I am often asked how to get started using handplanes. So, here goes.
I chose the plane pictured above for this article because it is common and inexpensive. It is a modern Stanley #5 jack plane made in England. I bought it at a flea market for $7. My purpose is to show you that just about any plane can be made to work well with some knowledge and work. The object of this article will be to make this plane work well not to make it look pretty.
Iron bench planes have been in production since the Civil War era. There are so many on the used market that it should not be hard to find what you are looking for. I recommend that a beginner choose a #5 jack plane for the first plane. The #5 is called a jack plane because it is “the jack of all trades” as the saying goes. This plane can be used to chute (commonly referred to today as shoot) the edges of boards for panel glueups, roughing boards to thickness, even smoothing surfaces. It is my go to plane and the one I most often use.
One note of caution here. As I stated above these old iron planes were made by the millions and are very plentiful. Inspect a potential purchase carefully before you buy. If it has missing or damaged parts DON’T BUY IT! There are so many of these old planes that there is no need to buy anything that is damaged or incomplete. Replacement parts are expensive.
Let’s begin by identifying the parts of this plane. In the photo above you can see the knob, the lever cap and the tote.
The photos above give you a better look at the neglected #5. They also clearly show the depth adjuster knob and the mouth.
In the photo above you can see the frog, the lever cap screw, the lateral adjusting lever and another view of the depth adjuster knob.
In the upper of the two photos above we see the cap iron/iron assembly. And in the lower photo we see the lever cap that holds the iron/cap iron assembly securely to the frog in use.
The photo above clearly shows the frog adjusting screw. This screw moves the frog forward or backward to adjust the size of the mouth opening. This screw came into use on Bailey style planes around 1907.
The first step to putting an old, neglected iron bench plane back into service is to completely disassemble it as can be seen in the photo above. Thoroughly clean and degrease all parts and inspect them for rust, wear, and damage. If you have carefully inspected your plane prior to purchase there should be no damaged parts. However, some damage can go unseen during an inspection. Damaged parts must be repaired or replaced and all traces of rust must be removed because it inhibits the fit and smooth movement of parts.
Over the many years that I have been dealing in antique and vintage tools I have tried just about every method of rust removal there is. I have settled on EVAPO-RUST for small parts and electrolysis for larger parts. I use the basic method you will find in the link, but you don’t need the electronic device or all the anodes the author uses. A 12 volt battery charger, one piece of stainless steel for an anode, and a 12 volt trailer clearance light with two bulbs connected in series with the positive lead to the anode will yield sufficiently low current to make this a clean process. This low current method is the same one used by museums to clean ancient, valuable artifacts. I plan on doing an in-depth article on rust removal in the future. For now use whatever method works best for you.
In the next article we will assemble, sharpen, and fettle this old plane to work the way it should. Until then you have plenty to do. Go out and find a plane and get started. Once you bring hand planes into your woodworking you will wonder how you ever got along without them.
As always, thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment.