Saving a Millers Falls No 9 Plane

Last month my wife and I were at an antique show in Columbus, Ohio when I passed by this Millers Falls No 9 plane. I looked at it and decided that the rust on the right side was too much to deal with, so I walked away. About ten minutes later, something told me to go back and examine the plane better to see if it was worth saving. I thought to myself if nothing else, it could be used for parts as the handles and frog were in good shape. I asked the dealer how much he wanted for it and he told me $10.00 so I handed him a ten-dollar bill and walked away.

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The first thing I do when restoring an old plane is to take everything completely apart spraying PB Blaster on the parts if necessary to break free the rust.

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Once apart, I soak the plane in a citric acid bath for a few hours. I use an old planter box as my tub and fill it half way up with water. Then I’ll scoop out about a cup of citric acid and spread it over the water. Sometimes you can buy citric acid at the grocery store in the spices section, but I buy mine by bulk on eBay. I buy about ten pounds worth for $30.00 which is much cheaper than the grocery store which is usually about $7.00 per pound.

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After a few hours, I take the parts out of the bath and use a wire brush to scrub the residue off the parts. The acid does a great job of removing the rust from the tool.

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I then polish all the parts with sanding sponges and apply my own homemade rust protection solution which contains, mineral oil, orange oil, and beeswax. I also steel wool the handles of the plane and apply a couple of coats of shellac to them.

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Once everything is cleaned and polished, I put the plane back together to see how it looks.

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If all the plane was to do is to sit on a shelf and collect dust, then I would be done. However, I want this plane to be used again, so I needed to focus on the blade. As you can see in the picture, the blade was roasted and desperately needed a new edge. Some people feel a blade that is in this bad of shape would automatically need to be replaced, but I like to see if I can get it to work again first.

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I took the blade over to my high-speed grinder and ground a new edge making sure not to overheat the blade making it lose its hardness.

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After the major grinding was done, I switched to my slow speed water-cooled grinder and worked on the edge some more. I also flattened the back of the blade on my grinder at the same time.

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After I was satisfied with the grinding process, I switched to my water stones to hone the edge. I sharpened the blade with a series of 800, 2000, and 5000 grit water stones.

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I set the cap iron about a 1/8″ from the edge of the blade and put it back in the plane. After adjusting the blade up and down, I was able to get the plane to cut off a nice thin shaving.

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I took one of the shavings and measured it with my calipers. The shavings produced were .002 of an inch thick.

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The shavings are nice, but the real proof is the way the plane leaves the wood with a nice sheen. No sandpaper needed. Not too shabby for a rusty $10 plane.

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Langdon Mitre Box Cleaned Up

Over the past couple of months I’ve been going gangbusters cleaning all my old tools I bought during the fall. So much so, that I haven’t really done any woodworking to even blog about. So, I figured I’d show you the massive Langdon Mitre Box that I bough this summer now that it’s all cleaned up. I took a few pictures and shot a video to give a better idea of the miter box’s massive size.

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As you can see in the pictures below, the miter box was repaired at some point in it’s life. I don’t think it ruins the value of the box too much as I bet that I could buy a regular sized Langdon Mitre Box and use the parts to swap the foot and locking bar.

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Now I’m not sure what I should do with it. On one hand, I think the miter box is really cool and I’ll probably never find another one as long as I live. But on the other hand, I bet I could sell this thing for a pretty penny and pay off some of my credit card bills. I also really have nowhere to store the thing. I really don’t want to sit it in my shop as I’m afraid it’ll get damaged from all the banging and clanging that goes on down there. But, I doubt my wife would approve of it sitting proudly on our mantel in the living room. So, for right now it’s sitting on the shelf with all the other antique tools that I’ll eventually sell on eBay. What do you think I should do with it?

Langdon Mitre Box

One of the nice things about my job is the autonomy I get when I travel through my sales territory calling on Lowe’s and Home Depot’s in Cincinnati, Dayton and Indianapolis. Often during lunch, I’ll stop by a nearby antique mall and look for old tools. Yesterday I was in an antique mall near Dayton when I stumbled upon this beast. I’ve been buying antique tools for over twenty-five years and have never seen a miter box like this at any tool auction, tool collectors convention or even eBay.

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It’s a huge Langdon Mitre Box with a Disston Miter Saw. On the front it has the patent date of Nov 15th 1864 and was made in Millers Falls, Mass. The front and the wood are painted green, but have no idea whether or not if it’s original paint.

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The saw’s blade is an incredible 7 1/2″ deep and still straight. The etching is barely visible and may be able to pop out with a little bit of restoration. This behemoth must be something they used to install the crown molding at The Biltmore Estate.

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The previous owner flipped the board upside down for some reason. I guess they felt it was nearly all used up so they wanted a fresh surface to cut on. I’m just glad they didn’t throw it away as it looks to be the original board.

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It’s a Disston Saw with an apple handle, but is marked Langdon Mitre Box on the spine. The main saw nut is dirty, but it’s stamped Disston and Sons. I think Langdon Mitre Boxes eventually became part of the Millers Falls Tool Company, but I’m not entirely sure.

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The saw has split nuts on the back which gives a clue as to how old it is. The problem is that I don’t know enough about saws to be able to date it, other than the 1864 patent date on the box. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was built during that time.

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Since I’m not too familiar with miter boxes, I was hoping you might be able to help me out.

1) Does anyone know anything more about this miter box? How rare is it?

2) How old is it considering it has split saw nuts?

3) Is the green paint original to the miter box?

