Posts Tagged ‘restoration’


In:In the Shop, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on Restoring a Miller’s Patent Plow Plane

A little while back I acquired a Miller’s Patent plow plane, near as I can tell, it’s a model No. 43 Type 5.  It came with 3 cutters and was in good shape overall, but I felt like it could use a little attention before I put it to work. Here’s a quick summary for those who may be looking to restore a similar tool.

The tool as I received it

As shown, the tool is in decent shape, but the body is grimy, the handle is dirty, and the brass components are dull and worn.

One more picture of the tool before I began cleaning it up.

Before the restoration can begin, one of the most useful things to do is disassemble the entire tool.  This reveals several details that may have otherwise gone unnoticed: a cracked part, a missing screw, a mechanism that’s corroded and no longer functioning properly, etc.  If you do nothing else with a new-to-you vintage tool, take it apart, verify everything is there and working properly, and put it back together.

A plow plane in pieces.

One area to pay special attention to with a plow plane is the chip deflector.  This part not only provides the downward clamping pressure on the cutter to hold it in place, but also sends the shaving being cut out of the tool and away from the user.  If the face of the deflector is dented, rough, or has any kind of tacky residue on it, the shavings may not flow out as they should and could get jammed up in the tool which can be annoying.  I used a smooth, half-round file to remove some of the dents and burrs, then smoothed the face with fine sandpaper.


…After (apologies on the out-of-focus photo)

Next, I had to address the depth stop.  This was pretty badly worn.  There are two critical surfaces: the face that touches the body and the bottom face that ultimately touches the work when the final depth has been reached.  These two surfaces need to be flat and perpendicular to one another.  As you can see in the pictures, they were not.  I lapped them on with sandpaper on a granite surface plate, checking for flatness and perpendicularity as I went.

This face gets clamped against the body. It should be flat, but clearly has a deep hollow in the middle.

The bottom surface also needed to be re-flattened. Additionally, I eased the edges when I was done to ensure no sharp corners would scratch up my work when the depth stop makes contact.

After addressing the few functional issues above, I took all the small brass and steel bits and threw them in my tumbler for a few hours to clean them up.  This gave everything a nice, uniform finish and removed any remaining grime from the parts.  Steel parts were oiled to prevent rust.

I didn’t do much with the body, just a quick cleaning and scrubbing to brighten it up.  This, along with a bath in Evaporust went a long way to making it look new(ish) again.  Finally, I lightly sanded the handle and hit it with some Watco Danish Oil to freshen it up.

The result of my modest efforts were well worth it. I debated re-painting the body since most of the original japanning had worn off, but decided to leave it alone.

…and a shot of the other side.

Detailed shot of some of the brass bits. Nice.

With the tool brought back to glory, I sharpened up the cutters and took it for a spin.  The results are excellent.  These tools can take very aggressive shavings compared to most because the grooves are typically narrow (1/4″ – 1/2″ wide).  A narrow shaving means low material removal and low push-force, so the cut can be a lot deeper to compensate.  These are also not cutting a show-surface, so some tear-out on the inside of the groove isn’t a concern.  This style plow doesn’t even have a depth adjustment for the cutter. Why not?  Because it doesn’t matter and it’s not critical.  Just sight the distance the cutter is projecting by eye and lock it down.  If you really set it too heavy or too light, one quick re-adjustment is usually all it will take to dial it in.  The point being, it’s a PLOW plane, plow through the work with the heaviest shaving possible.  If you do, a typical groove can be completed in under a minute, maybe 2-3 if it’s a longer board and/or harder material requiring a lighter shaving.

Testing the plow for a 1/4″ groove.

And the results.

Overall, this was a pretty minimal restoration, more of a basic tune-up and cleaning, but it pays dividends in the long run.  Next up, a few posts on making a work bench for my kids.  Cheers.


In:In the Shop, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on Restoring a Mead Belt Sander- Part 1

FYI- This is probably my most unnecessary and awesome restorations to date.

The Mead belt sander when I purchased it.

