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My son found a Stanley #36 transitional plane in a local junk store and cleaned it up. The blade is now sharp and the metal parts rust free and repainted. He's looking to put it to use, not as a decoration on a collector's shelf, hence the non-original color choice (we've got others in red or blue that look nice too).

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On our metal-bodied Stanleys, we coat the soles with a thin layer of 3-in-1 to preserve them between uses (and to provide some lubrication during use). What should he do with the wooden sole on the #36?

Wax seems likely to build up and transfer to the workpiece, but the wooden base probably needs something to prevent it either absorbing moisture or drying out

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Wooden-bodied planes were very commonly oiled (sometimes heavily) with linseed oil and the same could be done with the body of a transitional plane. Many transitionals restored by present-day users are oiled, sometimes on all surfaces.

Apparently transitional planes were sometimes originally sold with a film finish on them instead of oiling1, and despite how unpopular this idea is today with some users a film finish is greatly superior in preventing any tendency towards warping, as well as in protecting the surface from getting grubby with handling and use. Shellac or varnish would have been what was used historically, and either is still a viable choice. Today we have lacquers now too and they'd work fine instead if preferred.

Note that if you use a film finish it should be confined to the upper surfaces, and not used inside the throat or on the sole. Users would then have lubricated the sole as their training and preference dictated2.

Wax seems likely to build up and transfer to the workpiece

No more than when used (as it is very commonly) on the sole of a metal plane.

While it might seem paradoxical, the oil or wax that must inevitably transfer from the soles of planes doesn't seem to affect finishing or glueing. But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised as only a very thin smear of oil is commonly applied, or in the case of wax sometimes just a wiggly scribble down the centre.

but the wooden base probably needs something to prevent it either absorbing moisture or drying out

The reason to do something to the sole is as mentioned to lubricate.

As commonly stored, the sole of a woodie or a transitional would not be subject to taking on or losing much water vapour because it would be resting on a solid surface.


1 Clear evidence for this in surviving planes in very good or untouched condition.

2 Oiled with linseed oil or 'sweet oil' (possibly whale oil), greased with tallow or something similar, or waxed using beeswax.

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  • Thanks. You can actually see the remains of a film finish on the sides of the base in the photo above. This plane's in vgc - "Stanely Rule and Measure" and "No 36" are still very crisp and clear in the wooden nose. Would Tung oil work as well as BLO for the base? Long term, we can build up a thin wax layer through use but it would be good to put an initial oil finish on the freshly lapped base. – kdopen Sep 28 at 7:49
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    FWIW I would be sure to strip or scrape any remaining film finish from the body to start again from a uniform surface. By all means use tung oil instead of linseed if that's what you have, but for the sole specifically, only if it's actually tung oil — I mention this just in case you have "Tung oil finish" which it is not always known does not usually contain any tung oil (it's basically "Danish oil" with a different name on the can). "Long term, we can build up a thin wax layer through use" On a working plane wax will never build up on the sole as it'll naturally be worn off through use. – Graphus Sep 28 at 15:17
  • "working plane" is relative :) We're both hobbyists with demanding jobs. Sometimes it can be weeks or months between chances to get our hands on the tools - and then we may only have an hour or two. So it will spend more time in storage than in use. I doubt we'd rub off all the wax applied in a single session – kdopen Sep 30 at 10:28
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    :-) You'd be surprised how easily wax wears off a sole — not just within a single session, but occasionally multiple times planing a single board (obviously depends on the size of the board, the number of shavings taken etc.) But anyway TBH you won't find you need to lubricate the sole of a wood-bodied plane nearly as much as a metal one, a chief advantages is said to be the lower friction of wood on wood v metal on wood. I wouldn't hesitate to oil (I have oiled every one of the woodies that I've acquired, about a dozen or so) and the keepers are used infrequently and it has done them no harm. – Graphus Sep 30 at 17:23
  • Thanks. FYI my Tung oil is branded "Old Masters" and seems to be pure. – kdopen Oct 2 at 11:28

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