Monday, August 10, 2020

Learning to Rehab Planes Gently

Before I went to Spain several years ago, I went crazy on eBay and wound up with a substantial collection of rusty planes. Mostly Ohio, but some others. This is something I occasionally do when I'm bored. I wound up with more number four sized planes than anyone could ever need while I've been in Spain.  Some of those number fours I've cleaned up and have ready to work. A plane-jane Record is in my tool chest as a daily user and wound up being a monster. I love that plane. 

But these number fours are very common, not particularly valuable and not really sought after by collectors. I rehabbed them in a way to make them look and work like brand-new. A pretty aggressive treatment involving sandpaper and other abrasives, wire wheels and acid dips in either citric acid or vinegar.

Collectors hate this treatment. 

I'd like to consider myself more of a user than a collector (but who are we kidding - what user needs eight number four smoothers!). I've never felt that an acid dip does any harm, other than an ugly gray finish that can be polished off.

This does, however, destroy your tool's value to collectors. Apparently vinegar gets deep into the pores of cast iron and permanently affects the integrity of the metal. I've not experienced a tool's performance suffering or breaking due to this reason, so I suspect (but really don't know enough) that the differences are cosmetic, and permanent.

I would like to get rid of some dead weight in my shop, and doing a clean-up that could harm the value of my planes is not desirable.

After. My Record Stay Set #7 with an honest, gentle rehab.
I've found an alternative to my previous method, and it really isn't difficult. In fact, I think this method is much easier.

Before. This plane really was in pretty good shape.

Remember the interview I did with Robert Porter from Union Tools? He has a massive plane collection and has made a pair of amazing videos about this technique (Part I and Part II). He wanted me to make sure not to credit this method to him, but to stress that this method was taught to him by others. He didn't invent this method, but he has made some nice videos about it.

This plane I suspect was last used by someone who was frustrated by it's performance.
To summarize the method, use dish soap, water and Simple Green to degrease and clean the plane. Tools for this method include a toothbrush, a soft wire brush and/or a Scotchbrite pad (I used a gray one), and a razor blade.

Sawdust everywhere!
Disassemble the plane, put all of the small parts in a cup with water and plenty of dish soap, and spray the large parts down with Simple Green. Let everything soak while you start on one of the large parts, although I do the plane body last before starting the small parts giving the Simple Green pleny of time to work.

With this plane, many of the parts needed nothing more aggressive than a toothbrush. Start with that, and gently work up to a scrubby pad or a soft wire brush. Once the rust and dirt is gone, you're done. Using an abrasive to work down to shiny metal not only removes the history of the plane, it can remove some of the metal's ability to resist future rust. The dark brown patina on the sides of old planes is a great rust inhibitor. Plus, it looks cool.

When working on something flat, like the plane body, use a razor blade (or box cutter blade) to scrape away rust, dirt and grime. I've heard of people doing this before, but never have tried it. It works great! It removes active rust efficiently, and leaves that beautiful aged look.

The other very important thing is to oil everything with a heavy coat as soon as it's done being cleaned. All of the scrubbing has removed any rust protection it's had, and cast iron has many pores. Dry each part thoroughly, coat in oil, and set it aside until the plane is ready to be reassembled. I noticed that some parts, especially the plane body, soak up some oil and may need more oil applied.

Once the plane is ready to be reassembled, the parts can be wiped down to a thin coat of oil.

Some planes and stuff that I've rehabbed using this method (except the Gauge smoother).
The only other parts that need to be mentioned here are the wooden totes, knobs and handles. In the past I've removed the lacquer and applied shellac for a durable, brand new look. Here we're trying to protect and beautify. I used the method in the video which worked well: clean the handle gently, and apply Feed 'n' Wax. I just happened to have some Feed 'n' Wax, but if it's not available where you are it is just a relatively liquid-y concoction of beeswax, orange oil, and maybe some carnauba wax and turpentine. In a future post I'll try to make something similar at home. A gentle wax will work on bare wood as well as over another film finish, so using on something with part of the finish missing should be OK.

The #7 and the #12 scraper made flattening and smoothing my bench top easy.

In general, I find this method to be just as easy as any other plane restoration method I've used. To go from crusty and rusty to completely rehabbed takes me about an hour (not including the iron and chipbreaker, because the condition of these can be relatively fast or take a long time depending on the shape they are in). I think if I were to buy another used plane, I would much appreciate someone having used this method rather than the wire-wheel-on-a-grinder method that seems to be so prevalent on eBay. I'll use this method from now on, and save the sandpaper for the parts on the plane that really need to be precision ground (this #7 needed none).

Some of the things I did differently than Robert did in the video:

I used a muddy shoe tray (Baggmuck, from IKEA) to keep dirty water and oil off my bench. It is plenty long, and I think a full size hand saw would fit in it. I also used a bucket of water rather than a utility sink, since my shop has no running water.

I used the same razor blade from start to finish. They can be sharpened on your stones and stropped. I prefer this rather than throwing them away and getting a fresh one out of the box. I suspect they are much more expensive here than in other places.

Simple Green, 3 in 1 oil and Feed 'n' Wax aren't readily available in my area (Germany, as I write this). I found some online, but with shipping it is rather expensive. However, I got some concentrate, and I suspect the one liter bottle will last many years. In the US this product is available in any Wal-Mart for a buck or two. Simple Green is an eco-friendly grease cutting cleaner. I suspect that the whole job could be done with WD-40, which would prevent the need for water and worrying about wet parts rusting. I think pretty much any machine oil will work rather than 3 in 1 (I used Ballistol), and as I mentioned earlier, something similar to Feed 'n' Wax probably can be made relatively easily at home.

Give the videos a watch, and try it. I bet you'll find something there you can use!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Jasmine Jewelry Box

I finished something!

I was a bit worried about this one. It was one of those kinds of projects that seem to drag on forever. In fact, I started it 51 weeks ago. I suppose there always seems to be something more important to work on, like a new project.
Finished Jewelry Box
I first saw this box, which was designed by Gary Rogowski, as one of the projects the Wood Whisperer did a video on. I also found that Gary wrote an article on this project for Popular Woodworking back in 2011.

I thought it was a good looking box, and I wanted to see how much harder this box would be with a hand tool-only approach. Especially in my mini-shop that doesn't have all the workholding of my regular hand tool shop.

Part of the problem was talking The Frau into this design. She often responds with something I'm excited about building with a negative reaction about it's aesthetics. She didn't like the feet it sat on, and she really didn't like the handle that sat on top of the lid.

I tried to talk her into some alternatives, but finally decided to leave these elements out. (Today, she admitted that it might look nicer if it was elevated a little. I might have to put some feet on it after all.)

I think I avoided writing about this project here on Toolerable, because in the back of my mind my subconscious must have known that this is the kind of project I might not finish quickly. If at all.

The wood for this box was salvaged from a local dumpster. I wound up with more than 400 linear feet of paneling that someone ripped out of their old Spanish apartment. I was surprised to see that this smooth, white paneling was solid wood, and had a nice reddish color. I got some up the elevator to my 10th floor apartment, and discovered it is very fine ribbon sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum, I think).

I have no idea what I'm going to do with all this Golden Dumpster Wood. I think I probably have about 390 feet left.
Entandrophragma cylindricum, ribbon sapeli from the dumpster.
I found that the paint used for this paneling was no joke. I think there is some white filler, some primer, and some really, really difficult to remove paint on top of that. I found the best way to remove the paint was with paint stripper. I don't really like stripping paint if I don't have to, so I decided I'd try to leave the paint on the one side, wherever possible. I came up with the idea of using snakeskin as a lining for the bottom of the box, rather than paper or leather.

The lid was originally going to get a mirror, and I was going to leave the paint showing on the inside of the box. All that changed, by the way.

Now I'm ready for the joinery. I found out why you don't often see finger joints in hand built furniture. They are very difficult to get just right with hand tools. Dovetails are WAYYYY easier. Next time I make one of these, it will be with dovetail joints rather than finger joints.
Cutting the finger joints by hand. It's surprisingly fiddly. A table saw would make this joint much easier.
Once I got the carcass joints done, I decided I was going to fix the bottom with slips rather than inserting it in a rabbet. One reason is this paneling stock is a bit thinner than the recommended stock. It's only about 5/16" thick. I removed a little paint and glued the slips in. They work great.
Drawer slips to secure the bottom.
These aren't traditional slips, with a rabbet. I figured I could maximize the depth of the box if the bottom panel rested on the slips, and was secured with the inner dividing pieces. I rabbetted the underside of the panel to drop onto the slips.
It was weird, but I needed to finish the dividers before gluing up the carcass.
I had some real problems gluing this thin stock into panels without any proper clamps. I made some clamps out of scraps that finally worked for this, but between the bottom and the panel for the lid I must have re-laminated those panels at least ten times. Now we're good.
It's frustrating when a panel comes apart after the joints are cut.
The Frau LOVED the ribbon sapeli that I used for the bottom. I was going to line the bottom, but she asked that I finish it instead. I'm not so sure over the long run how happy she will be with that. I offered to observe how she uses the compartments and perhaps make some jewelry holding gizmos to go inside later.

