Planes restored - Because I can. #11: Tuning it up Bench plane style

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Blog entry by Don W posted 02-04-2013 09:32 PM 4084 reads 3 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: Sharpening past the DMT. Part 11 of Planes restored - Because I can. series Part 12: How to repair a Bench plane knob with a base blow out. »

I brought this magnificent (note the dripping sarcasm) piece of machinery home with me during one of my flea market outings. This is a late model Stanley #4. Its painted Blue, made in the US, has a painted cap, a shorter iron than vintage, and no toe on the tote. The knob and tote is painted black, it has an aluminum frog and a pretty cheezy lateral adjuster.

Now….why anyone but someone with a sickness for hand planes like me would buy this plane is a little beyond my understanding, unless it was given to you or almost given to you. A note, I’d rather have one of these than any handyman though, and I’d put them in a pretty close running with a Defiance line hand plane. Again, the Defiance can be made to work well pretty consistently, but it takes a little more love than a Stanley Bailey vintage or equivalent.

For clean up see

So the following is some advice on how to make almost any plane work well. I’ll try to separate out my experience in the differences between these and vintage plane.

If your plane needs a full restoration, as in stripping, painting, and parts replaced, go to either my restoration blog , Making a tote blog, turning a knob blog, or a list of possible places to find parts.

Sharpen it
So here is what you do. First sharpen it. See parts 7 and 10 It doesn’t matter what your taste in sharpening is as long as it works for you. It MUST be sharp.

Polish the end of the cap iron
Polish the end of the cap iron This is more important than many people think. It helps with the breaking of the chip.

Check and fix the cap iron if needed. The cap iron must have good contatact with the iron. Any gap at all will collect chips, and clog. Make sure its clean and tight. It should be re-rusted by now with whatever you decided (if it needed it), or you can just wire brush it. I go into more detail here.

Flatten the frog. File the frog flat. 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.

here is the aluminum frog flattened. The aluminum actually took a lot to flatten, but flatten quickly because …... well,.......its aluminum. I’m also not thrilled with the amount of contact area on the Blue frog, but in the end, it did work reasonably well.

Check the frog seating
Also check the frog seating. I very seldom have to do this on a vintage plane, but once in a while one does not seat properly. You can use valve grinding compound and usually it doesn’t take much. In my latest restore I used a block of wood and sand paper.

The best way to tell if it needs seating is as your tightening the screws, or just force the frog down on the seat. You should feel no rocking. You can also use some machinist blue to ensure you’re getting good contact with the two parts.

Next flatten the sole. Use a piece of granite or a table saw top. If it proves to be real bad, I’ll start it on the belt sander, like I do the sides, but I always finish it on the flatter surface of the table saw. Turn the plane front and push in all directions to keep it flat and even.

For longer planes, use sand paper from a role or cut a belt for the task.

Note, I’ve found the older the plane, the less flattening it’ll need. You’d think just the opposite would be true with advancements in manufacturing, but anything made after the 60’s usually makes it to the belt sander. The Blue stanley took longer than most I’ve ever done.

As I’m putting everything together I give it a coat of Fluid Film to keep the rust away.

Or Wax it

The knob and Tote

You will decide how much the knob and tote needs but here are a few tricks to help.

I chuck the knob in the drill press.

Grind the head so it fits in the hole (were possible). Put a washer on the bottom of the knob.

I use a bolt with a 1/4” Philips head that’s been ground down slightly so it fits inside the knob where the brass nut goes. Tighten it down with a washer and chuck it in the drill press. Only chuck it hand tight so you don’t trash the threads.

Sand it with 60 grit if it still has a varnish or hard finish. then up through 500 (or more if desired) grit. If it had an oil finish I’ll start with 220 grit. First few coats of BLO goes on with steel wool while in the drill press. If the existing finish is hard, it is usually easier to scrape it first.

This also helps with waxing. You can spin it fast enough in a drill press to heat the wax.

For the tote, I haven’t found an easier way than possibly scraping if its a hard finish, and sanding as you would any other piece of wood.

Finish the wood with boiled linseed oil (BLO). If its a really dry old piece, soak it in the BLO overnight.


If the mouth is to wide, its pretty hard to fix. You can slide the frog ahead just so far. If its still to wide, you have a couple of options.
1. Turn the plane into a jack
2. Buy a thicker iron.
3. Make it a paper weight.

I’ve test with shimming and haven’t had a whole lot of luck.

1. make sure its sharp
2. make sure your not taking to big of a bite. Thin down the shavings.
3. check the frog for both flatness, make sure the screws are tight, and make sure its seating well.
4. Don’t go buy a thicker iron thinking it will fix it.

Then enjoy the results

I hope it helps and thanks for stopping by.


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

13 comments so far

View Brit's profile


8503 posts in 4294 days

#1 posted 02-04-2013 09:55 PM

They might be “just some planes restored” to you Don, but they’re works of art to the rest of us.

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

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4755 days

#2 posted 02-04-2013 11:06 PM

yep some good ole instruction, on a subject that6 i am lacking in, thats a bunch don…the more i use my planes the more i fall in love with them, and wish i would have learned earlier…but now its onward and forward, and im really enjoying them.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4291 days

#3 posted 02-05-2013 12:58 AM

Don I always pick up a few tips and tricks.
Great tutorial.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 4050 days

#4 posted 02-05-2013 01:13 AM

Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have learned a lot from your threads and posts in my time on this site. I appreciate it, and I am thankful for your efforts in posting this type of stuff.

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 4431 days

#5 posted 02-05-2013 10:23 AM

Thanks for the free tutorial Don, always good to receive advice from folks who know what they are talking about.



-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17816 posts in 4070 days

#6 posted 02-05-2013 12:27 PM

Fine job saving Old Blue, you are to commended for your dedicated efforts. At least it appears to have slotted screws; I draw the line at any plane having phillips head screws. :-)

Excellent tutorial as usual, Don Yoda. Nice pics, too. Thanks!

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

View Don W's profile

Don W

20378 posts in 4019 days

#7 posted 02-05-2013 01:39 PM

Thanks everyone.

Andy, I had to change the series. I wrote this in a layover, so I may have rushed a bit, although with the delays, I had plenty of time.

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

View AnthonyReed's profile


10196 posts in 3892 days

#8 posted 02-05-2013 02:23 PM

Thanks Don.

-- ~Tony

View Mauricio's profile


7170 posts in 4603 days

#9 posted 02-05-2013 03:00 PM

Great resource Don, thanks for putting this together.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4786 days

#10 posted 02-05-2013 09:54 PM

Excellent tutorial Don.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Ross's profile


142 posts in 3424 days

#11 posted 05-31-2015 12:39 PM

Bought a #4 Stanley just like this one for $5.00 at a flea market. Did the restore based on this post. The plane cleaned up quite nicely and after some tweeking and honing it makes some decent ribbons. Ironically the sole is nearly dead flat. I didn’t have to do anything but polish and wax it. Thought the blue paint was ugly so I stripped it and painted it flat black using rustoleum oil base paint then clear coated it with semi gloss clear coat. Now it looks more like a Stanley plane. “LOL”!
Going to send this one to my eldest son in Texas.

-- "Man Plans and God Laughs"

View Don W's profile

Don W

20378 posts in 4019 days

#12 posted 05-31-2015 04:10 PM

Nice job ross

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

View Ross's profile


142 posts in 3424 days

#13 posted 05-31-2015 06:27 PM

Like you said, nothing real special about this plane. I bought it with my son in mind. Figured for the amount that he would use it that it would last him a long time.

-- "Man Plans and God Laughs"

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