Norris A5 Restoration

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Brit posted 12-05-2019 11:35 PM 2985 reads 0 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After looking for many years and losing many auctions, I finally won a Norris A5 smoother for a reasonable price. I knew it needed a lot of work, but at least it looked doable. It turned out to be a rollercoaster ride with a number of heart-stopping moments. Here are the seller’s pics (not the clearest photos) so you can see what I started out with.

Once I hade it in my possession, the first thing I did was clean the wood with 0000 steel wool and Liberon Wax and Polish Remover. The wood was covered in years of grime and of course the obligatory spots of paint. The seller did state that there was a crack in the handle which he said was held securely by the factory fitted screw. What he didn’t tell me though was that there were actually five separate cracks in the handle. The worst one was the one in the middle which went nearly all the way through.

I decided to leave the wood until last and concentrate on the metal components first.

I removed everything that was meant to be removed. The worst bit to get off was the adjuster mechanism. Norris changed the design of the adjuster at least three times while they were making the A5 and each was held in differently. The one on my plane was held in by two little wood screws under the lever cap. I had to back off the adjuster all the way to get to one of the screws and remove it through the middle of the banjo (That’s the round bit with the hole that the lever cap screw sits in). There was just enough room to put a slotted screwdriver bit in the screw heads, apply a downforce with my forefinger and use a 6mm open-ended spanner to turn the bit. Very fiddly, but I managed to get them out. The banjo bolt has a left-handed thread that screws into the end of the main adjuster rod. Once I had it all in bits, I got the rust off everything by soaking the components overnight in Hammerite Rust Remover and then giving them a scrub with an old toothbrush. I then cleaned them further with metal polish. The two sides of the plane body were painted with Hammerite Rust Remover gel and left for 20 mins before washing with water.

I spent about half a day working on the cap iron and another half day on the iron itself before I was happy with them. This just consisted of moving them back and forth on my diamond stones and waterstones. Monotonous, but I was pleasantly surprised at how they came out considering the state they were in to start with.

Now it was time to tackle the cracks in the handle, but first I had to try and get the screw out that goes up through the grip of the handle. I picked up the biggest turnscrew I own, held the plane in one hand and tried to extract the screw. It didn’t budge at all, so I turned the plane upside down in the vice and used an adjustable spanner on the flats of the turnscrew to get more leverage. I still couldn’t move it. I was worried it would cam out of the screw at any moment, but I didn’t have any other choice but to persevere as it would be impossible to apply clamping pressure to the cracks with the screw in situ. I tried jerking it quickly and on the second attempt it finally started moving and I was then able to remove it.

Strange when you think about it that the very screw that was holding the handle together was probably what caused the cracks in the first place as the wood dried out around it.

Don W and Bob Summerfield suggested I use epoxy for the big crack and superglue for the smaller cracks. Don also suggested I should add some black to the epoxy. They’ve repaired more cracks in handles than I’ve had hot dinners, so that was good enough for me. I added a few drops of Liberon Ebony Pallet Wood Dye (water-based) and used a thin artist’s pallete knife to push the epoxy deep into the crack. As you can see I made some clamping blocks out of some spare oak I had laying around to ensure I could exert maximum force on the handle to close the cracks.

With the cracks fixed, I turned my attention to the sides of the casting, basically working my way through the grits from P60 to P320. Although I could have gone further in terms of removing more of the pitting, I decided to leave a bit of it to hint at the plane’s history (If you believe that you’ll believe anything LOL). After that I cleaned the lever cap with P500 grit and then 0000 steel wool. That went pretty quickly and came out rather well I think as you’ll see in later photos.

The wood was then sanded with P120, P240 and P320. There’s a limit to how much you can sand an overstuffed infill plane because the wood has to stay flush with the sides of the casting. This was as good as I could reasonably get it without sanding too far.

