Fixing the Faults

My Madox moulding plane came from the eBay seller well packed, padded and wrapped with secondhand but good quality materials. Overall, the condition of the plane was excellent, with no staining, evidence of mistreatment, watermarking, etc. There was some evidence of changes made but all in all the seller gave good pictures and enabled me to look for flaws I might not like. Things the seller might not know of or have experience of were the condition of the cutting iron bevel, nails into the sole leaving either small rust stainage, holes or broken off nails left in the sole. I’m looking for other telltale signs like wormholes, powdered wood, staining to mask flaws, remakes and the like. I am happy through and through. It came with a rough cutting edge and bevel to the iron and I am not altogether sure why it was in such a condition but it is 250 years old, perhaps I should cut some slack here. But the good news is, rough as the bevel is, the cutting iron still gave me near-perfect shape and followed the sole contours perfectly with no adverse dips to deal with from grinding wheels and angle grinders — and, yes, this happens. Why did I want a faithfully shaped cutting iron to follow the sole shape? I naturally wanted to restore the cutting bevel and sometimes an overzealous restorer can cause serious and even irreversible damage necessitating major remedial work or replacing the cutting iron altogether. This matters very little in terms of functionality but when it comes to time and value it can make a huge difference. Had it not been in pretty good shape, I would have had to reshape it with files, diamond abrasives, and such. I always look for authenticity.

My Madox common ogee plane (left) shows amazing regularity to an image on the inside cover of Bill Goodman’s book on British Planemakers from the 1700s

Within the main working of the plane lies the evidences I need that cannot be faked and not the least of these is the patination resulting from a 250-year existence. There are softnesses to old planes that reflect the owners care in ownership and use. Many moulding planes lived a long life of greater or lesser use. Some might sit amongst its like for a year or more without use, ageing is a natural process that takes place simply by exposure to the atmosphere, daylight and any chemicals surrounding the workplace. Ammonia is a good example. The essence of ammonia will turn many woods dark and especially those woods with high levels of tannic acid within their fibres. Like wine, some pieces will have improved through the decades without actually doing very much at all. The best planes age with the user using them and do so by the care and consideration they received. This carefulness shows and reflects the life and livelihood of the man that made for a living and one that loved his craft too. I like that such a reflection will record his history in some degree, that had no paper certification or qualification, even though he and they remain anonymous to some degree, don’t you`?

Remember that all planing with moulding planes start out with easy passes along the length of the wood’s fibres. They at first appear to take off only the barest amount, but within a few strokes, the mould steadily deepens and soon changes from this minimal amount until the full shape is finally formed along its length. This is heartening to any user, stroke on stroke, and seeing the flats become corners, coves and beads by your own efforts, energies, muscles and skills. It’s also worth remembering that what started out as a 6mm wide cut, soon becomes 35mm wide, and the planed profile might well take off an additional 12mm and more when the shaving parallels the actual length of the cutting edge, were both to be laid out flat and straight.

Opening up my restoration and examination began with using the plane to create a fully formed moulding following full depth from the plane. By the time I had achieved the full-width cut and shape, the shaped wood looked quite rugged. The ground bevel seemed less unrefined than it should and looked as though it had never been sharpened but of course it had because the plane was quite well used. Evidence of the blacksmith’s hand forging and hammering was present clearly in and throughout the cutting iron as expected. I can see the clear line of a laminated blade where the smith hammer-forged hard steel to softer steel for added durability and the development of as keen and durable an edge as possible. It’s good to note this now as the oxidation evidencing this will soon disappear when the blade is abraded, sharpened, polished and used.

The greyer, parallel line running full length along the cutting edge shows the contrast between the laminated hard steel and the body steel of the main cutting iron.

You can see how nicely formed and shaped the cutting bevel is from the above photograph. Before I used the plane at all I examined a few key points that gave me the methods of working used in creating the original plane, something I always do. Here below is the cutting iron in the plane before restoration. It conforms beautifully to the plane’s sole and shape.

The cutting iron shape follows the shape of the sole perfectly. This is what I look for in considering a moulding plane purchase.

Here below, in the step of the side and at the toe-end of the cove, I can see that slight faltering start where the plane hovers a little at the start to the cut if indeed it was the start to the last swipe before concluding the hollow. But, I am also cognisant of the fact that this too can happen at the close of the last swipe too.

Here you see the ‘ghost’ of the faltering stroke at the beginning or end of a swipe with the plane in closing out the mould. This might be mistakenly called chatter mark but that is a highly misused misnomer and rarely ever the case at all.

