Craftsman Hand Plane Restoration – Part 2

So when we last left our restoration project, things were looking much cleaner. So now I need to make a decision. Do I just put the plane back together and put it back to work or do I take it a step further and make it pretty again? In most cases, I wouldn’t bother with anything more than grinding and sharpening at this point. However, in this case, I find myself in a bit of a pickle. If you’re a purist, I suggest you stop reading now because you’re probably not going to like what I do next. But this plane isn’t in any way rare or collectible, sooooooo………..

While the japanning on the main plane body isn’t in terrible shape, the frog is embarrassingly naked.

The rust remover did a great job of removing the rust on all the parts that spent the night soaking. It revealed that a good amount of the Japanning on the main plane body still remained, although most of it was quite oxidized and dull. What I didn’t expect is that the overnight soak would cause all of the red paint on the frog to soften and peel. Hence, my frog is naked.

The finish on the tote and knob, or what’s left of it, has also seen better days.

An inspection of the tote and knob reveals a similar state of affairs. What little finish is left on them is dull, cracked, flaking off, and just plain ugly. So while they are completely functional, they are also in need of a bit of a facelift. So I started by preparing the plane body and frog.

No, I’m not painting them green.

Since the frog was naked, I really had no choice but to paint it unless I wanted the entire thing to rust. And while the plane body really didn’t need to be painted, I felt that if I painted the frog, the dull and only partially japanned plane body wouldn’t quite fit in. So if I was going to paint them, I needed to mask the areas that I didn’t want painted first. The frog took a bit of patience, and I didn’t want to remove the riveted on lateral adjuster, to that had to be masked in place. Masking the body wan’t so bad, except for the area down inside the throat where the frog bears. So rather than masking this area, I coated the spots I didn’t want painted with petroleum jelly.

Then it was outside while the weather was nice to paint. I’m not that picky about paints for old hand tools. Most of todays spray paints will work, and I typically will use whatever rattle can paint I can find that I think will look OK. Spray paints are not as hard or durable as the old Japanning, but if allowed to fully cure in a warm place for about a week after painting, they’re plenty durable enough. I’m not trying to be historically accurate here. I’m merely protecting the iron from the environment and hoping to stave off rust. Again, the tools that I’m giving this kind of treatment to were made by the thousands, if not tens of thousands and are not in any way rare or valuable.

A card scraper removes thick varnish fast.

While the paint was drying on the iron bits, I turned my attention to the wooden ones. Over the years, I’ve tried sanding, chemical strippers, but nothing works quite as fast, or as well as scraping. So I spent about 10-15 minutes with a small card scraper and completely stripped the tote and knob. The cracked varnish came off easily and left some not to shabby looking rosewood. Not the nicest I’ve ever seen, but not terrible either. So the scraped tote and knob got sanded with a bit of 220 grit to smooth and even out the texture before three coats of Minwax Antique Oil Finish (i.e. linseed oil & alkyd varnish mixture thinned to a wiping consistency). Once the varnish dried for a couple of days, I rubbed it down with paste wax and 0000 steel wool, then buffed it to a smooth, soft luster. Then it was time for reassembly.

Much better than the condition I got it in.

The paint I ended up using was a semi gloss black. I’ve found that regular [high] gloss is just too much shine, and flat just doesn’t look right on these older planes. I also decided not to go with the original red for the frog. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t care for the different color frog look.

Now to make it sing.

All that’s left now is the final sharpening and tune up. But that’s going to have to wait, as this plane is going to be the demo tool for my sharpening and hand plane tuning seminar in April.


  1. Nice article! I bought an old Craftsman No 7 with Corrugated sole a few years back. Hard to say if it was made by Stanley or Miller Falls to Sears specs. It obviously did not work very well out of the box which led to it’s neglect. I discovered that changing the frog screw washers to a smaller diameter allowed just the right amount of adjustment. Once the frog was repositioned the plane worked fine and I still use it. I like the fact that I was able to make a neglected tool useful again!

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