Re-Tote Your Bench Plane (Part 2)

Time in the shop is precious to me and I thank my wife for allowing me some freedom over the last couple of weekends to catch up on a few projects. This being one that I was able to complete.

Fitting of the tote, the smoothing plane in the vise is upside down for thicknessing.

Fitting of the tote to the plane can be a bit finicky. One thing to note on the two totes that I have had to repair or replace, both have had a gap between the tote and the base of the hole in the body, At least 1/8″ probably closer to 1/4″ space. This surprised me initially, but I can see with the machining that was done in the body that it’s just quicker. Also to note is that the rear of the hole is sloped with the top forward and the bottom to the heal of the plane, same goes for the front of the slot. This makes fitting of the tote much easier once you understand the process. The heal goes in first and its rocked forward until it’s fully seated.

Fitting of the tote to the mortise in the body, you can see the angle on the front of the tote.

This is the approach that I took when fitting the tote. The tote started about a 1/16th over sized to width. I planed that thickness down to a very snug fit, taking some off each side of the tote as I went making sure not to take to much. Then I shaped the heal of the tote with a rasp, this goes quick, but don’t take to much off in a rush. Once the heal fit nicely I was able to verify the overall width of the tote and make any minor adjustments as needed. Next I cut the tote to length as it was about 3/8″ long initially. I then started to shape the toe of the tote, note in the photos that there is an angle at the front of it, this matches the slope of the front of the slot. Keep things tight and take your time to get the fit as close to perfect as possible. Be patient as you progress and shape, the deeper the handle goes the more adjustments you need to make. Stop once the top of the front of the tote is at the surface of the body.

Mid sanding process on the tote.

With the shaping and fitting complete it was time to make everything smooth. I started with 120 grit sand paper and removed any leftover rasp marks and progressed to 320 grit in long strips and worked the inside of the handle. Once I was satisfied with the inside I worked on the outside. This was certainly more sawdust than I would have liked, but it was an effective method of getting it all smooth. When I say smooth, I’m talking silky smooth here, I could barely tell the transition from end grain to face grain, there was no need to go above the 320 grit.

Tote complete and ready to install.

At this point I had to make a final decision, was I going to darken the handle, leave it a stark contrast, clean up the body of the plane, or go all out and plane it down a bit. After flattening the sole with another jointer, I decided to go all out and plane it to get rid of all the patina and grime that was on it. I will certainly miss the patina, but it was mostly grime and it just needed to go.

Grime removed and ready for finish.

Some of you are cringing at this point, and I was very hesitant to make this big of a leap, but I think it was a good decision in the long run. Thankfully the body cleaned up with minimal passes on each surface and I was able to take out a little bit of twist, I think it turned out beautifully. The tote was attached with Old Brown Glue. Hide glue is wonderful to cleanup, just a damp rag and its gone.

Tote installed, and rehabilitation complete.

After two coats of Minwax Antique Oil Finish was applied, the already beautiful wood popped even more. I really do enjoy working with beech and appreciate it more every time I do. The tote and the plane are complete, although I do need to add a coat of wax. Now to remember where I put the iron!

Beautiful beech grain under all the grime.

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