A Plane Christmas Gift for John Homemade Woodworking Tools

by Don Heisz

A few months ago, I was in a second-hand shop. On a shelf behind the counter was what looked like an old hand-plane, not very big, and I could see the bottom of it was made from wood. I asked to look at it and, once it was in my hand, I could see that it was not complete. But I thought I could fix it up a bit and give it to my brother John for Christmas. We don’t always go out of our way to get each other gifts, but I thought it might be nice to get him something he didn’t already have. And I don’t believe he has a wooden plane:

antique plane from thrift store
wooden wedge in old plane

As you can see, there was no blade in the plane when I got it. Also, the wedge is homemade and seems like it could have served no purpose. There’s no way it could have ever held the blade in place.

As a gift, a plane with no blade is a paperweight. So, out of a desire to make the plane complete, I made a blade. I found a worn out diamond blade at a construction site a couple of months ago and brought it home. The steel in that should be up to the task. I’m not out to make a masterpiece, after all. I really just want a basically functional plane:

old plane and diamond saw blade
new steel cut from diamond saw blade for antique plane

I actually used the “wedge” that was stuck in the plane to mark the size of the blade on the steel. I then cut it out with a grinder. On the cutting edge, I cut on a 45 degree angle (roughly) to make shaping that just a little easier. Using a combination of grinder and sanding disc, I deburred the steel and gave the blade a bit of a sharpen.

I made a chip breaker for the blade, also. Really, that was just another piece of steel cut from the diamond blade, almost exactly like the cutting blade. I drilled an elongated hole in the blade and then drilled and tapped the chip breaker for a 1/4-20 nut, which I used to fasten both together. The plane was already routed out to receive such a nut. With the nut tightened, I ground the end of it flush to the surface of the chip breaker:

drilling a hole in steel in a vise
assembled steel with bolt

Of course, this would not stay in the plane by itself, and the “wedge” that came with the plane was truly useless. I think the plane originally had a cam-lock that held the blade in place. I, however, was not prepared to try to imitate such an arrangement. I decided I would install a rod for a wedge.

I have no brass rod at my disposal, unfortunately, but I do have a large collection of spade bits. I selected a premium one and cut it off to the proper length. I then drilled a 1/4 inch hole in the plane. This hole is located to keep a distance of about 3/16 inch between the blade/chip-breaker and the rod. I then used the drill press to install the rod, since it was slightly bigger than the 1/4 inch hole I drilled. I thought this would decrease the likelihood of the wood breaking in the plane:

cutting a spade bit in a vise
drillpress drill hole in plane for rod

The blade and chip breaker in place:

new parts in antique plane

I then fashioned a wedge out of maple. I found a 12 inch piece of maple roughly the right width and thickness in my offcuts bin and cut the end on a very sharp angle. Then I used a belt sander and sanding disc to shape the wedge so it would fit snugly and securely under the plane rod. Once I was sure it was the right shape, I cut it to length and finished shaping it:

new wedge for plane made from maple

completed rehabilitated antique hand plane

In order to make this plane truly usable, the bottom face should be jointed smooth. Running it over some sandpaper might be good enough, though. I did nothing with the bottom to preserve the colour of the wood. Also, the blade certainly could use a good tuning. However, the recipient of this gift is more than capable of making this better if he so desires. I imagine, however, that this will most likely be a decoration.

The fact is, while making such a thing is enjoyable, using it is a chore, especially when there are alternatives that hold their settings so much better. But who knows? Maybe a corner will need a bit of easing and this will be the handiest thing to use.

Stanley #23 hand plane

John says:

I did some searching and found that the plane appears to be a Stanley #23 wood-bottom plane, or transitional plane. They were made from 1870 to 1918, so this one has been around for a while!

The wood for the sole and knob is beech and the top is cast iron. Originally, it had all the parts that an all metal plane would have.

Thanks Don, I will use this plane and really appreciate the time and effort you put into making usable again.