The Tale of the Tippy Table Top

Recently I saw an interesting blog post about converting treadle sewing machine bases into side tables. I was at an antique store a few weeks ago and found a sewing machine base for a reasonable price, so I brought it home and decided to make myself a nice rustic looking side table.

I cut some mystery wood I'd saved from the post-powderpost-beetle-invasion-of-2014 burn pile roughly to size and glued up my new table top. I set it on the base and then that project got put aside for a few weeks. I came back to it last week and it had twisted to an unbelievable degree, which came as a shock because the wood had previously been aged and stored properly for over twenty five years. What was even more shocking was when it twisted a second time, but by that time, I was committed and too stubborn to toss it back in the burn pile (which, let's be honest, is where it belonged from the start).

That's a lot of twist, and a LOT of potential planing. 

That's a lot of twist, and a LOT of potential planing. 

I realized that I had two choices- to try to battle the piece as a whole or to cut it back apart to deal with each piece individually. I chose the latter. Had I known the seven layers of hell I was about to go through with those boards, I probably would have opened a nice cold porter and enjoyed it while warming my hands over a satisfying bonfire instead of pursuing this little project, but hindsight is 20/20, and let's face it, I'm stubborn (did I already mention that? Maybe I'm humble too).

Sawing through this material was quite a workout.

Sawing through this material was quite a workout.

Once I had the tabletop cut into three pieces, I could immediately see the twist. 

Winding sticks, commercial or homemade, really help to point out twist, though in this case, it was pretty obvious.

Winding sticks, commercial or homemade, really help to point out twist, though in this case, it was pretty obvious.

The first thing to do when dealing with twist is to get the piece sitting square on the benchtop so it's not moving all around while you're planing. 

A few homemade shims really did the trick to get this twisted piece sitting level on the benchtop. 

A few homemade shims really did the trick to get this twisted piece sitting level on the benchtop. 

Once I had the piece securely fastened and leveled with shims, chamfered the back edge of the board with a low angle block plane and then started traversing the grain with my scrub (going diagonally back and forth until the scrub would take a full shaving), paying special attention to the areas the winding sticks pointed out as being high. I used my antique Stanley No. 40 Jack with a replacement blade Hock Tools contributed to the Community Tool Chest. The key when using a scrub is to keep that back edge chamfered to reduce blowout on the edges and to check back with the winding sticks often because it takes such a huge shaving. 

It is inconceivable for Penny to nap or play anywhere other than right in the middle of the action all the time. She is constantly in the way, but always too cute for me to care. 

It is inconceivable for Penny to nap or play anywhere other than right in the middle of the action all the time. She is constantly in the way, but always too cute for me to care. 

It is helpful to mark your high and low spots as you are planing, especially on wide or long boards because things can get confusing quick. As I'm planing, I hold the sole of my plane or a winding stick at an angle with a light behind it so I can see where the wood is high. As I drag it across the surface, I follow the high and low lines with a pencil and fill them in accordingly so I can plane away high spots and avoid low spots. 

It is helpful to mark your high and low spots as you are planing, especially on wide or long boards because things can get confusing quick. As I'm planing, I hold the sole of my plane or a winding stick at an angle with a light behind it so I can see where the wood is high. As I drag it across the surface, I follow the high and low lines with a pencil and fill them in accordingly so I can plane away high spots and avoid low spots. 

Once I finished with the scrub, I used my low angle jack the same way, diagonally across the whole board until the scrub marks were gone, then straight, following the grain of the wood, checking often for square. The finish from my Jack plane (I used the Lee Valley Low Angle Jack for this in tandem with my refurbished Stanley Type 11 Number 5 Jack) was sufficient for my needs, or I would have then moved on to my Stanley No. 3 or 4 smoother.

I finally, after no small effort, got all three pieces flat on one side again, so I decided to stack them up and come back the next day. I brought my coffee into the shop the next morning to find the wonderful surprise that all but one had again twisted. I should have known better than to have stacked them without stickers (pieces of wood set between each piece to allow airflow) or weight on top of them, but I figured only a few hours wouldn't be enough time to allow for twist. Unfortunately we also got 6 inches of rain that night and humidity was through the roof. Hence I got to flatten them again. Chalk it up to more planing practice, amiright? But this time, one of the pieces just would. not. cooperate. So when you have a big problem, one easy way to solve it is to make it smaller. Literally. 

