Restoring a wooden plane

The first planes I had were a Stanley 5 ½ and a #4, so I passed over the old-fashioned wooden planes because they didn’t have all the “advanced” adjustments.  I also made a few wooden planes early on, but it still took years for me to appreciate the elegance of a traditional coffin smoother.  This one cost $20 at the flea market, missing it’s wedge and a huge chip out of the over-sized throat opening.

IMG_0923 My axiom is that the worst damage to an old tool has been done by it’s last owner.  Certainly, this one had been abused by somebody.  After cleaning and honing the blade, the initial problem became apparent; the cap had never been properly fitted to the blade. Not understanding how to correct the problem, the owner had instead attacked the throat and abutments with a keyhole saw and chisel.  The resulting butchery is clear evidence of his frustration.



Unfortunately, none of these efforts improved the plane’s function.  And, given it’s damaged condition, why bother restoring?  The plane iron is marked “Moulson Brothers, Warranted Cast Steel” which indicates a high-quality English manufacture, mid-1800’s.  And the beechwood body is stamped “A J Wilkinson & Co. Boston”, a good American plane maker.  Why not make a wedge, repair the throat, sharpen the iron properly, and give it a go?  Most of the damage is superficial and a bit of epoxy and wood dust will fill them, and the cheeks aren’t split out which is a common problem with these planes.


The Moulson blade turns out to be most excellent laid steel, the hardness feels comparable to Japanese blades in the way it responds to grinding and honing.  Fitting the cap took a bit of time, and it may need some refinement.  For now, it works, and  I can plane without jamming shavings, which is better than the original owner’s experience.


Honestly, the throat opening is quite a bit wider than I intended.  In my haste to get it working, I took a big chip out of the ebony and that determined the opening.  Really doesn’t seem to matter, and I have other planes with superfine openings, so I’ll use this one for a while and let it tell me what it needs.  A small hammer, a few careful taps…


A sharp blade is far more important than a tight throat opening.  Most people who write about planes exaggerate the importance of a perfectly flat back (desirable, not essential) and the amount of crown in the edge.  Crown should be reckoned in thousandths of an inch, not fractions.  Ideally, a shaving is .002-.003″ or less in the middle, thinning out to nothing at the edges.  If the plane’s sole is dead flat, that’s about how much crown is needed, with the corners knocked back a bit more.

The singular advantage of wooden planes is that the sole can be shaped to a slight curve across it’s width, along it’s length, or both.  The crown in the edge should complement the curve of the sole, projecting slightly more in the middle and effectively cutting like a carving gouge.  With a small beechwood plane like this, the mass is concentrated in the iron toward the cutting edge and only a small part of the sole is actually in contact.  The old carpenters called this a scudding plane.  Smudges and chatter marks on that old pine disappear like spindrift, and it shines like new money.  Not bad for $20.

About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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