The front round bit

In plane terminology, the word “handle” gets thrown around a lot.  But if you look in the record, you’ll see that usually the word “tote” gets used for rear handle and “knob” gets used for the front one.  I suspect the distinction was lost when hand tools were largely superseded by power tools, and the number of cabinetmakers and joiners was slashed by industrial processes in furniture making.  If you weren’t part of the trade, then you very well might call them handles (better than a “controller”, I suppose).  To me, it seems a little Orwellian, right up there with “doubleplus ungood”.  Why have two words when one (and an accompanying modifier) will do?  Because that’s the way it should be done.  The constriction of language is a terrible thing, which largely goes unnoticed in a flurry of “txtspeak” acronyms and “emojis”.  Though we snigger into our sleeves at the frequently fluid spelling conventions of our ancestors, I dare say they would probably consider most of us to possess a tragically constrained vocabulary.  Strike back against those who would curtail your loquacity!  Enough is not fufficient!

Yes, well, hmm…where was I?

Oh yes!  I was ruminating on the knob that I needed to make for the jointer plane that is very nearly done.  As with the tote, you should go ahead and bore (and counterbore) for your threaded rod before you shape the knob.  Then, I go ahead and size various points on the workpiece.  It is always interesting to me that even though at this stage it looks nothing like a comfortably rounded spot for your hand to rest, all of the dimensions have been worked into the wood.

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A minor note on the knobs used on Stanley planes.  On earlier planes, the main casting is flat where the knob is attached, and the bottom of the knob is also flat.  However, in later models, to alleviate the chipping that sometimes occurred, a raised ring was added to the casting and a corresponding bevel was cut into the knob.  Be sure of which you will need before you start the lathe or buy a new knob from eBay.

When that is done (I sometimes refer to it as “connecting the dots”), and our new knob sanded to 400 grit, then it and the tote get a couple of coats of oil, and are attached to the main casting.  With a little oil wiped on from time to time, a yearly (or so) truing of the sole, and sharpening as needed, this plane should now last another century or so with no problems.

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Flying off the handle

Once the metal was all cleaned up on the Stanley #7, it was time to address the problem of using the durn thing.  I suppose you could try to use it Krenov style, without any sort of appurtenance to grip, but that seems a little silly in this case.  A nice set of the original rosewood furniture from eBay would probably be in the $60 range, plus shipping.  Too bad I don’t know anyone who could just make me a set…

Oh yeah!

I chose cherry for this particular plane, but you could use almost anything.  Printable templates for plane totes can be found here.  Of course, you could also make a pattern…

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The real trick to this is to orient your grain correctly.  This is kind of an awkward shape to work with.  If you orient the grain to run along the short bit at the top end, you end up with short grain in the thin bit at the bottom.  The answer is to split the difference so that it doesn’t run completely along either the top or bottom, but to make a good compromise (where neither is really happy).  The printable templates above will guide you in your grain orientation.

Drill and counterbore the holes for your threaded rod before you start shaping anything.  It’s easier to align everything that way.

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Then saw out the square-edged shape.

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Finally, fair your curves with a rasp.  I sand to 400 grit, whiskering between grits.  A coat of oil is all this will need to be ready for service.

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There’s no tool like an old tool

Or at least, that’s what the bumper sticker said.

This particular project is a rehabilitation of a jointer plane, specifically a Stanley #7 from the late 1930’s.  It was neglected, and missing its tote and knob, but it wasn’t abused, and the lack of wood meant it was affordable!

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I started by cleaning up the metal with a little steel wool and oil.  This gets the rust off and burnishes the iron without removing patina.  This is a fine line to tread.  Everything but the sole and cutting irons I generally don’t sand or do anything more than burnish with steel wool.  I’ve seen plenty of “restored” tools that have been run over a wire wheel or even sandblasted and repainted.  The former is much too rough and scars up the iron.  The latter, while effective in removing rust (especially in cases where the japanning has been mostly destroyed), negates any vintage appeal.  In some cases it is, I think, justified.  But not in this case.  The japanning was fine and the iron of the castings wasn’t coarsely rusted, just the plum brown that occurs with age.  A little burnishing with oil and steel wool would be fine to create a usable tool.

But the sole is a working surface.  Anyone who uses the plane would have trued it on occasion, so it requires a little different technique.  A flat sole is especially important as this is a jointer plane, used to true edges for creating panels.  A curved sole rather works against that.  For this task, I use a strip of adhesive sandpaper (150 grit, meant for belt sanders) stuck onto a sheet of glass.  BE SURE to have the iron in and clamped down (though retracted fully!) when you’re truing the sole, as it does tension the main casting, and to work at this without that tension will create a false positive for truth (an obfuscation, perhaps?)  It will probably take a good bit for the entire sole to be flattened, but do work at it.  Eventually, the entire sole will show fresh iron (the dull brown-gray of time being abraded away by the sandpaper), and that will be it.  It does tend to use sandpaper pretty quickly, but the bulk of the work only has to be done once.  One nice thing about the corrugated sole of this plane is that there’s that much less surface to true!