In this image below I use a straightedge to show the camber to the bevel from the cutting edge to the heel of the bevel of the plane iron. Generally, this evidences hand abrading as the arms of the person sharpening extend and recover, extend and recover. This, for hand sharpening, is a fast and productive method and for complex shapes with coves and beads side by side and then additional ledges and step-downs and step-ups. Few methods are faster than an exp[erienced woodworker using no mechanisms that might disallow the user to flex the cutters to expedite the shaping and sharpening in a single action.

The convex bevel shown shows a fast sharpening method from hand sharpening on abrasives

Rust on the back face prevents the shocking of the cutting iron along the bed angle, against which the cutting iron is registered and must be allowed to travel up and down using the hammer-tap adjustment system. Scraping off the rust is quick and effective and a short wire brush works well for cleanup. A wax inhibitor will prevent the rust from further developing and, of course, the use of any tool is the best rust prevention you can have. I have no issue using abrasive paper for smoothing off the surfaces after the bulk of the rust has been removed.

Derusting ensures the cutting iron will deliver a precise cut at the point where the cutting edge engages the wood.

There is very little to do to the main body and wedge of the plane. The sole is in good condition, with no real damage to the shape. It’s polished through the use of wood on wood in the typical symbiosis you get from wood to wood tools of this type. Whereas there is friction, there is little abrasion taking place and especially so when you see how the natural oils present in the woods serve to reduce friction and actually polish one another. I have no problem with doing what has been done through the decades from time to time and that is to apply a thin coat of boiled linseed oil every decade or so. The last thing you want with these planes is to build up coats to a thick outcome as is sometimes the case with furniture. Hand tools seldom benefit from thick and shiny coatings and most key makers recognise this.

The level of sheen on this plane exemplifies a perfect level of patination for moulding planes.

The hammer serves to shock the plane to loosen the wedge and the cutting iron in the main body of the plane. This can be to remove the iron for sharpening, unclogging jammed shavings and adjusting the depth of cut. Striking the heel retracts cutting iron in any wooden plane. You can also strike the top front area near to the corner and this will often allow a finer level of adjustment. Striking as squarely as possible to the heel end of the plane usually shocks the wedge and iron loose with two or three firm blows. Setting the depth is by trial and error and the amount of movement depends on the actual plane as they will each differ from one to the other. To set the depth of cut means that after taps and tightens you must test the plane on the wood each time and adjust as necessary. With time and practice, this adjustment becomes second nature and effectively fast. There is a system to it. In some cases, men used the bench end and sides to make minor adjustments with the hammer being used for the wedge only.

Striking the heel like this will loosen both wedge and cutting iron. The more you strike the looser they become. Small taps allow for adjustment, heavy strikes facilitate wedge and iron removal.

Rust levels on the steel of the cutting iron can fuse the cutting iron to the wood inside the channel bed and sides in the plane’s incline where the cutting iron is bedded. At worst, this fusion of wood and metal can be permanent and irreconcilable but usually, it is not. It can and will however prevent free passage for blade depth adjustment and removal and so the rust must be removed and treated with oil or wax to prevent reoccurrence. A second point affecting a smooth action for adjustment is swollen wood through high levels of damp and humidity. Often, it is difficult to determine whether it is just the wedge or both the body of the plane and it is best to assume that it is both. A wedge can swell more readily than the main body and it can be temporary according to atmospheric humidity. The main body of the plane often has higher levels of moisture resistance whereas the wedge, being unfinished and unhandled, is open to the damp. A swollen wedge, where localised moisture has caused the swelling, expands within the confines of the wedge channel and stays stubbornly stuck in the body of the plane until the hammer blows shake it loose. The best thing from hereon is to gently dry out the wood of both body and wedge. Leaving the plane to dry out naturally in a warm and dry place for a few days usually works best.

You can tap the toe of the moulding plane too and this is especially useful for light adjustment of the depth of cut. On bench planes, the larger planes we generally use for smoothing and truing wood surfaces, we use the toe as much as we do the heel for adjusting the depth of cut, so hammer marks are seen equally to both the heel and the toe. On many planes, makers or users added an end-grain button, which saved the plane at this point.

To actually remove the wedge from the channel, I use the flat of a Warrington hammer which is perfect. Even though the wedge can be loose, light taps here we’ll draw the wedge fully from the plane.
Rust like this can be scraped and sanded smooth but inevitably, with this level of rusting, the surface will be pitted underneath. It is fine just to remove the pillow of surface rust with no need to take the steel down to the bottom of the pitting just for looks.

