Where do you draw the line with tool restoration?

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Forum topic by LisaD posted 07-10-2014 09:16 PM 1558 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 2061 days

07-10-2014 09:16 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question refurbishing

Hi guys,

I’m Lisa from NZ. I’ve been a lurker for a while and this is my first post, inspired by the restoration thread. I’ve been picking up some cheap old tools at markets for a while and restoring them (to the best of my limited “beginner” ability). I’ve had some good results though, even if some of them were happy accidents!

Last week I was at a market where a guy was selling a bunch of Stanley hand planes for $10 each. That’s almost unheard of at this particular market, but these were covered in rust, quite a bit of rust. $10 seems to be the lowest price I’ve seen on planes at markets in my area. (If I leave the city I can find them for $2 but I don’t get the opportunity to do that very often, and I have the second hand tool fever at the moment and can’t stop myself!)

I didn’t get a picture but here’s one in a similar state that I found on google image search for the sake of conversation:

So really, what I’m asking is: At what point would you consider a plane not worth the effort to restore?
When is a chisel too far gone to bother with? And what are some key things you look for under all that gunk before you make a purchase?

Personally – I’ve been trying to save pretty much anything. Especially if I find it in a rubbish bin. But I feel like each restoration is a lesson that is valuable in itself, even if I end up with a mangled piece of useless overheated metal in my hands at the end of it.


16 replies so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

19500 posts in 3208 days

#1 posted 07-10-2014 09:23 PM

That plane looks terrible, but its completely restorable. To me I draw the line when a tool is unusable in the restored state (unless its old enough and rare enough and then there’s no limit)

I’ll be that plane pictured can be made to not only to work and work well, but be a fine looking tool. I will draw the line if they are broke (the cast is broke) and / or have been welded and a new base can be easily found. I have restored repaired bedrocks, so ”base easily found” might be somewhat subjective.

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

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

490 posts in 2321 days

#2 posted 07-10-2014 09:32 PM

It is really a personal call for how much time and elbow grease you want to put into it. I use to love restoring tools but now a days I am much more picky and will pay more for a cleaner tool or even make the jump to new more readily if I can’t find what I want used. After spending 4-6 hours over a couple days flattening the back on a 2” firmer chisel that had a belly on it I am not that enthusiastic about the process anymore. Your picture is an example of a plane I would probably pass on even for $10 especially with the cracked tout and missing pieces. Surface rust isn’t hard to remove but replacing a bunch of parts or dealing with a messed up mouth/cracked body is. But than again I just moved from NC. where used tools are very plentiful, I haven’t seen near the used tool market in CO. they had so it’s very possible I won’t be able to stay picky.

View exelectrician's profile


2339 posts in 3068 days

#3 posted 07-10-2014 09:51 PM

For me it when the rust pit holes are more than 1/8” deep, or when they go all the way through!

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4289 days

#4 posted 07-10-2014 09:53 PM

If the castings aren’t cracked and the iron, chipbreaker and
metal parts are present, then cleaning up the metal and
repairing/replacing knobs and totes is not that big a deal,
assuming you are enjoying yourself.

Surface rust does make iron ugly but it provides a layer of
protection. Thus long neglected iron machinery often
turns out to be very usable and even beautiful when the
oxidation is removed.

View shampeon's profile


1915 posts in 2824 days

#5 posted 07-10-2014 10:01 PM

This is one of those things where there’s a critical mass of tooling and spare parts that make restoring a plane like the one above easy and worth it for one person, and a giant money and time hole to another.

Don Yoda above has the tools and spare parts to very easily turn that thing into a jewel. As Loren says, if the only thing missing is the knob and a) you have a means of turning a new knob and b) have the inclination, go for it. Don has some excellent tutorials on the process. You’ll learn an awful lot.

But if you don’t have the patience or equipment or time for the process, it’ll be very frustrating, and the $20-$30 you’ll save won’t be worth it.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View Gary's profile


9414 posts in 4074 days

#6 posted 07-10-2014 10:08 PM

I wouldn’t have any idea but…Welcome to the site.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3858 posts in 2892 days

#7 posted 07-10-2014 10:14 PM

When I started restoring vintage tools, I had the same attitude about trying and learning. I’d get the most rusted tools, many of which were given to me, and see what I could do with them. Now, keep in mind that still don’t have the techniques and experience of the “real” Don, but I’ve learned a lot and haven’t ruined any really valuable pieces either. Don Yoda is a real expert in the restoration craft. To answer you question, I haven’t found any limits yet to what I’ll try.

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View bandit571's profile


24681 posts in 3324 days

#8 posted 07-10-2014 10:16 PM

Even I draw a line…..sometimes..maybe

Just a matter of what is under the crud.

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View upchuck's profile


540 posts in 2306 days

#9 posted 07-11-2014 04:06 AM

So really, what I m asking is: At what point would you consider a plane not worth the effort to restore?
When is a chisel too far gone to bother with? And what are some key things you look for under all that gunk before you make a purchase?


I am a “bottom feeder”. By that I mean that I have a very limited budget and I am willing to spend some time fixing up tools rather than spending the money that I don’t have. I too have become more particular over time.
Planes: I want a plane with good bones. I don’t have the ability to repair broken or cracked cast iron. If it is a small chip out of the side rail near the toe or heel that doesn’t crack further and I want the plane then okay. Otherwise no flaws in the sole/body or frog. I might make an exception if the plane was something that was unusual, was something I wanted to study, was something I could strip the other parts from, or was just something I wanted that day. I’d note carefully all of the missing parts and try to remember where the parts box back home will fill in missing pieces. Wood I can repair so if I want a plane that is missing the tote or knob I can replace or repair those. I will also buy broken down dogs just for the parts if the price is right.

