Friday, December 28, 2012

Magazine Review: Wood, Dec/Jan 2012/2013

I love my mom.  I really do.

Mom and Dad
My mom still cries whenever she hears music with trombones in it, and if you ask her she will say that it would sound even better if it was me playing instead of whoever is on the recording.  She is my biggest fan.

Ever since I moved to  Germany, she sends me things when she is thinking about me.  Once, she mailed an apple pie.

I started this blog about five months ago, and she has been my most loyal reader.  You might even find a comment from her here and there, usually somthing that says, "Brian, this blog is great!  I think it is exciting even if I don't understand a single word!"

She was being thoughtful when she saw this Wood Magazine two-pack at the newstand:

Wood Magazine double pack

I love to read about woodworking, but I try not to spend much money on things that won't last long in my house, if I can help it.  This two pack had a list price of $9.99, which seems a bit on the steep side.  I hope she paid less than the listed price.

I started with the "Big Ideas for Small Workshops" issue.  Mom probably bought this for me since my space is awfully small.  Unfortunately, there was not much of interest to me.  My workspace is truly tiny.  I work in a storage room that I share with my wife's storage, and the whole thing is about eleven feet by nine, give or take some.

Apparently most Americans' view of a small shop is an empty two-car garage.  Give me a two-car garage, and I could conquer the world!

Actually, if I had a two car garage, I probably would not have gotten into hand tools in the first place.  I can't fit a table saw in my workspace.  If I could, I probably would have been evicted from my apartment building by now.

On to the current issue of Wood Magazine, which was the other publication in the two pack.

My first impression is this magazine for people who think a table saw and an electric router are mandatory to do woodwork.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to power tools, but there are other methods that can easily be superior.  Read Matt Bickford's book and you will want to get rid of your router.

With that being said, there are some good articles in here.  There are two really good project articles:  the wine rack on the cover, as well as an end table that looks really cute.

As expected, the instructions include the use of table saws, router tables, plywood and a host of cordless power tools.  Paradise for a DIYer on crack.  What I usually do if I want to build something from an article like this is take the parts of the project I like and change the parts I don't.  Nothing wrong with that.

There is also a fantastic review of chisels.  I was very pleased to see this, as they included 16 different brands and models.  Among them were some of the premium chisels I think you should consider such as Lie Nielsen (my favorite), Veritas and Blue Spruce.

If you are looking to get some new chisels, I would recommend reading what they have to say.  You should also read my recent post on chisels in my Beginner's Took Kit series.

If you follow my advice, you can pick up the two chisels you need.  Get more when you need them and when you have the money.  Or, you could buy an entire set of lesser-quality chisels that you will eventually want to replace.

Overall, I did not find the small-shop issue useful to me as I have no plans to put machines in a large home shop.  The magazine issue itself has a few articles that make it worth the money, but it would also benefit from a bit more substantial content.  Perhaps an article or two about a basic operation or a hand tool method would be good.

To be fair, there is an article on building a bench hook to use a hand saw to cut miters.  But, can you think of anything else you can do with a bench hook?

Thanks for thinking of me, mom.  I like getting magazines in the mail.  Keep reading my blog and maybe you'll want to start woodworking yourself, someday!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part VII - Conclusion

Hopefully, I have made myself understood that this list of tools is a good place to begin a hand tool journey.  I know that it is unlikely that someone will purchase the tools I recommend and leave it at that, making furniture happily ever after.  Collect new tools as you need them and can afford them.  You can use the same thought processes to collect them as we did putting this basic tool kit together.

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, Christopher Schwarz does an excellent job showing us what we really need for tools when building furniture in his book, the Anarchist's Tool Chest.  This is a great goal of a place to wind up.  However, I think at some point everyone needs a place to start, and that's what I've tried to do here.

To summarize, here is my list:

The intention is this is a good place to start.  I had very little to go on when I started my hand tool journey, as no one I knew worked this way.  Hand tools were the only option for me as my workspace would not accommodate power tools. 

Hopefully someone else in the same boat will get a nugget or two from this series.

One of the reasons the list looks as it does is that I think you shouldn't need a second mortgage to acquire these tools.  This list is as short as I think it can be for you to have everything you need to build stuff.

The bonus feature is that these tools will all become essential for what you do from now on.  A bit extra spent on the best available will pay off in the fact that these tools will all last and perform your whole woodworking career. 