In the meantime, I had all this cool snakeskin that I was going to use for that. Instead of lining the bottom, I lined the sides and used snakeskin to cover up the white sides of the box interior.
Applying snakeskin to the inside.
With the box itself sorted, I figured I'd wait 40 weeks or so until I figured out a good way to do the breadboard ends with a 5/16" thick panel.

I finally settled on laminating two strips of sapeli together (why not? It's not like I'll run out during my lifetime!), having routed out the mortises from each half.
One is deeper than the other on purpose.
Once the breadboard ends were done, It was easy enough to make the tenons. That is, with the exception that the panel kept delaminating!
Grrr! At least I made it a bit oversize.
Once the lid was assembled and pegged, I was able to cut the breadboard ends to finished length and apply my homemade BLO, shellac, and then my secret wax formula.
Cutting to length. It would have really sucked if I screwed this up.
I put some fancy Brusso hinges on it, and it's done.
An easy 51 week project.
I'm really pleased with how all of the pegged joinery turned out. The secret to getting them to look good is using a dowel that is just a smidgen larger than the hole it is driven into. I used all bamboo skewers (thanks Greg!) and some bamboo dowels that came with a pair of The Frau's new shoes. It was some kind of contraption to keep the shoes looking nice during transport, and it happened to be just a tad thicker than 5 millimetres.
Tight! Huh?
Overall I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.
Snakes and alligators, oh my!
More importantly, The Frau doesn't seem to hate it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Union Manufacturing Company - an Interview With Robert Porter: Part II

Yesterday I had the pleasure of conducting the first part of Toolerable's first interview ever with Robert Porter of the newly re-launched Union Manufacturing Company. We had a nice chat about the history of Union, the company's current projects and the future of the company. It turns out he is a woodworker just like us, and has a passion for good tools that we can use. He seems to know his stuff about materials, Rockwell hardness, history, and much more.
All rights reserved by the Union Manufacturing Company, Glenolden, PA USA” “Used with written permission”
His first bench plane is an X Plane in the #1 size. Not the most useful of bench planes, but highly coveted by collectors. We discuss this plane, but if you would like to get on the pre-order list, only 100 will be made in this first batch, and at the time of writing there are still four that are available. I suggest sending him an email from his website, and tell him you read this interview. I think it is an outstanding value at $425.

Click here for Part I of this interview.

All photos on this post are Robert Porter's, and used with his permission.

I conducted the interview with a chat program. I've edited it minimally. My comments are blue, and Robert Porter's are black.

So let's talk about the X0A.
The new baby from Union!
8 months of development to date!

Is it going to be similar to the older versions?

Almost identical with one MAJOR change.

The “A” stands for adjustable mouth.


No 1 sized planes have never offered that feature.

This will be a market first.

The new X Series will also be addressing a few of the flaws the older X Series had.

What about the rest of the plane. Are you using cast iron, or more modern materials?

Traditional Gray Cast Iron.

I’m not a fan of Ductile Iron. While it is more durable during a drop to the floor, it rusts with the simple touch of a finger print.

A fine woodworker is not likely to put their plane in a position to fall. Union is focused on these folks.

The fine woodworker. Specifically the fine makers that are self-taught.

That being said Union was always a middle market plane maker. That will not be forgotten going forward.

Is gray iron more difficult to cast? I wonder why you don't see many new tools using it?

Marketing. In my opinion.

Gray Iron is less available in general from foundries. Most don’t like working with it because it’s messy.

Gray iron dust is hard on machines. But the traditional nature of it to me personally outweighs the extra work to keep the dust off the machines.

We are dedicated as a historically correct maker.

And it looks awesome when it's old!

That it does.


Millions of planes have survived 100+ years being made from gray iron.

What's coming up down the line? Will you make other bench planes?

We will be making the X0A, X0, X2, X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7.

We have a new tool in development now that a patent will be applied for as well.


We’ve made the bevel which sold out in weeks.

I noticed it wasn't available. The photos on your website make it look beautiful.

The replacement parts supporting the older X Series planes are available.

We also have two precision Squares being made now and have plans for a couple scrapers.