One can never be too careful- I wanted to make sure these boards went back together the same way I cut them apart- and I triple dog dare you to try to find the seams now that they are back together. 

One can never be too careful- I wanted to make sure these boards went back together the same way I cut them apart- and I triple dog dare you to try to find the seams now that they are back together. 

Once I had flattened each of those stubborn components, it was necessary to joint the edges so they could be re-attached. 

Using a proper square from the face side of the piece can help make sure you're planing the edge square. 

Using a proper square from the face side of the piece can help make sure you're planing the edge square. 

Sometimes it helps to get a little light behind the square.

Sometimes it helps to get a little light behind the square.

Keeping my hand as a guide on the underside of the plane against the wood, I carefully plane the edges square to the face. A good way to check your progress is shown below. 

Set the two mating edges on a flat surface and put a flashlight behind them. If you can see light poking through the other side, you're off. 

Set the two mating edges on a flat surface and put a flashlight behind them. If you can see light poking through the other side, you're off. 

If you're having trouble, planing mating edges together can help. It makes the planing surface wider and also minimizes the chance for errors. Another tip is to tape the pieces together using blue painter's tape so they don't move around when mounting in the vise. 

If you're having trouble, planing mating edges together can help. It makes the planing surface wider and also minimizes the chance for errors. Another tip is to tape the pieces together using blue painter's tape so they don't move around when mounting in the vise. 

I finally got the top glued back together using many clamps and cauls. This time, I oriented the boards differently so I would hopefully be done with twist for good. Unfortunately somehow I didn't get a picture of that rinky dink glueing setup, but, oh well. After I got the clamps off I had a lot of glue cleanup to do. I pulled out my dedicated glue cleanup plane and got to work. You don't likely want to use your favorite planes or chisels for glue cleanup because there is potential for blade damage and dullage (made up word? possibly). Since sharpening isn't my favorite task, I use this guy to make quick work of glue cleanups. 

Why do I have a dedicated glue plane? This plane was given to me as a test product a while back. It was built to be a smoother, but the mouth was far too wide. It could be a jack, but the design of the rear of the plane doesn't allow for comfortable use over long periods of time. It has an A2 blade which stays sharp and holds a good edge against glue and since this isn't one of my favorite planes, I won't be upset if I mess it up a little during glue cleanup. 

Why do I have a dedicated glue plane? This plane was given to me as a test product a while back. It was built to be a smoother, but the mouth was far too wide. It could be a jack, but the design of the rear of the plane doesn't allow for comfortable use over long periods of time. It has an A2 blade which stays sharp and holds a good edge against glue and since this isn't one of my favorite planes, I won't be upset if I mess it up a little during glue cleanup. 

After all my hard work squaring the boards prior to the glueup, it was ready to be cut down to it's final dimension soon thereafter. 

My trusty Florip hybrid halfback made quick and easy work of squaring this bit up

My trusty Florip hybrid halfback made quick and easy work of squaring this bit up

Then I just needed to plane the sawn edges square. 

In defense of my absolute rubbish sawing here, I realized it might be quicker just to plane this tiny bit off instead of trying to keep a straight sawline where there wasn't enough material to keep the saw in the cut. 

In defense of my absolute rubbish sawing here, I realized it might be quicker just to plane this tiny bit off instead of trying to keep a straight sawline where there wasn't enough material to keep the saw in the cut. 

I prepared some bits of Black Limba with which to attach the table top to the frame, carefully cutting sliding bits for the screws to allow for wood movement. I drilled several holes then used a chisel to hog out the waste between them. 

There are few things you can't do with a trusty brad point drill bit and an eggbeater drill. 

There are few things you can't do with a trusty brad point drill bit and an eggbeater drill. 

And Voila, the case of the Tippy Table Top was solved. With no small amount of sweat, cursing, coffee, beer, and stubbornness. Stay tuned to see the brilliant use I've come up with for the table in my shop. 

You don't get to see the finished product yet because I've since come up with a super brilliant top secret Part 2 for the function of this table. 

You don't get to see the finished product yet because I've since come up with a super brilliant top secret Part 2 for the function of this table. 

Posted on October 8, 2014 .