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Making a bed

So I had purchased a Stanley 151 spokeshave off of eBay.  When I went to use it, even after sharpening the iron, it rattled and snarled, and the depth adjusters didn’t.  A little work was required before it could live in the toolbox.

The troubleshooting process in this case could be diagrammed like a flowchart.  Is the iron sharp, and the back flattened?  (Yes)  Is the lever cap tightened adequately?  (Yes)  Is the mating surface between the iron and the body clean and smooth?  (Eh, not so much…)

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This part of the spokeshave, referred to as the bed, was a fairly rough casting to begin with, and then had been japanned after that.  The net result was only a small fraction of the bearing surface was actually bearing.  Thankfully, it’s a fairly simple process to rectify.

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The file on the left is the one I use for most of my metalworking needs, from filing rivets to jointing saws.  But it is much too large for this.  Instead, I needed the little 4″ files on the right.  It’s not complicated, but it is rather painstaking to gradually true the bed.  You must be sure to keep it as level and even as possible.  You should stop when the bed is mostly cleaned up.  If you pursue the last little bit of enamel, it will require removing a lot more metal.  This will open up the throat of the spokeshave excessively, as well as increasing the risk of introducing inaccuracy.

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The problem with the depth adjusters proved to be some dinged up threads.  You will want to fix these after you true the bed, in case you nick a thread with your file.  It’s certainly possible to run a die over the threads if you have the die.  But I prefer a different solution.

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This is a thread restorer.  It has saved my bacon on numerous occasions.  It will work on external threads of almost any diameter, rather than being tied to one exact thread pitch (like ¼-20 or 10-28).  There’s a different TPI (Threads Per Inch) measure on each face.  All you have to do is gently run the appropriate teeth over your munged up threads, and they will recut the damaged portion, allowing the screw thread to work properly.

Once the bed was trued and the depth adjusters repaired, the spokeshave worked just fine.  A little bit of fettling is usually all it takes for an antique tool to perform, and at a fraction of the cost of buying a new one, which is always important in a tiny operation like mine!

An ungainly plow

One of these days, we’ll get to a project that needs a groove plowed, I promise.  But today is about modifying the tool I use to do that.  While there are lots of plow planes out there, I use an old Stanley 45.  This was not one of Stanley’s best ideas.  Actually, it’s a neat idea (namely that one multi-plane could replace lots of single use planes by changing irons and skates around), but the execution isn’t all that great.  It just doesn’t work all that well for most of the uses that Stanley touted.  But it makes a good plow plane and a decent match plane (for tongue and groove boards).  I picked one up for cheap, and made it work.

One of the irritations I kept running into (literally) was that the rods that the whole plane slides around are pretty long.  I only used a few inches of them, leaving the rest of those rods hanging waaaaay over and running into things.

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Now, I could move the rods over so that they didn’t protrude through the right side so much, but it takes up a lot of space in the toolbox either way.  It’s just an awkward thing.  So, I decided to fix it.  I could have stalked eBay for a set of short rods.  But they start around $15, and then there’s shipping.  Humbug!

I measured the rods that were on the plane, and found I could use some 3/8″ drill rod to make new rods.  And it so happened that I had a little section of 3/8″ drill rod!  So, I cut two pieces, about 5″ long.  I could have used them as cut, but I didn’t like the rough (and sharp!) edges left behind by the hacksaw.  I could have done all manner of painstaking beveling, but I came up with a different plan.

Sometimes I miss having a big engine lathe at my command.  If I had one in my shop, I could have used a collet and chucked my new rods in it and cleaned them right up.  But I am lacking an engine lathe and the collets.  All I have is a little woodturning lathe.

But…

What you can do is take a Jacobs chuck and install it in the headstock.  This sort of functions as an adjustable collet.

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Now, this is a little finicky.  The chuck is not meant to be turned in the headstock, and the Morse taper comes loose pretty quickly.  You ONLY GET twenty seconds or so before it starts to come loose.  On top of that, you’ve got a little spindly workpiece that wobbles around a lot.  But it does work.  Using the big file I have for jointing saws, I rounded off the ends of my new rods to where they were toolbox (and user!) friendly.  Takes less than a minute per end.

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Now, I had a plow plane that would fit around my clamps, and would fit in my toolbox more easily.  Added bonus: it makes that plane balance better so it doesn’t feel nearly as awkward.  So if you are fussing with the long rods in a Stanley 45 (or similar planes), give this a try!  After all, if you have more toolbox space, that means you have to get something else to go in there, right?

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Getting a handle on things

Once the steel is ready, we need to put a proper handle on our chisel.  While you could make the profile from most anything, only a few domestic woods are really suitable for a bench chisel.  I specify bench chisel because some of the weak but showy woods could be okay for a paring chisel that won’t be hit with a mallet.  But for a bench chisel that will be hit with a mallet, you have to get something tough.  Hickory, and white oak are the most easily obtainable, but I’ve had good success with scarcer woods like persimmon, osage orange, and hornbeam.  For this particular build, I’ll use a hickory billet I split out of a log months ago.  It’s roughly 1 ½” square and 6″ long.

