Antique Hand Plane Restoration | Acorn No. 4

Little Nut is finally finished and in operational order!

Before photo of an acorn handplane being treated for rust with vinegar Fully restored vintage acorn no 4

I purchased this little gem of an Acorn no. 4 hand plane several months ago at a swap meet. He didn’t look great at the time – severely rusty and completely unusable, but I was determined to see what lay under the grime and dirt, and perform a complete hand plane restoration on the little guy. I’m definitely happy with what I found!

You can read more about the research I did and Little Nut’s history here

Taking it apart:

Several of the components of Little Nut were severely rusted in place, and as such, I needed to figure out a way to remove them without damaging the soft metal of the screw heads.

I began by spraying them down with WD-40 in the hopes that it would soften some of the grime and rust and make for easier removal. It took several coats and lots of waiting, but eventually, they did loosen enough to remove without too much damage.

Removing the fitting screws from an acorn no 4 hand plane

Rust Removal

The next step was to remove the rust.
For this hand plane, I decided to try good ol’ fashioned white vinegar. I knew that a rust removing agent like Evaporust would be easier and potentially quicker in the long run, but I had never tried vinegar on a tool this rusted and was curious to see how it would work in comparison.

To remove the rust, I took the components of the hand plane and gave them a good scrub with a wire brush to remove some of the dirt, grime, and the easily removed large flakes of rust. I then soaked them in a plastic container filled with white vinegar. I left them overnight and came back the next morning armed with steel wool, sandpaper, and some wire brushes.

I was pleasantly surprised with the results! While it definitely took more effort (ie. manpower) to remove the rust, it did slough off fairly easily after the vinegar soak.

Vinegar rust removal for an antique hand plane restoration

With the components of the hand plane now more visible, I was able to assess the actual condition of the parts. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the frog, chip breaker, cap iron, and plane iron were in a condition that would be easily salvageable. I had been concerned about pitting given the severity of the rust across the plane parts, but I was happy to see that there hadn’t been much corrosion to the metal itself and the pitting was minimal.

You can read more on rust removal and pitting here.

Painting

The Japanning, which is a type of paint often seen on older hand planes,  was in poor condition, with it chipping in sections and being entirely gone in other sections. I knew I would have to remove the remaining japanning and repaint it.

I wanted to remove most of the original jappaning in order to get a good surface for the new paint to adhere to.
I used a chemical paint stripper to help with the process. This stuff was harsh! I ended up having to double up with a pair of surgical gloves as well as rubber kitchen gloves while removing the paint. It did its job though, and I was left with a mostly raw metal surface to add paint to.

Prepping to repaint the body of an acorn no 4 hand plane

While there are ways to re-japan the body of the plane, they often require several thin coats and then weeks of allowing the paint to dry. If this was a hand plane that I wanted to restore as closely as possible to the original, I would be keen on those methods, but I wanted to get this thing working as soon as possible! The reason that jappaning was used on plane bodies in the past was because it was a hard wearing type of covering that protected well from rust. These days we have enamel paint that does much the same thing.

Painting the body of an acorn no 4 handplane

I ended up choosing a black Rust-oleum enamel spray paint for the body.

After taping up everything that I didn’t want to paint, I sprayed several coats onto the body of the handplane. From my research, traditionally the front sole of the handplane is painted, but the back was not. I kept this detail in Little Nut, as I did want it to look as close as possible to what it would have orginally been. I also chose to paint the base of the frog at this point as well.

repainted acorn no 4 hand plane

The sole

For the sole of the plane, I took a known flat surface and used adhesive spray to attach a heavy grit sandpaper to it. I then ran the sole of the plane over the sandpaper several times in order to flatten it.

To check for flatness, I drew a crosshatch pattern on the sole of the hand plane before putting it to the sandpaper. After a few passes on the sandpaper, I could then check to see which areas were registering off the sandpaper and which weren’t. When I drew my last pattern on the base, sanded and checked, no marker should remain. At that point, I could start sanding at higher grits until I got a nice, polished sole for the plane.

Flattening the sole of a hand plane

Since I wasn’t planning to do any shooting with this hand plane I wasn’t too concerned with the sides of the hand plane body being perfectly square or flat. I simply gave them a light sanding on the flat surface until they were sufficiently polished.

Lever Cap

The lever iron on the Little nut was either chromed or nickelled and the remains of that coating were in poor repair. It took me a long time to try to remove what was left of the cracked chrome, but once finished I took 240 grit sandpaper and worked at the metal until I was satisfied that it was sufficiently smooth. I then proceeded to move up in grits until I settled on the last sanding with 600 grit.

Restored Acorn no 4 hand plane lever cap

Chip Breaker

The chip breaker was thankfully in pretty good condition! After the rust had been removed, I worked it through the sandpaper grits to bring it to a shine, and then put a new edge on it.

Restored Acorn no 4 handplane parts

Plane Iron

I was also super thankful that the iron itself seemed to have a lot of life left in it. It did have some pitting at the top, but largely inconsequential. After removing the rust and working at it with sandpaper to bring the shine back, I was able to see the original stamp. “Made in Sheffield Vanadium Steel” – Awesome!

