Ever use an antique wood body plane?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Power Tools, Hardware and Accessories forum

Forum topic by StumpyNubs posted 12-24-2010 04:17 PM 5802 views 1 time favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View StumpyNubs's profile


7590 posts in 2797 days

12-24-2010 04:17 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question plane

I am sure some of you have used them, but I wanted to know what you had to do to make them useable. I have a collection of very old, solid wood bench planes. Whenever I see one at an antique shop or estate salee, i just HAVE to buy it. I love history and these just make me think about the craftsman who labored with it 150 years ago.

As you can imagine, the condition of these old planes is often terrible. Soles neet flattening, blades are rusted, checks are found on the ends… But has anyone here ever restored one and used it?

Are the old blades of any quality? I’d hate to discard an antique blade if it is useable, and the way I see it, that blade used to work just fine!

Do a few checks (cracks) in the endgrain really matter if the sole of the plane is solid and flat?

Care to add any photos of your old wood body planes?

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

13 replies so far

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2995 days

#1 posted 12-24-2010 08:32 PM

Basically you just clean them up like you would a piece of furniture. A little oil to refresh the finish. Checks in the end are generally no problem. As long as the checks have not split the wood to the point that it moves, they are just cosmetic. Tap the plane body with no wedge or iron with a mallet and if it rattles, you have firewood or scrap wood for fixing other planes.

The irons are generally good quality and nice and thick. It just may take some effort to get past deep pitting. If the body is trash, just make another one for the iron. It’s fun.

As long as the wedge keeps the iron in place you should have no problem. If it makes you feel better, you can flatten the sole a bit but remember that the flattening that you do will take wood off the bottom and open up the mouth. Even with a wide mouth, it can serve well for rough work but fine work really demands a tight mouth. It doesn’t have to be perfectly flat. Some people obsess over sole flatness. It really doesn’t make any difference either way.

If the mouth is too wide, you can fit in a patch or even add more wood to the whole sole. Also, some people make movable pieces of wood or brass make the mouth adjustable. Most of the irons are not even thickness. They are wedge shaped. As the iron gets worn by sharpening, it gets thinner. Also, a lot of them are laminated. They have a hard plate welded to softer iron backing and if that is gone, it will not keep an edge. Ever.

Just in general, sharpen them up and have at it. You will find that the wooden planes generally glide across the wood easier, are not as tiring to use and are simple and satisfying to use.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View StumpyNubs's profile


7590 posts in 2797 days

#2 posted 12-24-2010 09:37 PM

WOW- I really appreciate the great advise. I am totally new to hand planes and while I do have some middle quality Iron planes, I would love to make use of some of these old wood body planes.

For me it all comes down to function. I would be very hesitant to samd and refinish the wood because it takes all of the history away with it. I have some broken handles to deal with, but otherwise I think most of them are in good shape. I’ll have to begin closely examining blades. If a blade is unusable, I won’t replace it. If I’m going to drop $80 or so on a good blade I’ll get a new plane. But I suppose I could save the body and someday I may get a bad plane with a good blade of the same size.

Anyone have photos of your old planes?

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2885 days

#3 posted 12-24-2010 11:11 PM

In my experience, the old blades are better than most of what’s on the market today. A little TLC and a good sharpening and they’re happy to serve for another lifetime.
As for a body that’s past its prime, they make good shop decorations and you can make a copy using it as a pattern. Just make the mouth as narrow as possible; it can be widened easily when you’re doing the fine tuning by sanding the sole, but you can’t make it narrower without splicing in a piece which is undesirable.

WARNING! Once you get into wooden bodied planes, you won’t go back, and once you start making them, it’s addicting!

