Wooden planes are simple to restore, but there are limits. We tend to only restore planes which are intact and complete. We have restored the mouths and handles of some wooden planes, but otherwise we tend to leave them alone.

The surface finish

As with most of our tools we clean with methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) and acetone for stubborn stains or paint splashes. We then finish the tool in a few coats of shellac, wax or both. These are both natural finishes, in-keeping with the age of the tools. We never shellac soles, but may wax them.

Sole finishing

Although there is a school of thought that says soles should be flattened, we wouldn’t consider doing this unless the sole was severely twisted and then we would note it in comments. Usually if the sole is that badly twisted we wouldn’t sell the tool.

We do however occasionally repair mouths and if we do, we use a nice hardwood and also document this in the tool’s write-up and include pictures of it. The below is an example of a throat repair we made using ironbark. Throat repairs are necessary if the front of the mouth is damaged creating a larger mouth than was originally there or creating an uneven surface which won’t support the wood during planing.

Throat Repair of Wooden Plane

Setting up a wooden plane

To ensure a wooden plane operates optimally there are a number of important things to consider (some of these are the same for metal planes):

How the blade beds to the plane body.

This generally means checking the throat for muck buildup or foreign matter and removing any by gently scraping. Methylated Spirit can help break down any hardened debris. It also means checking the back of the blade to make sure there are no blobs of glue or lumps of rust which would prevent proper bedding. Ideally the blade will touch the plane body evenly, but if it’s not perfectly even, good contact at the left and right sides of the mouth’s edge are the most important areas.

How the chip breaker beds to the blade.

Not all planes have a chipbreaker, but if they do an important feature is how the surface which touches the blade. The chipbreaker must touch the blade at its front edge, without any gaps. Most people grind and polish it with a bevel to ensure this. Also work on polishing the back of the chipbreaker so the path of the chip is smooth over the breaker.

Wedge seating

How the wedge seats in the throat and contacts the blade (or the chipbreaker if you have one) is important. We often find planes that bed tight towards the top of the throat, but are loose at the bottom or which don’t seat deep enough in the throat. These issues tend to cause chattering and need to be rectified. You should always clean out the channels in the body that the wedge travels down to ensure this isn’t causing the wedge angle to be incorrect. In the worst cases you may need to adjust the shape of the wedge.

When the wedge only seats high in the throat it can severely damage the body when the wedge is driven in. When this happens, the top edge of the plane body can blow out because it can’t stand the forces which are concentrated there rather than spread out along the length of the wedge.

Some plane bodies have a very small relief cut into the top of the plane’s wedge opening to prevent this damage to the wood when removing a tightly fixed wedge. That relief is unlikely to prevent damage if the wedge angle is incorrect.

Having an incorrectly fitting wedge may mean the blade or the wedge or both are not original. Check these carefully before trying to use the plane.

Sharpen blade

The level of sharpening is related to the plane’s use. If you are setting up the plane for rough cutting, sharpening to 1000 grit will probably suffice. If you are setting it up for high quality cuts then you are likely to need to go beyond 1000 grit. Remember that smoothing blades have the blade very slightly relieved at the edges to prevent tracks in your work while scrub planes have blades with a very obvious radius.


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