That was the battle cry of all us Volkswagen owners/mechanics back in the hippie days.
There was always something that needed doing on those air-cooled engines and we all became pretty good mechanics with the help of the John Muir book: How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. We were all proud of our abilities and that we were able to keep those old bugs and buses on the road.
I still get real satisfaction working on cars and machines, keeping them working and “on the road”. And I apply that same sensibility to tools, too. I know many of you reading this are always on the lookout for something rusty poking out from under the pile of kids clothes at a garage sale. Something that can be derusted, re-handled and put to valuable use in the shop (or even the kitchen. I found a greasy but otherwise perfectly good cast iron frying pan when I stopped along a country road to take, uh, in the scenery.)
I own several hand planes; none I bought new. They’re classic Stanleys close to a hundred years old and I take pride and pleasure in their patinated surfaces and well-used aura as they enter their “heirloom years”. And I assure you that they work as well as any plane once I cleaned and tuned them. My Uncle Vern gave me a #5 that was in perfectly well-used shape, but some of them have needed more than just cleaning and adjusting. I turned a walnut knob for one of them, glued a cracked tote, brazed a patch on the side of two of them. That sort of thing. Metal repair may be outside your area of expertise but cleaning and tuning are easy tasks that I find quite pleasurable.
I don’t try to make them much prettier or approach a brand new look. While a couple of them needed some paint, especially after the brazing, I mostly just want them to work perfectly. And even though I want to preserve these excellent tools as they pass through my hands and on, someday, to the next generation, I’m not a stickler for historic purity. These are well-tuned users, not collector’s items. All that functionality aside, the sculptural design of the casting is quite beautiful, yet to be improved upon.
This “infomercial” has a minute and a half showing the basic clean-up drill for an older plane. The pertinent part starts at about 3:00. A small investment of time making sure the frog mates to the plane body without rust or crud between will pay off with improved performance. While you’re at it, check that the leading edge of the mouth is sharp and square. That edge holds the shavings down to reduce tear-out and if it has been eroded, rounded over, by a century of shavings, it needs to be dressed with a file.
Sharp blade, tight mouth; all else is ergonomic or aesthetic. These classics are easy to preserve or restore and darned hard to wear out. Keep ‘em on the road, er, bench!