From Wayne's Dusty Box of Words

Let me start off by saying this is not a curatorial approach. This is about taking an old tool that has no specific historical value and restoring it to working order. If you have a tool that you believe has some objective historical value (due to the maker, time/place of manufacture, or feature/process), then please, handle it appropriately.

If, on the other hand, you have a musty molding plane from the early 18th Century. Perhaps a nice cock bead plane from England, then, by all means, let's get cracking. The rest of this assumes that we are working with a molding plane.


Prior to use, shake to mix thoroughly. You may want to do this in a well venilated area.

Apply by working it into the surface with a cotton cloth, for heavier dirt, use a green 3M pad or 0000 steel wool. Leave for several minutes then buff with a clean cotton cloth. Follow with either wax or glop (see below).

To make a quart of the cleaner:

  • 10 oz. Boiled Linseed Oil
  • 10 oz. White vinegar
  • 10 oz. Mineral Spirits or Turpentine
  • 3 oz. Denatured (Methyl) Alcohol
  • 1 oz. Household Ammonia

This isn't that kind of chemistry. You don't need to be super precise here. Mix it up and store it in a sealed glass jar.

First, let's make sure this is going to be worth our effort.

  • Is it structurally sound? At least well enough for the level of use we're likely to require?
    • Common issues include cracks, checking, missing chunks
  • Does it have wood borer holes? A couple of holes are OK, many holes are not.
  • Is the proper blade present (if appropriate)? Or you can provide a replacement?
  • If it has any controls, adjusters, fences, etc. Are they present and functional? Or at least repairable?

Dutch Bug Plane

That a look at the plane to the left here. This is a fenced rabbet plane, continental, probably Dutch or German, 19th Century. It sorts a fair bit of wood borer holes. I am not a fan of these, it's hard to be sure there are no active insects in the plane and I don't want to introduce this to my shop, so I usually pass on these. That said, even with the holes, it's a usable plane, there's plenty of structure left. Or you can take it to TGI Fridays and nail it to the wall with the other junk shop stuff they have there.

OK, we have a tool that's structurally sound and liable to stay that way for now. Let's start with gross cleaning.

Even though I am not attempting preservation per se, I would rather avoid removing material. So let's not sand stuff unless it's absolutely necessary. I have used a scraper, carefully, to remove paint, glue, and other blap (yes, that's the technical term).

For instance, the traditional plane sole lubricant in England is (sheep) tallow. This comes as a cream-colored paste and is applied, usually from a small wooden jar or similar container to the sole of a plane to reduce friction. Needless to say, over time this gets all over the place. In particular, you end up with a black waxy buildup about where you put your hands on the front and rear of the plane. It doesn't hurt anything, but it can be pretty ugly. There's probably an optimal solvent for removing it, but it scraps off easily enough.

Remove the iron and wedge and set them aside. If the wood finish is:

  • In good shape and clean: wipe down with BLO or wax depending on the tool/intended use.
  • In good shape, but dirty: scrub it with cleaner (see sidebar)
  • In poor shape, scrub it with cleaner, slather it with glop (see lower sidebar), and then wipe it down.

If done right, this will have the consistency of mayonnaise. Apply liberally with a rag (I leave a small square in the jar), let sit for a while, then wipe off the excess and buff the item.

To make a quart of the glop:

  • 10 oz. Boiled Linseed Oil
  • 10 oz. Mineral Spirits or Turpentine
  • Enough beeswax so that the result has the mayonnaise consistency.

Like with the cleaner, exactness isn't required. Start by shaving 8 oz. or so of beeswax into a jar set in a double boiler and let it melt. Add the BLO and mix it thoroughly, then let it warm up. Finally, mix in your mineral spirits and remove from heat. If when cool it's too hard, melt it and add more BLO and mineral spirits. If too soft, go back and add more wax.

You can't ruin it, just mess with it until you get it right. But. You can start a cheery blaze. All three ingredients are flammable. Caution is recommended.

Dirty ogee plane

To the left is a good candidate for a little restorative work. This is an Ogee w/ Quirk molding plane. Probably American made late 19th or early 20th Century. It cuts a profile that's an inch wide, so this is something you'd use on molding or large pieces of furniture.

Inspect the wedge. If it's broken or cracked, make a new one. You're a woodworker, right? This is a noble death for those molding planes that can't be saved, saw them up into wedge stock. At least it will be the right wood and close in age.

Now, look at the iron. In general, sharpening the iron of a molding plane is accomplished by abrading the BACK of the iron. Messing with the profile is not recommended. It's very easy to alter the profile and then the bed doesn't match the iron. So if the profile is rusty or needs work, gentle is the way to go.