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I have two sizes of handle I typically make, both based on a classic Marples profile.  The watershed is at about ¾”.  This keeps the smaller chisels balanced, while providing the larger ones with a little more strength for the pounding they can take.  In any case, we need to start with the most critical aspect first: the interface between the steel and the wood.  If you were able to get the old handle stub out whole, then you can measure directly off of it.  If, on the other hand, you had to take it out in pieces like this one, you will have to measure the inside of the socket.  It can be tricky to do (especially on the smaller chisels), and you’ll need a set of inside calipers to measure the narrow end; dial calipers won’t reach.

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Using a sizing tool, cut down to just more than the size you need on both ends.  Then you cut a bevel that connects those two points.  At the very end, I like using a wide scraper because it helps prevent cutting a non-uniform bevel.  At this point, you need to cut and try, cut and try.  A live center is critical here.  Dead centers chew up the end of the bevel too much.  When you rub the socket on the bevel you’re cutting, you’ll see the high spots that are preventing the proper fit.  Cut those back.

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Once you get your bevel almost up to the shoulder where the steel and handle will mate, you’ll need to undercut the back of the bevel a little bit so you don’t bind on the interior corner.  Only a smidge is enough.  You’ll probably also have to cut most of the front of your handle to give your tools clearance to work up near the shoulder.  The fit you’re looking for is when you have a little bit of room (wobble free!) between the shoulder and the end of the socket.  When we seat the handle later, that will compress a bit, and if you don’t leave a little room for it to take up, you will splinter off the end of the shoulder.  This one is right where we want it.

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Once the steel fits the wood, finish up the rest of the shaping.  Here, you can see the target diameters have been cut in, and now I’m connecting them with a gentle arc.

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A quick truing with a skew chisel’s planing cut, and a little sanding are about all that are left once the shaping is done with the gouge.  I rag on some oil and buff in some wax while the handle is still on the lathe.  Rather than part the handle off the lathe, I just stick it in the bench vise and saw the drive stub off, then pare it smooth.  A little more wax, and I’ll call it done.  And now we have a functional tool that, with a little more care this time, will last for years to come.

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A chisel’s physique

One of the things I’ve had to do fairly often as I started woodworking was rehab century-old tools so that I could use them.  While I’ve more or less gotten what I need, I still buy old tools occasionally to restore and resell.  One of these days I’ll have some up here on the blog, but for now I thought I’d illustrate some of the inner workings of restoring a chisel.

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This is a fairly typical example of what I pick up from time to time.  Neglected and abused, it’s not useful to anyone right now.  While I usually try to avoid mushroomed sockets, this one wasn’t too bad, and would leave plenty of room for a strong handle joint.  It really irritates me to see this kind of abuse because somebody paid good money for this chisel near the turn of the century.  I imagine it was granddad’s, then dad got it and kept it (even though he didn’t use it), then junior got ahold of it and to make it work (because he didn’t know how to make sharp tools), beat it with a steel hammer until the handle snapped off and then still kept beating.  Stupid kids…get off my lawn!

This particular chisel is a Peck, Stowe, and Wilcox No. 1 Extra.  Good steel in this one.  Before we polish anything, we want to do the structural work first.  So,  I start with a grinder and start grinding off that mushrooming.  Stop short of done, because the grinder can gouge up the steel we’d rather keep.

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Once I have that down to mostly even with the rest of the socket, I’ll go ahead and use a file to take off the last little bits level.  I then drawfile the whole socket until everything is nice and even.  I’m not trying to take out all the pitting.  That would be too much steel removed.  It is vintage, after all.

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To remove the socket stub, you have a few different options.  I usually try to thread in a screw and pull it out whole.  In this case, I had to chip it out in pieces with drill and chisel.  The mushrooming had peened over a steel rim keeping the stub in.  Once I finally got it out, level off the top of the socket.  Also remember to take off interior mushrooming or the new handle won’t fit right.  A Dremel with a conical grinding stone is the easiest way to do it, but you can do it with a file too.

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Once that’s done, I wet sand with oil, polishing up to 600 grit.  Remember, we’re not trying to take out all of the pitting.  It’s too deep to remove without making a toothpick.  In my younger days, I would have just sandblasted the whole thing and called it good.  These days, I know that if I polish the steel nicely, it will work a whole lot better, even if it takes a little longer.  It looks better too.  The shine is mostly incidental; I’m more interested in smoothness.  I will say, though, that you should avoid the wire wheel and the buffing wheel.  The wire wheel will certainly get the rust off, but it leaves a very coarse look behind.  The buffing wheel will shine the steel, but it exacerbates the pitting, and smudges the edges, leaving the chisel looking a little amorphous.  It will also smear out what’s left of the maker’s mark.  Instead I sand with a sanding block.  This is a little slower, but it leaves the facets sharp and minimises the impact of the pitting.  It also leaves the maker’s mark clear (so long as you don’t sand it out!).  The socket should be sanded with a shoeshine motion.  When it’s all done, the chisel is still pitted, but it’s a lot cleaner and smoother, and the area where we repaired the mushroomed socket is impossible to pick out.  Tomorrow we’ll fit a handle, and have an old warhorse ready to ride again.

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