With the exception of the Ryoba saw.  This saw is on the list to enable you to do handwork, learn essential skills, and prevent you from having to buy five western saws just to get started. 

There are a few other things you will need besides these tools, however.  First, is space.  One big advantage of hand tools is you do not need nearly as much room.  Use the space you have.  I know of a few bloggers who do woodwork in living space.  Anything is possible.

Another thing you need is proper workholding.  Aldren Watson says that a workbench is the most important tool you will ever have.  I agree, but you can get started without one.  If necessary, use a sheet of plywood on your living room floor.  The Japanese style uses body weight and leverage to hold work for sawing and planing.  You could, too.  I will not cover all of the different ways that you could do woodworking with or without a bench. 

I also think that clamps are essential, but dependent on the type of work you do.  Do your own research to determine your needs and uses.  Buy stuff that you really need, as well as last a lifetime of use.  In fact, this sentence states my entire tool-collecting philosophy.

The last bit is there are a few tools you need for hand work that you really should make yourself.  I plan on making these tools using only the tools I have on this list to construct them with.  As I finish them, they will be added to the basic kit.  These tools will include a straight edge, winding sticks, a mallet, a square, and perhaps a marking gauge.  Maybe even a clamp or two.

Finally, there are some really neat projects that I plan on making on this blog using only the tools in my basic kit.  I'm dying to make some of the puzzles in  the back of Fairham's book, "Woodworking Joints," and also I need some boxes for gifts this coming year.  And, we'll see what else.

Hopefully this will inspire some to take up handwork, because it really isn't that hard.  If I can do it, I know you can, too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part VI - Marking and Measuring

What does this photo have to do with marking tools?  Nothing!  But I thought you would enjoy it and perhaps it would generate more traffic to this blog!
Quick summary:  Use whatever you want as long as it is not crap.

Long version:  Avoiding crappy marking and measuring tools is not hard, as long as you keep a few things in mind.

First, many (most if not all) of these tools can be easily made by yourself.  In fact, I plan on making some and posting the builds here early in 2013.

Second, almost any marking or measuring tool you buy at your local home center should be suspect.  Avoid these if at all possible.

If it is not possible, make sure you have a way to check their accuracy in the store before you buy.  You may be lucky, or the particular job you need it for may not require the level of accuracy of anything fancier.  In this case, go for it.

If you purchase/acquire/make your tools with care (just like any of the others), you will have tools which will serve you well for a long time.

Let's talk some specifics:

Marking gauge

You need one to do fine work.  More are always better, but let's wait to blow our money until we have finished our basic tool kit and have a couple projects under our belts.

Everyone I know who has a Tite-Mark rotary cutting gauge tells me that it is the best and if I used it I would have to buy one.  Therefore I have done what any sane person would do, I have avoided trying it out.  Rather than making a recommendation here, I will just let you know what it is that I use.

My marking tools

For the last several years I have gotten by with my Veritas Wheel Marking Gauge.  I am told that the Tite-Mark is vastly superior, but as I have stated, I haven't tried that one.  Mine is graduated in metric, which I can hardly see and never use.  The ungraduated one should serve you just fine for many years.

The micro-adjuster I think would be useful, but when I bought mine I thought I would save a bit and forgo it.  Had I the opportunity to do it over, I would probably get the micro adjuster, it is only another seven dollars.

My one complaint about this tool is if you are not careful to really tighten it down hard, it can slip and change settings at the most inconvenient of times.  The Old Ladies blog discusses the reasons for this and a possible fix.  I tried it by using a regular file to flatten one side of the beam a little (OK, basically I wound up just scuffing one side a bit), and it really helped.  I think using a power grinder or a Dremel tool or something of that nature may grind the hard steel a little better, such as are in the photos, but even what I did seemed to make a difference.

Veritas Marking Gauges

I also have just received a 35th anniversary special edition of this tool.  I have yet to use it enough to give a comprehensive review, but so far I think it is an improvement.  The rod is offset in the head, resulting in there being more real-estate on the gauge to register to your work.  It seems to feel very nice.  My guess is that this tool would benefit from the Old Ladies treatment from the previous paragraph.

I bought this tool on a recommendation from the Billy's Little Bench.  Click the link for his more extensive review.  The best part of this tool is it is less than thirty bucks.

