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Restoring Planes: Metal and Wooden


Rehabbing Wooden Planes by Bob Smalser

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In previous articles, I described rehabbing older Bailey-pattern planes acquired from eBay to replace all the family’s ancient wood planes… the ones I’m getting tired of inlaying mouths in every decade or so as they wear.

I’ll rehab these oldies one more time and pass them on to my oldest boy who’s interested in luthier work… he’ll be the 5th generation of craftsman for some of these.

From left to right is a Stanley transitional jack, a Stanley 36 razee smoother, and an old Ohio Tool coffin smoother.

The jack and the coffin smoother have new soles, and I’ll do the Stanley 36 today. Wood planes are a joy to use….they have a warm feel to them and for a boatbuilder or shipwright working overhead, are lighter and handier than cast iron planes. They wear faster, but are much easier to tune.

As the sole wears unevenly from planing edges and odd shapes, a simple pass through or over a fine-set hand or power jointer flattens them back into true. Do that three or four times over the course of a decade, however, and the mouth widens to the point where fine shavings are no longer possible. If you look at the Stanley 36, you can see the mouth is a bit wider than the one on your favorite cast-iron smoother.

The front of the plane wears the fastest, and repeated jointings on a plane used for coarse work makes them wedge-shaped, eventually. I could inlay a patch or throat piece into the front section of the mouth, but that does nothing to correct the wedge shape, the mortises are time-consuming to cut, and a throat piece doesn’t support the critical area at the front edge of the mouth as does the original sole and throat. So instead, I prefer to attach new soles and re-cut the throat to the original specifications or even a bit narrower in the mouth, depending on how I intend to use the plane.

Any straight-grained hardwood will do…these original plane bodies are beech, and I’m using hard Bigleaf Maple for the new soles today. I also use holly and Madrone, more hard local woods. How thick should the new sole be?

Thicker than the furthest downward the iron can be adjusted. Because I’m using the power jointer for this, I mill the new sole stock almost twice as thick as needed. For the Stanley 36 in relatively good condition, no taper is needed to correct wedge-shaped wear, so I plane my sole stock flat.

I power joint the beech plane body to expose fresh wood uncontaminated by oil and wax, and glue the sole stock on with 5:1 West System epoxy dyed brown. Get the free Gougeon Brother’s epoxy pamphlet from West Marine and follow the instructions…including the use of a high-strength thickener.

A good boatbuilder’s epoxy is moisture proof, is almost twice as strong and flexible as other glues and is the best choice. Clamping isn’t required… I merely place the glued assembly on a wax-papered flat surface and set a cast-iron plane atop for weight over night.

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