at $300+, this is one of those instances where spending the time on rehabbing an old tool is by far the better option. The lead time on a new, side-beading plane is a minimum of a one year wait, and maybe much longer. Rather than sitting around waiting a year or two for a new plane that may or may not show up, I can just as easily fool around with this one. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I’ll have to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can get this thing up and running.
So the Slightly Confused Woodworker would like to give his full endorsement for refurbishing an old tool rather than purchasing a new one. My endorsement, along with a dollar, will perhaps get you a bag of potato chips. But let it never be said that I always go against the grain.
Here are some before photos. Let’s hope the after photos are better…