My "ATC" Build

With the help and careful instruction of my sister's husband, Ryan, I built my own version of the ATC. I used many elements from the one he designed, one that would hang on the wall because when I started, my husband still hadn't given up his parking space in the garage, and floor space was at a premium. I still think of my tool chest as the crowning achievement of my woodworking endeavors thus far- though as my tool collection and my shop space has expanded, I am very tempted to build the real ATC someday soon.

Ryan taught me to approach woodworking by designing furniture using wood and tools already on hand rather than buying dimensioned stock and working from plans. It is both cheaper and less wasteful. He taught me to look at other people's work, read all available materials on the subject, measure the materials I have on hand, then shut all books and draw a basic design that takes all those things into account.

The working plans I used to build the chest were written on a single sheet of paper and only contained rough measurements. From there I used a story pole (a stick with the measurements specific to this project on it like a not-so-fancy ruler) and transferred measurements from one piece to another with marking gauges and adjustable squares to minimize math mistakes (which would run rampant in my work if I was ever forced to use math, which I suck at).

Update- my struggles with math are why my living room coffee table is two inches shorter than planned, why the first top I built for my writing desk didn't fit, and why I had to special order timber to finish the roof of my rabbit hutch. Below you will find the process shots and explanations behind what is going on in the pics. Most of the pictures were taken in Ryan's shop and those are his fancy tools not mine :)


Posted on August 21, 2014 .

Getting started with handtool woodwork

Image from Wood and Shop. Click above for a great writeup on the book.

Image from Wood and Shop. Click above for a great writeup on the book.

My first suggestion would be to pick up a copy of the Anarchist's tool chest by Chris Schwarz. The book talks about your basic toolkit needed and is also an awesome instructional on how to build your own tool chest, which is a great exercise in hand tool use. Though I chose a wall hanging chest for my first toolchest, it was an incredible exercise in planning, hand planing, sawing, joinery, nailing, glueups, finishing... the list goes on. I love the book because it is incredibly well written and is actually really interesting and engaging, something I can't say for most woodworking books.  It talks about bare bones stuff- what you need and what you can forget.

When I first got started I got way too excited about all the fancy gadgets and gizmos and wasted a lot of time and money at the outset on things I didn't need. In my experience, it is way better to invest in high quality tools for your bare bones toolkit and get to practicing instead of wasting a whole bunch of time trying to amass the perfect collection. Something I didn't think about when I was getting started was that most of my woodworker friends and mentors had been doing woodwork for many years- a long time to amass a large collection of tools and amortize out the initial tool investment. 

In my experience, you can do pretty much everything you need to with two bevel edge socket chisels, a 1/4" and a 1/2"  a number 3 or 4 plane and a number 6 or 7 plane, a dovetail saw and a good rip and crosscut saw. I went the "cheaper" route of restoring antiques, which if you learn how to do well and you don't get distracted by all the shineys (and not so shineys) on eBay and elsewhere, that can really work for you.

That said though, after buying a few duds and not knowing really what I was doing at first, I probably would have done really well to just buy the bare basics from Lee Valley Veritas or Lie Nielsen. They come out of the box ready to do woodwork and you can get started practicing sawcuts and mortises and dovetails right away instead of starting with a huge, messy restoration project that may or may not go as planned (someday remind me to tell you about how I disintegrated a lot of antique calipers in vinegar).  They are set up right, and are heirloom quality so they hold their value if you decide handtool woodwork is not for you and you just want to sell them.

That said though, the hunt for good tools in surprising places, relationships along the way and restoring pieces of discarded, rusty history has been just as much if not more thrilling to me than handtool woodwork itself. So if you're like me in that way check out the blog post on restoring old tools for more info on how to do it.

When I first started spending time with Frank, my 93 year old woodworking buddy, I was always confused as to why he always wanted to use power tools and was never interested in handtools. I think a huge part of it is that he has never had the chance to use a truly sharp and well tuned handtool. I restored one of his planes for him and I'm pretty sure it's still in his drawer right where I left it after I gave it back :). And, especially for beginner hand tool users, using a poorly sharpened or just a poor quality handtool can be frustrating enough to turn one off to them forever.

That is why I'll recommend again that beginners just pony up the extra bucks for well tuned handtools at the outset. And one of the most important first things a handtool user needs to learn is how to sharpen tools. I might write an article on how I sharpen if someone requests it, but for every one woodworker, there are ten different ways to sharpen a tool. Do some research, pick one, and stick with it. Otherwise, you're going to waste a ton of money on all kinds of jigs and fixtures you simply don't need. 

