How I Restore Hand Planes

This has moved to the web site



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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
Black Diamond Blasting Abrasive

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

Air Sand Blaster Gun

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Edit. I upgraded my blaster. See the blog.

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.

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.

Buy your wire brushes here.

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 DE1635 Ceramic Ford Semi-Gloss Black Engine Paint – 12 oz.
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. Note 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.

A lite masking off what’s not to be painted helps save some time.


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, but have done a few by hand sanding.

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.

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 existing 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 the BLO overnight.

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

For the adjustment knob, I wire brush the outside. I try the fine brush first, if its bad enough you’ll need to start with the course, just be careful, you can take the ridges off. 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 outline, 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.


About Don
A tool nut, hand plane collector, restorer

One Response to How I Restore Hand Planes

  1. Fire Hose says:

    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the
    images on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

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