If you want to upgrade to a Tite-Mark someday, that is OK, you can never have too many marking gauges. 

If you are just starting out, I would buy one of these gauges.   If you already have one, I would recommend making your own marking gauges.  I will be soon.


I think you should make one of these.  Don't pay any attention to the fact that I haven't yet.  An accurate square is absolutely essential for fine work.  You can find instructions in a number of places for making one.  A quick google search should get you started here.  A great tip I ran across once was when gluing up your square, us a CD jewel case to reference the 90 degree angle.  These household items tend to be very square.

I find myself using a 6" Starrett combination square more and more.  At first I wasn't all that impressed, but I am finding more uses for this tool every day.  If you have the money, you can be sure that the Starrett will be perfect and last a lifetime.

If you want to save a few bucks by buying vintage or a less expensive brand, check the accuracy first.  You may find that 9 out of 10 brand new tools may not be accurate enough for your work.

Marking Knife

Here I think you need to choose something that works for you and your style.  I think a marking knife at least needs to be flat on one side.  Double bevel marking knives are promoted by some, but I think for beginners it can be difficult to hold the bevel flat up close to the square to make accurate marks.  Try out a few before you blow your money.

My absolute favorite marking knife.

I use the Blue Spruce Small Marking Knife.  I love this tool.  For me, it is perfect.  Not only does it work perfectly for me, it looks awesome and makes me feel like I have at least one tool a gazzillionaire might also use.  My understanding is that Lee Valley's version is also quite good, and for around ten bucks you can't go too wrong.  Except that it has a plastic handle and you'll have a hard time justifying the Blue Spruce if you have one of these and it works.


There is innumerable uses for a pencil in the shop.  Those big rectangular carpenter's pencils are good for marking on rough stock or marking reference edges.  For anything finer you'll either need a mechanical pencil (the finer the better) or a regular wooden pencil that you make into a knife point on a piece of sandpaper (which I prefer).

Mark a line in pencil only if it is a rough cut.  Otherwise, mark your line with a knife or cutting gauge.

If you are too old to see the knife mark clearly, darken it by following this mark with a pencil.

So, that is about it for your basic toolkit.  Next up, we'll build a few things using only these tools.  I envision a kind of Hand-Tool "I Can Do That" series.

I do realize that this might be a bit unrealistic, but the tools covered in this series will give you a good place to start.  Chances are you will use all of these tools on almost every project you work on from now on, and we have also developed healthy tool-collecting habits.

Please leave a comment!

If you haven't read the earlier posts in this series, check them out:
  1. Introduction
  2. Sharpening
  3. Jack Plane 
  4. Hand Saws 
  5. Chisels

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Top Five Woodworking Books - With Reviews!

I know, I know.  You couldn't wait for the next in my series of tools for newbies.  You'll just have to wait a bit.  While you are waiting, you might as well read a book.

I have been collecting and reading woodworking books for a long time.  It has only been recently that I have figured out that while there are a lot of good woodworking books out there that are easy to find, there are a lot of great woodworking books out there if you dig a little deeper.

Here are five of my favorite woodworking books.  I couldn't pick just one favorite, so I picked one in each of five categories.

Category I:  Philosophy

The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz

You do not need to build a tool chest, but you do need to read this book.

After you read it, you'll want to build one.

There are three main parts to this book, a history, a list of tools, and instructions on building the chest.

If you have a ton of hand tools, you'll want to sell some.  If you are just starting your collection, you'll learn which ones you really need.  If, like me, you have been hoarding tools for years, you'll know you can get rid of most of them and buy ones you will actually use.  Even if your are a power tool junkie, you'll want to try some of these tools out.

Category II:  Techniques

The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing

Dining table constructed with techniques from Robert Wearing.
Another book by Lost Art Press.  The Schwarz has done a fantastic service to mankind by re-publishing this one.  The main project in this book is a table, but you can use the techniques for many things.  Indeed, the author mentions many techniques in this book.

I list this book here because of the detail describing each operation.  This book will make you want to go to the shop.

Category III:  Tools

Hand Tools by Aldren A. Watson

What this book lacks in imagination for the title, it definitely makes up for in content.  Find a used copy of this book (it's out of print) or borrow one from the library.

He not only shows you a bunch of really cool tools, he shows the proper way to use them.  For a bonus, he demonstrates methods for practicing basic techniques so any dummy can master them.