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3056 days

#4 posted 12-24-2010 11:23 PM

The main thing is the same thing that is true of any plane. Sharp. It is not possible to be too sharp. I love the way those old irons sharpen up. However, many of them have a hard piece of tool steel welded onto the cutting end. However, the rest of the iron is just soft steel. If one gets ground until this tool steel is gone, then you have nothing but raw steel left. It will sharpen up nicely, but will not hold an edge very well at all. Of course, like any plane, the sole needs to be flat. Of smoothing, the mouth needs to be tight. However, I have one old wooden jack plane that I converted into a scrub plane. I posted it here It isn’t pretty, but it works quite well. One other thing that if important is that the wedge locks the iron securely. A proper fitted wedge is important.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18269 posts in 3673 days

#5 posted 12-25-2010 05:48 AM

CAn’t you weld some more tools steel on the iron when it is gone?

Can you use a thin piece of wood behind the blade to close up the mouth a little or wil it chatter too much?

BTW, this body is past its prime ;-((

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2995 days

#6 posted 12-25-2010 07:07 AM


You could weld some but by the time you did, it would be easier to make a new one. This is a forge weld where the piece of tool steel is a thin plate over the whole width of the blade and going up an inch or two at least. Then you still have to re-harden and temper. It is not impossible, just a fairly sophisticated bit of blacksmithing. People do it all the time but it takes a full forge set up. It would be easier to just get a piece of mill stock tool steel to make a completely new iron out of. Even then, it would just be for fun unless you were into the blacksmithing. I have a stash of single irons for some small planes to make in the future that I picked up for $7-$13.,41182,46334

You can get old double irons for little money and new ones for much less than it would cost for the blacksmithing tools and fuel.

You can’t really put a spacer behind the blade because it would mess up the way that the wedge fits. Insetting wood in front is the way to go. It can be a solid piece or a movable block that you can adjust to close it up tight.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18269 posts in 3673 days

#7 posted 12-25-2010 07:44 AM

You mean make a new one of 100% tool steel? I was taught to weld in a forge when I was in high school, but I don’t have a forge set up. I did have a 100# anvil and was going to set it up, but I decided it is too dirty. Woodworking makes a lot more sense ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View canadianchips's profile


2600 posts in 2994 days

#8 posted 12-25-2010 01:44 PM

Ya, I do have some. The moulding planes are the ones I enjoy most. Trying to resharpen them is a little trickier, but when I get it right, OH MY WHAT A FEELING !!!!! I am still in the learning process of these. Finding out which ones work well and which ones just shave the wood and plug up quickly. I still buy them at yard sales and auctions whenever I can.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Fly's profile


3 posts in 2839 days

#9 posted 12-25-2010 03:50 PM

Closing up the mouth on a wood body plane was historically done by in laying a patch of wood at the mouth and shaping to suit. Very often they would to use a superhard tropical hardwood for wear resistance.

I use an old coffin shaped smoother with a thick tapered iron and love it. Some woodworking masters use nothing but wood body planes, many homemade. Some good references are books by James Krenov, Building Classic Small Craft Volume 2 by John Gardner (boat builders wooden planes described extensively in an appendix) and Hand Planes : The Care and Making of a Misunderstood Tool by Timothy Ellsworth, Fine Woodworking #1

View HorizontalMike's profile


7757 posts in 2911 days

#10 posted 12-25-2010 04:50 PM

Found this in the American Woodworker about how to fix the mouth of a wooden plane. I have my great grandfather’s 1860s 20” Auburn Tool Co plane that I flattened with a jointer and will be fixing/closing the mouth when I get around to it.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Paul's profile


660 posts in 4089 days

#11 posted 12-25-2010 08:25 PM

Look for this book: “Restoring, Tuning and Using Classic Woodworking Tools” by Michael Dunbar

-- Paul, Texas

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 2774 days

#12 posted 12-26-2010 07:56 PM

+1 on the Michael Dunbar book. It’s out of print I think but worth every penny.

-- Nate,

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18269 posts in 3673 days

#13 posted 12-26-2010 09:31 PM

Looks like he should republish. Used start at $40 and go up over $100. what did they sell for new?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics