Cleaning Lever Caps

I decided to clean off the lever caps on the Stanley #6 and the Millers Falls #9 today. This was by no means a fun task. In fact, it was a severe pain in the ass, but there’s a good reason for that.

The MF’s lever cap is chrome-plated, and the Stanley’s is nickel-plated. Both of these are really hard metals that are much more resistant to the agents in metal cleaners. I learned on the intarweb that you generally want to use the same thing for chrome and nickel, went to the auto parts store in order to find some chrome cleaner. I’d read that you don’t want to use a cleaner that includes wax if you’re doing a “hot” chrome piece (like an exhaust pipe). A bench plane’s lever cap doesn’t qualify, so I got one with wax, especially considering that some of the plating was showing signs of cracking.

Here is the before and after:

Because there was so much tarnish and some pitting, I first hit the surface with a “wadded polisher” (basically, fiberglass immersed in mineral spirits) to take off any rust and whatever other crud was on there. Then I nailed them with the chrome polish.

The Stanley cap appears to have lost a bit of its plating to the left of the kidney. Maybe someone took some sandpaper to it once? That surface is much smoother than the rest. It looks OK in the cleaned-up picture, but trust me, the finish on the right and bottom is much more reflective. Note the dark spot right below the logo’s “A.” This is as close to the original as possible (there was a drop of paint there). At least the logo cleaned out nicely.

The Millers Falls cap is in much better shape, but its chrome has started to crack. Basically, all of that discoloration above the arched lettering is a bunch of cracking.

None of this really matters to me. I guess I could spend like a million dollars and have them replated…

The backs of the lever caps saw only light tarnish and no cracking, so they cleaned up very nicely:

Overall, I’m very happy with the progress on these two planes so far. Neither has anything but very light surface rust, so the rest of the parts should clean up quickly. Then they’ll be ready for lapping, and finally, honing.

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