Vintage Tool Rehab Projects #19: Rehabbing a Coffin Smoother For Use In My Shop

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Blog entry by Brad posted 02-14-2013 03:56 AM 2622 reads 1 time favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 18: How to doctor your saw handles Part 19 of Vintage Tool Rehab Projects series Part 20: Restoring a 19th-Century Disston Backsaw »

History, curiosity, performance. Those are the three things that motivated me to add a coffin smoother to my tool kit.

I got this plane at an antique mall in Scottsdale last summer. It had air conditioning and I reasoned that it was a great place to escape Arizona’s 113-degree oven.

One booth caught my eye and soon I held the smoother, noting the New York Tool, CO. maker’s mark plus the Auburn Tools Thistle Brand iron. At first, I was put off that the iron didn’t seat fully nor the wedge. Later, I would attribute this to shrinkage after 150 years, but at the time I was concerned that this was a defect that I couldn’t correct.

Still, I was drawn back to it because of its superb condition. Its surface sported nary a check, crack nor overly nasty ding. Sure it was dirty, but I was optimistic about bringing out the beech grain. The price read $25, but the ill-fitting wedge/iron combination allowed me to haggle the booth owner down to $20.00 via a call from the antique-mall operator. The moment I stepped back into the Arizona sauna, sweat began to bead on my…well everywhere for Pete’s sake.

But you wouldn’t know that from the smile on my face. No doubt it belied the delicious blend of anticipation and excitement I was feeling. A state of emotional intoxication that only woodworking tool restorers and children on Christmas morning can fully comprehend.

Isn’t she sexy?

Nice figure huh?

History-The plot thickens-New York Tool, CO.
As it turns out, the New York Took, CO. name was a trade name of Auburn Tool, Co. out of Auburn New York. The parent company operated between 1864-1893, ending its life like so many other fine tool makers when it merged with the Ohio Tool Company of Columbus Ohio.

From what I can tell, Auburn used labor from the local Auburn NY prison in 1864-1865, losing their contract in 1866 to a competitor. They won the contract back circa 1875-1876.

Apparently, there’s an 1867 Catalogue and Price List of Planes, Plane Irons, Rules, Gauges, Hand Screws &c. Manufactured and Sold by Auburn Tool Company, but I’ve had no luck tracking down an electronic copy.

So all I can really say is that this plane was manufactured between 1864-1893. It’s possible that it was made by convicts but given that they were used during only four years of their 29-year run, I’d say it’s statistically unlikely.

Rehabbing the coffin
Being new to rehabbing wood planes, I did a bit of research. Among the best resources were:

—Lumberjock superdav721. A fantastic two-part video series chronicling the steps Dave took to rehab his own coffin smoother.

—Lumberjock legend Don W, who details his transitional plane restoration process here.

—Lumberjock Dan, who showcases restoration finesse with methods on re-soling a wood plane and inserting an inlay to tighten the throat

Overall, I’ve found that rehabbing woodies is straightforward. However it does require greater attention to detail at critical junctures. For example, flattening the sole is pretty easy, just sand it on a flat surface or run it over a jointer, or run your jointer over the sole.

Still, I’ve found that you have to be meticulously careful to remove only the absolute minimum necessary to make it a user. Otherwise, you risk widening the mouth so much that you have to either resole the bottom or inlay a piece to tighten up the mouth.

I seem to remember reading that Bob Rozaieski of Logan Cabinet Shoppe is a minimalist when it comes to cleaning beech planes. He uses soap and water.

That’s a good idea I think if you’ve got a plane in nice shape. Also, sometimes planes have stuff written on them in the hands of the shop keepers and merchants of the 19th and early 20th century. I’d suggest leaving those historic scribbles alone.

My smoother was pretty dirty, and there was no handwriting that I could see. So I queried some Lumberjocks as to their cleaning techniques and many of them combine beeswax with turpentine, then rub it into the wood using steel wool. Apparently the wax fills the pores while the turpentine removes dirt and grime.

I was too anxious to get started to track down some beeswax, so I cleaned the wood with denatured alcohol, then soaked the plane twice in BLO, letting it sit for 15 minutes each time before wiping it off and letting it dry over night. After that, I waxed the surface. I’m happy with the results because the plane has maintained a lot of the age and patina while showing off the beech grain.

Mouth adjustments
I read somewhere to use an auger bit file to dress the sides of the mouth. This worked very well because the shape of the file easily gets into the tight confines of the side grooves that the iron moves in. There was a bump in the groove near the mouth for some reason. The file took this out along with over a century’s worth of dirt. Note that I used a light hand during this operation, taking off the minimum necessary because I didn’t want to have to put it back on.

Iron and Cap
After a night in Evaporust, I scrubbed off the remaining rust then sanded the surfaces from 220-320 grits. Next, I flattened the iron bottom to a mirror finish through 2000 grit and reestablished a consistent 25 degree bevel. I polished the bevel too, to 2000, and then stropped the bevel and back a few times on bare leather (no compound).

Then I flattened the underside of the cap iron to 400 grit to mate tightly with the iron. After affixing the cap iron to the iron I noticed that the sides of both did not line up fully. The cap iron was hanging over one side about 32nd of an inch and was shy of the other side of the iron by the same amount. Using a file, I filed off the excess (cap iron on one side and excess iron on the other) so that the cap and irons were flush. The edges were still a bit rough so I sanded the side edges together on the 150, 220, 320 grits affixed to marble slabs.

Flattening the sole
To finish the rehab, I drew a crosshatch pattern on the bottom of the sole with chalk and then sanded it on 150 grit paper affixed to marble. After about 20 total strokes, the sole was pretty flat according to my steel ruler. Then I finished with a few strokes on 220, and 320 followed by some paste wax.

The reveal
Here’s the after restoration shots.

Setting the iron
OK. I’ll be up front here. I had trouble getting a feel for this. In fact, I’m still learning the nuances of getting that iron tight, at the correct depth and at a perpendicular angle. But I have the new hickory plane mallet that I built to help me.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far.

Figured-out Item #1: To advance the iron a very little, I tap the top of the wood wedge. This tightens the wedge-iron grip against the bed while simultaneously deepening the iron ever so slightly.

Figured-out Item #2: To advance the iron more, I tap the iron directly.

Figured-out Item #3: To back out the iron, I tap the heel of the plane
Figured-out Item #4:
It’s easy for me to muck up the above adjustments and have to back out the iron and start all over.

Curiosity-How does it feel?
The coffin smoother fills my hands making for a beefy/stocky feel to my grip. It also feels quite secure without worries about slipping.

Performance-How does it finish?
This smoother definitely takes some nice shavings.

But will it replace my others? Probably not. At least, not yet. I’m going to have to fettle with it some more before I approach the glassy finish my LN #4 can sheer on cherry, or the gossamer, cloud-like shavings my SB #3 floats out. Those are my two, go-to smoothers. The LN for first passes and light planing work, then the SB (set for very-fine shavings) for the final goings-over.

Still, when it comes to history, those two fade in comparison to the rich life this 19th-century plane has lived. Welcome to the family my Auburn Thistle Lady!


-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

23 comments so far

View Deycart's profile


422 posts in 1075 days

#1 posted 02-14-2013 04:26 AM

Correct me if I am wrong, but is SB is for Stanley Bailey?

View Brad's profile


985 posts in 1558 days

#2 posted 02-14-2013 04:30 AM

Indeed it is Deycart. Stanley Bailey.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View ShaneA's profile


5547 posts in 1416 days

#3 posted 02-14-2013 04:53 AM

You got it looking good. Well done.

View Deycart's profile


422 posts in 1075 days

#4 posted 02-14-2013 05:10 AM

I think it is interesting that you use an LN for initial smoothing and then what looks like a late SW era Stanley number 3. I would think that most people would tune them for use in the reverse order.

View LukieB's profile


960 posts in 1148 days

#5 posted 02-14-2013 05:27 AM

Looks awesome Brad, thanks for sharing your process. I got a coffin that looks a lot like that one. Been hesitant to tackle the restoration, you “after” pics have me inspired…

-- Lucas, "Someday woodworks will be my real job, until then, there's this"

View Don W's profile

Don W

15918 posts in 1385 days

#6 posted 02-14-2013 12:07 PM

Nice Job Brad. I just did a New York Tool.

