Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cleaning Old Tools

Hey guys, this is out as a reminder to the Type A in me, and for any new galoots or collectors. I know alot of folks, me included, probably did a bit of over-cleaning to antique tools when we started. Then you find Lee Richmonds site, and feel small and stupid and like a old british tool dealer with a wire brush and a heavy hand. Luckily, I didn't ruin anything too valuable in pursuit for shiny, but you may not be so lucky...

I also know that attempting to enter the 'clean vs. restore vs. argon chamber' debate a few posts in to my very first blog is a reflection of great intelligence. So without delay.

First question: Is it absolutely, irrevocably, unassailably a common product or item? No special marking, patent, tag, cave drawing, double stamp, upside down bi-plane, FDR bitemark, rare earth metal or stone? If you are not 100% sure, my humble suggestion would be you treat it as valuable. There are lots of variations in some common older tools that can take them from ho-hum to special. This is especially true as you get into pre-1900 items. Do your research, and proceed slowly.
If its common tool destined for your bench (and god forbid, within your Queens reach too) - have at ye. My personal favorite is electrolysis to remove rust from larger ferrous items, its painless and completely foolproof when setup properly, and also has the side benefit of softenting old japanning if you're stripping a metal bench plane. Do read the safety info online, do it outside, do use a GFC on the circuit, don't use stainless steel, don't lick the damn thing while its on - basically, dont be an a-hole and get Sawstop involved with my water bucket.

For these projects, Sandflex blocks, made by Klingspor are outstanding for smaller items and light spot rust. Use only the fine and medium, coarse is for restoring 1/2 ton truck panels. I almost always start with the fine, and work up to Med if I have issues, then back down. Very very light rust can be resolved or at least stopped with a proper coating of Rennaisance Wax, which you should use on everything but your dog and mother. All of these methods are abrasive to some extent (even R. wax has polishing compounds), so proceed carefully.

Electrolysis is more gentle, but requires more setup, and can be challenging where un-removable parts exist that would not fare well with the waterboarding shock treatment. You can coat those parts in wax, but are you here to work the wood or fully restore old tools we've already established are not worth bird farts? Your Call.

OK, so we've covered what you can do with the gloves off - what about for the prime stuff? Lee Richmond of The Best Things rule is the best I've heard, due to its simplicity.
'Do nothing you can't un-do' 
Essentially, wipe down lightly with clean cotton or soft microfiber, wax with a musuem quality wax, lightly buff. Done.
Boiled Linseed Oil should really only be used as a last resort, and I struggle with this one. When dealing with wood planes, especially coming from some regions of the midwest (tragically - Sanduksy planes) - these things can be like the desert. Some valuable tools are so parched that an oiling is required to keep them from checking/splitting into oblivion. But it can greatly darken the wood over time, and has been avoided by dealers, collectors and museums for some time now.

So the question becomes, is the tool more valuable in its current parched state, than it will be after the oiling and potential darkening? It alot of cases, its best to just leave it for the shelf, give it a good coat of wax, and protect it from the environment as best as possible. You cant undo BLO - you can undo wax. If you guys know of any museum quality 'reconditioning' type solutions being used other than a BLO/Tung oil, please let me know.

What about rust on the blade, you say? You want to use it? Well - remember, its the patina that makes collectors and dealers tingle like schoolgirls at a winter formal. Big rust should probably be addressed I cover a piece of paper in duct tape, cut out a hole the size of the rust spoty, tape over the item. Hit it with the rust sponge. Most of the rust removed, without destroying all the patina. flat a bit of the back, hone the edge, wax the rest. Don't lap the sides, bottom, top, strippers, santa or anything else.

Thats about it - the best advice I can give you is the 'ounce of prevention'. Try to search multiple online antique dealers before you buy a rust-bucket. There's so many good users out there for cheap, I just wouldn't split hairs and buy a real dog. And I say this as a humble man who proudly snapped up a real bruiser bedrock off ebay and then watched Patrick Leach sell a near-mint one for $22 bucks more.

As its been said; not in my house. Anymore.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sandusky Tool Company Special Planes - Rabbet & Grooving

OK, so we've stumbled across an interesting pair of Sandusky Specials from our friend Mr. Clark at Hyperkitten. Or as they're known a little further south, Especiales. These planes are essentially designed for a single purpose, as many great tools & men were. We get more detail on these planes from both the engravings and description in the later common catalog, 1925. There they are known by the sexy name of 'Weather Strip Planes'. Makes you want to run right out and corner the market, huh?

I bought these because I have a problem, and assumed them to stink at everything other than helping weather strip. It turns out, we've got a couple of real minty planes, and useful ones too. Minty because weatherstripping was probably horrible even back then and people stopped wanting to do it once we were done fighting indians. I know a lot of you are thinking 'this guy is a historical tack driver'.