Plane Iron Pitting

All that was left then was to grind it down to remove the single chip at the blade, and then give it a nice, sharp, new edge.

Now he really ZINGS!

Polishing

Another use for my little Ozito rotary tool! I used the soft cotton wheel with a polishing compound to really buff up the brass rear tote nut and the depth adjuster. They were so shiny you could barely look at them in the Australian sun after I was finished!

Totes

There were luckily no severe cracks or repairs in the front and rear totes. All that was needed was a good sand and several coats of boiled linseed oil to bring the life back into them.

Acorn no 4 hand plane totes being refinished

Finished!

As I mentioned at the start, I am super stoked with how this project turned out! It’s hard to believe that Little Nut started out so filled with rust that I could barely remove the fixtures or see any markings, and now he really shines.

Fully restored acorn no 4 hand plane

And he works too! Little Nut is light in the hand and really works in every way a little number 4 hand plane should.
Not a bad $25 spent at the swap meet I would say!

Restored acorn no 4 hand plane

If you want to read more about the advantages of old tools and where I personally find my vintage tools, you can read about it here.

Fully restored vintage acorn no 4

Thanks for following along on Little Nut’s adventures! If you have any questions or just want to complement Little Nut on his glow up, leave a note in the comments 🙂

11 Replies to “Antique Hand Plane Restoration | Acorn No. 4”

  1. Dear Raff
    Thank you very much for your fantastic website. It is amazing that you show people where to start and what steps to take towards using and looking after their woodworking tools. I hope more people will know about your website and follow your guidance.
    Kind regards,
    Andrey

    1. Hey Andrey, thanks for your kind words!
      I do sincerely hope that people find the information here useful, it’s what keeps me writing!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wow…. so I don’t know A – Z about this stuff but… that was so COOL! Forget about not knowing what a hand plane was, I figured it out in the end, I was seriously charmed by little nut. I had 2 different experience reading this article. It started out with my spacing out imagining the past owners of little nut, I tend to do that when I encounter old things, think up my own little stories.

    Then I was just seriously rooting for the little nut to look like the first day it was born. You truly did a great job of restoring it! This was a good learning experience as well which I am sure anyone interested would surely appreciate! No idea vinegar was so awesome. All the best for you and little nut!

    1. ahaha, thanks so much EsnEm!

      I have grown quite fond of the little guy myself, so it’s nice to see that he is having a similar effect on other people. I do the same as you when seeing old objects at the swap meets. Part of the charm of restoring old tools is imagining the previous owners and what they may have created with it. It’s history in your hands!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Hey Raff,

    This is a big wow for you; this is a fantastic thing to learn. I believe this method can be useful to restore anything else that is rusty, right?

    I am so happy that someone is writing their experience step by step, like that it makes it easier to learn how to do stuff without the need to go to google and keep searching to answer all the questions we have!

    Such gems like this antique hand plane are everywhere, and people need to learn how to restore them and re-use them! I love how great it looks after restoration; I mean, it looks like it just been created. I would never guess it was a rusty old hand plane! 😀

    1. Hi Mohammad!

      You’re right, these methods can be used for anything that has rust on it! I’ve used the vinegar technique for old ball peen hammers, hand saws, and clamps and it is always surprising to see what it can do to restore a tired old tool to usable condition 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hiya Raff!

    Wow this stuff is fascinating and I think you may have got me hooked!!
    It’s amazing how such practical things can look so beautiful when they’ve been so lovingly restored.
    I love the way you write about it too, it really drew me in .. I live in my grandparents old house so I might go and have a rummage about in the shed to see if I can find anything to restore – I’m sure it wont be anywhere near the quality you’ve managed there but a couple of weeks ago it would be going in the bin!

    1. Once you start, it really is quite addictive. There’s nothing quite like seeing something old come alive again 🙂
      I’m sure your efforts will see just as good results as mine, it’s definitely not as hard as people think it is!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Hi Raff,
    I am absolutely glued to every single words on each of your articles, clicking on the various links then jumping back to the original page….it is so damn riveting and capturing like reading my favorite novels!!
    Like other readers and respected enthusiasts, I was looking for some good facts and proven advice on the Stanley ACORN plane – both the historical aspect as well as sound restoration suggestions.
    I have just acquired a Stanley ACORN 4 but very little i know about this plane. I am wondering as a first step, I would like to find out more about this plane. I am sure that some “modifications” were made to this plane but I am unsure what. Do you think you may be able to assist me please? I could send over the photos to you if you agree to lend me a hand 🙂
    Your site stands out from the rest….simply brilliant!!
    Thank you

    1. Hey Herb!

      Thanks so much for the kind words, I’m so happy that you’ve enjoyed the site!

      I would love to see some photos of your Acorn, and will do my best to help with any questions. 🙂 I’m sure you’ve found that there isn’t much info out there on these little guys, so I would love be able to build a database of pictures of the different eras of Acorn planes – if we are able to determine a rough date on it, that is! They are definitely fun little planes to restore and use.

      You can send any photos to raff@crafftit.com.
      Look forward to hearing from you!

      Raff

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