I look to different points on the facets of the plane to see where the greatest impacts have been used with regularity from hammer blows. Bench planes and moulding planes were always adjusted with steel or brass hammers and rarely was wood used. Why? Finding the centre of percussion is much easier and less awkward when delivered by metal hammer heads. Stanley Warrington hammers, 10-12 ounce, with their slightly domed hammer faces are about as ideal as it gets. Also, remember, driving the cutting iron from the top end of the iron and down into the throat can and will help to dislodge an overly jammed wedge and plane iron. Generally, on a well cared for and well-used plane, the best approach for retraction is striking the heel of the plane square on.

I look first for shavings wedged or jammed anywhere in the plane. This can be in the throat, behind the cutting iron, in the wedge itself, places like that. I look for hammer blows registered on the plane to see which methods the user preferred for removing the wedge or setting the plane iron to a shallower depth. This hammer-tap method was the only way to really set the cutting iron or remove the iron for sharpening. It sounds primitive, but it is very fast and accurate once you are familiar with the planes you use. As with many wooden planes, including bench planes, some users loosened the cutting iron and wedge by hitting the toe more than the heel and some used the underside of the wedge to tap the wedge out, often with the flat of a Warrington hammer. The least damaging point is the heel of the plane and the least damaging hammer for dislodging wedges is the Thorex 712 38mm version I recommend for joinery work, chisel chopping and assembly.

The nylon head (the white face) is perfect for many aspects of plane setting. This model, Thorex 712, 38mm is a great weight and size but there are others you might try too.

After examining my plane for various telltale signs of use and once my plane was newly set, I planed down a section of spruce to full depth and the profile was good but with ‘tramlines‘ parallel to the length. I only needed a few inches to work the profile of the cutting iron with and I used abrasive to remove the lines and grooves further.

Stretching abrasive paper, 240-grit, across the face of the mould and clamping in the vice gave me the profile when I pressed the cutting iron at an angle of around 20-25-degrees onto and into the mould.

The paper conformed and after about 20 strokes I had achieved my objective in reestablishing the coarser grind of the primary bevel. From there, I coated the actual wood profile with 10,000 grit buffing compound and buffed the whole of the bevel but tried to maintain a 30-degree angle as near as possible.

I abraded until I reached a continuous cutting edge and then I polished the bevel out further by simply applying the buffing compound to the wooden profile of the former.

After 20-30 strokes the bevel was polished to a surgically sharpened edge. I was but one or two steps from being ready to install the cutting iron and trying it out.

Flipping the blade as per usual, I refined the flat face to establish this to the same level of polish as the bevel. This means going from abrasive plates and then to buffing compound applied to a flat piece of wood.

With all rust removed and the bevel newly established I was ready to see how the work resulted.

As the new plumes of wood rose from the throat, my efforts were well rewarded.

This is clearly a wonderful improvement. Now I can use the plane whenever I want to and for the rest of my life.

22 thoughts on “Fixing the Faults”

  1. I’m so pleased your passing this knowledge on, I have avoided sharpening many moulding planes I have bought in the last year for fear of doing damage to the steel blades, slowly I’m becoming more confident sharpening only the simplest, but with help from yourself I’m sure I can master the more complicated shapes. Thank you again Elliott.

  2. Paul, I can’t find any info because I don’t think you guys have finalized anything yet and I’m sorry to ask here but are the parts for your router plane available from you guys or do you have any plans to make them available?


    Great article BTW!!

    1. Patrick, check the first post on the blog about the router plane “The best router plane is born”. At the bottom of that blog, before the comments section, you should find the option to say “Yes”, that you are interested in a kit and I think it then gives you the option to fill out your email and submit like posting here), which will register your interest in the kits. They aren’t released yet according to the last blog about the router planes.

  3. Thank you Paul for taking the time to write this post. I suspect it took several hours and I appreciate it. About a year ago, I purchased a half set of hollows and rounds for a good price. It was a good price because they were in fair (not poor) shape. Mostly needing clean up. I was uncertain on how to sharpen them. What you presented will be very helpful.

    Do you go to higher sand paper grits than 240 before the polishing compound?

    1. Probably wouldn’t need to on the bevel, as Paul mentions raising to 30 degrees, which would be more than the original bevel, so probably not taking a huge amount off. He does mention going to the diamond plates for the flat side though, so don’t spend hours trying to get from 240 to 10,000 on there!