Whats interesting is that as late as 1925, STC felt they were onto something with these weatherstripping planes, offering them in flavors divinated down by 16th on the rabbets, and 64th of an inch on the Grooving planes.  Yeah, you heard that right. Apparently, weatherstripping in the twenties was less forgiving than a Honduran Dominatrix. All of you are nodding because you know weatherstripping.

This explains to me while silicone caulk cornered the market as fast as you can say 'GOOD GOOGLIE MOOGLIE I MEANT eleventeen sixteenths not thirteen', chucking down your Special Plane as your weatherstripping flopped embarassingly in the breeze.

Anyhoo, a whole page was dedicated to them, at the expense of Coopers tools which must have been flying off the shelf in 1925. 3/11/12 Update: In reading the beyond excellent history by Schwer & Risley in EAIA Chronicle 1993 III, which will be deserving of at least twelve-teen of its own future posts, this was likely due to new management (fall of '24) focusing on remaining specialty business & some new iron-bodied planes and steel spindled clamps; a recognition that the basic wood plane biz was on the decline at this point.

Whats interesting is that in that catalog, they are given stock numbers 182, 183, 184, representing the following:
  • #182 - Special Rabbet or Meeting-Rail Plane
    • 1/2 to 13/16 by 16ths
  • #183 - Special Grooving Plane, with Adjustable Metal Fence
    • 7/64 to 1/4, by 64ths
  • #184 - Special Grooving Plane, with Adjustable Metal Fence, and Solid Handle
    • 7/64 to 1/4, by 64ths
They also offered 'Extra Special' Grooving bits for all the above, to match their 'special' nature.

In the 1877 Sandusky catalog, the only mention I can find is one of them, grouped in at the end of  some pricey self-regulating sash planes and one cheaper model called a Tuscan:
  • #170 Sash Plane, Brass Screws, Self-Regulating; Boxed, Beveled or Ovolo
  • #171 Sash Plane, Brass Screws, Self-Regulating; Boxed, Gothic or Ogee
  • #172 Sash Plane, Brass Screws, Self-Regulating; Dovetailed, Boxed, Beveled or Ovolo
  • #173 Sash Plane, Brass Screws, Self-Regulating; Dovetailed, Boxed, Gothic or Ogee
  • #174 Sash Plane, Tuscan, In two parts
  • #174 1/2, Meeting Rail Plane, for Sash
Enough Cataloging, lets meet the stars today. We have what appears to be a 182, or 'Special Rabbet/Meeting Rail Plane', Our 182 has the following stats: It cuts a 3/4 wide rabbet 3/16 deep, a quarter-inch in from the board edge (that the fence runs on).
woodworking, smoodworking - this thing is a piece of art however you slice it. A nice view of the lower edge of the escapement flattenning as it completes it curve back towards the blade.

This plane escapement can't figure out which way to go. Its center cut, which makes for pretty lines, but when you are running it rank on softwoods, it can bind quickly and easily. A lighter cut may seem go slower at first...

...but if you find the right balance, the plane cuts wonderfully, and spills out goldielocks curls. The worker was a bit off the mark on the last two fence screws, allowing them to drop into the top of what is essentially this planes depth stop. You can see the more potruding one on the left has been filed/sanded to not interfere with clearance.

No trick photography here; this plane was sharp enough and the pine so straight grained, I was able to run the plane in both sides/directions. You may not always be able to do this. A single pass would give you the same depth, but only 3/4 width.
Last but not least, a 183 'Special Grooving Plane with Adjustable Metal Fence'. It's a peach, with original finish in some spots and an odd red hue, some nice striping as opposed to flecking on the finial makes me unsure it is beech. It cuts a 5/32 wide groove 3/16 deep, 3/8ths in from the board edge.
By the way, neither of these are numbered, but both match the engravings in the 1925 catalog.
5 screws for the plow fence, the 2 higher screws penetrate the plane and have wingnuts to hold on the...

...Outside Fence. This can be raised, lowered, or removed and flung about wildly. Appears Aluminum, or a very lightweight steel. definitely not turning that into a blade.

We are busy down here in the south, we dont have time to find scrap wood in a wood shop. Or Special is Cajun for SawSet. Choose your pick - our guy got on the bad side of a saw, way back when.
Heres some details on the blades; interesting to note that it looks like the rabbet blade came factory hand ground from slightly oversize stock, seen below. I guess thats what you gotta do when you start offerring planes in 16ths and 64ths!
Camera angle makes it look like 23/32s, its a true 3/4 though.

A scant 5/32 groove. at its deepest, it gets a little bindy in all but the straighest grain softwoods or lighter hardwoods. As always, the sharper the better.

Two really nice planes, a special thanks to Josh for them. I got to use the grooving plane on some beech and cherry this weekend, letting in a groove for a thin quartersawn oak lid. It'll be a little keepsake box for Christine. That plane is really a blast to use! I hope you guys can find these, and a use for them, in your shop.

Thanks for sticking around for the ride. Back to the bench,