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Home The Woodshop Tips and Tricks Resurrecting a Stanley No. 78

Resurrecting a Stanley No. 78

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The Stanley #78 duplex filletster and rabbet plane, first produced the year my maternal grandfather was born - 1885, was one of the unheralded workhorses of the Stanley line and is one hand tool from which they earned a fortune. That every workman had one in his tool chest was testimony to the versatility of this plane as is the fact that it is still in production today. Used 78's are easily found, but usually not complete. The story of how one antique rabbet plane found its way into my shop adds interest to what I am sure is an already fascinating provenance.

One day I happened to be strapped to my electronic surfboard when I ran across one for $6 or $7 on EBay, with only a couple of hours left to closing. I had been wearing out my Reclaiming Flea Market Planes by Ernie Conover video and was in the market for a dud on which to practice Ernie's sage advice. My intention was not to get a usable piece. In spite of poor photography and an ambiguous description, I bid and won.

When it arrived I took stock of what I had. My 78 was built around 1910. Although plagued by rust and excessive wear over its lifetime, the pattern was clearly visible on the handle. Other 78's have a floral pattern cast into the handle whereas those manufactured around 1910 have a fish scale motif. The date is further substantiated by the length of the sole (which decreased to 8 1/4 inches after 1936), a 1910 patent date visible on the body, the lack of lever adjustment for the blade, and the 'blackletter' logo script on the side of the body.

The fence, fence rod, and thumbscrew that held them all together were missing - an all too common occurrence according to my research. I have heard it theorized that countless craftsmen removed their fences and placed them in countless tool boxes where they remain forever separated like so many lost souls. The reasons given seem unclear to me so why these parts are so frequently misplaced we can only speculate. The fact is that they were removed. Serendipity prevailed in my case as the depth stop, depth stop thumbscrew, and nicker assembly were still in place - not something one would expect.

Further issues preventing the elevation of this plane to display status included excessive corrosion on the lever cap thumbscrew and the presence of only 50% of the original japanning. On the brighter side, the body showed no signs of warp, there were no cracks in the casting, the sole was flat (albeit with a thin, even coat of rust), and everything actually worked. I was surprised and pleased to discover that none of the screws were seized. The blade, scarred at the top by rust, is still sharp and its edge was maintained on oilstones by someone who knew what he was doing. No hollow grind from a machine for this blade, it had a bevel flat as glass, honed to the correct angle, and carefully sustained by a practiced hand of another time.

Not wanting to wander off into the details of how I cleaned her up, I will direct interested parties to Ernie Conover's video as it is an excellent how-to guide explaining everything a collector or user needs in order to refurbish a hand plane. It is short, inexpensive, and leaves nothing to the imagination. I won't leave you wondering what happened, rather I will just give a quick synopsis. Some alcohol and water was used to clean off the rust and scum. Then I flattened the bottom and the bearing side (which rests against the wood being planed) with carborundum powder on plate glass. The brightwork was cleaned with abrasive blocks, available at Klingspor's woodworker's shop, and, after a scrub with alcohol and water, I coated the japanned areas with shellac. If the finished product looks rusty to you in the photos, this is because I only had orange shellac on hand when I restored my 78. When I get some super blond, I will wash off the orange stuff with denatured alcohol and re-coat with the clear shellac.

All that was left, it seemed, was to grind and hone the blade. Then I would be finished. I did it, then tried out the plane. Wow! It wasn't the first #78 I had used but it was certainly the best. I couldn't get over the fact that this former door stop candidate could perform, and admirably so. So much for the practice dud theory; I had a serious plane on my hands - a serious user, with serious problems. I needed a fence.

I searched for months to no avail. No-one sells parts for these planes though many are looking. I did manage to find a nice vintage fence on Ebay. Of course I bid on it, but I was outbid in the closing seconds and it sold for several times what I paid for the rest of the plane. I considered buying a second plane but all of the complete planes, whether in good shape or not, were selling for far too much money. In many cases they brought much more than a brand new plane.

About to give up in frustration, I was reading my daily digest of the OldTools Mailing List when I came across a post whose author described how he refurbished his own #78 using brand new parts obtained directly through Stanley Tools. In anticipation I visited the Stanley Works web site where I found downloadable PDF files of the parts they carry and their price lists. I was able to get all the parts I needed, and was amazed at the staggering number parts you can get for almost every plane Stanley ever offered.

$17 and a couple of weeks later a package arrived with my parts. I was forewarned by the woodworker on the OldTools list that I may have to tap out the hole where the rod inserts into the body of my old 78 so I was prepared for things not to go my way. In fact, everything fit together remarkably well. Stanley no longer makes the thumbscrew so I had to settle for a knurled cap screw with a slot for a straight screwdriver. The rod threaded fit perfectly into the old body. The only real problem I had is that these older planes must be cast with a thicker slab of metal on the sole than the newer ones so the pads on the fence that rest on the underside of the sole had to be filed flat to get the fence to slide freely.

The hand tool purist may turn up his nose at my less-than-perfect specimen of a #78 fillester rabbet plane, but I'll stack its performance up against any opposition. For under $30, I think I have added a fine tool to my collection and saved an unloved, unappreciated artifact of a former age from dereliction. It's back to Ebay now, to save another classic tool from a life unbefitting its heritage of craftsmanship.

© 2011 Howard Ruttan -


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