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  Cleaning Wooden Tools and Linseed Oil by Wiktor Kuc  

The following are a few thoughts on cleaning wooden planes.

This outline was triggered by someone's idea of soaking wooden plane in Raw Linseed Oil for days as a means for cleaning, restoration and possibly closing checkering and splits in plane’s body. I will address this specific idea at the end.

This is not a laughing matter – fifteen years ago I did this myself because I didn’t know better.

I outlined here my thinking behind “restoring” wooden planes and other wooden tools or wooden parts of tools. It is based on my own experience. The following points are applicable to “user” tools.

Very Important – Caution! - Spontaneous Combustion

Rags saturated with linseed oil and stored in a pile are considered a fire hazard. They provide a large surface area for oxidation of the oil, and the oil oxidizes quickly.

The oxidation of linseed oil is an exothermic reaction, which accelerates as the temperature of the rags increases. When heat accumulation exceeds the rate of heat diffusion into the environment, the temperature increases and may eventually become hot enough to make the rags spontaneously combust.

Goals in restoring wooden tools:

  1. Clean up and remove old grime and particles.

  2. Repairs

  3. Protection

I will briefly outline point 1 only.

Understanding Linseed Oil (LO)

There are two varieties of LO – Raw Linseed Oil (RLO) and Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO).

RLO dries very slowly – weeks. It is a natural form of Linseed Oil produced from flax seeds.

BLO dries fast – hours. It is a RLO with additives to speed up drying time.

I don’t bother with RLO. It is simply good for one purpose only (in tools world) – cleaning. There are varieties of reasons why some prefer RLO and its fine with me.

Cleaning wood

The simple way to clean wood is to use how water, soap (variety of forms – the simplest is best) and brush. This needs to be done quickly since water could raise wood fibers.

I prefer to use a mixture often used by tool restorers: BLO, turpentine or Mineral Spirits, and Vinegar. The 33/33/33/ mixture is fine. I use about 20/50/30 mixture since my goal is to dissolve all grime quickly and move on. I dry cleaned surface with a rugs and move to the next step – whatever that step is.

The RLO can also be used for cleaning purposes. The mixture is basically the same as above with emphasis on drying cleaned surface very thoroughly with rugs. Remember, RLO doesn’t dry quickly and it can take weeks to get rid of it.

Why these ingredients are used for cleaning?

In both cases – Water/Soap and LO/Turp/Vinegar mixtures have the same capabilities and work on the same principles.

Water, turpentine and mineral spirits are solvents and penetrators. Soap and LO are oils and fats that dissolve other oils and fats, and vinegar reacts chemically with minerals accumulated on wood. All these functions and physical force (brush, scrubbing pads, steel wool, etc.) remove most of the unwanted dirt and grime from wood surface.

Now, what about that soaking wooden plane in Raw Linseed Oil?

First – any prolonged application of LO of any variety (RLO or BLO) will darken the wood. If wooden plane is immersed in LO for days, the wood will take very, very dark color with grain not readable at all. It will simply become a chunk of dark wood.

Soaking in RLO will additionally create a situation where the oil will never dry and will drip out of wood forever.

Second - soaking in LO will never close substantial checkering or splits in a wooden plane.

Wiktor Kuc
November, 2015



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