Hand Plane Basics Part 2

2015 has been a very busy year so far. So busy in fact that I had to stop accepting orders for knobs and totes to allow me to catch up on other things. Things such as writing part 3 of this series.  Since it has been a long time since I first posted this article I felt it would be good to re-post it. This would be good for those who have not seen it and it would be a refresher for those that have. Enjoy, part 3 will be along shortly.

All parts cleaned and de-rusted.

All parts cleaned and de-rusted.

Now that all the parts of the #5 plane have been thoroughly cleaned, derusted and inspected, as can be seen in the photo above, it is time for the next step. All parts of the plane are shown in the photo except the knob and tote. These wood parts are being stripped and refinished and will be installed later.

Checking the sole of the #5 for flatness.

Checking the sole of the #5 for flatness.

The next thing that needs to be done is to determine that the sole of the plane is flat. This plane still shows the pattern of the original factory grinding so no work needs to be done to the sole or the sides. You can check the flatness of your plane’s sole using a good quality, (such as Browne & Sharp or Starrett), steel scale, commonly called a rule, and a feeler gage. As shown in the photo above. In the machine trades we use scales not rulers. If you can get a feeler of more than 0.005″ between your scale and any point on the sole of your plane you should consider flattening it. For a better straight edge than a scale consider these. To get a feel for what is needed to flatten a plane sole look here.

Flattening the sole of a hand plane is a job that requires a little skill. If not done properly it can make the sole of your plane much worse. I don’t recommend this job be done by the average woodworker. If the sole of your plane is not flat within 0.005″ – 0.006″ I recommend that you send the base casting of your plane out to a professional machinist to have it ground. For this job I can recommend Tom Bussey. I have used Tom’s service on numerous occasions and can recommend him highly.

If you want to repaint your plane do it before you send it out to be reground. You will need to strip whatever remains of the original finish using a strong paint stripper.

This is the paint I have been using for re-painting bench planes.

This is the paint I have been using for re-painting bench planes.

I have used Dupli-Color ceramic engine paint for many years and can recommend it. If this is your first plane don’t spend time making it look pretty. That time is better spent getting the plane into service and learning how to use it. It will not work any better with a shiny paint job.

Once the base is flat we can turn our attention to the frog. Flattening the surface of the frog where the iron/capiron assembly seats is an operation that most all plane refurbishers recommend. This video will give you all the information needed to flatten the face of your planes frog.

Frog and base mating surfaces marked "M".

Frog and base mating surfaces marked “M”.

This type of Prussian blue is available at auto parts stores.

This type of Prussian blue is available at auto parts stores.

I have been using this brand for many years but I'm sure any lapping compound will work.

I have been using this brand for many years but I’m sure any lapping compound will work.

Continuing with the work on the frog the next operation is to make sure that the mating surfaces of the frog and the plane base make good contact with each other. These are the surfaces marked “M” in the top photo above. There will be machining marks on these surfaces but they should not be too rough. The frog should set on the mating surfaces of the base without rocking in any direction. You can check the fit of these surfaces by coating one set of them with Prussian blue artists oil and rubbing the surfaces together. See center photo above. If you have an even coat of  blue on all mating surfaces you need do nothing more. However, if you have areas of poor contact, as seen by spots of dark blue, then you need to lap the surfaces.

To lap the mating surfaces of the base and the frog use automotive valve grinding compound as seen in the lower photo above. This compound is a powdered grit of either aluminum oxide or silicon carbide suspended in oil. It comes in various grits as designated by a letter on the can. With “A” being the finest. Start with an 80 or 120 grit. Apply a dab of compound on each surface of the base and set the frog in place and with moderate downward pressure slide the frog as far as it will move in all directions in a random motion. You are done when there is an even dull gray finish on all of the mating surfaces.

minwax poly

The original knob and tote stripped and refinished.

The original knob and tote stripped and refinished.

Now it is time to do something with the knob and tote. This is not always a cosmetic thing. The originals on this plane were chipped and peeling. This made them feel uncomfortable in use. So I stripped the original finish off using a strong gel stripper. Then I sanded them smooth to 220P. This set is made of hickory and it had turned gray from exposure to dampness so I stained the wood a dark brown. Use your favorite stain. I like oil based gel stains because they are easy to use and very forgiving. When the stain was dry I applied 3 coats of fast drying wipe on polyurethane varnish. My favorite for this use is shown in the top photo above. I like this in a satin sheen because it looks very good. Polyurethane will stand up to hard use better than anything else I have tried. The photo above shows the finished set ready to go back to work.

Finally it is time to assemble the plane.

#5 finished 1

#5 finished 2

#5 finished 3

As you can see from the photos above the old #5 looks pretty good. But looks are not what is important. What is important is that all parts are clean, and rust free and fit together properly. And that all moving parts are lubricated and move smoothly and freely. Also, the sole is sufficiently flat to allow fine and full width shavings.

I have decided to save sharpening for the next part because this is a very important part of handplane basics. Part 3 will be entirely devoted to sharpening the old #5. If you haven’t done so already familiarize yourself with this video so you will understand my methods of capiron preparation.

As always, thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment.


Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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3 Responses to Hand Plane Basics Part 2

  1. John says:

    Great info! Just happen to be doing a # 5 myself. Mine needed a tote so I am taking a shot at fabricating one, fun project. I could find myself asking you a myriad of questions but with muddel my way thru this one. Am going to try the wipe on Varnish though. Thanks for the Blog info. John S. Threefish Woodwerks

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