I rehabbed a plane. It took more work than I normally like (I’m a minimalist. I like to keep as much original patina as I can. And I’m lazy.) but it had to be done. And now, the rest of the story.
About 15 miles from the tourist trap known as Tombstone AZ (Motto: The town too tough to die, but not too proud to make a mockery of itself for your tourist $$.) lies the Rattlesnake Crafts and Rocks. Or at least they used to. They advertised on Craigslist that they were closing up shop and had some old tools for sale so I drove out to see what I could pick up cheap.
It wasn’t a pretty site. I’d show pictures of the battlefield, but you’d cry. You can click that link up above and you might find a hint of the carnage I saw. Basically just a thousand square feet of tables filled with colored rocks and rusted remains of once proud tools. I didn’t see any rattlesnake stuff, but I came home with a truckfull of trash that looked like this:
That’s the second of two piles of rust I brought home. Now before you go crying and thinking the previous owner should be shot I need to remind you that this is southern AZ. In addition to the usual tool collectors and users we have two other distinct types to worry about. There are the ex-hippies in Bisbee who take a brace, bend it into a pretzel, paint it gold and stick it up a mannequins butt and call it “art.” ($1200 at any of a dozen local galleries). And then there are the desert dwellers 20 miles from nowhere who pile them up just inside the barbed wire amidst the cacti and let the monsoon rains eat it away. Their motto is “Yes, those are my tools, they’re not for sale now get off my lawn.” The owner of Rattlesnake ranch was one of the latter except that he also turned a bunch of snakes into wallets, belts and paperweights and made somewhat of a living doing it. (Actually he was a very nice guy who should have gone insane from living in a travel trailer in the middle of nowhere for 30 years.)
So anyhow, I picked through and grabbed what I could – got a nice large grinding wheel on a very rusted out frame, a dozen or so planes of which maybe 6 are salvagable, and a small pile of broadaxes. I didn’t pay a lot, but still probably overpaid considering the state everything was in.
A few of the planes I just stripped down and grabbed the good parts – everything else went straight into the trash can. Then I picked out a plane to restore. First up was a Stanley #4C type 11 (short knob, 1910-1918). Wood was rotted away, everything was black with rust, iron was bent. It was beyond evaporusting so I fired up the electrolysis kit. A few days of zapping and then it was a quick rejapanning. I didn’t quite cook the body long enough to thorougly dry the japanning, so of course I scuffed it up when I reassembled it all. I only cleaned the sides to make sure there was no remaining rust – it’s not a shooting plane so there is no need to try and grind them square to the sole and I’m not using it as a shaving mirror so no need to shine it up with 1200 grit sandpaper. The iron turned out to be a newer vintage with deep pits and a big bend, so I dumped it in favor of a generic cutter off of an orange plane with a lever cap that just said “SEARS” in black marker. By now I had 4 days in this thing, which is 3.5 more than I usually do. And I still needed a tote and knob. I couldn’t find the chunk of mystery wood I had been saving for such an emergency, so I went to Tucson and grabbed some bubinga. It took longer to apply the finish than it did to cut them out but
here it is.
It doesn’t look great alone but when you compare it to the before pics, it’s not half bad. (Although I won’t use bubinga again, I’m not a big fan of the color here.) I didn’t get a good pic of this plane alone before restoration, but it looked a lot like this one (A WW2 era #4) that is next in line.
The only real disappointment was the bubinga. I have a chunk of dark close-grained wood that I THOUGHT was bubinga, but can’t find it. I bought the bubinga used for this plane thinking maybe it would look different when oiled, but it is obviously not what I was imagining. I’ll be hunting down the wood I do have and posting a “whatsit.” If I can find it, and enough more of it, I’ll probably redo the tote/knob.
So that’s my story, something to think of next time you’re driving in the middle of nowhere and see a yardfull of rusting iron.