Bench plane restored the dw way.

So, I bought this bunch of planes in this pile which is shown with all the other weekend finds. Included at the bottom of the pile was this Millers Falls #10.


NOTE: This blog is not a suggestion to strip every plane and repaint. I actually would suggest otherwise if the japanning is in reasonable condition. Some are not savable and I don’t like tools that look terrible. If you can save it, I’d recommend that. If not, strip it.

And if yours just needs a good tune up, try this.

I figured since this plane needed almost anything a plane restore could need, I would expand on it a bit and talk about my methodology for metal bench plane restoration, because when I pulled it from the pile it looked like this.

First i should note that you may find the occasional picture from another plane restore. I’m not trying to trick anyone, just get the details in and I can’t guarantee i have all the pictures I need from the Millers Falls #10. Most of my planes are Stanleys, but I have to admit I have a sort of soft spot for the good Millers Falls planes. Maybe its because they are the underdog, or maybe its the brighter shinier metal that I usually have to strip because its flaking away, either way, here we go.

First I take it all apart and put the parts in a plastic container. That to keep all the parts together as best as i can. I tend to have multiple projects happening in my shop, and since I don’t do this for a living, its possible i don’t get back for a few days or a week. I don’t want to have to remember where I put the parts. I then stand for a minute to contemplate what to start on first. The decisions are usually based on mood more than a real process.

Lets talk about the japanning. I’m a firm believer in leaving the japanning on an older plane if its reasonable. It could increase the value of the plane, but a lot of the planes I find the japanning is shot. Determining what to do next will take some trial and error if you’ve never done it, but here is what I use.

If your not going to repaint, its a good idea to give the japanned areas a couple of coat of shellac. This will bring back a bit of the luster and help protect both the japanning and any bare metal where the japanning is gone. If you don’t like shellac, a good waxing will do as well.

Electrolysis. Its a a great process and will get rid of the rust, or at least make it easy to brush off. I have used it and I will continue to use it at times. The draw backs are this. It takes a little time. You need to get it set up and it typically takes over night for most planes. You need a plastic container big enough for the piece your de-rusting and you need a battery charger. I will guarantee once you’ve used it you will continue if you plan to do this often. See Al’s blog for further instructions.

I thought I’d post an update. I struggled with this a little. It always took to long so I never really bothered with it. Somewhere threw another conversation I mentioned I had a new battery charger and it didn’t seem to work right for electrolysis. Another LJ suggested putting a battery inline between the charger and the vat. What a difference. I had a dead garden tractor battery so I stuck it inline. In just seconds an old rusty block plane created this reaction.

Those are bubbles you see.

In the morning it looked like this

Evapo-rust. Sold at some Tractor Supply’s and internet sites. Its $20 a gallon so its more expensive than electrolysis. A gallon will do a quit a few plane and other tools though. Just set the piece in it and let it set over night. Again the rust will either wipe off or wire brush right off the next day. I wire brush my parts first, just to make the evapo-rust last longer and try to keep it cleaner.

To use evapo-rust, you can use a plastic tote like the electrolysis, or I made an aluminum tray out of flashing material. Its narrower so it takes less to cover the plane. I can also tilt it in one direction so its deeper on one end.


I also made a wire basket for the smaller parts.

This is what the Millers Falls looked like when it came out of the evapo-rust. I had hopes I could save the japanning, but there was to much rust under the japanning that I didn’t see until it was lifted.

Sand Blasting. My favorite for planes that you know you need to paint. I bought a $30 sand blasting gun at and haven’t looked back. Again, I try to leave the japanning if I can, but if it needs painting this is the way to go. Screened play sand will work just fine, but I bought some aluminum oxide blasting grit which works a little better. Don’t be afraid to stick with the play sand for a while. Its does a fine job. The draw back of sand blasting is you need a decent air compressor.

EDIT: I’ve noticed recently the sand blasting guns are even cheaper at Amazon.

I knew it needed to be painted, so lets break out the sand blaster.


EDIT: I’ve since updated my sandblaster. I have no complains about the one above and it served me well for the price, but this one from Harbor freight worked a bit better.




I also created a small blasting cabinet. You can re-use the media and it keeps it contained. Plus it doesn’t get all over my shop.


