Bench Plane Restoration Guide. Part 1

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This “Bench Plane Restoration Guide” is part one of several parts and posts of a series on the do’s and don’ts of restoring a vintage Bench Plane and other vintage hand tools.
By: Don Wilwol               (Edited 9-2020)   (Edited 10-2020) (Edited 01-2022)

Part 2 of the Bench Plane Restoration Guide is here

See my restoration youtube video playlist series here


So, I bought this bunch of planes in a pile which is shown with all the other weekend finds. Included at the bottom of the pile was this Millers Falls #10.

NOTE: This Bench Plane Restoration Guide is not a suggestion to strip every or any hand plane and repaint. I actually would suggest otherwise if the japanning is in reasonable condition. Some are not savable and I don’t like tools that look terrible. If you can save it, I’d recommend that. If not, strip it.

This Bench Plane Restoration Guide is also a restoration method meant for user type tools, not valuable antiques. There are several article in this series. It’s a bit complicated, but start with a tools that’s less valuable and always start with the least invasive way to get your desired results. Always let the tool be the guide, restoration is NOT a “one size fits all” type of technique.

I’m not a fan of soaking hand planes in anything except cleaning solutions.

AND I will NEVER again put a plane in vinegar.

I hope you will learn from my mistake. Vinegar has a place in some tool restoration, but not hand planes in my opinion. I’ve met to many who have used it over and over until it finally ruined a nice hand plane. I just talk to another old time tool dealer that had been using vinegar for years. The first plane he ruined after years of use was a nice early Hahn.

Vinegar is used in knife making to rust steel and force patina–>


See these additional articles as well

This is the method I prefer when  it’s possible to use –>.

A no-soak process.

Click here to see how to restore a plane without using any derusting liquids

And if yours just needs a good tune up, try this.

Making a bench plane tote



Mark Webster’s hand plane restoration method


I figured since this plane needed almost anything a plane restore could need, I would expand on it a bit and talk about my methodology for metal bench plane restoration, because when I pulled it from the pile it looked like this.

First I should note that you may find the occasional picture from another plane restore. I’m not trying to trick anyone, just get the details in and I can’t guarantee I have all the pictures I need from the Millers Falls #10. A lot of my earlier planes are Stanley’s, but I have to admit I have a sort of soft spot for the good Millers Falls planes and am an avid collector of Sargent.

A Bench Plane restoration Guide Important Note:

Always clean before deciding to strip the japanning or not. Who would have though thought this:


Would just clean up with a soft wire brush and degreasers or wd-40 to look like this:

SteersAftercleaning2        SteersAftercleaning4SteersAftercleaning3

This is a plane that a simple clean up was all that was needed.

First I take it all apart and put the parts in a plastic container. That to keep all the parts together as best as i can. I tend to have multiple projects happening in my shop, and since I don’t do this for a living, its possible i don’t get back for a few days or a week. I don’t want to have to remember where I put the parts. I then stand for a minute to contemplate what to start on first.

The decisions are usually based on mood more than a real process.

Lets talk about the japanning. I’m a firm believer in leaving the japanning on an older plane if it’s reasonable. It could increase the value of the plane, but a lot of the planes I find the japanning is shot. Determining what to do next will take some trial and error if you’ve never done it, but here is what I use.

If you’re not going to repaint, it’s a good idea to give the japanned areas a couple of coats of shellac, or Fluid Film or oil. This will bring back a bit of the luster and help protect both the japanning and any bare metal where the japanning is gone. If you don’t like shellac, a good waxing will do as well.

Always start with a good cleaning. A good cleaning fluid like Simple Green works wonders. If it’s extremely greasy and grimy you can soak it in your favorite parts cleaner. (note this is different than soaking it in a derusting solution). I often us diesel fuel. 


Although I’m no longer a fan of any process that requires submersing a plane in a liquid (usually acid or derusting solution) I’ve left them here because they do have a place as long as the restorer understands the dangers, and in some instances the plane can be so bad the advantages may outweigh the dangers. It’s also possible to use this guide for other tools not quite as sensitive as cast iron hand planes. I much prefer the  no-soak process. I restore a plane without using any derusting liquids


Electrolysis. (click here for my full electrolysis instructions) Its a a great process and will get rid of the rust, or at least make it easy to brush off.  The draw backs are this. It takes a little time. You need to get it set up and it typically takes over night for most planes. You need a plastic container big enough for the piece your de-rusting and you need a battery charger. I will guarantee once you’ve used it you will continue if you plan to do this often. AND, it’s not the best solution for hand plane restorations.

See Al’s blog for further instructions.

Why electrolysis may be the best option if you feel you MUST use a soaking solution:  Electrolytic derusting By Ted Kinsey

I still prefer using the “no soak” method, but if you are compelled to submerge your hand planes in a liquid, electrolysis is still the best.

