Plane body finish removal – Soy Gel

When restoring old planes, sometimes the finish is too far gone to save. It could be that there is less than 50% finish left, or paint is flaking. At some point a decision must be made as to whether or not to strip the finish off, and reapply a new finish. I don’t like highly-toxic paint removal remedies, so I bought some Soy-Gel.  I used it previously to remove paint from an old industrial light fixture, and it worked extremely well – how well will it work on a plane?

Soy-Gel is made of 100% soybeans. It will supposedly remove oil and water-based coatings, acrylics, latex, enamel, urethanes, and two-part epoxies. If there is paint containing lead, then the gel actually encapsulates the lead flakes in the gel. There is also no odour. Now Soy-Gel is by no means made completely of soybeans – the active ingredient is N-methyl pyrrolidone, which is common in many of the “low toxic” paint removers – however it is biodegradable.

To test the viability of using Soy-Gel, I used an old Stanley No.102 block plane, covered with old flaking paint, both on the body and the lever cap.


Fig 1: The Stanley 102 before paint removal

Figures 2 and 3 outline the process of paint removal on the toe (Fig.2), and heel (Fig.3) of the plane. I applied a thick coating of the gel on the plane body and left it for 18 hours, after which I cleaned off the gel with a wooden scraper, and washed the residue off. There was still some residual paint left in the crevices of the plane (mostly the markings on the body). Figs 2(c) and 3(c) show the plane after the first application of gel. I applied a second thinner layer of gel to remove any residual paint, and left it overnight.


Fig.2: Plane toe – (a) Original finish, (b) Gel applied, (c) Finish removed, and (d) Surface brushed with brass brush

After about 10 hours, I cleaned the plane body again and used a scouring pad to remove the final specks of paint. The plane cleaned up nicely, and can be prepped further with a brass brush.


Fig.3: Plane heel – (a) Original finish, (b) Gel applied, (c) Finish removed, and (d) Surface brushed with brass brush

The Soy-Gel did a really good job in removing the paint from the plane, with no real mess involved. The gel sits nicely on vertical surfaces, and is able to penetrate the smallest crevices. Note that it does not effect any rust present on the plane – so this plane will need to be dunked into Evapo-Rust, and then wire-brushed before re-finishing. At the end of the day, it’s not a perfect “green” solution for paint removal – but it works extremely well. At some point I’ll see how well it works on an older finish, i.e. japanning.


Fig.4: Stanley 102 after paint removal


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