In my last post I spoke of having the week from Hell...no really...it was the week from Hell. Thankfully it was nothing more than the fact that I had absolutely no time to myself, feel like I've been hit by a bus and the new work week (for me at least) has already started.
In that post I also spoke of picking up a task in the shop that I've been putting off for far too long. The tuning of my block planes. The reason I've been putting this off is simply that I'm lazy and that both were going to require a TON of work...well one more than the other but that's not the point. What? You don't believe me? Telling tales out of school am I? Well take a look at the picture below.
What you're looking at there my friends is a new Stanley #60 (before they reintroduced the Sweet Heart Series) low angle block plane. Take a closer look at the mill marks running the length of the thing. Unfortunately this is the only picture I took of the tool in this state so you'll have to trust me that that abysmal amount of marking runs the entire length of the plane, both sides and the entire sole. YEAH...talk about a PITA to tune into something more than a carpenters paper weight. So why not just drop the thing into the trash or better yet give it to one of my enemies? Well, honestly it was a gift from a family member who's heart was in the right place and because I'm cheap (most of the time...pipe down @onblank). Seriously the most expensive hand tool I currently own is my dovetail saw...my other block plane is something I picked up as an add on in an Ebay auction from an antique plane I bought a number of years ago. I needed a block plane one day and out it came; after a bit of tuning up it was working for what I needed and that was all the attention it has received over the years. So I figured while I tuned this...lump of coal into hopefully a shining diamond I would also give my other block plane the same attention.
Thankfully I must have spent more than a few minutes on the older plane as the sole was mostly flat and had only a few deep milling marks/scratches from it's prior life left. After a few hundred strokes I had it shining and in a condition that was ready for some waxing and continued use.
I'll be honest here. Shaping up the new plane wasn't the only reasoning for my cleaning up the older one as well. It seems that when we had our shop disaster some moisture must have found its way into the drawer that was housing the plane and subsequently added a few decent sized rust spots on one side. Mercifully the sole was left untouched...
Back to the Stanley...I began my flattening process with some 100 grit paper adhered to a giant slab of granite I picked up years ago to act as my sharpening station before I found the "scary sharp" method using plate glass.
After the first 100 strokes or so I checked my progress and hoped for the best.
As you can see in the picture above there was still so far to go. Out a new sheet of 100 grit came and a few more hundred strokes ensued.
Even after all that sweat and grumbling I really wasn't making head room. The milling marks in the steel were just too deep to be removed by these means alone. So now what? Drop the thing in the garbage as mentioned earlier? Close...I seriously took a moment of pause to reflect on if this thing was really worth attempting to salvage.
That's when lightning struck my brain. What am I trying to accomplish here? If I can't move the plane enough or long enough to remove the milling then why not make it stationary and move the abrasive? AH HA! So out came my bench top belt sander.
How much worse could I really make this I thought. Even if I destroy it in the process it's no real loss simply because in it's current condition it was suited for rough carpentry at best. So I flipped the power on and carefully applied plane to belt. I made sure that I applied even pressure across the plane body and was very careful to keep it flat against the belt during the process. I checked my progress often and made sure to keep things nice and cool with a dunk into some water when things heated up. Even with this drastic measure it still took longer than I had expected to remove the milling. But after a few more minutes I was to a point that I was confident that I could finish it by hand. I returned back to my slab of granite and started over. This time around however the story was much different. After a few strokes on 100 grit things were uniform and flat as could be.
With the soles flat and ready for use I sharpened the blades to a mirror shine and fit everything back together. After a bid of fiddling and fine adjusting I had each one ready for test cuts. Slowly advancing the blade, checking and rechecking after every few swipes I had them dialed in. Each one was giving a whisper thin shaving. Amazed that after all of that I was able to produce a shaving that fine and a tool that felt that good was astounding.
I admit that I am absolutely dumbfounded that I was able to get each one into a condition that with a factory blade would produce a shaving of this nature, let alone be such a joy to use. I couldn't believe it. I had pulled off the Cinderella story here. A block plane that I had just about written off and left in its packaging or re-gifted has turned into a useable fine woodworking tool. Don't get me wrong here. Both tools are sharp and working better than I had ever expected. Does this then mean that I don't need to purchase a true fine woodworking piece like a Lie Nielsen 9 1/2 or 60 1/2? Probably not...why? Well the answer is simple, the sides of the plane are no where near square to the sole. While this doesn't really matter for making fine shavings etc. It does mean that if I ever need to use one on a shooting board that I won't be able to...not the end of the world, but a limitation to tuning a cheaper tool. Could I square the sides to the sole? Probably, but honestly I'm not sure it would be worth the effort. The planes are performing those tasks they would normally be used for and I'm just going to have to remember to reach for something else if I ever need to true something up on a shooting board. The point here is that for those woodworkers out there that don't have the capital to buy top end tools (like myself) the lower end pieces can provide the ability to continue working after a little TLC.
So before you toss that old or less quality tool in the trash give it a second look. You might just be holding a diamond in the rough; one that could make the difference to a new woodworker.