Keep ’em on the Road! (or Bench)

That was the battle cry of all us Volkswagen owners/mechanics back in the hippie days.

Some of the pages in my copy were unreadably greasy-dirty

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.

A functional, if not pretty, repair on my FIL's block plane

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!

About Ron Hock

Owner of HOCK TOOLS (.com) and author of "The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers"
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4 Responses to Keep ’em on the Road! (or Bench)

  1. Richard Reimers says:

    Great vidio maybe you willpush some people into geting that old plane off the back of the bench and use it. Mine are all being used all old Stan’s. How have you been I miss seeing you at the shows. Rich

  2. Mark Kowalski says:

    I kept looking at the Ron’s wooden plane on the bench and thinking about tuning up old woodies. A while ago, I got a jack plane from eBay for not much $$; it was an ~100 year old Auburn model, probably made in the prison in NY. I really only wanted a model of a traditional woody to see how the mouth, ears, and wedge abutments were cut. When I got it, though, the plane, iron and wedge turned out to be in very very nice shape and I really wanted to see how it would perform. Nice hard wood, probably birch, a clean iron, and no obvious damage.

    But it did need tuning. It had years and years of wear on the sole and had, apparently, never received any TLC. The sole was way out of square with the sides plus it had a big-time wear dip in front of the mouth. I guess the owner only used it in certain ways (DON’T SHOOT!) and had learned to work with its faults.

    The tote was easy to remove, so it was an easy back-to-basics to square up the body. I hated to remove some nice patina, but functional, to me, is better than nice form. That dip was serious, though, and squaring up took its toll on the mouth size.
    That is an easy one to fix with an sole insert in front of the mouth.

    Aside, I’ve gotten pretty fond of sole inserts; I use them often on my DIY woodies. They can compensate for a mistake or two in sizing the mouth during assembly; they can free you to use a not so expensive and not so very hard wood for the body; and they are pretty easy to make and assemble.

    So, after a half day’s work, I had an excellent jack plane to use while I hummed along to prison work songs in ye olde shoppe!

    Mark

  3. kwame.dupre@gmail.com says:

    I drove a ’68 robin-egg blue beetle during my days at the University of Oregon (class ’83). The book was in the boot when I bought the car. Many, were the days went I was under my bug or leaning into it with that book, a set of spanners, duct tape, WD-40, a few coat hangers, pair of vise grips, and few skinned knuckles. Most times I’d leave on a road trip and arrive home with my bug in better shape then when I left!!! My adventures usually occurred somewhere between Eugene and Grants Pass. Thanks for re-newing some fond memories!!!

  4. Thad Waterbury says:

    I drove my Bug out of the factory in Wolfsburg, Germany on Aug. 15, 1962, and drove it until 2008. Lost count how many times I had the engine out for repairs during that 500,000 mile adventure. Using the “Idiot book”, I did everything except the transmission overhaul. Gave the VW to my nephew, who loves it and is restoring it.

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