Cleaning Old Tools for Shop Use

Buying new good tools can be expensive…buying used tools off eBay often means they need a little TLC before their ready to use in the shop.  

Old vs. New Tools

After reading dozens of forums trying to figure out what to buy, the consensus was either buy really good (i.e expensive) new tools like Lie Nelson or Veritas, or try to find something as close to WWII as you can.  Some claim that prior to WWII is even better.

If you’re going to have to spend an hour or two cleaning up a vintage find or an antique, why not just buy the new shiny one from the hardware store?  The answer is often in steel used for the blade.  The old timers used tools with good steel, their livelihood depended on their ability to keep their tools sharp are ready for precision work.

Buying vintage or antique you’re more likely to find something in your price range that is meant to be used rather than just looking like the tool you want to have. You can buy a smoothing plane from Harbor Freight for about $15… might make an attractive paper weight, once you get the packing grease off….. ;0)

Poor craftsmanship results in a frustrating experience and most hand tools you see at your local hardware store won’t be high enough quality to not be frustrating to use.  They might get you through a few projects, or be useful for scraping paint, but they’re probably not going to be a joy to use for years to come.   I also like the look of tools that have been broken in.  Perhaps somebody good owned them before and the tool will remember how to work ;0).

Stanley 151 Spoke Shave

Today we’ll be cleaning up this Stanley 151 Spoke Shave for shop use.  I’m not sure of the year, I chose it because it had adjusting screws to set the blade and I didn’t have to bid for it. It looked old enough that the steel in the blade was probably ok, wasn’t missing any parts and seemed to be functional.


Stanley 151 Spokeshave

What you’ll need:

  • Naval Jelly Rust disolver
  • WD-40
  • Wire brush
  • sandpaper
  • rags
  • gloves

In this case, the worst of the rusty parts all fit into a ziplock bag, so I put them in and added some Naval Jelly.  You want to work in a well-ventilated area such as the garage with gloves on.  You can let it sit almost as long as you want, overnight for example, or for an hour while you finish up something else.  When you’re using the Naval Jelly out of a bag, it doesn’t take as long for it to work.  You know it’s ready when the jelly starts to bubble and turn white.

Starting scrubbing!

Then the fun begins! The Naval Jelly loosens the rust, but you still need to scrub it off.  Depending how much there is and how perfect you want it, it can take while.   I like to start with a wire brush to loosen everything up.  Then I wipe with my rags, add WD-40, scrub some more, more WD-40, a little sandpaper until the steel starts to shine.  If you have some really stubborn rust, put more naval jelly back on and wait for it to bubble again.

This blade was a little pitted and I didn’t worry about getting every little hole.  I spent more time sharpening it for use.  Some will caution you against tools with pitting on the blade, oh well, this is good enough for me to learn with.

Sharpening the Blade

The spoke shave blade was 2″ wide so I used the wide blade attachment on my Work Sharp Tool Sharpener.  It had been sharpened by hadn’t and was quite rounded, this was going to take a while to flatten out.  Time to turn on the audio book, which today was “The Adventures of Marco Polo.”  Exactly the kind of dry history book that would put me to sleep in paperback, but is good company for a monotonous task.

Let’s try it out!

I got everything put back together, threw a piece of 2×4 into the vice and tried it out!  And it worked!  Within a matter of minutes I was able to pull off even shavings without any chatter the full length of the board.  I’ll call this one a win!


Cleaned and sharpened ready to work!  

Some of my best tools were rusty and forgotten relics that I brought back to life.  I think restoring tools gives you a bit more ownership than having them come ready to use out of the box.  In any case, it familiarizes you with their mechanics when you have to tear them apart and get them back together again ;0)

Don’t forget to hit the follow button to sign up for email updates or “like” my page on Facebook “Girl with a Hand Plane.”

One thought on “Cleaning Old Tools for Shop Use

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s