Gouge Restoration

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    I like the threads when the smart, experienced guys describe some tool restoration.  I find them very enlightening and inspiring.  So at the risk of being falsely identified as one of them, I’m going to tell you about my after Christmas tool party.

    I’m getting ready to start my homeschool woodshop course for my seven kids in January (I’ll post something more about this in a different thread), and I needed another gouge so I could have two kids working in the shop at the same time.  My second son and I went off to the local antique mall in a heavy snow storm (we only slid off the road once) to see if we could find him a hatchet and me another gouge.  Home runs on both accounts, but this is the story of the gouge(s).

    I found four gouges that used to belong to an E.W. Davis according to the owner’s mark on the handles.  The three smaller gouges are all Buck Brothers, a premier 19th century American toolmaker.  The largest has a maker’s mark from Thomas Tillotson, a 19th century Sheffield toolmaker.  They’re all identified as cast steel, with the T. Tillotson stamped “Crystallized Cast Steel” on the back.  It seems likely they were handled and given ferrules by Mr. Davis, because the handles and ferrules all match.  The turning on the handles is decorated simply, but the quality is excellent.  The handles taper to perfectly match the edge of the ferrule, and the gouge tang shield completely overlaps the rather thick ferrule, creating an ad-hoc socket.  This is much better construction than my modern Ashley Iles gouge that cost more than all four together.

    Although I was only looking for one gouge, I couldn’t stand to break up the set.  They’re sized approximately 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, 2″.  I got the set for about $60 (37 pounds).

    Just moved to NE Ohio


    Once I got home from the mall on Saturday afternoon, I started cleaning these up.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take true “before” pictures, so you can’t see all the original grunge.

    First, I used a razor scraper to clean off obvious dirt and clumps of rust.  Then I wiped them down with mineral spirits to remove any latent grease or oil.  I liberally coated with naval jelly rust remover, waited 25 minutes (I was actually cleaning up a couple of “new” saws at the same time), and washed with clean water.  The largest gouge required a second round of naval jelly to spot treat a couple of places.

    I then made a gouge strop from a piece of scrap wood for the 3/4″ gouge.  See Paul’s instructions here: http://paulsellers.com/2011/04/restoring-woodworking-gouges-project-2-part-1/, or in Working Wood 1/2.  I worked the gouge through 80, 120, 220, 320, 500, 1000, 1500 sandpaper grits.  The edge was a little fractured, but not badly enough to get out the electric grinder.  I used a file to straighten out the edge.  At that point, the land left from the file was not too large, and the existing bevel looked okay to me, so I went straight to the diamond stones.

    After sharpening the bevel, I finished making the strop form and stropped both inner and beveled faces on the 3/4″ gouge.  It was at this point that I took the original pictures.

    I then repeated the process for the 1″ gouge.  This afternoon after church, I followed through for the 2″ gouge.  As you can see from the initial pictures, the 2″ gouge has some serious fracturing on the edge.  I did get out the grinder for that one.  I ground off the edge to even it out, then reduced the land and reformed the bevel freehand on the grinder, following the existing bevel.  I burned one small spot, which ground out in the first sharpening.  After the land was reduced down to about 1/64″, I took it to the stones and sharpened using Paul’s figure 8 method.  Then finished the strop form, stropped, etc.

    I sanded off the finish from the 1″ and gave it several coats of cherry tinted Danish oil and a coat of wax.  I didn’t try to “make new”, just refresh, while keeping most of the existing dings and dents.  I’m not sure yet, if I care for the renewed handle, so I haven’t carried through on the others.  I also polished all the ferrules using a paste of Bar Keeper’s Friend brass polish.  In the pictures, you can see that I’m in the middle of making the strop form for the 1/2″.

    The test wood in the pictures is black locust.  One of the harder, tougher American woods.  Not as hard as Paul’s beloved mesquite, but certainly the equal of hickory.  As you can see, there is just a little tear-out on the left side of the close-up.  I think that was mostly my form.  Otherwise, very nice.

    Just moved to NE Ohio


    Hey Eric,

    those gouges came out really nice.

    I,m in the proces of restoring a wooden plough plane and a round profile plane from an old carpenter i know.

    The restoration proces is not the funniest thing i ever did ,but the end result is very rewarding.


    Lopik - Netherlands


    Thanks Juryaan.  Some things are more fun to restore than others.  Mostly I find that when I’m confident in what I’m doing, it goes pretty quickly and seems fun.  If I’m encountering a lot of frustrating challenges, it is not so much fun in the moment, but when I finally overcome, the struggle increases the value of the experience.

    I have an old wooden plough as well.  Handled/screw arm type.  Mine’s a little unique in that the handle is right-handed, not generic.  I have had to do a little fettling to get it to work… tighten the fence screws, file the skates to even out front and rear vertically, and I need to make a new wedge since the one it came with is not original and not the correct taper.  I suppose I could really clean the wood and refresh the finish, but it has not seemed necessary.  Good luck with your restoration projects.

    Just moved to NE Ohio

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