The section on a brace and bit transformed my accuracy and useability of that tool.  The only weird thing he advocates is a jack-rabbet plane for a basic tool.  Honestly, he makes a good case for it, though.

Category IV:  Joinery

Woodwork Joints by William Fairham

Example from Fairham's book. This would be a cool joint to use on a Roubo bench.
This book is why I am writing this post.  I wanted to do a review of this book, but thought that it made such a wonderful companion to Aldren Watson's book.  While Watson covers many hand tools and their uses, this book shows you what you can do with them.

I was blown away with the first chapter on lap joints.  Who writes a book with a whole chapter on lap joints?  Believe it or not, it is really eye-opening.  The only thing missing is the details of constructing each joint.

As the above example from the book shows, the author assumes you can figure out how to cut the joint once you see what joint to use.  That's what Watson is for.

Another cool thing is this book is reprinted through the Toolemera website.   Gary Roberts does this as a hobby, as far as I can tell.  His books are printed on demand, and are very reasonable in price and quality.

Category V:  Project

Making and Masering Wood Planes by David Finck

My latest plane built using this method, a big-honking jointer.
There are so many project books out there I had a hard time picking my favorite.  Until I remembered this one.

David goes through every tiny little step in constructing this plane, and even gives a few alternative methods as well as instructions on building some of the tools and jigs you may need.  He even recently released a companion DVD with 4 1/2 hours of footage going through the whole process.  Believe it or not, you'll enjoy watching it more than once.

What I really love about this book is he covers in painful detail for those of us dummies who didn't "get it" before how to use hand tools to get super-hyper accurate results.  Before this, I thought only machines were capable of such precision.  Silly me, hand tools are WAY more accurate than machines.


There are a lot of great books out there.  You can't go wrong at Lost Art Press, from what I can tell so far.  Also, don't be afraid to scope out used books.  Old books are a great source of information for old tools, after all.  If worse comes to worst, go to your local library.  Librarians I know will do backflips to get you an old book you want.  Inter-library loan didn't disapear with the advent of the internet.

What are your must-reads?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part V - Proper Bench Chisels

I am going to declare two Truths of Acquiring Tools, as determined by me, Brian Eve:
  • There should be no reason whatsoever that you should go broke getting enough decent tools to learn to build furniture. 
  • You don't have to settle for anything less than premium grade tools when starting out.
These two statements at first glance may seem to be in conflict.  How can you get enough premium grade tools to do woodwork without spending a gazillion dollars?

The answer:  Simplify.  Don't get so many.

If you have been keeping up with this series, you may have caught on to my philosophy which is that there are a few critical types of tools.  When starting out you can get by with fewer of these tools than you might think.  The trick is to make sure those are the right ones, and that they are of the highest quality.

For several years, I bought tools that could do tricks.  For example, I found a great deal on a vintage dovetail plane early on in my tool collecting career.  I have yet to use it.  (It's for sale if anyone wants it.)  Don't tell me you haven't thought, "Just think what I could do if I only had that new double-ended side rabbit plane!"

Don't fall into this trap.

In retrospect, that might be a bit much to ask.  Let me rephrase that:  Don't fall into this trap often.

Instead, buy tools that you need for basic skills and go from there.  The tools that I am recommending for you are basic tools that you probably will use on most of your woodworking projects from now on.  Skimping here could lead to having to upgrade your tools at best, and massive frustration at worst.

How do you get premium chisels without spending more than you have (because you spent most of your tool allowance on that double-ended side rabbit plane, for instance)?  Easy.  Don't buy so many.

One really needs (especially at first) only two chisels:  one kinda big one and one kinda small one.  Before we go there, however, we have to think ahead a little bit.  How's that for a teaser?

We have to think ahead to some intermediate level tools you might get someday:  a plow plane and a mortice chisel.  You should learn to make plows and mortices first with your basic tool kit, but at some point you may want to upgrade.  These tools make some common tasks easier.

The question you need to ask now, is:  "In my future, will these two tools come into my possession tooled in inches or millimeters?"

Depending on your location, one or the other is available.  If you are like me and have access to both, then you should decide one or the other and stick with it.  Here's why:

If you make a frame and panel door, for instance, you might use a plow plane to groove the rails and stiles, a mortice chisel to cut the mortice the same width as the groove, and you will need a bench chisel to clean things up and make fine adjustments.  If every tool in that process is 5/16 of an inch, things are easy.  If you use a 5/16" plow and an 8 mm mortice chisel, things may become a bit more complex.

