Cleaning grime and dirt off of metal planes

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  • #730328
    Tyler Bancroft

    Hello all. When restoring old metal planes, is it safe to use some warm water and dish soap to clean off very heavy dirt, assuming I then immediately rinse, dry, and oil?


    Soap and water would not be my first choice for removing surface grime.

    As well as dried and compacted dust, it’s likely to be a compound with some oil in it.

    My approach would be to treat the metal and the wooden parts separately.

    Make a sketch as you go, so that all the bits go back in the same order, then detach the wooden handles and knobs. Deal with those separately.

    Strip down all the metal parts as far as you can, put them into a stout plastic bag without holes with a splash of white spirit – enough to soak the lot.

    Leave it for 24 hours or so, and then brush an old toothbrush into the corners, rag it all dry. This should get the dirt either softened or removed. If it’s badly soiled, you may need to repeat this exercise.

    At this point you can decide on your next steps.
    If the finish is satisfactory, give it all a wipe with light oil and reassemble it all.

    Good luck.


    Putting aside questions of how effective it would be, I think water would not harm anything _if_ you can dry the tool. But, I think it may not be possible to completely dry the tool without complete disassembly. Just drying what you can reach will likely leave water inside crevices and threads. The guy that taught me to work on bikes decades ago taught me to apply grease to every thread to prevent seizing, gauling, and rust. Which grease you ask? Bike grease, of course. I contacted Phil Wood and was told they do not use silicone in their green waterproof grease, so that’s what I use on the threads on the plane, but not on the knurled knob, though, where it would be a dust magnet.


    I personally don’t worry much about a little grime, and just wipe it with a good cloth or toothbrush to get the loose stuff out. Over time and use, a tool is naturally going to collect a little oil and dust. As long as it functions ok, I’m good.

    But if I feel it must be cleaned thoroughly, I might run it under hot water and scrub. Then I would use a heat gun (preferred) or put it in the oven at high heat to force the water away. Then thoroughly oil, including a drop in all screw holes. Good chance of flash rust though.


    De-greaser spray, rag and toothbrush, rinse in water, heat gun to dry.


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