  4. Very useful article Paul, I was impatiently reading through it wondering what type of hammer would best suit setting a plane and, of course, you answered it! I bought the Thorex a few weeks back and I really like it for chisel work. I wasn’t sure what weight to get in a steel hammer, so good to hear you recommend a 12 ounce Warrington.
    Further to your Ebay/moulding plane posts I decided to look for a tongue and groove set for a specific job. Of course, I ended up buying two sets! I was surprised at the number of planes available in the UK and the apparent quality of some of them (going by the detailed photos). I think I’ll splash out on some round mouldings and some others when I’ve got some time next year to fix them up (so more likely the following year!).

  5. Paul, were the squared details on both sides of the curved moulding profile done before or after the moulding was formed? Was an edge guide used?

    1. Cutting a rebate to each corner face first takes out a mass of wood. Following on with a other plane cutting the reverse shape to create the mould wood be used next.

    2. Stephen Hughes-Jelen

      If you look for the “Ken Hawley Collection Trust” channel on YouTube, there are some great collections of old manufacturing from the masters. Lots of footage from the early 60’s. One such video is titled “Moulding Plane Maker – Norman Bayliss (1962)” and is definitely worth watching.

  6. Norbert (Nick) Onaitis

    Hello Paul, I’ve a “Stanley 75” with all three boxes of cutting heads, plus a few extra ones. It was an ARP (Alcohol Related Purchase), and the price was right. I’ve never used it…2 Open Heart Surgeries, Pacemaker, Right Elbow Reconstruction, Left Hip Replacement, 2 Pacemaker Replacements, etc. Luckily, I’ve been spared the “China Plague”. I’m thinking that I should sell it to a good home… someone who would do whatever restoration is necessary. It’d probably need a few replacement pieces. If you know of someone who would want it give th my name and address. Thank You, Nick
    P.S. I’m a subscriber.

  7. Instead of planing down spruce to make a mould for refined sharpening and polishing, I laminate 3/4″ MDF to a pine board and make a short 4 or 5 inch stick that is about the width of the plane. I then make the mold in the MDF, which I wrap in sand paper or charge with chromium to sharpen and polish the iron. MDF charges easily. I plan to keep a set of theses one for each molding plane, but so far only have one for each hollow and a couple others. (One for each hollow and round is probably enough. ) The reason to laminate the MFD to the pine is so that you have enough to put in the vise.

  8. I have an old Madox plane as well. I didn’t need it so to speak, but I thought it was interesting that this plane is older than my country. I still need to get around to sharpening it.

  9. 18 Nov. 2021
    Hi Paul I seldom reply to anyone, however I find the need to at least say Hello.
    Almost all my fore fathers were craftsmen of one kind or another. I started my learning at about 4 yrs. old. I am now 84. I’ve done wood work on and off for most of my life. I have no one better at teaching the trade than you. I find I am still learning things. Thanks for the lessons, and have a good day.

    1. Thank you, Frank. Mostly it’s about passing it on and before I get too old. Plus, I love the idea that we can now tell others the ‘trade secrets‘ without fear of being ostracised!

  10. Hello Paul,

    What are you using the grey head of the thorax hammer for?

    I ask, because at long last I found that I can order one from, but it comes with two white heads. (I did not find it in any of big-box or hardware stores here in Michigan.)

    Apparently you can buy other heads separately with different hardnesses. They say the grey head is similar to an eraser and the white is similar to a bowling ball. There are as I am sure you know other coloured heads: red, brown, yellow of various hardness. I am not sure why I would want them.

      1. Donald L Kreher

        Thanks good to know. I don’t think I have ever seen you using the grey.

        My hammer today and also two greys. Hence I have an extra white and and an extra grey. Should last me a while.

  11. Hello Paul and team:
    I hope all are well. Again I have enjoyed this article about moulding planes, “the world’s best router plane” is the best! I agree, economy, quality and shop made. I look forward to the possibility of the “Router Plane Kit”.
    I recently received a box of moulding planes with some irons missing. Following your technique from June 30 2015 you shared (thankyou) I was able to bring back the edge of the steel and have a working plane. I made a sample of each in wood, hung on a string.
    So….. the missing irons! making a moulding plane is above my experience, but I have the skills to shape steel in my shed.
    I’m sure this has passed over your bench over the years, is there a video on your channel? I’m working through the 7 pages of your articles & lessons on “moulding”.
    Thanks again for all you do.
    Jerry Walker
    Everett, Ontario

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