Handplane Maintenance (That Most People Forget) - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Handplane Maintenance (That Most People Forget)

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Metal-bodied planes require so little maintenance (aside from sharpening) that it’s easy to forget that they do need some love every year to work smoothly.

Recently I borrowed a friend’s smoothing plane to demonstrate a cut and was struck by how easily her iron adjusted. It was like silk. I thought my plane was in good shape, but I was way off the mark.

So as soon as I delivered the two commissions on my bench to the customer, I stripped down my planes to give them some long-overdue cleaning.

Take the plane entirely apart. Remove the adjuster from its threaded post. Pull all the screws from the frog.

Clean the threaded post with a wire brush until you get it down to bare metal. Even a little bit of rust or gunk will foul the adjuster and make it difficult to advance and retract. Then take a wire pipe cleaner and screw it into your adjuster’s nut (it’s reverse-threaded) to remove any gunk in there.

I was shocked at how much crap was in my threads. It was like forgetting to floss for a year and finding last Christmas’s bacon….

Coat the threads with a light machine oil. Heavy bodied oils are OK, but they seem to attract more dust in my experience.

Now perform the same routine on all the other screws on the plane, including the screws that hold and adjust the frog. And don’t forget the main adjusting screw that holds together the cap iron, iron and lever cap. That thing gets filthy.

Wipe down everything with an oily rag and reassemble the tool.

Your will be shocked and amazed at how much easier adjusting the tool will become.

— Christopher Schwarz

If you want more handplane advice such as this, check out my book “Handplane Essentials,” which has been recently revised and expanded.

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Showing 15 comments
  • 8iowa

    AllanWS is “right on”. When you purchase an older Stanley/Bailey plane the re-furb process gets you intimately acquainted with all the small parts and how they interact. Yeah….you can spend lotsa dollars for a new plane and get to work quicker, but you lose this valuable experience.

    Let me strongly recommend Rem Oil, much better than WD40, which is actually a solvent.

  • Brian

    Thanks for the reminder. Your blogs are always a pleasure. Good info or good humor, usually both. (ps: thanks for the recent tip on Shapton stones)

  • AlanWS

    Spending time fixing up old planes makes you become very sensitive to the feel, so you can’t help but notice when your users start behaving less well. I suspect back when you did fix up more tools, you would not have let this plane get to this state.

    This is one reason it can be fun to buy and fix up older planes. If they are really nice, they can swap into the regular fleet. Or they can be available for use by, or be passed on to, others.

    While most of what’s written about plane rehab pertains to the difficult cases, many older planes only need what you describe here, and of course sharpening.

  • kocgolf

    Just finished doing this! Although I used WD40…ugh…actually just found similar advice yesterday, AFTER cleaning, that WD40 is NOT the best choice for this as it attracts the gunk, but what is the best way to remove it? I am thinking of using the same dry lubricant spray I use on blades and bits.

  • manitario

    I try and do this once a year before the start of my winter woodworking season. It’s a good way to start off the woodworking season after a summer of disuse.

  • tmsbmx

    I recently did a similar over all cleaning minus the removal of the frog (the planes are 2 years old) but had the same results a little cleaning and some 3 and 1 oil goes a long way.

  • BLZeebub

    I use a Dri-Slide instead of light oil (WD40). It doesn’t attract dirt at all and lasts much longer. However, know that it leaves a black residue where you apply it so apply sparingly and wipe off any excess before putting the tool to use or you’ll be cursing the God of skid-marks.

    • Billy's Little Bench

      WD40 is a solvent , not a lubricant .

      • lee jensen

        that’s kinda funny the can of WD-40 I am holding right know on the white side of the can says it LUBRICATES moving parts such as hinge, wheels, rollers, chains,gears I guess they don’t know what their product does.maybr you just didn’t read far enough on the back side of the can. that said I really don’t care to much for wd-40

        • jayed_coins

          It lubricates by virtue of removing dirt, grime, rust, and moisture. For long term lubricant and rust prevention, you want to use a straight up oil.

  • themavericktexan

    Does 3-in-1 oil count as light machine oil? Where would jojoba rank?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Yup. 3-in-1 is a light machine oil. Jojoba is heavier. I use it for rust protection, not lubrication.

  • lancestuch

    Why am I just now hearing about Christmas bacon?!?

  • dzehner2

    Fantastic advice as usual! I definitely slack off on maintenance of all types for my tools (gasp)…that’ll be my priority during a break in commission work!

    • Admiral

      One thing overlooked by many is the proper way to reassemble the frog adjustment screw bracket. That’s the upside down “U” plate that is screwed to the frog. Depending on the Type of the plane, many of these brackets aren’t quite square to the notch on the frog above the bracket screw, and if you just screw in the bracket, tighten it down, then reassemble the plane, it can result in misalignment of the frog. So just put in the bracket screw loose, and then set the frog, then tighten down the bracket screw. Sometimes you will have to grind off a bit of the top of the bracket to make it fit.

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