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TN.01.01 Some thoughts about preserving wooden planes

The author, a working joiner and expert on early planes, describes his approach to conserving wooden planes.

The first thing to consider is what we are trying to achieve. Do we want to use the plane, or merely preserve it for historical reasons? Regardless of this, most of the following procedures apply to any wooden plane we wish to restore.

Old wooden planes often come to us from cold and damp locations, so the first thing to check for is signs of insect or fungal attack. This can be treated with a recognised proprietary treatment. These are usually either spirit or water based. But my own preference is for the spirit variety eg Cuprinol. I find that water based treatments can swell the fibres of the wood, particularly on the end grain. Personally, I do not recommend immersing the whole plane in the treatment, but would apply it to the surface with a soft brush, or cloth. On a rare and important example I would consider injecting individual flight holes with a hypodermic syringe. All surplus treatment should be removed from the surface immediately to avoid possible staining, and the plane left to dry out. Thankfully, with modern central heating, the chances of planes becoming re infested are remote as woodworm prefer cold and damp environments.

The next stage is one of patience. I know we are always keen to disassemble planes, ie remove wedges etc, but I strongly advocate that unless these components are already visibly loose it is best to place the plane in a relatively warm and dry environment for a week or so. This reduces the moisture content in the wood, and due to shrinkage, often makes it considerably easier to separate the relative components.

One very good example for taking this action is to help with the removal of moulding plane type wedges. By their very nature these wedges are delicate objects and great care should be taken when removing them. Once the plane is thoroughly dry, a gentle, but firm strike to the heel of the plane, whilst grasping the wedge with the other hand is usually enough to loosen it. Always use a wooden, rubber, or hide mallet, and never a hammer. Under no circumstances be tempted to try and strike the head of the wedge to loosen it. This nearly always knocks the finial of the wedge off.

One other option is to tap the iron down through the body of the plane. As most irons are tapered in their length, this may help to reduce pressure on the wedge.

A method often mentioned is to trap the wedge in the jaws of a vice, then drive the stock off with a mallet. This is not a method I would recommend, especially if the plane shows any signs of worm. Experience of this method has left me with a couple of broken wedges in the past, so I would only try this as a last resort.

Once the wooden components are separated, the next stage is to stabilise any areas badly affected by worm. Crumbly edges are easily damaged, so I try to strengthen them by running in a thin mix of hot hide glue. When this is dry we can begin to clean the wooden surfaces.

My take on this is to clean as little as possible, ie no heavy scrubbing with wire wool, or other abrasives. I favour using my own mix of cleaner/reviver which is a mix of 2 parts genuine turpentine, 2 parts raw linseed oil, 1 part white wine vinegar, and a very small amount of meths.1 This solution needs constant shaking during use as it separates very quickly. I apply this with a soft cloth, and you can scrub quite vigorously at the surface without causing any damage, or removing any of the patina. Take care not to let reviver enter the wedge mortise, or coat the section of the wedge which sits within the body of the plane. Any excess reviver should be removed, and then the components left to dry for a while. Planes that have dried out completely, which often have a grey hue to them, may need a few applications of reviver to feed the wood.

At this point I often fill any worm tracts with a hard wax filler eg Liberon wax sticks of a suitable shade, but this is just a cosmetic choice of my own and some might argue that it is not necessary.

The final stage is to finish and protect the surface with Renaissance wax. Regarding the metal components of the plane I suggest you refer to the relevant sections within this guide.


Note 1 See MN 01.01 “Wood cleaner reviver” for some similar recipes used by TATHS members.

Preserving Wooden Planes
Ref No: TN 01.01
Date: 10-06-2013
Author: Richard Arnold
Suggestions for improvement are welcomed, please email: conservation@taths.org.uk
IMPORTANT: The advice in these notes is provided by members and others. It is given in good faith but neither the contributors nor the Society can endorse or guarantee the accuracy or safety of the information. The society does not recommend or guarantee any individual or organisation named.

Treatment techniques described may not be suitable for items of high or historical value. Users should always test first on a small inconspicuous area; observe safety and health guidelines given by suppliers, and dispose of used materials responsibly. The Society does not endorse or guarantee any proprietary products named (and it recognises that other products may be suitable). If in any doubt, expert advice should be obtained.

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