My first dovetails

Once you have a couple sharp tools to work with, GET STARTED! Practice, practice and more practice will get you there. Some people pick things up easier than others, but anyone can do woodwork. Back in the day, I kind of imagine run of the mill furniture builders were the McDonald's employees of today. I practiced dovetails time and again using scraps of cabinet grade plywood because it was already flat to start with and that eliminated one of the possible variables. I didn't have a dovetail marker (still don't... Chris! how bout that trade?), I just measured the angle of the dovetails on my brother in law's tool chest and transferred it over to my workpiece. My biggest struggle at the outset was gripping the saw too tightly which made my cut wander. I'm no handsaw expert, but I think it was Chris Schwartz who wrote that a saw should be held like a baby bird, and ya'll know I have all KINDS of experience holding baby birds. That helped. 

Willie Robertson, Billie Clinton, and Ducky 

When practicing cutting mortises and tenons, again, just go for it! Make sure your wood is square before cutting and you will save yourself lots of headaches. Be mindful of the tolerances of your steel, or your first mortise might become a coffin for half of your chisel like mine did. I would actually recommend drilling out the waste and then cleaning it up with your chisels unless you have a mortise chisel, which is an awesome tool to have, but not a necessity at the outset. 

Note the powderpost holes in my benchtop... another post on that coming soon.

Practice using your handsaws a lot. Not only will your lines get straighter and straighter, add some afternoon hand planing in and you'll never have to go to the gym again! So. Pick up your copy of ATC, read it, grab some tools, and get practicing. 

Posted on August 15, 2014 .

Girl in the Shop (gasp!)

I build fine furniture. What makes me different from every other woodworker/blogger out there with a tablesaw, a handplane and a computer? I am 25 years old 5'3", 115 pounds, I'm a girl, and I'm a pretty good woodworker. I don't have visions of grandeur or even becoming the best. I want to do my best and try my hardest to fuel my passion and creativity and do what it takes to get through the hard, dry, frustrating, non-creative parts. 

In my Brother In Law's shop, aka tool heaven on Christmas this year. I have been very fortunate to have him teach me a lot about stewardship, buying well, and restoring old tools. 

In my Brother In Law's shop, aka tool heaven on Christmas this year. I have been very fortunate to have him teach me a lot about stewardship, buying well, and restoring old tools. 

I usually get a lot of double takes when I'm climbing (let's be honest, more often falling) out of my truck and even more when the truck bed is full of precious hardwoods that most people my size wouldn't be physically able to lift. I get a lot of confused, patronizing smiles from people when I tell them that I build fine furniture and even more comments like "wow, I've never known a girl who could use a power tool before"  (I hate power tools, but hey, sometimes we need those electric "apprentices" to get the job done). I get pretty similar responses when I tell people that, when I graduated from College, rather than getting a "real" job, I bought a 1965 Ford Mustang and rebuilt it in my friend's shop then sold it and moved to Taiwan for two years. People are also quite confused when I tell them that I teach Chinese for a living, especially considering I'm a white girl from Montana.  I discovered woodworking when I was three years old in my Grandpa's shop. I learned the basics from him- how to straighten a bent nail and how to hammer it back into the piece of wood I'd just pulled it from, but I was only 12 when he passed away, so I had a lot to learn someday when I decided to pick up woodworking again. 

That someday was almost three years ago when I moved from Taipei to Seattle to marry my best friend. Being someone who has always been enamored with the idea of being as self-sustainable as possible, and, being stuck in the suburbs for a bit, I decided now was a better time than any to start making some major life changes. I am in no way a radical myself, but having built the beginnings of an urban farm and having read a lot of radical literature about climate change, the end of the world, and the inevitable economic collapse of America, the idea of being able to make whatever I wanted and possessing the ability to transform myself from being a consumer to a producer seemed very appealing.

I have always had an affinity for antiques over modern furniture for two major reasons: the first is that landfills are horrible (I've been to several in developing nations), and second is the history that antiques possess. I challenge anyone to make a piece of modern furniture from Target or Ikea last more than 5 years, after which time the piece would be thrown away and the buyer would once again have to become a consumer of another piece of soon-disposable furniture. So I have set about learning "ancient" techniques to build fine furniture based on the classic designs evident in furniture that has lasted hundreds of years. I want to learn to build furniture with strong, functional joinery that is beautiful and will last well beyond my Ikea shelves. I want to make a one time purchase of woods and build a piece of furniture that my grandchildren and great grandchildren might someday have the opportunity to enjoy.

