Refurbishing Dad's Plane

The Stanley Bailey No.4

In case I haven't previously mentioned this - my dad has an incredible workshop filled with more tools than anyone else I know.  Plenty of dad's tools (much like mine) are of recent vintage, but some are longtime inhabitants reaching back in time to my childhood.  Over the years dad has given me a couple of his old tools, none of which are as meaningful to me as his plane, which he bestowed upon me a few years ago.

Type 20

I like learning the history of - well, just about anything, but in this case I like learning the history of various tools.  The folks at Wood and Shop have a great web app for identifying the specific mode of the Stanley Bailey plane you might have.  After just a couple questions, mine is a Type 20, made between 1962 and 1967.  Which makes dad's about 54 years old at the youngest!  Impressive!

What took me so long?

Dad gave me this plane at least as late as 2017.  I say that because when I was making the base for the Dining Room Built-In, I didn't have a right proper plane so that's when I picked up my inexpensive Stanley 12-904.  2017 - so what took me so long to get around to refurbishing this?  Well, because of its sentimental value to me, I wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing so I didn't mess the plane up beyond repair.  


While these thoughts are concentrated here within this post, I certainly didn't obsess over the thought of preparing for this plane - much.  One of the things I consciously did was to get a bench grinder and start with a smaller project.  Specifically, I practiced on some of the metal pieces on my Gerstner Toolbox when I refurbished that almost exactly a year ago.

I also watched a load of YouTube videos about restoring old planes.  In all honesty - I watched waaay too many videos about restoring old planes.  I suppose there wasn't really a need to watch so many of them, but there's something not only instructional but oddly satisfying about watching a tool being transformed from a rust heap to near-new.  This one I found particularly useful:

My Planes
Block Planes - (I have 2) cutting through end grain, rabbeting and trimming joints
Stanley 12-904 - very inexpensive, I plan to convert this to a scrub plane
∙ Surform planes - for sheetrock
Stanley Bailey No.4 - simply does it all!
You might like some other House 173 tool posts!

The Starting Point

All prepared, ready to go.  So let's assess the situation.  We have a half-century old plane, with extensive use in the near total rebuild of 812 - The Home.  By trade, dad is a machinist (talk about tools!  He has some that I am clueless to their function!), so he knows how to care for his tools - although his workshop often looks like mine mid-project.  Here it is before I did anything to it at all:

Nonetheless, with the history of this plane, I was shocked to see the excellent condition it was in when I pulled it apart.  There was really very little mess or gunk inside, and surprisingly little surface rust.

The No. 4 smoothing plane is historically the most common size. It is an excellent balance of sole length and cutter width to be useful for typical furniture parts. And the last part of that sentence is what is important here: typical furniture parts. Typical furniture parts range from 2″ wide to 24″ wide and 12″ long to 48″ long. That’s a gross generalization, but it works. - Christopher Schwartz in Popular Woodworking

And here's a view of the brass adjustment wheel before I pulled the plane apart.  It just gives you a sense of the condition:

A little dust and maybe a speck of surface rust here and there. Here's the body of the plane, even the japaning is in near perfect shape.  What's that you say?  The body of the plane isn't simply painted, it's actually coated with a proprietary, trade secret mixture of asphaltum and solvent/binder, that's heated and cooled repeatedly until it almost looks like a ceramic coating - a process called japaning.

Here's an overhead view of the plane completely dismantled.  Again, it's amazing how great the condition is and how little rust is on it.

Onward to Cleaning

Because the plane was already in such great condition, the primary need for cleaning was the oils that had been used to prevent rust over the years.  A lot of plane restorations I've seen use a rust remover chemical, but I decided to just go with a soak in some dish soap.

To prevent rust, I towel dried the parts and just to make sure the parts dried thoroughly, I put them on a cookie sheet and left them overnight on the living room radiator.

Removal and Polishing

At this point all that was left was to take off any rust and polish up - at least to some degree.  I say that because sometimes when we restore things to a new condition, we erase that which came before us.  There's nothing mystical in that, just a sentimentality to respect, remember and honor those who came before - in this case my dad.  I knew from the beginning that I wasn't going to return this to a new condition, that there a couple things I wanted to leave be.  In particular the tote (back handle) and the knob (front handle) bear the imprint of my father's hands, and I will leave mine as well.  And one day - my son will have this plane and three generations will have changed a little corner of our world working with this tool.  

That said, a combination of small wire brush, wire wheel and polishing wheels did most of the work.

After the brass ends of  the tote and knob screws were cleaned up, I shined them to just about a mirror finish on 800 grit sandpaper.  I like the little brass pool left behind:

Then, because I don't have a strop right now, I used the bottom of my leather apron with some green compound to really put a shine on the brass...

Not sure if the shininess will show, but here's a picture...

I cleaned up the iron and the chip breaker with a quick run with the wire wheel on the drill press.  I certainly wasn't going to spend a lot of time trying to shine them up.  I want to remind you where we started with the plane on the sides of the body:

Again, just surface rust, but I did want this part to look much better.  To start I took it to the wire wheel, what a mistake.  The wheel I used was a but too stiff and put some pretty good scratches into the case iron.  To fix that, I took it to some sandpaper for about 40 minutes...

After the scratches were pretty much out, I shined it up a bit on the bench grinder with some brown, then green polishing compound.  There's still a little of the scratches in there but they're really not that noticeable in real life.  

And I just have to include here a shot of the brass adjustment knob...

Here's the Stanley Bailey No.4 bench plane, ready for another 50 years!

And a parting shot of the plane in it's natural habitat, the plane rack at 173:

'Til next time - stay safe out there!
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