Running a Leaner Workshop

One of the subtle gems featured in Jim Tolpin’s The Toolbox Book is the tool chest of Tony Konovaloff. In one of the tills is shown maybe a dozen spare plane irons standing on their side.

For well over a decade, I’ve looked on that thick stash of spare plane irons as some ideal situation: sharpen en masse and swap out when you need a fresh edge. So I headed down that path, and all seemed right with the world.

And then, during my sabbatical table build, it happened. I realized just how quick it is to pause from planing, turn around to sharpen a plane iron, and get back to planing. I also found that the stop-to-sharpen approach offers a natural break during high-endurance planing tasks.

But it was my jointer plane itself that began to press the issue. I bought my Stanley No. 8c (a type 13) five years ago from a fellow hand tool enthusiast. The plane came to me with a Clifton Stay-Set cap iron and a Hock plane iron. Somewhere along the way, I acquired a spare Hock iron.

a conundrum

As quick as it is for me to hone an iron and get back to work, the Stay-Set cap iron makes it that much quicker, allowing me to get back to work without fuss. I was really feeling conflicted. I had to do something: either get rid of the cap iron in favor of Ron Hock’s version, or ditch my spare plane iron.

Finally, despite keeping that spare plane iron oiled and in a cloth tool roll, I noticed a spot of rust developing, and it was clear what direction I needed to go. I scrubbed off the rust and sold it to a fellow woodworker.

I also sold a few other tools while my back was healing, tools that duplicated my trustiest users. With the proceeds, I ordered a Lie-Nielsen large shoulder plane. Once it arrives, I’ll offer my Stanley No. 93 for sale. My No. 93 has served me well, certainly for 95% of the tasks I set it to, but when working the shoulders of long tenons, I noticed I’d like it to be taller so I didn’t scrape my knuckles.

They get scraped up enough just dragging on the ground.

Flattening Oilstones: An Experiment

I own a 3″x8″ medium India oilstone by Norton that I bought from Tools for Working Wood, maybe five years ago. While honing a 2 5/8″ plane iron a few days ago, I noticed that the stone was dished–on both sides. I remember flipping it, but because it was clogged.

India oilstone, dished

There are plenty of suggestions out there for truing an oilstone: lapping on a piece of sandpaper [1] backed by a flat substrate; rubbing two stones together until both are flat; rubbing the stone on concrete; lapping on a diamond plate… and the list goes on.

Given that both sides of the stone needed truing, and there is so much varying advice on how to go about it, I decided to try various methods and judge their effectiveness. I limited my research to the archives of the OldTools mailing list, which, given the group’s longevity, is a wealth of information.

Since most people have free access to concrete, I decided to try that approach first. While it did seem to have some cutting action to it, I quickly abandoned that approach, due to the deep scratches it left on the stone.

From there, I tried various sandpaper options, eventually settling on 60-grit cloth-backed aluminum oxide, which I got in a box lot at an auction several years ago.


It was slow-going to begin with, but I could feel an arris forming along the edges of the stone, which seemed a good indication of progress.


I had read that lacquer thinner was effective at cleaning oilstones [2], so I began using that as a means of cleaning away the swarf, pouring it directly on the abrasive surface. This seemed to help keep the abrasive from becoming clogged, and appeared to be an effective solvent for removing the “gunk” from the stone.

Even with the lacquer thinner, though, I was getting approximately 15 minutes of continuous lapping before the cutting action was noticeably diminished. When I noticed that the quart of lacquer thinner was half-empty, I switched to WD-40.

For Side B, I tried using a 2″x6″ diamond stone. Initially, I tried using it with the lacquer thinner, but it began to dissolve the plastic substrate of the diamond stone, so I switched back to WD-40.

Initially, I was concerned that I would need to be careful to flatten the stone evenly, lest I end up with the world’s largest slipstone. It turned out that the stone flattened evenly, reinforcing the India stone’s reputation as a tough-wearing stone.


The cloth-backed aluminum oxide was slow but effective as a lapping abrasive, requiring several fresh sections of abrasive to flatten Side A over the course of two hours. The lacquer thinner was effective for dissolving the black gunk clogging the stone. However, I was alarmed to note that the stone seemed to have no bite when I was finished on the aluminum oxide. I used the diamond stone to create a fresh surface, and it cut like new.


On Side B, the diamond stone alone was effective at renewing the surface, but it was not large enough to work as a lapping surface.