I bought my first table saw just over two years ago and have since convinced my husband to donate our garage to foster my ever growing tool collection (Now the handtools far outnumber the power tools). The gifting of the floorspace was begrudging to say the least. What actually happened is I built a cabinet that separated "my half" from his half. I pushed it back a couple of inches every day until one day, mysteriously, his car no longer fit. I still have no idea how that happened.

To say I have become obsessed with woodworking is an understatement. Over the last year, I've spent countless hours reading every book and watching every instructional dvd the King County Library System has to offer about woodworking and it's related fields (at least a hundred). I've cleaned Amazon out of their book selection as well as poured over website after website dedicated to furthering one's craft. Chris Schwarz, Joseph Moxon, and Robert Wearing have become my idols. I can tell you about blade angles, ideal steel composition, and how to refurbish old planes and chisels (I LOVE shopping on EBay).

I can sharpen just about any tool in the shop, can turn a new handle for your chisels, make you a stunning pen or dovetailed drawer… but after I finish a project, a certain sadness descends. I want to start something else, but I have no idea where to start. Why? A lot of it is fear- fear of failure, fear of an accident (I'm a musician and I personally am quite attached to my hands and fingers), fear of the unknown. Let's be honest, I love reading, which is why I can say that I know a lot of what there is to know on the subject of woodworking, but in practice, that is another story. A lot of days, I put on all my layers and drink lots of tea and psyche myself up to go out to the shop, run out there, and then spend about an hour looking at all my pretty tools and the stacks of wood and realize that I'm in way over my head, only to run back inside, sit down with a woodworking book, and start reading again. So this is where you, and this blog come in. 

Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under Girl in the Shop (gasp!).

Restoring old tools

Using old tools in the workshop is an amazing experience. When tools are properly restored, they are often just as good if not better than many products made today, and the history that accompanies them is so inspiring. I love using old tools previously owned by a maker whose skill level I will likely never reach. I imagine their lives, their hands, the pieces they built. Using antique tools to build furniture that breaks the Ikea mold, furniture that will last not only my whole life, but will likely outlive my grandchildren as well is a really incredible feeling.

Antique tools can often be acquired and restored fairly cheaply, but depending on the condition in which the tool was found, the restoration process can take a long time. Here is a crash course in restoring old tools using vinegar. There are many methods, many of which I've tried, but this is the one I used most. 

I try to use as many natural or organic products as possible and leave the heavy chemicals outside the shop because I never know who is going to wander into my shop- kitties, bunnies, chickens and ducks are frequent guests.  I tried electrolysis, but it wasn't my favorite because I didn't see much of an improvement on the vinegar process and I had to constantly be worried about one of my critters getting into the electrolysis room and dipping a paw in the water- byebye baby. 

I got most of my basic tool set in one big lot on ebay and cleaned, sharpened, and rehandled around 150 blades of various kinds within a few weeks. It was a huge task but ended up being totally worth it because I had a TON of practice not only in restoration, but also in grinding and sharpening. I was taught to do both freehand which saved me a TON of time in the long run. If you don't already do this and have some crappier items which you wouldn't mind grinding down a bit, I would highly recommend giving freehand grinding and sharpening a shot.  

I usually soak and work on small batches of tools at once because it is necessary you clean the metal immediately after removing it from the vinegar. It would be a very good day if I could restore 5 things in one day without getting carpel tunnel, so I try to plan accordingly. What you don't want is to be forced to leave tools in the vinegar too long due to time constraints. If you do end up with too many blades in the vinegar and not enough time to deal with them, take them out, wipe them dry, and then wipe them GENEROUSLY with some citrus wax cleaner to prevent flash rust and then try to get to them within at least 48 hours. 