I decided to go mostly in inches in my shop.

Once again, you can go either new or vintage.  If you want new chisels, I recommend Lie-Nielsen.  For years I used chisels I bought at the Borg, spent an awful lot of time sharpeing and lapping, only to have the chisel flex or the edge disintegrate under hard use.  I tried a Lie-Nielsen and knew I had to have them.

My 1/2" Lie-Nielsen chisel sitting on my bench.
For starters, get a 3/8" and a 3/4" chisel.  Only buy a set if you are independently wealthy and don't mind buying a lot of tools you don't use.  Don't get me wrong, five chisels are better than two, and 11 are better than five.  How far do you need to go?  You'll get by at first with just two.  Getting 11 chisels for the price of 10 is false economy, because you aren't ready for all of them yet.  You may find that someday all you really use are four chisels from that set.  If you would have only purchased those four, you would have saved three hundred bucks.

I bought one chisel every month with my tool allowance until I had the five chisels I thought I needed.

These Lie-Nielsen chisels are fantastic.  They required no real lapping, just a polish on the back that took a minute or two.  They are easy to keep sharp.  They feel nice in your hand - the balance, fit and finish are superb, and they have a nice heft.  Start with these chisels and you will keep them your whole life.

You also can get fantastic vintage chisels.  However, there is a lot of junk out there.  I mean, a LOT of junk.  So rather than collect every 50 cent flea market bargain you run across, go to an established re-seller.  Tell them you are starting and need a couple good, premium users, but don't know exactly what to look for.  These guys will really take the time to match you up with what you need.  As a general rule, the less time it will require to make them useable, the more they will cost.  With any chisel a slight hollow on the non-bevel side is OK, but if you get one with a hump you should send it back.

Here is a list of vintage tool sellers (in the US) that I have worked with and highly recommend:

Joshua Clark at
Patrick Leach of Blood and Gore fame:
Sanford Moss of

All of these guys give outstanding customer service, know what they are talking about, and will stand behind what they recommend you.  Tell them what you are looking for, and if they don't have it, they will keep an eye out for you.

If your tools will be in millimeters, you may want to consider some good, Japanese chisels.  There are some wonderful tools out there, but unfortunately I don't have enough information to make a recommendation.  All I know is that Lie-Nielsens are not available in metric.  My suggestion is to do some internet research, talk to some knowledgeable people, and try some out.  If you are in Germany, Dictum is a great place to go, as you can look and try out many different kinds, and the staff is highly knowledgable.

The chisel/saw/carving tool wall at Dictum in Munich.
Don't rely on the choices at the home center to be good enough for what you want to do.  Eventually, you will need to upgrade to premium tools, anyway.  Save these junkers for when your spouse needs something to open a paint can.

That is almost it!  The next installment will be about marking and measuring tools, then we can start building things!

If you haven't read the earlier posts in this series, check them out:
  1. Introduction
  2. Sharpening
  3. Jack Plane 
  4. Hand Saws

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part IV - Hand Saws

Using a hand saw is simple.  All you have to do is keep from screwing up what the saw naturally wants to do, which is to cut straight.

This is easier said than done, however.  The trick is to keep from letting any bad technique get in the way of the saw doing what it wants, which is to follow the path of least resistance.

The first thing to think about regarding proper handsaw technique is your grip.  The good news:  it's easy.

Just hold your saw like you are shaking hands with someone.  Not too tight, though.  Don't let go, only hold it as tight as you might an egg.  Don't let it break or you'll have an icky mess.

Oh, the other thing is that you should hold any saw with your index finger pointing out.  In fact, you should hold other tools this way too, such as hand planes and bread knives.  This little trick tells your brain to do everything right and will increase accuracy.   Plus, most saws' handles are designed to be held with this three-finger grip.

Your index finger points the way to a straight cut.
Enough of that.  This series of posts is about equipment, after all, not technique.

So, in my toolbox I have two full size crosscut saws, two ripsaws, a giant tennon saw filed rip and a sashsaw filed crosscut, both by BadAxe, and a wonderful old Spear & Jackson dovetail saw.  I love all of these saws, and use them all of the time.

