Thursday, June 1, 2017

Rehab a Side Bead Plane - Part 1, Plane History and the Boxing

Due to an extreme act of kindness, I'm the proud new owner of four old beading planes.  As far as where I got them, well I won't mention any names, but you know who you are, Ralph.

In this series of posts, I'll discuss the rehabilitation of the smallest of them, a 3/16" beader by H. L. James that was made around 1854-1869.
H. L. James 3/16" beading plane
There seems to be some inconsistency in how beading planes are sized: some exclude the quirk in the measurement and some include the quirk.  This plane makes a 3/16" rounded bead plus a (approx.) 1/16" quirk, and I'm going to call it a 3/16" beading plane.

The manufacturer was not easy to figure out.  All I could make out was

If you squint, you can see the info I wrote above
When I searched the internet for plane makers from Williamsburgh, MA, I found this fantastic article from Ken Greenberg who happens to be a member of a couple organizations I recently joined.  The article was, in fact, the only article I found on H. L. James.  If I had a copy of Pollak's "A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes", I might have found a little info, but without it Ken's article was just what I needed.  Ken just happened to have researched this because he had some H. L. James planes and Williamsburg is very close to where his mother lives/lived.

Notice I spelled Williamsburg here without a trailing 'h', whereas my plane has an 'h'.  There is a town with the no-h spelling in Massachusetts, and it existed with this spelling in the 1800's.  Ken says that in the mid 1800's spelling was a bit looser and that there are planes with either spelling.

Apparently, Henry L. James was a businessman who bought the plane making business of H. S. Wells in 1854 and managed it until it burned down in 1869.

On to the refurbishment.  The first thing was to give the body and wedge a good cleaning, which I did with steel wool and mineral spirits.
Before cleaning, showing grunge on the heel (former owner - M. Hart)
As I was cleaning the plane I noticed the boxing was loose and with a little urging it came right out.  I don't know if mineral spirits loosens some glues, but it certainly loosened these strips of boxing.
Boxing strips
I had read in Garrett Hack's "The Handplane Book" that boxing was typically cut so that the grain is oriented about 45° to the long axis.  This is so that the bearing surface is a combination of end grain and long grain.  I wasn't sure if the lines I saw on the side of the boxing strips was grain or circular saw marks, though I suspect the latter.
Interesting pattern on side of boxing strip
When pulling out these strips and cleaning them up, I noticed they had been shimmed with paper.
Paper shims on the boxing - original or added later?
Can also see paper in the boxing groove
Pulled this out of the groove
Never having done this type of restoration before, I'm in uncharted territory.  So I did a little searching and found this outstanding article by Bill Anderson on Joshua Farnsworth's Wood and Shop site.

The boxing thickness varied from 7/64" to 1/8", the thickest areas being at the profiled edge.
Front boxing near toe
When the boxing was inserted into its recess, you can see a big difference in how much is revealed.
Rear boxing (right) much higher than front boxing
The boxing strip edges - both the profiled edge and the edge that is inserted into the groove - were also not straight.
Big gap on left
Planed them straight and square on the shooting board
The bottom of the groove was also not flat, so I flattened it out with some adhesive-backed sandpaper on a thin strip of maple that I planed to fit the groove.
Sanding strip for groove bottom
That maple strip did double duty.  Since I made the groove slightly deeper than it had been, and I also shaved a little off both edges of the boxing strips, I needed to make the boxing strips wider so that the proper amount sticks up out of the groove.  I glued the maple to the boxing and then cut and planed it to be a little wider than I would need it.
Gluing a maple strip to the boxing - I know, not a great color match
Front boxing dry-fitted
In the above picture, you can see a large gap between the boxing and the right cheek (top, in above pic) of the plane.  So I glued shims (thick plane shavings made with the iron skewed) to the right-most surface of the boxing, to force the boxing to the left and firm up the fit.  It took three rounds of shimming to get the front strip to fit well.  I used a scraper to fine tune the shims after the glue dried
Front and rear boxing with "shims" glued on
Rear shim was mostly scraped off to get the right fit in its groove

I knew that I would want to glue the boxing back in place using hide glue, so I bought a small bottle of Patrick Edwards' liquid hide glue just for this.  I used this glue to attach the shims to the boxing, so if I ever have to remove the boxing again, the shims will probably come loose when the boxing comes out.

My hide glue setup is like this: microwave about 2 cups of water in a Pyrex measuring cup.  Place candy thermometer in cup to monitor temperature.  With water temperature about 150°, place small plastic cup of hide glue in the water (it's under the wood block in the picture below).  Placing a wood block on top lowers the plastic cup down into the hot water, but not so far that water gets into it.  After a few minutes, the hide glue is about the right temperature to use.
When you don't have a fancy glue pot, you've gotta make due
I clamped the boxing strips into the groove using the front vise.
Clamped up
The next day after cleaning up some glue squeeze-out I used a shoulder plane to remove (most of) the shims on the outside of the quirk where it stands proud of the depth stop.
Shims looking kind of ugly
I'm very pleased with the result.  The strips are solidly in place with no movement.  And they're a bit proud of where they had been before so I can reshape them.

Next time I'll post about shaping the sole and sharpening the iron.


  1. Great job Matt, coming along nicely.

    Bob, with a growing pile awaiting refurbishing...

    1. Thanks, Bob. It's a real joy to see these tools come back to life. I hope your growing pile gets the treatment soon.

  2. Before i forgot, yes, your boxing strips are cut with an angle grain (bias) for more rigidity, and yes, most beaders sizes refer simply to the size of the actual bead part.
    There are of course a few exceptions, and some makers did included the overal size (bead and the quirk). There was really nothing "standard" back in the day, and today? Dont get me started about all the various "standards" :-)

    Bob, watching the rain fall on my gardening tool station, the rains drop are beading :-)

    1. Hi Bob. Thanks for the info. I hope all your home projects are going well.