After 10 Years, My Miter Plane Returns

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In 2004, I purchased my first-ever custom anything. A handplane. It was a ridiculous financial move.

I had two young daughters (age 7 and 2), a low-level editing job and almost no disposable income. Lucy and I were throwing every dollar at our mortgage so we could be debt-free and able to do something uber-nutty – like run an independent publishing business.

But after meeting toolmaker Wayne Anderson, I became obsessed with the miter planes he builds. Somehow I scraped up $800 and ordered one. When I finally received the tool, I was overjoyed. It was one of the most beautiful tools I had ever seen, much less owned.

A few months later, thieves at a woodworking show outside Philadelphia stole the plane from my workbench. I was working our booth alone for a short period. Someone distracted me by making a ruckus at one end of the booth. When I turned back around, the plane was gone. (Read about it here in the WoodCentral archives.)

Insurance covered the theft, but I was bummed because they stole my favorite tool. Lots of things get stolen at woodworking shows – I’ve lost mallets, marking gauges, combination squares and (of course) books. I’ve actually had it easy. Some vendors have lost cash boxes with thousands of dollars inside.

To help in the hunt for the plane, Wayne actually stopped making that model, which made it difficult for the thief to fence it on the legitimate market. And Wayne put the word out with his customers and fellow collectors to watch for the tool.

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Lo and behold, the plane turned up last week. And just like a stolen sports car, the tool was a wreck when it was recovered. The miter had been caught in a flood and the steel parts were deeply corroded. The brass sides were heavily tarnished and the iron was a bubbly mass of iron oxide. The most unusual fact: It hadn’t been sharpened in 10 years. I could recognize my edge on the tool.

But even in that sorry state, the plane was still fricking beautiful.

I worked out a deal with the plane’s honest new owner to trade another plane for the miter. And today the miter arrived.

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After I unpacked it, I took the photos for this blog entry and began stabilizing the rust and damage. I have a long restoration process ahead of me, but it’s going to be satisfying work. Some of the damage is irreversible, but that’s OK with me. We all get a few scars in life.

As for the whole story, you’ll have to forgive my obliqueness. The above text is all I can really tell you. I’m not one to seek out justice, revenge or punishment for stealing a tool. So this is really the end of the story – until the miter is creating beautifully polished surfaces again.

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Handplanes, Personal Favorites. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to After 10 Years, My Miter Plane Returns

  1. Wow! That is amazing that you were able to get your plane back after so many years. My biggest fear regarding my tools is that they get stolen. It is so much more than the replacement value, most of my tools are antiques from the late 19th to early 20th century. Once you’ve been using a slick or framing chisel for any length of time, it takes time to get used to a new tool and develop the muscle memory that goes with each ones particular characteristics.

    I look forward to seeing your plane in fine fettle again someday.

  2. Chris,
    After 10 years missing I’m sure this was the last thing you would’ve expected. Well I know how you feel about these special tools so congratulations and good luck on the restoration.

    Michael

  3. wadeholloway says:

    Congratulations, it is a major wonder that you got it back at all much less in a fixable state.

  4. It was Raney wasn’t it?

    2004?? Coincidence? I think not!! I bet he stole it to use as a prototype for DTW. You always knew but waited nine years to exact your revenge. Enticing him with erotic french tales of historic oak, you convinced him to build an old wet workbench knowing in time the sucker would explode and do in your nemesis. Only then would the plane return to its rightful owner.

    And then we take the precious… and we be the master!!
    Brilliant!

  5. So maybe you can finally answer just how much more durable honing to 8,000 grit is since it is still your edge? ;) Congrats Chris, I think I remember when this happened but I wish I could say it was a unique story so I may be mixing it up with the hundreds of others like it. But you are the first who has actually gotten the tool back. Have you bought a lottery ticket yet?

  6. Theron Ball says:

    I’m not positive, I won’t swear on any bible, but I think I may be crying. This is as beautiful as Peter Frampton’s guitar story. No joke. Like those little birds you’re supposed to set free. You’re definitely on the path.

  7. Joel says:

    It was stolen at a woodworking show, and then the thief didn’t even use it? Even more proof of their lack of moral fortitude. The culprit deserves to be drawn and quartered.

    • tsstahl says:

      Commission a portrait and give the person adequate if not comfortable living arrangements? You ARE a very forgiving soul. ;)

      Small theft is always so much more infuriating at the time; the big ones have to be put into perspective immediately.

    • Turning the other cheek is a nice sentiment. But enabling a thief does nothing to try to reform his ways. Plus, if he was, God forbid, a part of the woodworking community, then he is probably still trolling around shows. At the very least, black balling him and keeping him away from everyone’s stuff is deserved.

    • Dave Reedy says:

      The Idea that it was another woodworker totally pisses me off.

  8. rwyoung says:

    Reading the archived thread is a hoot. Took all of three posts for the thread to take a hard right turn. Not exactly a record for an Internet forum, but certainly a contender.

    And Tim may be on (to) something. Wet oak bench exploding, tannic acid sprayed on steel ==> bubbly rust.

  9. Doug Warren says:

    WOW, how lucky was that! Glad you hear you got it back, rust and all.