Note most of it is plastic except for a piece of glass in the front. That’s so its easier to wipe off and see through. The bottom is open so I set it on my bench on a flat piece of steel (plywood would work too) to catch the sand. Note the 2 hand holes in the front. What you can not see is the top. I have 2 holes drilled in a piece of plywood. One is for the air hose. The other is for a shop vac. When using play sand for media, it helps to suck the dust out so you can see.

It takes me 30-40 minute to setup and clean a base using the Sand Blaster. Obviously doing 2 or 3 at once is quicker.

Edit 7-2013. Another Sandblasting upgrade. It works better than I anticipated. I like it a lot. Its highly recommended.

Take a look at my #8c restore for more picture of before and after sandblasting.


Edit 7-2013

*Citric Acid*. I finally ordered some citric acid to try out. This stuff is great. I had trouble finding it local, so I finally ordered it from "Amazon.": I started with a #1 bag, but it seems like even that small bag will go a long way. Just add water and some powder. I haven’t used it enough to know how much exactly, but I added about 1/4 cup to my 24" window box liner and I’ve done several planes in it so far. I had a broken plane and wanted to see what happened if I left it soak to long, so I stuck it in on sunday, took it out the next Saturday. I had a nice rust free plane with no adverse affect. I highly recommend this stuff.

Note the citric acid won’t strip the japanning, so it can be used like evapo-rust for de-rusting the planes you find that you’ll be saving the existing japanning. I love finding those!!


The old fashion way. Wire brushes and scrapers and screw drivers and sand paper and whatever else you have to work the stuff off. This is the hardest way, but if you plan to only do one or two, it may be your choice.

Paint Stripper. Paint stripper will work if added to “the old fashion way” above. It will usually take a few applications. I have used it but for me its messy and time consuming. Again, if you are only going to do a few planes, it may a choice.

Next you will want to wire brush the frog so you can paint them together. I don’t have a picture wire brushing the frog, but you will want a course and a fine wire brush like this one:

There is usually a little hand work on the frog as well. I have some larger and smaller wire brushes I use. Use what ever works for you. I also have a collection of wire brushes for the drill. I will use whatever works.


Of course If your sandblasting the sole, the frog can be easily sandblasted as well.

It’s typically easier on the frog to tape off the areas to not be painted. If the base hasn’t been cleaned up I don’t bother, but If I have the rest of the base complete, I’ll mask it with painter tape.

Next paint it. Wipe it down with mineral spirits or paint thinner to get all the dust off it. I use Dupli-Color Engine Enamel DUPDE1635 Ford Semi Gloss Black spray paint or Rust-Oleum Hammered Black paint. I find the Dupli-Color to be a little closer to the original finish. What I like about the Dupli-Color Engine Enamel is you re-coat after 10 minutes. I usually let it sit for 15 minutes and add a coat. I will give it 4 or 5 coats. Warning you can not re coat if you wait longer than about 1 hour though. If it starts to set up the fresh paint will cause the semi dry paint to peel and curl up. If you need to repaint wait 7 days as described on the can.


NOTE: If you want to try traditional japanning, here is a very very good series,

I try to paint the frog and base together just to save time.

I may take the fork off if it comes apart easily. I paint the fork as well.

Next Polish the sides of the base. I use a belt sander if they need it, but have done a few by hand sanding. I find most can be cleaned up well enough with the wire wheel. It really depends on how much shine you’re looking to get. I like the flat luster from the wire wheel.

Flatten the frog. File the frog flat. It really doesn’t matter if you do this before or after painting. I usually wind up doing it after. I lock it in a vise and hold the file flat while filing it. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Some like to polish this as well, but its not really necessary.


Check and fix the cap iron. First thing I do is wire brush it. It should be re-rusted by now with whatever you decided, or you can just wire brush it. I find I will wire brush it first, then throw it in the evapo-rust if It still needs a little help. You can also touch it to a belt sander to shine it up a bit if needed. I go into more detail here.

Sharpen it After cleaning up the iron (just like the cap iron) you’ll need to sharpen it. How I go about that process is described here.

Now for the wood. I chuck the knob in the drill press.

I use a bolt with a 1/4” Philips head that’s been ground down slightly so it fits inside the knob where the brass nut goes. Tighten it down with a washer and chuck it in the drill press. Only chuck it hand tight so you don’t trash the threads.