In case you didn’t know in 1893 the Ohio Tool company merged with the Auburn Tool Company of New York. I collect any Ohio Tools Planes I come across so the NY Tools seems to fit into the collection.

I’ve got some more info here.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View Brad's profile


985 posts in 1558 days

#7 posted 02-14-2013 02:45 PM

Deycart, my SB #3 is a Type 11 and the iron is made of O-1 tool steel versus the A-2 that my LN uses.

I’ve read comments by galoots that claim that you can hone the O-1 to a keener edge. Based on the results I’m seeing, I’d tend to agree with them. As a result, I plan to purchase an O-1 replacement blade for my LN #4. Also the #3 is shorter, so it can get into, and smooth, more of the “valleys” (as measured in tiny fractions of an inch) than the #4.

As I mentioned in my post about rehabbing the #3, I have never gotten such excellent results from a rehabbed plane.

Don, the Ohio Tool, Auburn Tool and NY Tool all have interesting histories. And quality products too. It doesn’t surprise me at all that you collect them. And being in NY, you at ground zero of NY Tool’s production. Thanks for the link buddy.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Brit's profile


5450 posts in 1660 days

#8 posted 02-14-2013 11:02 PM

That’s a beauty Brad. Wooden smoothers have a lot of charm don’t they? I have a few myself that are waiting for me to get them working properly again. You made a really nice job of that.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View BigRedKnothead's profile


6311 posts in 800 days

#9 posted 02-15-2013 01:39 AM

Haven’t entered the world of wooden planes yet. I’m afraid there will be no turning back. Coffin looks sweet and tempting though.
Also, I’m starting to favor 0-1 myself. Tried it with hock replacements and I might stick with it.
I don’t have anywhere near the knowledge or experience you guys do but I’m learning fast. A slippery slope but it’s quite a ride.

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View Mauricio's profile


6952 posts in 1969 days

#10 posted 02-16-2013 01:45 AM

Brad you post some of the most detailed blogs I’ve seen. Great work.

I love me a wooden smoother when its working just right. I have yet to try a coffin smoother but I have fiended over the old adjustable mouth ones I see from time to time but there always too expensive.
Those and the old toted wooden smoothers are the bees knees.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Brad's profile


985 posts in 1558 days

#11 posted 02-16-2013 03:37 PM

Andy, after you’re done with the saw sharpening videos, I’d love to see a blog on your woodie restoration. More particularly I’d love to see benefit from your guidance on setting up and adjusting the coffin smoother to take some nice shavings.

BigRedKnothead, God help you brother if you’ve been bitten by the plane bug. Most of what I’ve learned about this trade has been from LJs, Websites, books and videos. Woodworking does have a huge learning curve, though you can start making projects from day 1. If you accept the fact that it will take time, and a few key tools, to get tight joinery and finished projects you’ll be proud of, then you’ll be good to go. My frustrations, in retrospect came from me having unrealistic expectations about the results I could achieve with the skills and tool-set I had. More emphasis on skills than tools. Much more.

Mauricio, I like delving into the detail, but what really matters is, do you like it?

I write for your readers. So I try to develop content that I would want to see if I were reading it. On LJs, it’s like adding knowledge in little bits to a woodworking archive that people who aren’t even members, can take advantage of in the future.

Eventually, you’re going to come across a woodie that isn’t “too much,” and you’ll have many hours of exploration, discovery and using it ahead of you brother.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Brit's profile


5450 posts in 1660 days

#12 posted 02-16-2013 03:58 PM

Brad – Me thinks you give me too much credit. I have four or five wood-bodied planes which I haven’t touched since I bought them. When I eventually get around to restoring them an learning to use them, it will all be new to me too. Mind you, I suppose you could say that about anything I blog about really. I’m just making it up as I go along my friend, trying to stay one step ahead.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Don W's profile

Don W

15918 posts in 1385 days

#13 posted 02-16-2013 04:06 PM

And staying one step ahead very well. Both of you.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View Brit's profile


5450 posts in 1660 days

#14 posted 02-16-2013 04:13 PM

Brad – Phil Edwards from Philly planes posted this on YouTube.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Brit's profile


5450 posts in 1660 days

#15 posted 02-17-2013 11:55 AM

Brad – I totally blame you for my having to buy these two woodies with I. Sorby blades for £0.99p. Thanks!!!

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

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