Luckily, I had the sense to make sure the screw went back in before I applied a new finish to the wood and it was just as well that I did because when the screw was fully home, one edge of the screwhead was proud of the surface. I sorted that out by grinding the tip off the screw and drilling out the counterbore a little bit more. Drilling the counterbore was another heart stopping moment because I knew there was a danger the drill might catch and split the handle. I made sure I was lined up and gave the trigger a quick ZZZERT. Phew – I got away with it!

I tried the screw in the handle again and this time it cleared the bottom of the handle.

I masked up the sides and got everything together to apply the new finish.

I thought long and hard about how I should finish the infills and I decided that if it was going to look good I would need to go dark. I decided to ebonize it with ebony spirit-based dye and then multiple coats of Liberon Black Polish which is basically black shellac.

First the dye. Shake well it said… I did.

I chose a foam applicator to apply the dye and a gold taklon brush for the shellac.

The dye was applied in about 30 seconds without any issues.

Since I had to wait a while for the dye to dry, I decided it was a good time for some chilli.

With my hunger satisfied, I poured some of the Black Polish into an empty jar and added a little methylated spirit to thin it. Here it is after three coats. At this point, I wasn’t too concerned about brush marks because once dry the finish would be rubbed out. I also knew I would be able to adjust the sheen.

The following photo shows the finish after five coats.

At this point I decided it looked crap and it would always look crap. I didn’t want it to look crap, so it had to come off again. I poured some meths into a pot and brushed it on over the shellac. After about 5 strokes, I wiped the brush on a paper towel to remove the shellac from my brush. I kept repeating this process until all of the shellac was removed, thus disproving the saying that “Once you’ve gone black, there’s no going back.”

Now I had to decide what to do instead. I’m a big fan of ‘in the wood’ finishes rather than ‘on the wood’ finishes, particularly on tool handles, so I decided to go with Peacock oil (my favourite oil finish). I did some quick experiments to see whether I should use another dye on top of the dark grey dye that I now had on the wood. I tried ovelaying Georgian and Victorian Mahogany and Rosewood dyes, but in the end I decided I would just apply Peacock Regal Red oil directly over the existing dye. I cut some lint free cloth and liberally applied the oil, waited 15 mins, then applied some more oil and then repeated this another four times until the oil remained on the surface after the 15 minute absorbency period.

I removed the surplus oil with a paper towel, buffed the surface and set it aside to dry for 48 hours. I was really pleased with the way the oil was looking and couldn’t resist removing the masking tape.

But that isn’t the end of an oil finish. After the 48 hour period, I applied a thin coat of Clear Honey Peacock Oil, waited 1 hour, removed the surplus with a paper towel, buffed the surface until dry and set it aside for 24 hours. This step was repeated 2 more times. At this point the wood was completely sealed and the wood fibres had been hardened. You can even feel the difference in hardness.

So here is the plane after reassembling it. The wood is dark like I wanted it to be, but now you can still see the grain. It will look even better once the shiny metal components develop a nice patina. In a couple of weeks time, I will give the wood a couple of coats of Alfie Shine hard wax to increase the sheen slightly. If you haven’t tried this wax you should. It smells divine (frankincense and Myrrh).

But how does it work I hear you say. Very nicely thanks for asking. (Click the photo below for a closer look).

Norris A5 Smoothing Plane

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

21 comments so far

View EarlS's profile


5034 posts in 3690 days

#1 posted 12-06-2019 12:03 AM

Awesome refurbish job!!!!! You found an exceptional plane under all of that dirt and grime. Very Well Done!!!!

Oh – and I really like that mallet too. The square isn’t half bad either. Are they both refurbished?

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View duckmilk's profile


4954 posts in 2667 days

#2 posted 12-06-2019 12:03 AM

Wonderful restoration Andy!! It looks marvelous and your write-up is a great read. Congrats!

