Let's jump ahead in time, to the present day. I have lots of stuff to talk about in this blog. I plan on espousing my unwarranted and uneducated (kidding, maybe) opinions about many woodworking and crafty type things. But let's jump ahead to today.
So, I got this Dunlap smoothing plane (well, it's pretty much a Stanley No. 4 in shape and rough size, so let's assume it's supposed to be a smoothing plane) from a guy on Craig's List a while back. I got all sorts of great tools, and when I post about how awesome and terrifying Craig's List is, I'll talk about him more. He gave me some great deals and deserves a blog post almost all his own. Amongst the things I got from him were a couple planes. One was a little Stanley #9 1/2 block plane. The other was a the Dunlap smoothing plane.
Some old planes need a lot of love. Some need just a little. Typically, the older planes of the common variety are better than the newer ones. Newer planes of the Lee Valley and Lie Nielsen type are amazing and awesome and if you can afford them, buy them. They totally break the new/old rule. Buck Bros. planes? The kind you can find at Home Depot? Don't bother. Really, don't. I bought the smoothing plane and the tote (the handle on the back) broke the first time I tried to use it. I glued it and donated it to Goodwill. I'm sorry, that was probably not good will, was it?
So, this Dunlap plane was pretty good, though. It had some mild rust on it, but it was that light rust that kind of looks like patina more than rust. I fitted it with a new Hock blade from www.hocktools.com (which is what you do; they are awesome modern blades of appropriate thickness and hardness).
I had just planed a giant walnut panel the day before I made a horrific discovery. I glued up a bunch of boards edge-to-edge to make a larger panel for a headboard, and, even though I'd used a biscuit joiner to aid in alignment, the boards were not quite aligned. Why, yes, I will post about biscuit joiners at some time in the future (yet another fine tool from Bart, the same guy who sold me the plane I'm talking about). The alignment issue was mostly that there were edges of the boards that were off height-wise by about 1/16" or so. What you do in this case, is you use a jack plane or scrub plane or something and you traverse the boards (planing along the width of the board, totally cross-grain). You'd be worried that this would lead to amazing and weird tear-out (where you effectively pull up little chunks of wood), but you'd be worrying for nothing. It totally works and is awesome when you're staring at a lovely board that's flat as heck and just has some plane marks to clean up.
I started smoothing the boards with the smoothing plane. Each pass pulled up these almost gossamer thin little strips of wood. I don't think walnut "gossamers" so well, and I was probably cutting a thicker shaving than I would to get full-on gossamer thin, but it was appropriate to what I was doing. The rains came (my workshop is currently outdoors) and so I had to stop for the day. But, overall, I was super happy and stoked about my progress. The bits that I'd touched with the smoothing plane had this almost pearlescent look to them. It was that look when you put finish on a board where the grain pops and it catches the light and all that. It's called chatoyance, that flash of light. Well, the boards that I'd touched with the smoother were chatoyancing all over the place.
The next day, more rain, and so I ran errands, one of which was to go to Rockler and pick up some mounting hardware for the headboard I'm working on. One thing about woodworking: At a certain point, there are a billion little things you can buy to aid you in your woodcrafting quest. Necessary is a difficult word here. Some things are super important, some things are just nice to have. If you have no way to cut wood, a saw of some kind is a necessity. If you have a jigsaw and you want to cut curves, then a bandsaw is a nice-to-have (unless you're re-sawing or cutting veneers and then it's almost a must-have unless you have a frame saw, but you'd still want one for the veneers). Did I mention there's a learning curve to all this? Right, so one of the nice-to-have tools recommended by Chris Schwarz ...
Wait, you don't know who Chris Schwarz is? Well, he's just a little bit famous in the woodworking world. He was the editor of Popular Woodworking and Woodworking magazines for a while, and now he runs Lost Art Press. They make artisanal books (and not in the artisanal firewood sense), which are a mix of older woodworking texts curated and given a second life for a hand-tool loving, eager new generation, and new texts about design, chair-building and Chris' own writings, which include his seminal work, The Anarchist's Tool Chest (which isn't so much about the tool chest, although the tool chest you can build from it is traditional and amazing, but about the quality, character, and type of things you put in it). Hmm, I'm going to have to write a blog about him, aren't I? Well, so the short story (too late) is that Chris blogs about woodworking, with a hand-tool bent, and has a lot of useful experience and knowledge in his head that he prodigiously shares with the world.