About a month ago I picked up a vintage, Chicago-made Mead 1″ belt sander off craigslist for a measly $60.  It was in great shape, the previous owner had it for decades and he took the time to re-paint the body of the sander and the motor as well as grease up all the pulleys.  He did a great job on these parts and I could have just plugged it in and started sanding.  Being ridiculous, however, I decided to take it from classy to world-class.  There were a few minor things that bothered me (the belt wasn’t aligned precisely between the motor and sander pulleys, the wire path was ugly, the wood used for the base and sanding deck was cheap and cracked, and the deck wasn’t square to the belt) and one major point of irritation (the on/off switch).

Ugly switch, clumsy wire path.

Crooked deck.

The first thing I addressed was the tilted table.  The previous owner used a copper shim to correct the table but I wanted to fix it for good.  I painted the body with red layout fluid, then loosely installed the deck.  After pivoting the deck a few times I removed it and could clearly see the high spots in the casting that needed to be knocked down with a round file.  I repeated this process a couple times and after about 10 minutes had the table nicely squared up to the belt.

Machinist layout fluid.

Casting painted with layout fluid.

High spots identified.

Finished filing. The deck was now square, all I did after this was some light sanding to remove any burrs and the remaining fluid.

Next I swapped out the switch with a vintage style toggle switch that seemed appropriate and made a simple wooden box to house it.  I also took the time to inlay the face plate into the housing.

New switch…

…in a new housing.

Face plate inlay.

The last thing I will cover in this post is the new base.  I used walnut that was a little thicker than the original base, but otherwise I left the dimensions nearly the same.  The feet were made from the same board, cut free from either end of the base.  I could have cut long-grain feet instead of short-grain, but then I’d have to deal with differential expansion and the grain pattern wouldn’t be continuous.  The short grain feet aren’t as strong, but given that they’re thick and trapped in a dado I think they will be fine… they certainly look nicer to me, especially when you don’t see end grain on the sides of the board.  I used an old router template I had lying around to cut an arch in the feet and a stacked dado set (that I was already using for a larger job) to dado the base.  One note on dado sets, they leave small V’s in the corners of the cut where the outer blades score the fibers.  This is great for clean cross-cuts, but I don’t like the small V it leaves after the cut.  I correct this is seconds with a router plane set to a depth that aligns to the tip of the V.  Run the plane through the dado and you’ve got a perfectly square recess for the feet to sit in.

V’s in the corners after using a stacked dado blade on the table saw. (They’re a bit more obvious in person)

Planing the dado to final depth, removing the V’s.

Dado squared off after using the router plane.

For the wire path I wanted something as clean and hidden as possible.  The motor wire runs immediately underneath the base where it is captured by a series of custom made wooden hold-downs.  The wires pass through the base where the front foot gets installed, into the switch box, and finally out the back of the base.  Overall I think it will look very nice when finished.

Wire path preview.

Wire hold-downs.

The last operation for the base was laying out the hole locations for mounting the motor and sander.  I couldn’t simply copy the original because as I said before they weren’t aligned very well, but after a few minutes of measuring double checking the belt everything was ready for drilling.  When I went to dry-fit everything I noticed the belt sander had some wobble to it, so I touched that off on a larger belt sander and got the casting dead flat in a matter of minutes.

New base getting the motor and sander holes laid out.

Flattened casting base.

That’s all for now, in two following entries I will wrap up the (improved) deck, overall assembly, detailing and finishing.  I’ll also discuss the belts I use and a few of the things that make this sander so useful.  Stay tuned.



In:Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on Restoring a hand drill (cheaply)

Vintage hand drills are some of the most useful and inexpensive tools to have around the shop. Few are manufactured new today and the drills that are don’t come close to the quality of the vintage models.  I have two sizes I use all the time, both made by Millers Falls, a #2 and #5A.

The biggest issue most people have with these “egg beater” drills is the misconception that they don’t work well.  That’s true if you’ve only tried rusty junkers.  It’s no different than using hand planes.  Garbage planes cause more problems than they fix, but a well tuned plane can make you sell off all your power tools.  A smooth running hand drill is accurate, quiet, fast, and never runs low on batteries.  So if you’re interested in restoring an old drill, here’s how I go about it.  DISCLAIMER: the operations shown on the drill press could be considered dangerous… so is using a tablesaw, jointer, etc. if you’re not familiar with the tool or operation being performed on that tool.  In short, if you’re not comfortable with how I cleaned up these drills, don’t try it.