-- "Duck and Bob would be out doin some farming with funny hats on." chrisstef

View Brit's profile


8465 posts in 4185 days

#3 posted 12-06-2019 12:41 AM

Earl – Thanks. I purchased the mallet on Etsy from a guy in the Ukraine. It is hand engraved. The Bridge City square features in all my blogs. I use it all the time and wouldn’t be without it. It was bought new quite a few years ago now.

Duck – Thank you sir. It was touch and go at times but I’m really pleased with the result.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Don W's profile

Don W

20294 posts in 3910 days

#4 posted 12-06-2019 12:59 AM

You never disappoint! What a great job. (Chili looks good too)

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View theoldfart's profile (online now)


13012 posts in 3793 days

#5 posted 12-06-2019 04:02 AM

What a beautiful restoration, probably looks better than when it was new. Great job Andy

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View ToddJB's profile


8838 posts in 3473 days

#6 posted 12-06-2019 04:50 AM

You win

-- I came - I sawed - I over-built

View Don2Laughs's profile


84 posts in 4776 days

#7 posted 12-06-2019 06:05 AM

What a great find and Fantastic restore! Andy, you are an inspiration! WISH I HAD ONE!!

-- Don in Mountain City. Texas

View Redoak49's profile


5475 posts in 3331 days

#8 posted 12-06-2019 12:08 PM

Beautiful job!

View Brit's profile


8465 posts in 4185 days

#9 posted 12-06-2019 12:31 PM

Thanks guys! I appreciate it.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View mafe's profile


13695 posts in 4431 days

#10 posted 12-06-2019 06:54 PM

I have been waiting for this blog, since you told me that you had bought it.
As always I am impressed with your work, you always take it to a new level and this time I think you out did your self. I love that you kept some of the heart and soul of the plane.
It was the right choice you did, to redo the finish.
What a wonderful plane, love it.
Best of my thoughts,
Welcome to the club.

Here my own A5.

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Brit's profile


8465 posts in 4185 days

#11 posted 12-06-2019 07:44 PM

Thanks Mads. I’ve only used it to make the shavings in the last photo of the blog post, but I find it quite difficult to adjust accurately. One minute the iron wasn’t projecting far enough to take a cut and the next it was too heavy a cut or one side was heavier than the other. I don’t find it as accurate as my LN 41/2 and it doesn’t leave as nice a surface even though the iron is shaving sharp. Don’t get me wrong, the surface was very good, just not quite as polished as my LN. Just my initial thoughts, but I need to play with it some more.

I have another question for you. You will no doubt have heard of Bill Carter (UK plane maker). In one of his videos he said that when you screw the cap iron to the iron, you should tighten the screw as much as you can. In other words, until you can no longer see any light between them. However, I noticed that when you do this, the iron becomes concave on the face that mates with the wood resulting in the iron only making contact at the top of the handle and the steel plates behind the mouth. I tried using the plane like this and it cut fine. I also undid the screw until the iron was no longer concave and I could see light between the iron and the cap iron, but it made contact with more of the wood. When I tried it like that, it also seemed to work. I would be interested to know if you tighten the screw all the all the way in and if so does it result in a concavity in the iron.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View AnthonyReed's profile


10185 posts in 3782 days

#12 posted 12-08-2019 02:51 AM

Delightful read, and fantastic results. Always a pleasure to see your work. Thank you Andy.

-- ~Tony

View Brit's profile


8465 posts in 4185 days

#13 posted 12-08-2019 08:25 AM

Cheers Tony. Good to hear from you buddy. I hope life is treating you well.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17685 posts in 3961 days

#14 posted 12-08-2019 12:48 PM

Andy, that is a beautiful piece of work, congrats. And thanks for sharing; I’ve met my drool quota for the week!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View HokieKen's profile (online now)


20741 posts in 2481 days

#15 posted 12-09-2019 08:34 PM

That’s gorgeous Andy! Good call on the finish. Not sure you could have made a better choice. That steel and brass cleaned up superbly too! In a pinch though, I would probably trade the plane for a spot of that chili ;-)

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

showing 1 through 15 of 21 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics