Restoring a molding plane

I’m constantly buying old molding planes at local auctions. I can usually pick them up for a song since they really don’t attract much interest from tool collectors. They come in various forms and sizes but the most common in the marketplace are hollows & rounds and beading planes. This plane is a cove and bead. A sweet little plane that is useful for adding little detail moldings on cabinets.

This plane is overall in good shape, just a little dirty and neglected. But a little elbow grease and a citric acid bath, it will tune up in no time.

The blade has some surface rust but no serious pitting. I dipped it in a citric acid solution which contained a tablespoon of citric acid with five cups of warm water. My trough is nothing more than a scrap piece of plastic gutter with an end cap glued to each end. It works well and hasn’t leaked in the past three years.

After the blade sat in the solution for a few hours, I scrubbed it clean with a piece of steel wool and washed it off in the sink. I then sharpened the back by lapping it on some water stones.

As far as the body, I didn’t do too much. I simply wiped it with 00 and 000 steel wool then applied a couple of coats of mineral-oil/orange-oil/beeswax solution to the body and wedge. I didn’t rub steel wool on it too much as I didn’t want the plane to look new. Since it’s over a hundred years old, it should look like it’s that old but in working order.

The biggest obstacle that you’ll face tuning up a molding plane is matching the blade to the soul’s profile. After decades of the wood expanding and contracting, losing moisture and drying up, it’s not unusual for the soul to change. This plane’s blade doesn’t match up perfectly to the soul. ideally the blade should protrude equally along the soul. Since it doesn’t I have two options. One is to reshape the blade to match the plane’s soul. Or two, reshape the soul a little bit to match the blade. The first option is the best since you don’t want to weaken the soul by removing wood away but in this case, so little wood needs to be removed, that option two would be much quicker.

I needed to remove a little bit of wood by the end of the bead so I took a bastard file and shaved it down. I periodically checked the blade in the plane to make sure I had a constant protrusion along the soul. Once it did, I was done.

Next I needed to see how the plane performed. I grabbed a piece of straight grain poplar and started planing. The plane shaved off perfect shavings with no clogs.

This is how the molding would look when installed. You can see how the shadows bring out the curves of the molding. A nice little detail that adds a touch of class to cabinetry.

The plane looks nice too. It still has a nice warm dark color and plenty of patina to show off its age. I could have bought a router bit to do the same thing, but where’s the fun in that?

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10 Replies to “Restoring a molding plane”

  1. I have a bunch of molding planes that belonged to my grandfather. I have always wanted to restore them enough back to working order. I am glad I found your site and this post. What is the best way to sharpen the blade? Can you tell me more about your mineral oil, orange oil and beeswax mixture you use?
    Michael

  2. Most of the time the only thing you need to do to a molding plane blade is hone the back with either sharpening stones or 320 and 600 grit sandpaper. If the profile of the blade doesn’t match the profile of the bed, you’ll need to regrind it which can get a bit more complicated.

    The mineral oil, orange oil and beeswax mixture is equal part mineral oil and orange oil with a little bit of melted beeswax. I wrote a blog about it a few months ago.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Thank you Mike, I am going to pick one of the molding planes and give it a try. I found your post on the antique improver as well.
      I am headed to the lumber mill to pick up black walnut that I purchased. I will be running it through the planner all afternoon. Enjoy the weekend.
      Michael

  3. I suppose I’m a little dense, but I don’t know how to use one of these planes. I have several I have picked up at different times. Most of them seem to be in good condition, but I can’t do anything with them. How do you control them. Every time I try to use one of them, I just end up with a ragged uneven wobbly mess..

    1. Molding planes can be tricky to use, that’s why the world moved to router bits. There are many factors why a molding plane can give you trouble. I’ll post a blog in a few days showing how to properly use one.

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