I thought I’d post an update. I struggled with this a little. It always took to long so I never really bothered with it. Somewhere threw another conversation I mentioned I had a new battery charger and it didn’t seem to work right for electrolysis. Another LJ suggested putting a battery inline between the charger and the vat. What a difference. I had a dead garden tractor battery so I stuck it inline. In just seconds an old rusty block plane created this reaction.

Those are bubbles you see.

In the morning it looked like this

Evapo-rust. (NOT A RECOMMENDED PROCESS FOR MOST HAND PLANES) Sold at some Tractor Supply’s and internet sites. Its $20 a gallon so its more expensive than electrolysis. A gallon will do a quit a few plane and other tools though. Just set the piece in it and let it set over night. Again the rust will either wipe off or wire brush right off the next day. 

To use evapo-rust, you can use a plastic tote like the electrolysis, or I made an aluminum tray out of flashing material. Its narrower so it takes less to cover the plane. I can also tilt it in one direction so its deeper on one end.


Evaporust also changes the color of the metal. If you’re ok with that, then go ahead and use it. Yes you can remove the discoloration by some mechanical means, but that defeats the purpose and you could just use the mechanical means in the first place. If you must use a dipping method, use electrolysis.

I also made a wire basket for the smaller parts.

This is what the Millers Falls looked like when it came out of the evapo-rust. I had hopes I could save the japanning, but there was to much rust under the japanning that I didn’t see until it was lifted.

Sand Blasting. My favorite for planes that you know you need to paint. I bought a $30 sand blasting gun at and haven’t looked back. Again, I try to leave the japanning if I can, but if it needs painting this is the way to go. Screened play sand will work just fine, but I bought some aluminum oxide blasting grit which works a little better. Don’t be afraid to stick with the play sand for a while. It does a fine job. The drawback of sand blasting is you need a decent air compressor.

EDIT: I’ve noticed recently the

Sand Blasting Guns

are even cheaper at Amazon.

I knew it needed to be painted, so lets break out the sand blaster.

EDIT: I’ve since updated my sandblaster. I have no complains about the one above and it served me well for the price, but this one from Harbor freight worked a bit better.


I also created a small blasting cabinet. You can re-use the media and it keeps it contained. Plus it doesn’t get all over my shop.

Note most of it is plastic except for a piece of glass in the front. That’s so it’s easier to wipe off and see through. The bottom is open so I set it on my bench on a flat piece of steel (plywood would work too) to catch the sand. Note the 2 hand holes in the front. What you cannot see is the top. I have 2 holes drilled in a piece of plywood. One is for the air hose. The other is for a shop vac. When using play sand for media, it helps to suck the dust out so you can see.

It takes me 30-40 minute to setup and clean a base using the Sand Blaster. Obviously doing 2 or 3 at once is quicker.

Edit 7-2013. Another Sandblasting upgrade. It works better than I anticipated. I like it a lot. Its highly recommended.

I still use an old chisel to scrape the flat parts first. It’s a little quicker, but the sandblaster does the rest.

Take a look at my #8c restore for more picture of before and after sandblasting.

Edit 7-2013

*Citric Acid     (make sure you read the cautions and understand the risk before using any acid)


*. I finally ordered some Citric Acid to try out.  I had trouble finding it local, so I finally ordered it from “Amazon. I started with a #1 bag, but it seems like even that small bag will go a long way. Just add water and some powder. I haven’t used it enough to know how much exactly, but I added about 1/4 cup to my 24” window box liner and I’ve done several planes in it so far. I had a broken plane and wanted to see what happened if I left it soak to long, so I stuck it in on Sunday, took it out the next Saturday. I had a nice rust free plane with no adverse affect. I highly recommend this stuff.

Note the citric acid won’t strip the japanning, so it can be used like evapo-rust for de-rusting the planes you find that you’ll be saving the existing japanning. I love finding those!!

Edit 9-2016. & 6-2017  **Caution** Be very careful with citric acid. Make sure you understand the risk with acid based soaks. I’ve seen many tools ruined with acid. And I will never de-rust a blade(iron) with acid.   See this article that show what acid can do.

Any type of Acid should be a last resort and only after you understand what it can do to your tool. I don’t beleive any tool of great value should be soaked in acid.

The Works
I use this stuff when I’m in a hurry. It removes rust quick. In less than an hour most of the time. It’s a little harsh, and not nearly as environmentally friendly as citric acid, but if you want quick results it will work.

The other note though, you’ll want to use The Works
outside. Just the fumes will rust anything close if you leave it around for a while. Make sure you wash the parts off well.

I use it for small parts more than whole planes, but it’ll work for either

The old fashion way. Wire brushes and scrapers and screw drivers and sand paper and whatever else you have to work the stuff off. This is the safest way, and should be your choice.

*Paint stripper 

Paint stripper will work if added to “the old fashion way” above. It will usually take a few applications. I have used it but for me its messy and time consuming. Again, if you are only going to do a few planes, it may a choice.

Next you will want to wire brush the frog so you can paint them together. I don’t have a picture wire brushing the frog, but you will want a

course wire wheel

and a

fine wire wheel

like this one:

Important warnings about wire wheels. First, wire wheels can scratch metals. I’ve never had a problem using a wire wheel on a cast iron plane, but ALWAYS test the plane your going to wire wheel and proceed with caution. Using a wheel to course or being to aggressive can cause undesired results. Just start slow and proceed with caution. If you sense a scratch pattern, either switch to a finer wheel or use less force.

Always wear eye protection when using a wire wheel od any kind !!

Next, make sure you hang on to your pieces well. Its easy to allow the wheel to throw pieces across the room. Worst case you break it, other times you just loose them.

There is usually a little hand work on the frog as well. I have some larger and smaller wire brushes I use. Use what ever works for you. I also have a collection of wire brushes for the drill. I will use whatever works.

Of course If your sandblasting the bed, the frog can be easily sandblasted as well.

Razor Blade or scraper (A recommended solution)

Another great way to remove heavy rust is a razor blade or paint scraper. I often use a utility knife blade held in a pair of vise grips. I also use a scraper like this one.

razor blade scraper

An old chisel for scraping the old japanning also works well. It will dull the chisel quickly, so make sure it’s an old one you don’t care much about.

It’s typically easier on the frog to tape off the areas to not be painted. If the base hasn’t been cleaned up I don’t bother, but If I have the rest of the base complete, I’ll mask it with painter tape.

Next paint it. Wipe it down with mineral spirits or paint thinner to get all the dust off it. I use

Dupli-Color DE1635 Ceramic Ford Semi-Gloss Black Engine Paint

I find the Dupli-Color to be a little closer to the original finish. What I like about the Dupli-Color Engine Enamel is you re-coat after 10 minutes. I usually let it sit for 15 minutes and add a coat. I will give it 4 or 5 coats.

Warning you can not re coat if you wait longer than about 1 hour though. If it starts to set up the fresh paint will cause the semi dry paint to peel and curl up. If you need to repaint wait 7 days as described on the can.

NOTE: If you want to try traditional japanning, here is a very very good series,

One other note, some Dupli paint suggest baking it on. Be careful heating cast. I’d hate to hear you warped your plane repainting it. What I link to above does not have any baked on requirements.

Mask off all of the machined surfaces before painting. This is tough stuff to remove after it is cured.  I recommend removing the tape about an hour after the last coat goes on. Pull the tape off at an acute angle to the surface so it doesn’t pull the paint away. If you wait until it is fully cured, the paint edges won’t be as sharp.

I try to paint the frog and base at the same time just to save time.

I may take the fork off if it comes apart easily. I paint the fork as well. Most of the time I will leave it intact instead of risking breaking the frog when taking it off.

Be careful. Some of the pins are peened especially on Sargent made planes. It is pretty easy to break the casting if you are not careful removing the pin.

On the left is Duplicolor DE1635 semi-gloss black. On the right is original 1940s japanning. Photo courtesy of Bob Page of Loon Lake Tool Works.

Next Polish the sides of the base. You can use a belt sander if it needs it, but be very careful. It’s easy to go to far to quick. I have done a few by hand sanding, but I find most can be cleaned up well enough with the wire wheel. It really depends on how much shine you’re looking to get. I like the flat luster from the wire wheel.

Run the wire wheel with the lines in the sides. If the plane is earlier with the lines, I still recommend running the wheel in a horizontal direction. (Don’t use a wheel course enough to scratch the plane. Always test it and don’t apply aggressive pressure.

Make sure you’ve seen the discussion on the different techniques such as belt sanding and wire wheel cleaning.

Flatten the frog. File the frog flat

with a flat file

. It really doesn’t matter if you do this before or after painting. I usually wind up doing it after. I lock it in a vise and hold the file flat while filing it. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Some like to polish this as well, but its not really necessary.


You can use a wooden vise or a metal vise with padded jaws. Here I have aluminum over the jaws to protect the frog’s cast.


Check and fix the cap iron. First thing I do is wire brush it. It should be re-rusted by now with whatever you decided, or you can just wire brush it. I find I will wire brush it first, then throw it in the evapo-rust if It still needs a little help. You can also touch it to a belt sander to shine it up a bit if needed. I go into more detail here.

Sharpen it After cleaning up the iron (just like the cap iron) you’ll need to sharpen it. How I go about that process is described here.

Polish or repair the chip breaker. The process is described here.

Flatten the sole.

See “How flat does my smoother sole need to be?”

I flatten either on a piece of granite or my cast iron table saw top with sanding belts that have been cut. I usually use used belts, although new ones will obviously be faster.

Its best to have the plane completely assembled (at least when finishing) when flattening. If you have a lot of flattening to do, starting with just the sole is ok. You’ll find only a small veriation when you put it back together, if anything at all. I suggest putting it together when you get close.

Bench Plane Restoration Guide Part 2 is here.

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