Chris recommends Klingspor Sandflex abrasive pads in medium and fine grits to control the bloom of rust on hand tools. Typically, you're going to be treating your hand tools with a light coat of camellia or jojoba oil to stop rust, but sometimes rust just happens. So, these blocks, which I had half-convinced myself were sandpaper (like the 3M blocks) are not sandpaper, but this sort of abrasive suspended in an eraser-like substance. They are unicorn magic. Rockler had them, and I picked them up. I used the internet to figure out that Chris recommends the medium and fine (which was great, because that's exactly what they had). I brought them home and I pulled off the lever cap from the hand plane and literally erased the rust from it. With the exception of some minor pitting on some of the surfaces, the plane started looking brand newish.
This was all great until I got to the plane sole. There I took a lighter touch. I wanted to pull the rust off, but I do have respect for patina (the surface of an older tool that shows it was used, and using a tool is about the best thing you can do with it). So, I cleaned it all. No rust, no mirror polish, but then I discovered the something horrific. There was a little hairline crack extending from the side of the mouth down about 1/4 of an inch or so. Once I'd cleaned off the grime, I could see it and feel it with my fingernail.
The internet, in all its mightiness, mostly had this to say about cracks on plane mouths: avoid buying vintage planes that have them. Urm. Oops. Granted, I spent a pittance on this plane (see what I did there, cause there are pits from rust on the ... oh, never mind). Bart gave it to me with that #9 1/2 (that's almost the Hogwart's train platform. Ok from now on, I'm calling that block plane the Almost Hogwarts Plane) for such a reasonable price that I would never begrudge that. But, a new plane, of the kind that I'd be likely to buy, is not cheap. Sure, I could re-purpose the Hock blade into another vintage offering, but I've been looking at lots of vintage planes lately, and a good vintage smoothing plane with a nice, flat sole and little rust is not as easy to find as you'd like it to be.
So, I went to the Lost Art Press site. I've been frequenting the forums there lately, and it seems like a reasonable group of like-minded folks without a ton of attitude about things. The bonus is that Chris Schwarz hangs out there, along with Megan Fitzpatrick (the current editor of Popular Woodworking), as well as lots of other people whose blogs you follow (Renaissance Woodworker Shannon Rogers, another woodworker I have the utmost respect for, for instance). I posted there about the crack. Here's what it looked like ... did anyone have any experience with this?
I forgot to mention how long the crack was in that post, a reasonably salient detail. As I was about to edit my post, the following text kept showing up under my blog post. "Chris Schwarz is typing". Um, mere seconds after I post, and Chris Schwarz is typing... a response... to my question. Chris ... Schwarz.
I've met celebrities before. I used to work in radio. I got to hang out with MaryAnne from Gilligan's Island in the lobby of the radio station and wheel her bag around. I don't believe celebrities are gods or infallible people. I don't need them to respond to my instagram posts to validate my existence. I do, however, have a tremendous and tongue-tying amount of respect for people who create things, be it writing, art, entertainment I enjoy, or ... smart essays and books about this passionate hobby of mine.
And in less than a minute of watching the scary/magic words "Chris Schwarz is typing", there it was. The crack? No big deal. He had vintage planes with cracks, and they weren't causing problems. His advice? Keep using the plane until it noticeably causes an issue (if ever). So, I get to keep using the plane. Sure, a new Lie Nielsen smoothing plane would be sweet and all (seriously, those things are just a joy to touch and use and are a demonstrably greater user experience than the corresponding vintage planes), but those kinds of purchases are budgeted and planned for. And besides, that little Dunlap was really growing on me.
But, possibly more important than keeping the plane? Achievement Unlocked: Chris Schwarz answers your forum post.