Sand it with 60 grit if it still has a varnish or hard finish. then up through 500 grit. If it had an oil finish I’ll start with 220 grit. First few coats of BLO goes on with steel wool while in the drill press. If the exisitng finish is hard, it is usually easier to scrape it first.

For the tote, I haven’t found an easier way than possibly scraping if its a hard finish, and sanding as you would any other piece of wood.

Finish the wood with boiled linseed oil (BLO). If its a really dry old piece, soak it in tyhe BLO overnight.

If you need to make a new tote. If you need to fix a broken tote

For the adjustment knob, I first soak it in lemon juice. The lemon acid loosens the crud and help the tarnish come off. I wire brush the outside. I use a fine brush first, if its bad enough you’ll need to start with the course, just be careful, you can take the ridges off. You typically won’t need the course after you’ve soaked it.



Then I chuck it in the drill press. I will add a piece of paper towel or rag between the jaws and the knob to protect it. Just tighten it hand tight. I then rip some pieces of sand paper  about 1/4” by 1” and sand the inside. If its bad I’ll start with 120 grit up to 500 grid.


The brass nuts that holds the knob and tote on will go straight to the buffing wheel.

Cap Irons get wire brushed. I usually leave it with the brushed look. This Millers Falls was chromed, but it was shot, so I took it right off and left it. I painted this one on a Solar.

To get the red background, I will mask the outside ouline, paint it, let it dray and sand it with a sanding block. 220 grit, 320 grit, and 500 grit works for me.

Next flatten the sole. I don’t have a piece of granite yet, so I’m still doing it on the table saw top. If it proves to be real bad, I’ll start it on the belt sander, like I do the sides, but I always finish it on the flatter surface of the table saw. Turn the plane front and push in all directions to keep it flat and even.

Wire brush all the remaining screws and washers. I typically add a little axle grease before putting the screws back in.

As I’m putting everything together I give it a coat of Fluid Film to keep the rust away.

Or Wax it

And a few more “After” pictures.

For more information, check out the links on my reference blog.


14 Responses to Bench plane restored the dw way.

  1. Pingback: The Sargent 708 « time tested tools

  2. Dave says:

    Don stop you are showing your secrets.
    Nicely done Don. I learned a lot. Well written.

  3. fachento says:

    Thanks Don! Just picked up a jack plane that needs restoring – I’ve never done electrolysis, and that may just be what needs to be done!

  4. Pingback: Tuning it up, Bench Plane Style « time tested tools

  5. Dave says:

    Wow! That is a beautiful restoration. And thanks for the well written, informative article. I’ve always been afraid to tackle such a project. This article makes me want to jump in the deep end!

    Well done, sir! Cheers!

  6. Pat M says:

    Question about the battery trick for the charger, you take the leads from the charger hook them the battery and then take two leads from there to the tool and sacrificial metal??

  7. Pat M says:

    Don, much appreciate the feedback, got myself a nice little shoulder plane that needs a fence. Would you be able to steer me to someone who might have one at a REASONABLE PRICE. You would think these things were made of solid gold. I saw one that was been sold for $285, I thought maybe I read it wrong and that it was for the entire tool, but NO. LOL

  8. I’ve put together a list of resources. Its just a list, some I’ve used, some I haven’t. I usually send a bunch of emails and wait for the replies.

  9. Pat Meeuwissen says:

    Don, finally got around to cleaning and sharpening the shoulder plane, is the iron supposed to be slightly wider than the body? It looks original but thought it should be flush on both sides?? What type of wax do you use to protect your finished restores? I have paste wax and beeswax, the later seemed too “gummy”.

  10. Mary C says:

    Excellent resource – the most thorough I have ever seen! Many thanks for sharing your wealth of expertise. I have refurbed a Sargent 409c that belonged to my Grandfather – one of his many tools that I use and cherish. Have you ever used 50/50 BLO/mineral spirits to preserve your metals tools? I live in the tropics, near the ocean and it works wonders preventing rust.

  11. Thanks for the compliment and the tip. I have used BLO on metal tool, but never mixed it. I’ll have to give that a try.

  12. This is a great article, I just bought three hand-planes (a Stanley 4 1/2, Stanley 7, and an unknown block plane) for $20. They all look about how this one started. I’m planning on making all three usable again, and will definitely be applying these tips.

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