Scraper planes?

Can’t go too deep into the details...... sorry.


Haha! You can't blame me for asking!

Of course not.

Tell me about your plane blades.
Weird powdered metal, or what?

They are made from USA sourced certified O1 tool steel and hardened in Philadelphia, PA to a Rockwell rating of 61.


Again as close to traditional as possible.

Newer isn't always better.

The expression “they don’t make it like they used to” is dead with Union. We do.


We also use manual machines as they would have used back in 1910.

The difference is electricity vs steam.

There isn’t one CNC in our shop. We make each part manually.

So tell me about your company now. Are you speaking the Royal We, or are there others there with you?

I have a very small crew. (As a way to keep prices down).

Our head machinist is a 60+ year veteran DOD/ Precision machinist. Or as I call him “The Machine Whisperer”.

Most parts are made by either myself or Bill. (Mr. Whisperer!)

Great! I was wondering how you bring back an old tool without the wealth of experience Union must have had at the time.

My background is in design (specifically furniture) so I approach the design and development from a perspective of a user.

You can’t always be the smartest guy in the room! I count on the knowledge of others.

No one person at Union is “the boss”.

It’s a Union of tool guys now.


That's always good. If you look at Stanleys, for example, many of the changes over the years were obviously intended to make manufacturing easier or cheaper. Same old story.

The acquisition of Union was never intended to make me rich. It’s the effort of preservation.

I’ll never get rich from Union. I’m more than ok with that. My reward is bringing back history and providing the best I can to others that live to woodworking life I have enjoyed since I was a child.

And how is it that you wound up with this company?

Legal maneuvering.... that’s as far as I can go on that matter.

Haha! Well, it's great to see it in the hands of someone who cares.

It’s a dream for a collector of a brand to eventually own the brand they love. I’m living that dream.


I owe the idea to my wife though.

The smartest person I know by a mile.
That's great!

I'm glad that you're able to bring it back. The more the merrier, I think.

Getting the company was hard. Keeping the legacy intact will be the hardest part. Making decisions that honor the original nature while staying profitable is tough. But I’m in that fight for the long haul.

Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

Not that I can think of.

If you have more questions later feel free to ask.

You bet!
Thanks for your time!

Off to make an X0A pattern now!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Union Manufacturing Company - an Interview With Robert Porter: Part I

Today I had the pleasure of conducting Toolerable's first interview ever with Robert Porter of the newly re-launched Union Manufacturing Company. We had a nice chat about the history of Union, the company's current projects and the future of the company. It turns out he is a woodworker just like us, and has a passion for good tools that we can use. He seems to know his stuff about materials, Rockwell hardness, history, and much more.
All rights reserved by the Union Manufacturing Company, Glenolden, PA USA” “Used with written permission”
His first bench plane is an X Plane in the #1 size. Not the most useful of bench planes, but highly coveted by collectors. We discuss this plane, but if you would like to get on the pre-order list, only 100 will be made in this first batch, and at the time of writing there are still four that are available. I suggest sending him an email from his website, and tell him you read this interview. I think it is an outstanding value at $425.

All photos on this post are Robert Porter's, and used with his permission.

I conducted the interview with a chat program. I've edited it minimally. My comments are blue, and Robert Porter's are black.
Hello Robert, thanks for being patient with me!

No worries.

I teach English online, so I'm lucky enough that my work day hasn't really changed much due to the virus.
But I had to keep my appointments.


About planes!

Straight to the point. A point we both enjoy as it seems!


Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. This is actually the first interview I have ever conducted.

So if it seems I am an amateur, it is because I am.

Ha. No worries.
First, why not a little history about Union Manufacturing?

The company was founded in 1866. It was founded with $100,000 USD in capital. Which for the time was a lot of money. The company was founded to become an overnight premiere casting company. Which it did. The investors came from all walks and all social classes. From plant workers all the way to corporate executives at other manufacturing firms. From the likes of Stanley, Landers and Frary as well as Corbin.

The name “Union” comes from the gathering or “Union” of those folks pitching in to make the company happen.

Are these all American companies?

Mostly from New Britain, CT USA

Typical for the time, I'm sure.

Well the original structure of multiple firms investing was a bit odd in that time.

The tool Mecca.

Well Union was a bit of a quiet giant during its entire existence. I have always held a special place for firms like that. Very similar to Joseph Marples LTD in Sheffield.

They had a way of influencing the tool world without being overly obnoxious.

