Cleaning Wooden Planes

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11 thoughts on “Cleaning Wooden Planes

  1. Excellent tutorial. My wife found a wooden jack plane for me. You have just saved my plane. Thank you very much.

  2. Got my first wooden plane today. It’s a 75 year old Kana from Japan, in pretty good shape. However I don’t know the first thing about maintaining wooden planes so I poked around the web and found your blog. It’s excellent. Thank you very much for your efforts.

    There is one almost gouge on the sole of the plane and I’m thinking I’ll fill it with a very hard wood filler/epoxy and sand only that tiny area. |It’s roughly 1/16″ wide and deep. The rest of the plane body (kai) looks great. It’s a very good red oak. Blade and cap iron in good shape too. I read your advice to use linseed oil. Would you say that’s a good practice no matter what condition the plane is in or more to restore an older and abused item? I’m not sure what’s on the wood now but it’s very smooth and hard. Can’t tell if that’s just time or something which was put on the plane and don’t know what the linseed oil will do to it.

    Thanks again. Love the site. Watched a few vids and read your takes on this and that. You’re very honest and straightforward

    • Hi Gary,

      Let me preface this reply by saying that I am not all that knowledgable of Japanese planes as my research and personal experience has all been with using traditional Western style planes. Japanese kana are set up differently than a Western style plane because of how they are used. Typically, the sole of a kana is relieved using a card scraper or special scraping plane so that it only makes contact at the toe (the closest part to you when pulling it) and about a 1/4″ or so wide strip immediately in front of the blade. The area behind the blade and the area between these two contact strips is typically relieved a VERY small amount (maybe 1/64″ or less), giving the sole a hollow profile.

      The plane likely did not have any kind of finish on it. Most wooden planes didn’t. I don’t believe Japanese planes typically do. What your plane is likely showing is a combination of burnishing from use and oils from the user’s hands. I would avoid the linseed oil. I don’t typically use it on old planes anymore unless they are EXTREMELY dried out, in which case I typically won’t buy them.

      So with all of that said, I would recommend that you check out my good friend Wilbur Pan’s web site, Wilbur is a Japanese tool specialist who is much more qualified to give you suggestions on how to restore your kana. I’ll also ask him to chime in here for anyone else who is reading this.

      • Bob,
        Thanks so much for the reply. It’s very generous of you. The plane is well used and the sole has been relieved as you suggested. I’m going to get started using/tinkering anyway, with it today. I don’t have a plane hammer yet but I have some soft mallets so maybe something like that will suffice for the time being.
        I have a friend who studied for a few years in Japan… He is a metalsmith. Some say the best the US has ever produced. And another who studied swordmaking, also in Japan. Anyway, I’ve been so impressed with Japanese craftsmanship and their interesting tools, that I’m always curious. I love the pull saws and the chisels, so I thought it would be interesting to work with a kana. I’ll check out your friend’s site right now. (by the way, for a look at some amazing metalwork by the above mentioned friend, well cloissonette(sp) check out It’s incredible)
        I love your site and in fact I was reading more of your posts as your email arrived. Thanks again and have a good day.

        P.S. I’m late to woodworking (lamentably) but it’s as if after all these years of not understanding what I love to do, I know now. Too bad it didn’t come with a side of talent. I read your bio and apparently you had a sense of your “soul’s code” early on.

        • Glad to be of assistance. Wilbur and I co-authored an article for the April 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine that you might find useful as well. It was called “Separated at Birth” and it was about the similarities and differences in Eastern and Western tools and how they may not be all that different as they have sometimes been made out to be over the years. You might be able to get the article online or in a back issue of the magazine.

      • Bob,
        Went to Wilbur’s site and took the link to setting up a Japanese plane. Like manna from heaven. It’s exactly what I was trying to find. Actually, I tried to find a copy of a book by Odate (which Wilbur refers to) but the price was so obsene (340 dollars) on the only site I could find a copy, I ended up ordering something very basic to get started. Anyway, this is the ticket. Wow. Thanks.

        • Hi Gary,

          I’m really glad you found my blog to be of some use. Hope you keep reading.

          Odate’s book “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use” seems to be available on Amazon for far less than $340. Some people are selling it for nosebleed prices, but others are not.

          On Bob’s information that he wrote above: Bob is right on. Then again, Bob knows everything. Japanese planes sometimes had their bodies soaked in oil, but this was nowhere near universal practice. On eBay, I have seen many more Japanese planes with untreated bodies compared to ones that were oiled. I bought one just to see what it was like, and I would rather use an untreated Japanese plane. And I don’t know of anyone selling new Japanese planes where the bodies are pre-oiled.

          You could fill the gouge on your plane with epoxy, or just leave it alone. I doubt that it will effect the performance of the plane. In addition, using a Japanese plane means that at some point you’ll have to recondition the sole of the plane, and after doing this enough times, the gouge will eventually be scraped out.

          Japanese red oak has become harder to source these days, so if your plane has a red oak body, that’s a good find. Performance-wise, I don’t think there’s much difference between Japanese red oak and Japanese white oak, which is the more common option these days. But the red oak does look cool.

          • Wilbur,
            Thanks for all the additional info. When I looked for the Odate book, all I could find were exorbitant prices, which happens now and then in the used book market. I once saw a version of a book a close friend of mine wrote, for 1,200. You’d have thought it was an illuminated manuscript. And we laughed about it as I doubt he’d made much more than that in profit post advance when the book was in print. I never quite understand these things or how anyone can sell items at that price. The greed is obvious but that’s all.
            So, I’m with you on the treatment of the plane. It’s in otherwise nice shape. I picked it up for 60 dollars on ebay which I thought was a good price. It is signed and seems to have been taken care of and used properly. No damage besides that one gouge which was not noticeable in the photos but which wouldn’t have deterred me anyway. The gouge is in the section of the dai which is relieved and while I’ll fill it with epoxy, just because, I don’t think it’s a factor in use. I’m excited to get to working with it. As it happens, for reasons I never really understand, I’ve long had an affinity for Japanese culture and I would almost say, tempo. There is a respect given to to beauty, to grace, to life itself (notwithstanding the very same barbarity all cultures demonstrate sometimes that I find easy to relate to. So, not surprising that the tools feel good in my hands. I also bought some old chisels on ebay which are en route from Osaka. After overpaying for one from Japan Woodworker (new) I decided to look for some which had been used by craftsmen and which perhaps were better made to begin with. We’ll see.
            I’ll eschew the oil and do nothing but sharpen the blade for now. Not long ago, in another funny moment of realizing I’m always a step late with things, I was reading “The Perfect Edge” by Hoch. In it he suggests that we agree not to ruin Japanese tools with even a wet slow speed grinder (which I have) so I invested in a great combination of sharpening stones from sharpening and am finding them to be a huge step up for sharpening planes and chisels so far.
            Thanks for taking the time to write. I am always amazed at how generous woodworkers are with their knowledge and time. A far cry from other realms I’ve wandered in.

  3. Bob,

    I know this is an old one, and that you no longer used BLO. Do just lightly clean and then use paste wax?

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