Further Down the Slippery Slope of the Hand Drill

I told you that I really liked hand drills, right? Well, here’s last week’s arrival:

This is a Millers Falls #2 “eggbeater” drill, probably made sometime during WWII or just after, due to its domestic hardwood handles and chuck design. It’s not exactly a collectible, especially due to the owner’s initials etched into two spots, but it does at least have its original eight fluted bits stowed in the handle.

This type has dual pinions, which George Langford poo-poos as an inferior later design “feature,” in part because it takes more energy to crank than the previous (admittedly ingenious) design, which I’ll probably snarf up sometime, too. Aside from the fact that I am a Veritable He-Man[tm] who cares not about trifling expenditures of energy, there may be some merit to that claim, because my example’s rear pinion was chatty and clearly annoyed upon arrival. However, one drop of oil fixed this problem, making my #2 into the easiest-turning hand drill I’ve ever used.

It’s been called “the finest hand drill ever made.” I can’t argue.

I have some other new acquisitions, they’ll have to wait for another day to get their spotlight in the blog, though.

Stanley #6 Tote and Knob

I’ve been working on the knob and tote of the Stanley #6 for quite a while now. Here’s how they looked when I got the plane:

The original finish was pretty much shot; chipped off in many places, cracked all over, and generally lousy. I guess that’s not too bad for 70 years of wear, but it wasn’t going to be very comfortable for a tool that I actually wanted to use.

Being very conservative about this, I first tried rubbing only some mineral spirits around the wood to see if the finish would crack and fall off easily, as it’s purported to sometimes do. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. The weak parts of the finish fell right off, sure, but a little less than half was really stuck on there. Here’s how it looked after the mineral spirits:

I don’t know if this was better or worse than before. However, even though I relish driving around in a beat-up-looking car, I do not want the same to be true of my bench planes.

So I waited for an appropriate time and place to get out the ol’ paint stripper. That stuff always gives me the heebie-jeebies, because it usually melts your gloves to a point where you generally throw them out after a strippin’ session. Scary or no, it is effective, as this photo shows:

I should make one note about paint stripper–make sure that you clean and rub the wood over with mineral spirits when you’re finishing up. Don’t use water. You see, wood expands and contracts based on its water content, and you risk cracks, raised grain, and all sorts of awful stuff. Wood won’t readily absorb mineral spirits like that. It will evaporate slowly over time and leave the wood in a fairly even, dry state.

So, with the paint finally off, I had a decision to make: what to use for a new finish? Traditionally, varnish or lacquer is used for this stuff, but I’m not much of a fan there. I’ve always really liked the oil finishes, but I wasn’t too sure about this because it is rosewood, after all, and it’s a pretty dark wood already. Not to mention that the tool collectors would scream bloody murder.

Eh, screw those guys. The wood was nicked up anyway, and I really like the way that oil finishes feel in the hand:

This is after two treatments; one more tomorrow and it’s ready to go. It’s hard to tell much because of the glare from the flash, but this is really looking good. The knob is darker than the tote (you can tell this pretty clearly from the stripped photo above), and is now a very rich hue, with the growth rings adding a subtle accent. This should hold up fairly well. I guess if I’m unhappy about it later, I could always draw the oil out with the yummy paint stripper and go at it again with something else. But it’s unlikely that I’ll do anything else except maybe replenish with a different oil.

Chisels: Check.

The chisel problem had been weighing hard and fast on my mind, and today I did something about it. After picking my car up from its regular service, I remembered that there was one of those Woodcraft stores in San Carlos, which is relatively close to the mechanic. Having that convenient mode of transport ready, I went there to see if they had any new chisels that were okay and didn’t cost like a million dollars. Also, I’d never been to one of those stores before, and I was kind of curious to see stuff like the Lie-Nielsen planes.

So I asked the guy there about the chisels. He was really helpful. He understood exactly what I was trying to do, and basically said, “Yeah, we have a lot of really spendy chisels, but these plastic-handled Irwin/Marples ones that are much cheaper and available in this handy four-pack will be great for what you’re trying to do. You just gotta put the time and effort into honing and learning how to use them. Then, when you are good at that, and properly addicted, come on back, purchase the really expensive stuff, and take lots of classes ‘cuz you’ll like that.”

I paraphrase, of course, but I have to admit that it was rather refreshing that the guy wasn’t trying to sell me the most expensive thing in the store. This might be partly because there is no shortage of Yuppie Bastard (and his silly German car) in the bay area, and therefore, no shortage of chumps throwing money around like candy at a parade. He asked me if there was anything else I needed, and I told him that maybe my small try square might not be very useful, but he said, “Nah, it may be a little small, but for now, it’ll be fine; sometime later you might need something bigger.” Odd, all of this, but it definitely means that I’ll probably go back there on similar occasions.