If a tool is in particularly horrible shape or will just be a every day user with little lasting value beyond that, I will save myself a few hours and skip the vinegar and go straight to the wire brush on my grinder. This is fast and painless (unless the chisel slips and hits you in the face), but also makes the tool lose value and beauty in about 2 minutes flat. The only way I ever justify doing this is if I wouldn't otherwise restore the tool. I had a gouge sitting in my garbage pile for a few weeks because it was so badly rusted I didn't think it would hold a good edge anymore. One day I was cleaning some welds on my wire wheel and I just grabbed it too. I discovered in the process that it was actually a pretty valuable chisel, but it was already too late. I got a handle on it, sharpened it up, and now it is one of my main carving tools. Having a quick and dirty method to go to saved that chisel's life and now it is being daily used, so there's that. 

Step 1: remove wooden components

The next two steps involve water and vinegar, both of which have potential to damage wooden handles and other wooden parts of your tool, so remove them if you can. If you can't, try to keep them away from the water and definitely keep them away from the vinegar, or it will oxidize the wood and turn it black. 

Step 2: clean thoroughly

Using dishsoap, water, and a scrubbie (not the metal kind), try to get as much of the loose dirt off as possible. If the piece is especially grimy, an overnight soak might help get some of the gunk off. Dry the piece off well and immediately either oil all parts or immerse in vinegar or the metal will begin to rust. 

Step 3: soak metal in vinegar

Fully immerse the tool in white vinegar- I buy mine in a box containing two gallon jugs for about $4 from Costco and the vinegar can be reused- though because it is so cheap I often toss it after each restore because it gets pretty gross pretty quick. I put all the metal parts in a plastic bin to soak in the vinegar anywhere from a few hours to 48 hours.

Do not leave in the vinegar for much longer than that or the vinegar will begin to eat the metal as well. Gloves are not necessary at this stage because the vinegar is basically harmless, but I have pretty sensitive skin, so I try to wear gloves through the whole process. Whenever I find extra small latex free gloves, I buy them in bulk because my size is surprisingly hard to find. 

Step 4: examine your progress

Every few hours, take the tools out of the vinegar starting with the thinnest, smallest pieces and examine the progress. A few wipes with a towel will let you know how much of the rust is gone. I have found it is always better to "undercook" rather than "overcook" at this stage because early on I literally dissolved a few sets of calipers I was trying to restore. Not funny at the time, very funny now. 

Step 5: protect against flash rust

When you are satisfied with the work the vinegar has done on your behalf, take the metal parts out, one by one and dry them well with paper towels. Then immediately coat with oil, citrus wax cleaner, or anything that is going to stop them from beginning to "flash rust" which can happen literally within minutes of removing the tool from the vinegar. I usually use mineral oil because it is so cheap. 

Step 6: clean clean clean

Using a series of nylon brushes, old toothbrushes, Q-tips, paper towels, and a dentist's toolset I got for $12 on Amazon.com, I begin the cleanup process for the metal. I want to be very careful here to remove the dirt, grime, and rust, but nothing more. Especially on handplanes, you want to be very careful here to keep as much of the "japanning" or black paint on the interior of the plane body and frog as possible. Using harsh metal brushes, sandpaper, or hastily using the dentist's tools here can scratch the metal's surface, remove the japanning, and cause you all kinds of headaches later on.

On surfaces that don't have japanning, I use 0000 steel wool and brass brushes liberally. People often ask when they are "done" with this part. As with everything, I think you are done when you are happy with the results you have achieved. Some people care way more than others about this part, but in the end, it's your tool, your shop, your time, your effort. The main purpose of this whole process is to remove rust that will endanger the lifetime of your tool. When finished with this step, unless it's a handplane, generously oil the tool, coat with paste wax or Boeshield, and reassemble. You're done. 

Step 6.5 dealing with the wooden components

If the wooden components are not damaged or in especially rough shape, I like to leave them how they are. If they need to be sanded, epoxied or reshaped, that's another article.  I remove old paint and other grime by carefully rubbing the tool with 0000 steel wool and Hornsby's Citrus Wax Cleaner. A lot of times an overnight soak in oil followed by a coat of paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool will do wonders to brighten them up and make them really pop again.

Step 7: tune up

Handplanes need to be dead flat on their bottoms and sides to work properly. Again, there are many ways of doing this, but I start by reassembling the plane and making sure the blade is recessed all the way into the body of the plane, not protruding from the bottom at all. Then I use spray glue and sheets of sandpaper pasted to granite or melamine and begin planing across the sandpaper with the tool as if I were working wood.

