The following are a few thoughts on cleaning wooden
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! -
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:
Clean up and remove old grime and particles.
I will briefly outline point 1 only.
Understanding Linseed Oil (LO)
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.
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?
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
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.