First, you need to acquire a drill in the usual manner (eBay, flea markets, tool shows, theft, etc).  Look for three things:  solid handles without cracks or a loose fit, gears with no broken or chipped teeth, and a chuck that operates with all 3 jaws and associated springs.  Obviously major flaws like missing screws, cracked bodies, or rusted out drills are no good, but those are usually thrown out these days (a little surface rust isn’t a problem though).  Most drills being sold are in at least satisfactory condition and can be had for $5-$25.

With the drill acquired, it’s time for the restoration process to begin.  Disassemble the entire tool.  Take out the screws, remove the drive gear, unscrew the chuck, etc.  If any rust or surface tarnishing is present, give the parts a 24 hour bath in Evapo-Rust (more info on that here).  Once the hardware is cleaned I paint the body with enamel, typically black gloss on the body, red on the gear, but it’s your drill, do as you like. There’s nothing magic about this process.  Just brush the enamel on, then clamp it by the chuck in a vice to dry.  Over-paint areas that butt up against metal that is supposed to be paint-free (like the edge of the gear).  This will ensure full coverage and the over-painting will get removed later.  It can take several days to fully dry, sometimes over a week depending on the temperature.  Make sure the body is completely dry (no tackiness to the touch) before proceeding, otherwise you may be starting over (believe me, I know)…

On to the fun stuff (in my opinion at least).  Most drills only have two screws in the assembly and it’s worth getting them pristine.  Chuck them into the drill press (or lathe if you own one) with the head down.  leave as much clearance as possible, but make sure you have enough threaded into the chuck so things stay in alignment.  A couple warnings here: first, don’t over-tighten any of the threaded areas in the chuck or they can get damaged.  You only need a firm enough grip to resist light material removal, so just gently hand-tighten the chuck.  If you need to, put some blue tape around the threads.  This will protect them a bit and give a better grip in the chuck.  Now, with the screws secure and spinning, file the heads clean of dents, then finish with some fine sandpaper for a nice polish.  I usually go to around 800 grit for a clean, somewhat matte finish.

The main gear is handled in a similar way, but you have to put a bolt through the center so there is something to chuck into the drill.  File/sand the edges to the desired finish.  Make sure any over-painting is removed.

With the hardware painted and cleaned up, it’s on to the wooden handles.  The side knob that many drills have is easy to clean up by chucking into the drill press just like the screws, again, be careful not to damage the threads.

The gear handle is tricky.  It can not be removed from the arm because it is typically riveted on.  I got around this by spinning a steel rod in the press (in this case, a 1/2″ diameter center punch), clamping the handle on the bed of the press, and belting the two together with a generic pulley drive belt.  Some light side-pressure and the friction of the belt is enough to spin the knob while sanding down to bare wood.  A few tips here: use a large diameter rod to avoid bending under the side load as well as to provide enough surface area for the belt to stick to the rod.  Also, keep the table close to the press to minimize the side load/torque on the press.  Drills aren’t meant to withstand too much side load, so just use enough to spin the knob (which isn’t much).  Center the knob over a cut-out in the table so it can spin freely (shown in the 3rd picture below).


For the large handle, the body (minus all removable parts) can be chucked into the press.  There is one problem, however, as the center will spin while the body remains stationary.  I placed a clamp over the small gear to lock it to the body.  Tape could also work, but whatever you try, keep it tight to the body.  Again, sand down to the bare wood.


Finally, some finishing touches.  I have drills with film-finishes for the wood and others with oil.  The film looks more traditional, but I like the feel of the oiled wood, so it’s up to you.  There’s a good chance the main handle has a threaded cap (traditionally for bit storage).  I don’t use these for anything at the moment, but I want it to work well for future use just in case, so I wax the wooden threads after the finish is dry.  There are also several holes around the drill’s chuck and drive gear for oil.  Put a few drops in and add more as required.  My only other tip is in the fit of the main drive gear.  I don’t like too much clearance between the gear and screw holding it to the body.  Excessive slop is felt with every revolution of the drill and if the gears mesh too tightly it adds drag to the tool and increases the wear on the gears, shortening the life of the tool.  I use plastic shim stock (because it wears well and is available in precise thicknesses) to take out the slop, leaving only a few thousandths of clearance.


That does it.  You should be left with a top-notch drill that will last for generations.  Happy drilling.