Any information would be greatly appreciated!

UPDATE 6/22/14: It was recommended by Trevor that I contact “The Langdon Mitre Box Guy” John Leyden and see if he could give me any more information on the miter box. After I sent John an email, he was nice enough to respond and send me this link. http://oldtoolheaven.com/miter-boxes/northampton-langdon.html. The miter box and saw appear to be the same one I own.

Sharpening a Pitted Plane Blade

I bought a Millers Falls No 7 Jointer Plane a few weeks ago that had a pitted blade in it. While most people would look at a blade like this and immediately think that it belongs in the trash, I decided to see if I could get it to work well enough to slice thin shavings off a piece of cherry.

The first thing I do when I sharpen any of my blades is to whip out my Tormek sharpening wheel. I’ve owned the Tormek for several years now and have never regretted the coin I paid for it. I set the machine up to grind a 25 degree angle on the blade and go to town.

A few minutes on the Tormek puts a real nice edge on the blade. The problem is the back of the blade is still pitted causing the blade to cut ridges in the work piece while using it in the plane.

I used the side of the wheel of the Tormek to try to flatten the back of the blade, but after a few minutes I wasn’t really getting anywhere. It did help, but it would have taken hours to remove all the pits.

I decided to give the old ruler trick a try made famous by David Charlesworth and remove only the metal at the front of the blade. I stick a thin ruler at the back of the blade and sharpen the backside of the front of the blade by moving it back and forth on a piece of 320 grit sandpaper. This in theory changes the cutting angle of the blade by a few degrees, but honestly, who cares? There is very little difference between a blade with a 25 degree angle and one with 24 or 23 degrees. It may make a difference with hard exotics, but I normally use poplar, cherry, maple and southern yellow pine. I’m too cheap to buy hard exotic wood.

As you can see if you look closely, the ruler trick worked. The very front edge of the back of the blade is clean of any pitting and will hold an edge better.

I then switched to my water stones and hone the edge created on my Tormek. I use a combination stone of 800/4000 grit and a final 12000 grit stone. I use water stones as opposed to oil stones simply because the Tormek is a water stone. Oil and water don’t mix.

Here is my final sharpening of the blade. Pretty good if you ask me.

Here’s the blade in action cutting cherry. After a few adjustments with my plane, I was able to produce nice clean shavings. The cherry underneath was glass smooth after it was planed with the blade.

How thin were my shavings? About .003″ thin. Not too shabby for a piece of crap blade that most people would have never even given a second chance and would have just thrown in the garbage.

The Nicest Plane You’ll (Probably) Never Buy

If you’re in the market for a smooth plane, chances are you’ll probably consider one of two options. Buy a new one from a top tool-maker like Lie-Nielsen or Veritas which can set you back $200-350, or buy an old Stanley and fix it up. However there should be a third option on your list.

The Millers Falls No 9 smooth plane is one of the nicest production smooth planes you can buy for the money. In most cases, you can buy one for a lot less than a comparable Stanley No 4 plane and get the same quality of plane.

The differences between a Stanley No 4 and a Millers Falls No 9 are minimal. Both planes use 2″ wide blades. Both are about 9″ long and weigh about 4 lbs. They both have a frog adjustment screw in the back (some older Stanley’s don’t have this feature). In fact, the only main difference between the two is that the Millers Falls uses a two piece hinged lever cap that supposedly holds more pressure on the blade and chip breaker reducing blade chatter.

Both planes are about 9″ long with the Millers Falls being 1/8″ longer. If the bed is pitted a little bit it’s not a big deal as the pits won’t affect the plane’s performance. Consider them micro corrugations.

These two planes both have a frog adjustment screw in the back making it easier to adjust the opening of the mouth for the blade. Stanley’s made before 1907 don’t have this feature but I don’t think it’s a really big deal since once you set the opening of the mouth, you rarely reset it.

The handles on Millers Falls are made of beech hardwood with some older ones being made from cherry. In my experience, these are actually better than the rosewood Stanley used. Although prettier than the stained beech, a lot of Stanley’s with rosewood handles tend to break at the tip since the rosewood is more brittle than beech or cherry.

The nicest difference the Millers Falls No 9 has over the Stanley No 4 is the price you can pick one up for. Basically nobody really wants these things because all the collectors want Stanley’s. Even woodworkers when buying old tools typically gravitate toward Stanley’s more than their competitors since there are far more Stanley’s in the market place. However, if you keep a keen eye out, you can buy an old Millers Falls for about $10.00. I know because I just picked up a few Millers Falls No 9’s for $10.00 each a few weeks ago at antique shows.

As far as the price of Stanley No 4’s expect to pay $40.00 or more for a nice one since dealers will want top dollar for them. I’ve seen some mint Stanley No 4’s go for $150 on eBay.

Getting the Millers Falls No 9 cleaned up and ready to use is no different from an old Stanley. If rusty, dip the parts in citric acid for a few hours and then polish the metal to a shine with steel wool. If necessary, fettle the bed flat with 220 – 400 grit sand paper then sharpen the blade. The results will be stunning for a $10.00 plane as I was able to achieve a plane shaving of .003″ by only sharpening the blade. So thin in fact, that you can literally see through the wood shaving.

As a final note, if you’re the type of person who likes to use several smooth planes with a different cut setting, (hence the reason you don’t need to reset the blade with the frog adjustment screw), a good idea is to have a Stanley No 4 set to a medium-cut and a Millers Falls No 9 set to a fine-cut so it’s easy to determine which plane has the proper cut set to it.