My hand saws, saw bench and saw sharpening files.

Knowing this, my recommendation for your first saw will be a little surprising:

You should start with a Japanese Ryoba saw.

Japanese Ryoba saw

I know.  Weird, isn't it?  Not many out there would probably agree with me, but here are the reasons for what I think.

First, they work really well.  A Ryoba has teeth on both sides of the saw.  Rip teeth on one side for cutting with the grain, and crosscut teeth on the other for cutting across the grain.  These teeth are brilliantly designed in a way I completely do not understand, but they work. What else do you need to do?  This saw leaves a really thin kerf (the space in the wood after you cut).  The rip teeth are aggressive enough for fast ripping, and the crosscut teeth leave a very fine surface behind.  This saw does everything from rough stock break down to dovetails.

Second, they are inexpensive.  Mine ran about 30 Euros, and when it got dull and the plate kinked, I replaced the blade for less than 20 Euros.  You can spend hundreds of dollars on one, but, there is no need to blow all your money on the world's finest tools when starting out.  Don't buy junk, but a good, stout user should not keep you from eating for long.

Third, the mechanics of using this saw are essentially the same as for using any western saw.  This statement also might be controversial, because the Japanese saw cuts on the pullstroke, where as western saws cut on the push.  But think about it, the grip is the same, arm movements are fundamentally the same, your elbow goes in the same spot, and unless you go totally eastern with doing your woodworking on the floor, your feet position and full body position is the same.  When you upgrade to specialty saws, either Japanese or western, there isn't all that much more to learn.  Don't think you need to be part of the western saw school of thought, or the Japanese school.  Be a member of the Hand Saw School.

Fourth, this saw is relatively small, and takes up far less room that a collection of western saws and a till to store them in.  Mine goes in the original plastic case and I hang it from a hook.

Fifth, you really don't have to worry about sharpening this saw.  When it gets dull, take the blade out of the handle, cut it up into scraper stock, and buy a new one.  Once you get a western saw someday (and I wholeheartedly suggest that in the future you do), you should learn to sharpen them.  Someday I will post a series of essential intermediate tools, and saw sharpening equipment will be on that list.  For now, you should be focused on actually making things by cutting wood.

Last, the juvenile in me loves the brand-name of saw that I have;  DICK.  I love my DICK saw.

When you choose a Ryoba, there are a few things you should look for to ensure you get a quality tool. Make sure the teeth are the shiny steel color of the rest of the saw.  The black ones have been hardened, and although you are probably not going to have this saw resharpened, I like the feel of regular teeth better.

A plastic handle isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Traditionally, these saws were wrapped with some natural fiber, but often these days a plastic, bamboo look-a-like wrap will be used.  A natural fiber will only drive up the cost.

A removable blade is also OK.  In fact, I think it is better as you can get rid of the old blade and insert a new, sharp one when you need to.

It is for these reasons that I think your first handsaw should be a Ryoba.  Save all that money to make sure you have the right jack plane.  Save all the time learning to sharpen for learning to saw straight first.  I think that a western saw is a great thing to graduate to.  They will increase your finesse, but you kind of need to know how to saw to a line first.

Once you know how to saw to a line, you are free to saw to any line that is required.  A compound miter is no more difficult than ripping to width.  The first Japanese saw I ever got I purchased at a grocery store for 4.99.  I eventually had to spend about $250 before I got a western saw that left a surface anywhere near as smooth as that cheapo got.  Don't discount these tools as mere gimmicks.

Next up in the Newbie series:  Chisels worthy of fine woodworking.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of the series:

  1. Introduction
  2. Sharpening
  3. Jack Plane

Friday, December 7, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part III - Jack Plane

You need a shooting board.

"Wait a minute, I thought this post was about jack planes?"

Don't worry, it is.  But, to use some tools effectively, you need some appliances.  A shooting board is a critical appliance to have and use.

What better tool to use on it than a jack plane?  The jack plane is the perfect tool to use on a shooting board, because if you are buying your tools in the order I suggest, this is the only one you have so far.  Don't get me wrong, I have a whole slew of planes for different things, but if a jack plane was the first one I got, I would have saved a lot of money.

Now that you know how to sharpen the blade on your new sharpening medium (you do, don't you?), you can do an awful lot.  Roughing, flattening, jointing, smoothing, and shooting can all be accomplished to some degree with the humble jack plane.

