Friday, February 11, 2011

Project: Restore an Old Hand Plane

Hand planes are essential to woodworking. Routers, jointers, and planers may do everything a hand plane does, but they are also very large and very expensive.

But Ron, I hear you saying, I've looked at good hand planes from Veritas, etc, and they're ever so much more than a router, how can I afford to spend $200+ dollars on a decent hand plane?
The answer: Don't buy your hand tools new.

Enter my #4 Stanley Handyman. The Handyman series of tools was Stanley's "homeowner" line of tools back in the day. They are good tools, but not as solid or well-machined as much of Stanley's earlier work. This one cost me $10, which is a good price for any plane.

Step 1: Disassemble your plane.

Putting your odds and ends in a bowl with some degreaser will make cleaning them up later on much easier.

Step 2: Refinish the handles. A scraper works wonderfully for getting the paint off, followed up with some 400x sandpaper and Howard's Feed-n-Wax. You can repaint them if you like.

Step 3: Clean the base and frog, making sure to strip the old paint, then paint them with some rustoleum.

Step 4: Strip the rust/dirt/gunk from the rest of the plane.

Step 5: Reassemble Your Plane.
You have now finished cleaning up your plane. Pat yourself on the back. Sadly, that was only the tip of the iceberg, and we're now getting into the monotonous part of plane restoration: flattening the sole.

You see, not all planes are created equal. The steel may be the same steel, and you'll probably have to sharpen the blade of any plane you buy anyways, but the body will be better machined on a high end plane, meaning the sole and sides will be perfectly flat, while a low end plane (such as this one) will have many imperfections which lower the overall efficiency of your plane.

Step 6: Draw all over your plane with a marker. When the marker is gone, the sole is flat.

Step 7: Run your plane over some sandpaper. Some people use mineral oil to stick sandpaper to glass, some use special lapping stones that you can buy for lots of money, me, I use some rough grit sandpaper attached to a plywood board. Continue until the marker marks are gone, in this case more than 2,000 passes.

Now that you've got the sole flat, flatten the sides. If you never plan to use your plane on it's side you can skip this step - but make sure to apply a better paint job than I did.
After you've got the slides flat you may continue the process with finer and finer grits of sandpaper. Fortunately, now that you've got the sole flat, each step takes much, much less work. I'll usually continue with 150x, 320x, 400, and, finally, 600 grit sandpaper.

Step 8: Sharpen your blade at a 25 degree angle. A jig makes this process much easier.
There is a magical point just before your blade is too sharp and will need constant maintenance, and just after it is so dull that you will never use your plane. I define that point as being able to slice fine paper without tearing. You will have to decide where that point is for you.

Put some Feed-n-Wax on the sole before you use the plane.
I plan to use this plane for rougher work, so I've got it set to produce thicker shavings. Note that you can still see light through the shaving, and it curls up on the ends. Any thicker and you're cutting too deep. Thinner is fine - but means you'll spend more time on each project.

One down, one to go.
Don't be afraid of buying old tools. With proper tuning and sharpening even an old hand plane can be made to work like a champion.


  1. I actually just got done restoring one of these exact model planes (within a couple months ago) and I used nearly the same exact process.

    It works like a dream, although the Handyman series plane irons are (according to my local woodworking store) notoriously barely worth the steel they're made of. Apparently, it's a high-iron steel that dulls fairly quickly, and I did slightly notice that when I turned a test board into shavings after I got the nicks out of the blade.

    I hope you enjoy using it; I've used mine quite a bit since I finished refinishing it. The only real difference in appearance between your finished product and mine is that I spray painted the lever cap black, and stripped all the paint off except under the words "Stanley Handyman", so the words are embossed with a black bottom (as opposed to the original color, which was red)

    Also, the screw holding the nut for the knob was completely disintegrated, and I couldn't find another screw of the same diameter and thread pitch, so I drilled out and tapped the threads to 1/4"-20 and used a 1-1/4" carriage bolt to secure the knob.

    I enjoyed this project for myself, and it's good to see someone enjoy the same project.

    ...and I agree: Don't buy your hand tools brand new. You'll appreciate it more, and have a better understanding of the how any why of the tool working (a more intimate knowledge of the tool, if you will) if you have disassembled, cleaned, restored, and reassembled it.

  2. You can buy cheap chinese replacement blades in Home Depot for about 4 dollars. A number 4 and number 5 plane both take the same blade. They are usually on the wall in the hand tools section. They can be hard to locate so check the webpage for your local Home Depot. I bought several and just throw them away when dull. They actually last a fairly long time.

  3. I am so glad to have stumbled onto your blog. I realize "most" people simply overlook or throw out "handyman" planes, I on the other hand am one of those people who will look at this tool and say "I can!".

    I received a #4 this past Christmas and have been googling and studying all there is to know about tune and true -ing of planes. And I thought mine was in bad shape. I have been at the sole with 150 grit for about 10 hours and its "almost" there I had to 2 low corners that made me wonder if the previous owner used it a hammer instead.

    My question to you is this. The frog how far forward or backward in its travel provides the best opening? I intend to use it as a #4 with some double duty as a scrub-like #5 until I can acquire #5 or #7. One your replies states using the cheap "disposable" Home Depot blades, which was the path I was thinking as well, while I learned to sharpen and use my plane the mouth of the sole is not square so I will need to file that down, I also wanted to ask since both the cap lever and chipbreaker also do not fit w/ 0 clearance what angle should the chip breaker ride at to provide the proper fitment, I have a front corner on the lever cap that will require bringing the rest of the lever down alot (enuff space for card stock to slide under now) but flat across the entire surface is what we want for the lever cap right? Thanks in advance