I often trawl the eBay looking for little orphan infill planes…simply because I couldn’t afford pristine collector examples at the time and partly because I enjoy the challenge of making a basket case into something useable.
One such lost child was this Scottish infill smoother….
This was the eBay image and as far as I could see…the casting was in great condition…the lever cap was beautiful gunmetal…so it looked ok from these shots (yeah right!)…and although the infill had been destroyed and replaced with pine…it looked a pretty good candidate for restoration…and it was cheap!
Once I had it in my hands and in profile it was clear that something was not quite right with the lever cap…
….and so it proved to be when removed…
I have seen stems slightly bent before…especially these old style thin ones..but this is way beyond that. A replacement was therefore needed and my dear friend Andy from Bristol suggested there might be one at Bristol Designs..just up the road from him
There was…and in the meantime…I had sourced some boxwood at Timberline in Tonbridge…Robert the owner giving me a really large piece he had secreted in his special place.
And so the long task of restoration was born….and this is the after shot….
The story of how I got to this stage is now described…in the hope this may help fellow restorers….
The first thing to be done was to remove the existing infills…thank Heaven they didn’t glue them in..but the screws can be tricky especially if they’ve been in centuries…and the trick is to use a perfect screwdriver…the blade should fit..both in width and depth…exactly. Tearing out a head at this stage will mean drilling…not fun!
As can be seen…it is really rather clean…pristine in fact and there is no damage at all to the mouth which is half the battle. Damage in this region..particularly the leading edge is irreparable and so donor planes damaged badly in the mouth should be avoided.
I did keep the old infills though..for templates and possibly reuse the screws…
Straight away I realised the wisdom of this decision…
The handles in the next picture belong to the Richard Tomes Memorial panel infill….I thought I might as well do them all in one session!
As this part of the laminated handle forms part of the bed…it was vital to ensure the bed angle was perfect…and this was done using this fantastic gadget…the digital level gauge.
As long as you use it in “relative” mode…i.e. you put the item on the surface alongside the gauge and zero the gauge. It really doesn’t matter if the bench is level…it’s the reference face….so that the bed angle is always correct…relative to the sole.
Then the handle needed to be sized for width…this part and the two cheeks then form the rear handle…
I used my Huntley Oak Japanese saw to cut down as it’s a fine rip saw as can be seen and has no back to foul the cut…
You can’t get a better cut following the line like that…it’s what fine Japanese saws are good at.
This was then checked using the existing cheeks…adjusting on the disc sander to fine tune…
It was now a case of shaping the handle using rasps and abrasives…and this unique spokeshave. Made by Millers Falls…this is the MF1 shave or “cigar shave” as it is often known.
The beauty of this shave above no other, is that it can get around very tight curves and this is a really bonus on this job for initial stock removal…
I then made my own horizontal “bobbin sander”! You simply get various sizes of wooden rod…tape coarse abrasive to it using double-sided tape and put it in a lathe between centres! The “bobbin” bit is you! You just run the stock back and forth rather than the abrasive bobbing up and down! (ha!)
This is what it looks like up close…
Now the difficult bits…the cheeks. It is vital that when you do an infill on a casting that you oversize the wood a lot…1/4-1/2″ is common. The reason being that the castings are not perfect…and the final adjustment to fit has to be done once the inner part is fitted.
The bottom of the cheek infill needs to be sized first and made to fit..as evenly as possible. This was done using a paring chisel…great control and this one being an I.Sorby one..super sharp!
These are carefully worked..test..work..test work…until they fit tightly but not too tightly.
Once the cheeks are fitted they are trimmed either side so that they match the centre piece…and then the plane was tested again to ensure the angle is correct…
And those of you with eagle eyes will see the embryonic form of the Richard Tomes infill panel plane sitting there on the bench.I am a glutton for punishment getting bored easily, I tend to work on a number of projects at once! (ha!)
All through the restoration..my workshop buddy, ALFIE…was constantly checking the quality of the work!
…..and he also helped clear up!
At this point…I wanted to start balancing the plane and started on the bun…first with cutting the stock very oversized again..on my wonderful and cheap mini band saw the under-rated Burgess BK3…
Anyone who tells me this bandsaw is a piece of crap is talking bollocks…you just need to tune it up..and if they don’t believe you tell them to check this shot out above!
This was then marked up with exactly the right size to fit inside the casting…with lots of overhang…
The Japanese saw again came into its own cutting this to size…
This leaves just the front part…
When doing the final fitting…a tip is to blacken the inside of the casting…this marks the boxwood where it touches…and this allows that part to be pared back until it fits perfectly..
I was really careful not to knock it in too hard or far…getting it out is a bloody nightmare!
Note how the bed of the handle is proud…this is to ensure that it can be trimmed down perfectly using a bed float during final tuning but both cheeks are only proud by a tiny amount.
Now for the fun part…the final shaping. For this without doubt the best tool is the wonderful “handle maker” rasp from Noel Liogier France. Noel is a terrific bloke and a lot of work went into refining and testing this unique tool…a lot of which was done by my dear friend Derek Cohen in Perth, Australia. Nice one guys!
They’re not cheap…especially the “sapphire” version but they are worth every single penny…get one if you do this sort of shaping on planes and saws.
Note how I have replaced the handle part with a temporary spacer…this makes it possible to shape the curve over the top and get it even…without the handle getting in the way!
This beautiful rasp has so much control…can hog out stock really fast but can do subtle smooth refinement cuts when getting near to the end.
It is vital to do all of the final finishing in this mode..without the handle…first with 80 grit abrasive…
I made sure I masked off all the metal body parts because scratching this will spoil the patina.
The next stage is to use a series of Abranet grits…from 120G to 400G….
Following Abranet…I then moved on to MicroMesh from 1500M to 12,000M….
…the same being done to the inner handle and bun separately until we are finished….
….and the bun….
And we’re finally done with the infills…
So now I was able to concentrate on that lever cap…and the initial shaping was done on my milling machine. I guess I could have done it with files but I’d only just got the mill and wanted to play! (ha!)
This proved to be very beneficial as you could guarantee that the rough casting was coplanar with the sole..this is vital to ensure even pressure…
This was then polished to a fine finish and a new screw fitted….
I then hit everything with Tru-Oil and polished this to oblivion…as can be seen below!
…and we were done!
This was a difficult project…made far more difficult because it was a casting and an old one at that. You don’t have nearly as much problems with a new regular dovetailed sole…trust me on that one!
Anyone reading this and wishing to restore their own infill casting..I can say it’s really worth it..this plane is a superb user..the best smoother I have by far and that includes all the bespoke new ones I have.
If you want to ask any questions about things not covered in this blog..please feel free to contact me via the comments section below…I will be more than happy to help other.
Jimi and ALFIE!