Anyway, the store definitely has some drool appeal. Those Lie-Nielsen planes sure do look nice, but, uh…

Rusty Tool #1 and Other Junk

This Millers Falls #14 jack plane arrived on Saturday:

The jack plane is one of the more useful sizes; Stanley’s #5 was the archetype mass-produced until the cows came home. My new plane, like the MF #9 shown a few days ago, is another of the type 3 wartime production series.

It’s also kinda rusty. Even though all of the parts still move and all, it’s pretty clear that this plane needs a lot of work (this is what $5.99 gets you). Because my Stanley #6 is starting to shape up, it’s likely that I won’t bother starting on this iron oxide dump for another month (more on why later).

I have a few more things on the way from eBay. There’s a couple of marking gauges, a Millers Falls #2 hand drill, a backsaw that may be in questionable shape (99 cents cannot be expected to buy much, but I figured it was worth it if just for the handle and sawnuts), and a rusty block plane (yay).

I’m very close to having all of the tools on my initial list. In fact, seems like I really only have the saw set and the chisels left, assuming that I can get the backsaw in some sort of decent shape.

The chisels worry me. The other stuff on my list consists of no-brainers to get “vintage,” but the chisels seem like kind of an iffier thing to get used, the sort of thing you want to look for in person. Because it’s always a questionable proposition to look for anything remotely old around here, I’m just thinking that it might be worth the extra $10-$30 to get a couple of new chisels, provided that they are well-made. There’s a place down in San Carlos that supposedly has them, so I might look at them tomorrow after I pick up my car from the shop.

I also paid a visit to an automotive paint store two blocks from work today to check out their sandpaper supply. They had up to 2500 grit paper, so I bought a bunch in anticipation of Scary Sharp[tm]. Just need to get some plate glass (or something), and I’ll be ready for my first shot at honing.

Cleaning an Iron and Chipbreaker

Today, I attacked the rust and grime on the chipbreaker (“cap iron”) and iron (“blade”) of that Stanley #6. This is yet another new metal–high carbon steel. Thankfully, this stuff isn’t as hard as the chrome and nickel of the lever caps from yesterday, so I was very happy to be able to take most of the crap off with the mineral-spirit-doused wadding, very fine steel wool, and a razor scraper:

The chipbreaker is on the left, and the iron is on the right. The screw shown here attaches the iron to the chipbreaker. It was very hard to get a good “after” shot here, because the cleaned iron and chipbreaker are very light and somewhat reflective. So I converted that image to black and white to eliminate the weird color reflection.

The reason they reflect is not just because they are very clean, but also because I very lightly lapped them on 600-grit silicon carbide sandpaper. I was very impressed at what this did, but I had to be careful, because I will need to do a quality lapping of the iron when I hone it. Now that I’ve tried out sandpaper on a flat surface like this, it seems more likely than ever now that I will try out the so-called Scary Sharp method for honing blades.

The iron is not very straight, but it is straight where it counts–between the slot and the edge. I’ll lap that and maybe polish the rest, depending on how I feel. It’s definitely going to need quite a bit ground off for a new edge; it’s not straight there, and it’s even a little concave at the very end.

The Millers Falls smoothing plane’s iron and chipbreaker should be even easier than this one, because they’re a lot cleaner. But I still need to get some experience honing and lapping on the Stanley before I get to that plane. Good thing I’m not in a particular hurry.

Frivolous Purchase #1

This delightful tool is a Millers Falls #104 hand drill (nicknamed the “Buck Rogers” drill):

These drills, alongside their plane counterparts (that now sell for a zillion dollars, because plane collectors have a lot of money) are precious rare examples of quality postwar hand tool design and mass production in the USA. Millers Falls not only thought that they needed some o’ this here “industrial design” stuff, but they decided to keep their quality up to scratch. This drill’s casing is die-cast and its gear mechanism is enclosed, keeping dust out. As in the finer hand drills of yesteryear, the handle is hollow for drill bit storage, and the rear unscrews as the cap.

This drill cranks as smoothly as glass, just as it did when it was new, some 50 years ago. Of course, I just had to try it out, but then again, doing that to random wood in the apartment can get you in trouble. My solution was the obvious one–good luck finding that hole, heh heh heh.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy a drill as nice as this in a hardware store today? You can, in fact, get a Chinese-made cast iron drill for cheap at some (no doubt the cast is from some antediluvian American or European manufacturer). I actually have one; it’s crap. Guys, is it so hard to make sure that all the parts fit correctly? Yeah, I can probably tweak it a little to get it to work so that parts don’t scrape against each other, but I also have a Millers Falls #2 on the way, so it’s likely just not worth it.

