Restoring old planes

Over the years I collected a variety of old tools. My original intention was to use them for decoration in and around the shop. As reminders of the past, nostalgic symbols of days gone by. But also as a sort of stereotypes of craftwork. Like the peel on the wall at the bakery, the palet and brush above the door of a house painters’  shop or the marine equipment at your local fish restaurant.

Old planes

I found the old tools again while moving the workshop. When I unpacked the box something changed; it was like seeing the planes for the first time. It became clear to me that this were actual tools, not just decoration elements. They were never made to rest  a glass case or retire in some box under the workbench. These planes were made to be used, to shape doors, windows, chairs and tables. Yes they show signs of age, a dark patina, dust, cracks, rust and even an occasional wormhole, but also of (ab)use. What if I were to restore and start working with them again?

At lutherie school we were always a bit shy of wooden handplanes. We learned working with steel Stanley type planes and that was hard enough to master. Wooden planes were deemed imprecise, hard to set up and nearly impossible to adjust. Sometimes still in use by furniture makers who didn’t know aby better or just lost grip with reality. We thought we knew better, and all dreamed about a collecion of beautiful, but very expensive Lie Nielsen or Veritas planes.

But did we indeed know better? Or were we maybe somewhat snobish? Or just ignorant?
Probably both…

We completely forgot that the metal block plane with screw adjustment is an invention of the 19th century, and came forth of the innovations of the rising industrialisation. In the ages before, wooden models with a wedge were the norm, there simply wasn’t anything else available. Most woodworkers probably made a lot of their tools themselves.

Last december I desperately needed a scraping plane. Lacking the funds to buy a nice Lie Nielsen no. 112, I decided to try to make one myself.

There was an old beech table leg in the shop, destined to be part of a tool someday. I took  blade from one of the old block planes, filed and honed it and simply turned it around to draw a burr. It took some trial and error, but after some adjustments it worked like a dream.

Scraping Plane

One of the advantages of a wooden plane is that it can be adjusted to accommodate the desires of its owner. After thicknessing a couple of sides – and dealing with three-double blisters on the palm of my right hand – I decided to form the lower left corner after the shape of my hand. The whole plane was blackened by scorching the body with an open flame and finished with drying oil.

This whole experience led me to re-think my approach to wooden block planes. Are they really imposible to set up and use? Or was this preminition really given in by lack of knowledge and poor skills? After all, the old masters I studied (Stradivari, Voboam, Venere, Maler, Frei) all probably used wooden planes or models that at least had a wedge for adjustment. Some of the greatest works of art have been made with simple tools like these!

So I decided to give it a go and restore these old planes, curious about the results. I hope I will get to grips with the old techniques, and bring me a little step closer to the work of the old masters…

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2 Responses to Restoring old planes

  1. Claude says:

    Bravo! Tools should be used.
    I have an old transition plane with a cast iron blade mounting in a wooden shoe. It’s just as good as the metal shod Stanley, and better than that cheap block plane where the blade is wedged in with a screw clamp.
    Maybe I should try my hand at making a few planes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. darinmolnar says:

    Good man! While I’m also going through the exercise of restoring several old Bailey planes, I also have some wood blocks that are quite old. I’ve hesitated to use them, but I’m going to pull them out tomorrow and give them a second consideration. Thanks!


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