Chisels: Bellied faces/backs (the “flat” non-beveled side) suck. There are ways to correct this but it is a pain and time consuming. Deep pits are also a pain. If the pits take on the depth of craters then it is usually scrap metal as far as I’m concerned. But even badly pitted steel can be given a bevel on both sides and used for carving. I like socket chisels. Many times the socket has been pounded down to deform the socket. Files can reshape the exterior. Cone shaped stones chucked into a drill can correct the interior. Some are so badly abused that they are beyond my abilities to make into useable tools. Chris Pye has a book, Woodcarving: Tools, Materials, & Equipment Vol. 1 that is excellent for describing chisel flaws and their corrections. Handles, again, I don’t worry about.

I have made some mistakes. I’ve bought tools that on closer inspection were beyond my abilities or not worth the time to fix up. I think of those mistakes as tuition for the lessons learned. Lastly consider what you are going to use the tool for. Jack planes don’t need to be tuned up to be super smoothers. Ugly chisels can be used outside to pound a mortise in a rail road tie or fence post. Sub-par tools can be loaned to neighbors.

Welcome to LJ. Good Luck.


View JohnChung's profile


420 posts in 2715 days

#10 posted 07-11-2014 07:03 AM

I will fix if the item remains fixed. With all that effort put in I would like things remained repaired. It is a joy to restore items to a working order. Well worth it.

View bandit571's profile


24681 posts in 3324 days

#11 posted 07-11-2014 11:40 AM

Re: Painted saws

These were those painted saws. Including at least one D-8 in the bunch.

Rusty tools, I will look over. “New, SHINY, in a box?” Not so much. Last few times, the real new looking planes weren’t worth the effort to pick up off the table.

One day’s haul. That little Stanley block plane? Made in England, shiny, yes. But, very crudely made, too.

Take along a small screwdriver. You can scratch under any rust with it, and even a little tear down. And, never mind them Spider nests, either. That just means it has been awhile since the tool was used….

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View bondogaposis's profile


5655 posts in 2992 days

#12 posted 07-11-2014 01:15 PM

So really, what I’m asking is: At what point would you consider a plane not worth the effort to restore?

I draw the line at cracked castings and missing critical parts. For a plane I can buy Hock blades and chip breakers, I can make new totes, so they are not critical. But the lever cap and frog and adjuster knobs, etc i consider critical and won’t buy a plane that is missing those items.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1332 posts in 2576 days

#13 posted 07-11-2014 02:21 PM


It sounds like you really love the rehabbing part of the process, bringing something back to life. Many of the the people who posted above are the same way. So to answer your question, I agree with the posts above. Cracked castings, broken totes or knobs, heavily pitted iron are the dealbreakers in my book. Some would say you can make a tote and knob, which is true, but it takes some effort.

In my personal woodworking, I am very much a “what can you do for me” kind of guy when it comes to my tools (JFK would be ashamed). Shampeon sort of hit on it up there ^. So, over time I have found that I don’t really like restoring planes or chisels, I like using them to do woodworking. Because of that, I typically buy already rehabbed planes off of Ebay for a mark up, maybe $60 or $70. To me, the extra $50 is worth not having to do the work to clean it up. So, in short, I am the guy who Don W is making money off of, but that is ok with me. We each approach our shops and tools differently. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing your own rehab, and honestly I wish I liked it more, but I just don’t. So ebay is my handplane store.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View HorizontalMike's profile


7841 posts in 3555 days

#14 posted 07-11-2014 03:12 PM

I think that anyone seriously wanting to get into rehabing/refurbing handplanes, needs to FIRST take the time to learn about what specific planes and/or plane types that they want to refurb. Finding multiple/several very poor planes for really cheap, can be a bargain if you can make ONE fully operational/complete/functional plane out of what would otherwise be trash planes.

Saving “everything” is a good way to start. You never know when a particular part will be needed on a “newer” find/purchase. But this takes a bit of studying/knowledge to pull this off. As you learn more about selective planes(that you choose), you will know what to look for at the flea market & auctions.

Above all, have fun doing this. Collecting and refurbing is a hobby in and of itself.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View comboprof's profile


277 posts in 2375 days

#15 posted 07-13-2014 12:22 PM

I am also new at the restoration business. But I think what HorizontalMike says above is the right answer. The more you restore
  • the better you will be at restoration
  • you will learn what is within in your restoration abilities
  • knowing what your abilities are will in part determine what is worth your time
  • choosing something to restore that is more and more challenging will increase your abilities
  • knowing about the history and value of hand tools will also determine what is worth your time

If you find restoration rewarding this is great.

If you want to get back to wood working at some point you have to learn to stop. Restoration is an addiction that may need intervention and a recovery program (restoration anonymous) to aide you in quitting. I know I will have trouble stopping. At the moment I am trying to restore anything I find locally, whereas my goal was only to get some hand tools to use. My addiction hasn’t gone so far as to by tools off of e-bay, I have got one from craigslist and was my most expensive purchase. But it was local and within a 20 minute drive. LOL

I suppose you are buying at op shops and open air markets. I’ve only spent a week in NZ, but I have spent 8 months in Australia. I don’t recall at such places that you can negotiate. But if you can, I would say to them “it will take me a lot of work to restore this” and then offer them half price. They always accept my half price offer at garage sales unless they are antique dealers/collectors in disguise. They never accept it at an antique shop. I’ve never found anything at a vinnies or a salvo.

-- -- Cheers, Don K. (Michgan's Kewenaw peninsula)

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