Also, there is no way in the world that I should have bought this drill. You might say that I have a soft spot for hand drills, but I don’t want to get into this collector mania stuff. But on the other hand, it was cheaper than what a Millers Falls #5 goes for.

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.

First Smoothing Plane

My first smoothing plane arrived today, a Millers Falls #9. This plane’s condition is not bad at all:

According to Randy Roeder’s type study, this is a so-called type 3 plane. It has the wartime fittings, including the non-tropical tote and knob, steel depth adjusting knob, and steel handle fasteners. There is no paint in the lever cap lettering recess. However, even though the tote is made of a domestic hardwood, its shape is the same as that of a type 2 plane. Weird, I guess, but it doesn’t really matter.

Dates aside, to put this plane to work, it seems that all I need to do to this plane is lap the sole, hone the iron, tune the chipbreaker, and add a washer to the tote’s fastening screw. I’ll probably do a few other things to clean it up, but it does seem that this tool was definitely worth the thirteen dollars.

Cleaning Brass

Being decidedly against the “patina” look on the tools that I actually want to use, I decided to clean up the brass adjuster and knob hardware on the #6 plane that I bought last Saturday.

Brass is a soft metal that doesn’t really rust; it tarnishes instead, sort of like silver. In any case, I had never cleaned it; all I knew is that people seem to be able to do it. So I used the amazing power of the intarweb to discover that most people use Brasso to clean brass.

Like many cleaners for restoration work, Brasso is one of those really awful poisionous cocktails that you’d rather not touch, smell, or lick. It has silica microabrasives in ammonia to scrape off the crap caked on the metal. I donned latex gloves, turned on all the ventilators, ripped up an old piece of clothing to dab some on, and followed the instructions to rub around a bit.

It works. Here’s a before and after of the hardware:

The tops of the screws really cleaned up. Notice how the Brasso also ripped off all of the rust on the steel rods and otherwise cleaned them up nicely. The cleaning also revealed a lot of dings in the knob’s screw head; this corresponds to all of the dings on the knob that are probably due to a wedding band or something.

Here is a close-up of the depth adjuster:

Notice how well it gets into the more detailed parts like the ribbing and cleans them up. One thing I did discover is that you have to dab a little more Brasso on your cloth if you find that it’s becoming less effective, probably due to some really grotesque chemical reaction.

Encouraged by this result (and having everything set up), I decided to try it out on the brass nuts from my “Warranted Superior” ripsaw:

I used a (newly sacrificed) toothbrush to get into the detail on the medallion. Not too bad there. This was also the first time I took the handle off the saw; I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there was very little rust in there.

Stanley #6 Acquisition

Last Sunday I went to the San Jose flea market to see if it was a place I could pick up any old tools. Also, I hadn’t been to a flea market in years. As a tool source, it was pretty lame. Way too many new (crappy) tools, oodles of old power tools, and a few vendors thinking that you’re a gullible collector and that you’ll pay a million dollars for a beechwood knob on a transitional plane.

However, one guy had a Stanley #6 selling for less than a million dollars. Most of the parts seemed in decent shape (the tote being intact rosewood and the knob in okay shape, a small chip in the nose, but very little rust). Patrick Leach (one of dem dar intarweb experts) says that this isn’t a particulary useful size of plane, but I decided that it seemed like a good enough place to start on learning how to disassemble, reassemble, and use bench planes.

(My general plan is to get Millers Falls smoothing and jack planes from eBay, because these seem less collectible and just as well-made. I have a MF #9 smoother on the way, in fact. But I’d rather first mess up a questionable Stanley from a flea market, especially because I mess up almost everything I do on the first try.)

Turns out that the plane is a fairly humdrum Type 16 made between 1933 and 1941. The lever cap is definitely Type 16; the rest of the features seem to match those for the Type 15, but who knows (and who cares). It’s important to date your plane in order to figure out what you might need to do to tune and restore it. For example, because I know the vintage of the lever cap, I know what it’s made of, and I can look up how to clean up the nickel plating on top of it.

As you might expect, it was pretty grimy. Some bug was living inside of it at one point. When I removed the frog, there were quite a lot of softwood shavings jammed up there in the bed. So it seemed like I’ve got a task ahead of me here, but I’m in pretty good shape because nothing is really broken and there’s very little rust. Keep in mind that I have never ever seen, much less used, a bench plane that’s tuned and sharp. I’ve read about them (I’ve read an awful lot about them, in fact).

One thing that worries me is that the tote is intact and therefore something that I really ought not to mess up (cracked totes are very common). So I’ll try to be very conservative when working with it and the knob.

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