    Doug Warren

    >

  10. jonathanszczepanski says:

    It’s amazing that you got it back. I think we are all thankful that it didn’t end up nailed to some chain restaurant wall, or worse, as a planter on Etsy.

  11. toolnut says:

    So that’s the package you missed yesterday. Congrats on getting it back. That is amazing and I hope you share the restoration process on the blog. Now, not to rain on your parade and the happiness you have at getting the plane back, and I’m not sure how this works, but is the insurance company going to want the money they paid for the loss back? Will they want to seek out justice?

  12. djdorn says:

    That was a depressing post. While I’m certainly glad it’s been returned, I was taken back to learn that we have people in this hobby that are not only thieves, but actually go through the trouble of creating a diversion to carry it out. Secondly, that it evidently happens on a regular basis.

    You’ve done well for yourself and should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but also the necessity to deal with some of the hassles that go with. Due to that, I’ve never really felt bad for you until this blog. I’m sorry this happened to you.

  13. When I was a very young boy, my father read me a story that became my favorite for many years: it was “Lassie Come Home”. The story of your miter plane is an even better story.

  14. lostartreader says:

    Glad there still are some decent people out there. The new owner didn’t have to try contacting you about the plane. Must feel like you’ve found an old friend again.

    Re insurance: How should one insure hand tools if they’re not part of a business? What if one doesn’t travel with them like you do but will someday move their shop in a moving van? I have slowly acquired some very good users but not collectible antique saws and planes, yet if lost, replacing them would be financially painful if not impossible.

  15. paul6000000 says:

    I hope tools thieves wind up in the same circle of hell as bike thieves.

  16. “>Thanks to all those who will be keeping their eyes open, though I’m certain the tool is gone for good.”
    – CS, 2004

    Always the pessimist… ;)

    Glad to see it back in your hands, Chris.

  17. Luke Barnett says:

    obviously the thief is not capable, or deserving of possessing a tool of this caliber. the person could not appreciate it, as it should be appreciated. seems to me that the person will never truly own anything worth owning. maybe this is why the thief feels the need to take things from others in the first place. what a miserable life.

  18. KampWood says:

    Like I tell my daughter scars are stories, though getting them may hurt, the result is a richer life. This plane is no longer just a tool in your chest but a story. And for that reason is why I prefer to buy antique planes; I call it saving forgotten stories.

  19. seawolfe2013 says:

    Chris,
    I am flabbergasted that you took something like that to a woodworking show! Were you young and nieve? I may be a skeptic but the world is full of not so nice people who try to rip off everyone else. I will not loan out any of my Lost Art Press books or anything else I value let alone leave something that looks way too good unattended in a public setting. I could be a lot more cynical, so why not, my father use to say years ago that people are just no damn good! I have spent the best of 66 years trying to prove him wrong and failed!

  20. John Hippe says:

    Awesome story Chris. Congratulations on the happy reunion.

  21. gedaliya says:

    Chris…

    Care to share any details how the plane’s honest new owner came into possession of the plane and discovered it was yours?

    Thanks in advance…

  22. Judging by the photos, you have your work cut out for you Chris. But, it’s just fantastic that it made it’s way back to you. It’s like those stories where the guy who lost his wallet during WW2 gets it back, with everything still in it. Can’t wait to see the finished restoration.

  23. Enjoy the restoration. I gently restored a new-to-me 100+ year old jointer plane. Today, on its first trip across wood in my stead, it put a glass-like polish on a piece of cherry. What a rush! That’s a feeling to look forward to.

  24. cmhawkins says:

    Two comments: An item with this much rust and value is a prime candidate for electrolytic rust removal. A detailed description of how to do this easy, safe and effective technique can be found at http://www.instructables.com/id/Electrolytic-Rust-Removal-aka-Magic/

    I’m surprised that not more things have been stolen from Chris. Thousands of people have had access to his tools during classes and woodworking events. The percentage of people who have taken advantage of him in very low. You can go through life being super vigilant and occasionally getting wronged in some way or you can more fully enjoy your time knowing that every now and then you are going to get screwed. I choose the latter.

    • lostartpress says:

      Chris,

      I’ve already removed most of the rust with abrasives. I considered electrolysis, but decided to go Dremel.

      And you are 100 percent correct on your assessment of woodworkers. Considering how much contact I’ve had with people during the last 20 years, having only about 10 bad experiences is incredible.

      As you, I also choose the latter.

  25. Restoration of tools, this is a good excuse to share the following… I’ve just learned and experience that vinegar (cheap ol’ white works great) and a little elbow grease (really just a little) will remove rust from tools to a state that looks neigh on new.

    Posted a pic here…
    http://erikwebber.zenfolio.com/p96546373/e1d45a0fd

    • Thanks for the tip, Erik. I’ve tried muriatic acid in the past, but it is way too harsh. It began eating into the metal after a short time. I will pick up a gallon of vinegar at the store this week. I have an old Stanley #5 that could benefit from this.

  26. hughjengine says:

    Kismet Chirs, kismet! Fantastic news. It would be nice to see a post when it’s back in working order.

    Cheers,
    Burbidge.

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