I like to start with 400 grit sandpaper because if the plane sole is already fairly flat, I won't have to work through the grits again to smooth out the scratches I made by starting with too low a grit. If a lot of metal needs to be removed, I will move down to 150 grit, plane until there is an even scratch pattern along the whole sole of the plane, or very nearly so, and then move up the grits to remove the scratches.

I do the same thing on the sides of the plane and then take a few passes on the last grit with the plane tilted slightly to sand off the sharp corner edges I have just created by flattening the three sides of the plane.  When done with this, coat all metal parts in paste wax or spray with Boesheild. 

Step 8: Oil up, Sharpen blade, Test out

The next step is to oil up the moving parts of the tool using 3 in 1 or your favorite oil, sharpen the blade, reassemble the tool, and test the plane out. This part also has a few intricacies that would warrant another article- making sure the frog mounts squarely to the plane bed, making sure the chip breaker mates properly with the blade, scootching the frog forward or backward for fine or medium use, etc etc etc, but for the sake of this article, we are going to assume all of that stuff is working great.

Also, as I have previously mentioned, sharpening is another article as well, and one I'm not anxious to write because there are so many methods and so many volumes already written about it that you basically need to just do some research, pick a method, learn it, practice it and stick to it. That said though, for your plane or chisel to work, the back of the blade needs to be dead flat, a straight bevel needs to be ground on the front, and the blade needs to be honed and stropped to whatever level you want to take it to. 

Flattening the blade back is actually relevant to this article, however, so here goes: 

 I will share a secret here that, if properly used, will save your hands, your stones, and a lot of time in the flattening process. Do this only if your blade is very pitted or extremely out of true. Mount a belt sander sandpaper belt side up in your bench vise. Practice (when the tool is off) laying the topmost inch or so of your blade dead flat over the paper. Then turn the tool on and be very careful to put even pressure all around and get it as flat as possible here. Next, move to flattening on your coarsest stone (or whatever method you use). Using even pressure on a diamond plate or your stone, rub the blade back and forth until an even scratch pattern can be seen across the entire back of the blade where the bevel meets it at the tip. Move up through the stones until the blade back has a mirror polish. You should be able to see your reflection when you are finished. After a few minutes at each stage of this process, color the whole back of the chisel where you are working with black sharpie. Rub a few strokes on the stone and see what of the chisel markings is being removed. Adjust your strokes and pressure accordingly until a few strokes on each stone will remove the sharpie marks entirely, especially at the edge near the tip. 

If you are afraid of using the belt sander but the blade has very obvious high spots, you can also use a dremel tool with a sandpaper or grinder attachment to grind away those specific high spots. Be careful, however, not to get too excited with the dremel and dish the back, or you will have to take even more material off to achieve a flat back. After a few seconds with the dremel, use the marker and take a few strokes on the stone/diamond plate to check your progress. 

Again, practicing first using a more disposable blade and a sharpie will be helpful because it is, at first, a little difficult to remove material evenly. Practice makes perfect. Or in my case- close enough for woodwork. 

After sharpening, wipe dry with a paper towel then give the blade a wipe with a tack cloth soaked in jojoba or mineral oil. Jojoba oil is better in my opinion than mineral oil because it is dryer and there is less oily residue left on the wood. Another benefit of the jojoba oil is that it seems to be less "sticky" than mineral oil when it comes to sawdust, and, as I'm sure you know, sawdust is every woodworker's enemy because it traps water and rusts your tool. 

Once the tool is restored, I coat the entire thing (wood and all) with a light coat of citrus paste wax, (car) Turtle wax, or my new favorite, Boeshield. After each use, I blow the entire tool off with my air gun (be careful not to drop it on the concrete and shatter one of your favorite new planes while doing this...) and then give them a thorough wipe with the jojoba cloth. Blades that have the screw-on chip breaker need to be checked on occasion to be sure there are no shavings trapped in between the blade and the breaker, because those little buggers are sure to rust your blades in a flash. 

As far as your power tools go, I'd keep all the cast iron waxed up with paste wax or Boesheild. About once a year I go in with some steel wool to get any rust that's forming and then give it a new coat of wax. Sometimes my cats come in from the rain and lay on the table saw, so I've had to use 220 sandpaper to get a couple of the worse rust spots out, but as long as they get re-waxed right away they are good to go for a long time. 

Go forth and restore!

Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under Restoring old tools.