I tend to look past a company’s marketing hype and look at the products when I choose where I’ll spend my money.

Indeed. Until I started researching for this interview, I always thought they were a small plane maker chasing after Stanley, like so many others.

No they in fact bid on and cast Stanley planes. As did Stanley bid on and cast Union planes.

Are you familiar with the tool-maker relationships in Sheffield England?

Only generally.

An "all for one, one for all" mentality.

That was New Britain via Union.

Got it.

A hinge per se.

Union was literally created as a support foundry that became a formidable force.

It's interesting that you say that. I got a chance to meet |Tom Lie Nielsen once, and he said about Lee Valley and Veritas that they are the perfect kind of competitor to have: one that raises the bar in quality and performance, making woodworking better for everyone.

Tom has always had a positive attitude towards competition and what it does in general to the quality of modern tools. An exceptional attribute.

Union cast butt hinges, lathe chucks, dies, a punch press machine, levels...... the list is exhausting.

It sounds like they were huge.
How did you wind up with this company?

Well, I’ve been researching the company for about a decade now and fell in love with the first X Plane I came across. It answered my complaints about other styles of planes. Love at first use.
Some vintage Union X Planes.

So as I became obsessed with the history and the offerings, I wanted more.
What's so great about the X plane?

Where do I start! 🤣🤣🤣


The two biggest things about the X Series that set it apart from every other commercially available plane are its strongest points.

Rigidity is HUGE for the X Series. Integral frogs are specifically designed to solve the age-old problem of chatter: a woodworkers biggest enemy.
Integral frog.

The rigidity is backed up by a thicker casting.

Then moving on the second monster in the room. The patented adjuster for depth.
Unique depth adjuster.

The yoke and double lock nut on vertical post design is designed for absolute control over micro adjusting the depth.

I have to admit, I've never seen an X plane. Have they always had thicker castings?

Yes. They were always thicker.
As were the Union made irons.

OK, I think that was unusual at the time for metal bench planes, right?
An example of bench plane blades. Stanley right Union left.


Almost twice the thickness.

A few makers seemed to believe in thicker bodies.

So no, I wouldn’t say it was unusual.

One advantage to a thin blade, it's been said, is that it is faster to sharpen.

Micro bevel......


It’s only a trouble if you’re attempting to sharpen the entire bevel every time.


Additionally, you never want to wait until that much material must be removed before sharpening again.

A good common practice is to touch up your iron multiple times in a work day.

Most replacement irons available nowadays seem to be a bit thicker, and I find I still like to use them.
I might only grind once a year, and touch up the rest of the time.

The thickness of the iron was odd during the early 1900’s in the US. Ohio Tool Co and Union were the pioneers there. Now all modern makers are doing it.

Yet another area Union was ahead.

I'm familiar with Ohio. I love that those planes have a thick, tapered iron. Except they tend to be a little brittle, in my experience.


Union was the only non tapered iron in the US market that was as thick.

Their cap irons were a little different, too.
Which brings me to Unions cap irons. What is special about them?

A new Union blade, chipbreaker, and lever cap.
There was a smaller amount of space between the area behind the irons cutting edge and the chipbreaker.

Less area to gather harmonics.

The X Plane was all about harmonics reduction. The entire plane was designed to almost eliminate harmonics.

Harmonics lead to chatter.

I can see that.

That’s why when you pick up a poorly tuned plane that cuts poorly it has a deeper harmonic note. A well tuned and designed plane makes more of a “wisp” sound.

Tighter harmonic wave length. Less inherent chatter as a result.

A common misconception is that a plane is “cutting” with a standard angle frog. It is not. It’s cutting via a scraping action.

If what you say about harmonics is true, a higher pitch would result in less movement during chatter, and a better result.

Being that the sound waves are closer together.


Think of the wave length like cutting edge movement. The larger the travel the more chatter.

This is why a low angle plane (which is actually shearing the fibers) makes a completely different sound.

Yes. Or, you could think of it as the string on a bass moves a lot farther when vibrating than a string on a guitar.
That makes a lot of sense. It's also why a standard plane can get such a smooth surface.


During my years of studying planes I’ve had thousands pass through my hands. This is where my data comes from.
Some of Robert's plane collection.

So let's talk about the X0A.

The new baby from Union!


I'm sorry, you'll have to check back tomorrow for the rest of this interview. We talk about Union's newest plane and some of what they have planned in the future. You won't want to miss it!

Leave a comment if you have your own questions for Robert.

See you tomorrow!