The roll of cloth-backed aluminum oxide, had I purchased it retail, would have cost about $13 for a 50-yard roll, of which I used five yards. Along with the pint of lacquer thinner at $16.28 per gallon, this turned out to be a cost-effective approach to restoring a 3″x8″ India stone which today retails for $16.95 plus shipping.

I noticed that Side A, the side of the stone I used when I first purchased it, was in much worse shape than Side B. Some sources suggested that the significant layer of black gunk that had accumulated on Side A may be saponified vegetable oil. I do recall using vegetable oil early on when sharpening kitchen knives, concerned that WD-40 might contaminate my knives. (Ah, the irony.) Since then, I’ve dedicated separate stones to kitchen knives.

The lacquer thinner, while effective, evaporated quickly and was irritating to skin. Had my box of latex gloves not gone bad (just remember kids, heat plus latex equals bad), I would have donned a pair for this operation. WD-40 was as effective at keeping the abrasive surface of the aluminum oxide from clogging, and had the advantages of drying more slowly, being gentler on the skin, and smelling better.

Directions for Future Research
The limitations of the methods attempted suggest the need for an improved maintenance regimen that prevents clogging and leaves a fresh cutting surface. For now, I will be sticking to WD-40 as my honing oil, although a friend did recommend a 1:1 mixture of 30 weight motor oil and kerosene [3].

A collector of old oilstones mentioned his success using Goop hand cleaner to clean oilstones [4]. Others mentioned kerosene may be an ingredient, adding that kerosene may be an effective cleaning agent. Future stones in need of cleaning may benefit from this approach.

Given the effectiveness of the diamond stone at leaving a fresh surface, a large lapping plate would be ideal. At $92.50 (Lee Valley), the 4″x10″ plate would be an expensive purchase for maintaining a $17 stone, but it might be useful beyond this purpose, especially given my affection for old tools. The 3″x8″ plate, at $52.50, would still be large enough to maintain the surface of my oilstone, but is still expensive for the single purpose, and might not have the utility of the larger plate.


A Great Day for Woodworking

Sunday turned out to be a great day in the workshop.

David and I kicked off the day by cleaning up our workshop and getting things rearranged. He’s a great little apprentice. After he cleaned up his piles, I set him up with the push broom while I moved my drill press and sharpening station farther back and moved this rolling cart closer to the workbench. I filled it with planes, liberating my workbench.

rolling cart

I built the cart originally as a rolling base for an intermediate tool cabinet, but earlier this year I inherited my stepfather’s rolling tool chest, leaving this stand floating around without a purpose. The machinist’s chest belonged to my great-grandfather. Maybe someday I’ll get around to restoring it.

I can’t claim that this cart is an efficient storage solution, but it’s better than my workbench. Eventually I plan to build my own Anarchist’s Tool Chest, ditching both the rolling cart and the metal cabinet I use as a sharpening station. The wooden planes store so much more compactly on end, and these shelves are leaving a lot of wasted space.

The metal cabinet is a decent surface for my sharpening stones (I’m an oilstone guy), but the drawer and cabinet below are mostly opportunities for clutter. once I have a proper tool chest, I’ll store my oilstones there and ditch the cabinet. I’ll make some kind of tray to place on my workbench to keep it clean when I sharpen.

sharpening station

With a clean workbench, it was time to plane the core for my tail vise. I got it planed four square at 2-3/4″ thick, only to realize my plan was wrong, and it needed to be 2-7/16″ thick, meaning I needed to waste more than 1/4″ of hard maple. After a workout with my rip saw, I got it four square again. Good practice, I guess.

All of that practice reminded me how much I’m going to appreciate my tail vise, and also how much I need a saw bench. Luckily, while I was getting all of this practice, David was making our “someday maybe list” of projects, and he made sure to add a saw bench.

At some point after planing the end grain for one end of my vise core, I got sidetracked putting my miter box back together (I’m pretty sure it was when I measured the workpiece and found I had 1/4″ to trim from it). This led to dragging sawhorses from storage, using a circular saw to cut a 4″ wide piece of 1/2″ plywood for the table of the miter box, and remembering why I like hand tools in the first place: fine dust particles. Hand tools don’t make them. And, aside from the circular saw, the loudest noise in my shop today was the box fan in the window.

my miter box

Hooray for the miter box! Soon I need to make a platform for it with a cleat, so it doesn’t wander across the workbench while I’m sawing.

After dinner, I got a chance to meet up with Greg, who had some cool Stanley bevel-edge socket chisels set aside for me. The backs of the chisels flattened pretty nicely, and they look right at home in the tool cabinet.


It was one of those fine, rare days when I get to lose myself in the work. And yes, I forgot to eat lunch.