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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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?