Q & A: Salvaging a Rusty Plane Iron

Hone a small bevel on the back side of a rusty blade…

... to quickly get down to clean steel.

… to quickly get down to clean steel.

Q: I’ve got an old plane that my grandfather left me. I’d like to use it, but its cutting iron is really rusty. Do I need to buy a new one?

A: Don’t throw away that iron yet. Flattening the back of a plane iron is usually the first step in sharpening, but you might spend hours to get down below the rust pits to clean steel.What a chore!

Here’s a non-standard method that could rescue your antique plane iron. Rather than flatten the entire back, work only on the leading edge to create a very small, low-angle bevel. This will slightly increase the cutting angle of the plane, but you probably won’t notice the difference.

The catch is that you must hone this back bevel at a consistent angle every time you sharpen.Use a standard honing guide to sharpen the main bevel of the iron and simply turn it upside down to create the back bevel. If you prefer to sharpen without a guide, you can create the back bevel by laying a shim on top of your stone. The shim slightly raises the blade the same way the guide does.