Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on January 21st, 2008

For a while I have been contemplating getting a smoothing plane to add to my slowly growing arsenal of hand tools. The Queen Anne Side Table project that I’ve been working on caused me to revisit this idea. The issue I was having with the smoothing plane decision was which one to get. There are many possible choices: new vs. vintage; standard angle vs. low angle; dedicated or multi-purpose. If you think about it too long, you can really develop a case of paralysis by analysis!

I had been giving some serious consideration to two of the Veritas planes: the Low Angle Smoother and the Bevel Up Smoothing Plane. I have the Veritas Low Angle Block Plane and also the Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane and they are both beautifully made and well performing tools. However, I was not sure whether to get the dedicated smoother or the low angle smoother which could also be used with a shooting board. My immediate need was for a basic smoothing plane but, I did not want to look past the other possible uses of a multi-purpose tool like the low angle plane. The other thought I had was to try for a vintage smoothing plane in need of a little work, while saving a bit of money for the multi-purpose tool at a later date.

Original_plane.JPGI decided to check Ebay for some possible smoothing planes that might be easily rehabbed into service. I ended up finding one that looked like it was in reasonable shape. I bid on it and ended up winning the auction! I paid for it and it was in my hands within a few days. Never having purchased a vintage tool on Ebay before, I opened the package not knowing exactly what I would find. What I received was a Stanley Bailey #4 Smoother that was most likely manufactured in the early 1930’s. It’s condition was just as described.

Original_plane_bottom.JPGThere was a bit of rust on the plane and what looked to be minor pitting, but all of the parts seemed to be in good shape and looked to be very serviceable. The knob and tote were both intact with no cracks. After a quick examination with a straight edge, the sole looked to be fairly flat and true. The sides were not 90 degrees to the sole but, since I was not planning to use this plane with a shooting board this was not a real issue. In the pictures, you can see the plane as I received it (click for a larger view).

Original_body_iron_and_chip_breaker.JPGOriginal_disassembled_plane.JPGI ‘ve tuned a couple of planes in the past, but those were new Record planes that needed some work out of the box because of inferior manufacturing. Rehabbing this vintage #4 smoother was uncharted territory for me. I disassembled the plane completely and examined the parts closely. Luckily, there were no surprises. However, I quickly realized that the first step in the rehab process was going to be to take care of the rust. The pictures show all of the parts after disassembly.

Plane_parts_soaking_1.JPGPlane_parts_soaking_2.JPGOn the Internet I’ve seen several folks effectively eliminate the rust on their planes using an Electrolysis technique. I was contemplating this technique but decided to look for some alternatives. In doing so, I stumbled onto the information for a few rust elimination products. One product, called Evapo-Rust, was sold at Auto-Zone and had a money back guarantee. This stuff was supposed to be environmentally friendly and reusable as well. I decided to get some and give it a try thinking that if it did not work I could always go the electrolysis route. To use this product all I needed to do was to soak the parts for 30 minutes or more depending on how much rust there was. The hardest part was finding a container that could hold the plane body for soaking! As you can see in the pictures, I ended up cutting up an old soda bottle. I soaked the screws, blade and chip-breaker first to see how well the process would work.

After about an hour, I removed the parts, rinsed them with water and gave them a light scrubbing with Scotch-Brite. All I can say is: I’m amazed at how well this stuff worked and how easy it was to use. I gave the de-rusted parts a light coating of 3-in-1 Oil to keep any surface rust from forming. Next to soak were the plane body and frog assembly – I left these in the bath over night because of the amount of rust on both. The next morning after a rinse and a quick scrub, they both looked great! The frog received some oil and the plane body got a coat of paste wax on the sides and bottom.

Lapping_back_of_plane_iron.JPGSharpening_plane_iron.JPGWith all of the parts now relieved of rust, I set out to rework the edges on the blade and the chip breaker. The blade had a small amount of pitting on the back and a few significant nicks in its edge. I started the process by flattening the back on my water stones. After getting the back in reasonable condition I went to my Jet Wet Sharpener to remove the nicks and to put a fresh bevel on the blade. I recently got this tool during a super sale at Amazon.com. I could not justify the price of the Tormek Wet Sharpener (even though it looks to be a very well-made tool). However, during the sale this Jet Sharpener was available for the equivalent of a couple of good Water Stones so, I decided to give it a try. I’ve been reasonably pleased and it does speed the sharpening process. This situation was no exception. Within fifteen minutes I had ground a new primary bevel of 25 degrees and a micro bevel of 28 degrees. The last sharpening task was to grind the chip breaker so that it had a crisp edge where it contacts the back of the plane blade.

Rehabbed_plane.JPGRehabbed_plane_in_action.JPGWith the de-rusting and sharpening completed, I decided to see how the lpane might perform without doing anything more to it. so, I assembled the plane. I fiddled with the placement of the frog until it was in a position where it was just ahead of the back of the plane mouth – this assured that the blade was totally supported by the frog and did not contact the back of the mouth. I adjusted the chip breaker to sit back from the blade edge by about 1/32″ and installed the blade. After advancing the blade slowly while taking swipes of a Cherry board I was making nice shavings and leaving a polished surface on the face of the board!

I think eventually I may want to invest in a thicker iron for this plane and maybe a new chip breaker, but all in all I would say that this effort was a success. I received a good specimen to begin with and I did minimal work to rehab it into working order. Best of all, I have a new tool to use now and saved some money toward another tool in the future. If it always goes this well, this could get addicting…

As always, if you have any comments or questions, please leave them here using the comments link at the end of the post, or email me at thecraftsmanspath@gmail.com.

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6 Responses to “In search of a smoothing plane”

  1. Mark,
    Great info on the rust-removing product! I’ll have to check that out before I start working on a #5 that’s been sitting under my bench for a while.
    Ethan

  2. Ethan,

    No problem. It was certainly well worth the $8 for a quart of the stuff given the time and effort it saved. Good luck on your #5 and please continue to visit the blog!

    –Mark

  3. Mark,

    Nicely done. I’ve had students that had the Veritas low angle smooth plane and it is a wonderful tool. I’m a minimalist woodworker, however, and I can’t see spending that kind of money on a single tool even though I am a professional. I like the approach you’ve taken here and, in the end, you have a tremendous tool that will give you a lifetime of use. Good luck with the plane.

  4. Chuck,

    Thanks. The plane has been working out quite well – even with the stock Stanley blade. I’ve started sharpening with a slight back bevel and that seems to really allow for very thin shavings.

    I may be on the look out for an old jointer to rehab next.

    –Mark

  5. Hi Mark,

    The Evapo-Rust looks good to use, but in the UK it hard to obtain?

    Also, tool prices (even allowing for exchange rates) look loads cheaper than in the UK than in the US of A?

    How about selling some on to us and make a few ‘bucks’?

    Great input, and thanks

    JEP

  6. John,

    Thanks for your thoughts. Evapo-Rust is definitely good stuff!

    I’m not really in the tool-selling business so, I can’t take you up on the offer. Maybe you could check in with the company to see the best way to get it in the UK.

    –Mark

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