But, you need a plane with a flat side for shooting.  A hefty one is better, as it maintains momentum.  That means that while shooting with a block plane is possible, it is much more enjoyable with a jack plane.

Not long ago, my cousin Tony asked me to show him how to cut dovetails.  I just realized that "my cousin Tony" makes him sound like Italian Mafia.

Me 'n' Tony.  He's not Italian.
We started with some mahogany scrap I had laying around and made these boards six-square.  This took a little while, and it turns out that this is all we got done that day.  The dovetails will have to wait until next time.  But, he was really proud that he made two boards completely six square all by hand.  And, he only used a jack plane.

In a nutshell, you make a board six square by first flattening a face and then, one edge.  I like to then make the other edge flat, and parallel to the first edge.  Shoot the two ends by placing the reference edge against the fence of the shooting board.  Last, the second face is marked and planed flat, in the same plane as the reference face.

I think these boards we squared up look good enough that as long as they aren't scuffed up too much in the construction process, will need no further treatment before finish is applied.

By the way, you should make your own shooting board.  Appliances are a good opportunity to practice basic skills.  Google the term and you will find dozens of designs, and you are sure to find one you like.  I like simple.

Dirt-simple shooting board constructed with scrap.
Several years old.
Back to jack planes.  You only need one, but there are several different ways you can go:
  • Bevel up
  • Bevel down
  • Wooden
  • New
  • Vintage
  • Home-made
If you don't have a whole lot of experience with planes, or just don't have a bunch of planes yet, AND you have a couple hundred bucks you can blow on a new tool, I recommend getting a new bevel-up plane.  In fact, if you only have limited funds for all of your tools and can only afford one new tool, this is the one I would buy new.

When I bought mine, I did not have the benefit of being able to try one out, I just read a bunch on the internet.  I found out I wanted either the Lie Nielsen or the Veritas.  I settled on the Veritas because at the time it was a bit cheaper.  Since then, I have tried the Lie Nielsen, and it is a truly sweet tool.  It feels awesome in your hand.  The blade is a bit narrower, which can be better at times as it will be easier to push.

I have to say, however, that I'll not be getting rid of my Veritas in favor of the Lie Nielson anytime soon.  This is one of the finest tools I have ever used.  Over the last year or so I have been trying to do most of my planing (regardless of for what purpose) with this plane.  It works marvelously.  Want a heavy cut?  Open the mouth and screw out the blade some. For a finer cut, draw the blade in and close the mouth really tight.  It takes about 1.2 seconds.  An eternity for an android.

If you get this plane, order it with a standard 25 degree blade.  This makes it ideal for shooting.  I put a 5 degree secondary bevel on my blade, so the 30 degree blade with the 12.5 degree bed make for an effective angle of 42.5 degrees.  A bit low compared to other bench planes, but lower is better on end grain.  And it works surprisingly well for about 90% of other long grain tasks.

Now, the beauty of this set-up is that you can buy more blades.  I bought mine over a few years.  NOTE:  These blades are NOT required, but nice-to-haves.  I first added a 50 degree blade, which makes this thing a smoothing monster.  62,5 degrees effective angle will tame the wildest grain.  This blade in the Veritas bevel up jack is awesome.

I next bought the toothing blade.  It took me longer than I expected to figure out how best to use this blade.  Used with the grain it can be a very fine tool.  On wild grain that you can't avoid tear out with the 50 degree blade, use this to make some fine shavings.  Then plane the grooved surface flat, and VOILA!  no tear out.  But, lately I have found that it also works fantastic cross-grain to take super thick shavings.  I roughed my oak benchtop flat with this plane in about 15 minutes taking very heavy shavings.

Most recently, I bought the 38 degree blade to test out their new steel, PM-V11.  I wouldn't have bought it but a guy compared it to Gillette Fusion-ProGlide-Six-Blades-Battery-Powered-Special-Edition Razors on a blog at Lost Art Press, and I really like the battery powered razors so figured I needed one of these plane blades.  Thanks, Auguste, good tip!  I look forward to giving this blade a work out, and I'll let you all know what I think.

The point I'm trying to make about this plane is that it is extremely versatile.  But, I know, it isn't for everyone.

I had some good luck building a Krenov style jack plane.  This works really, really well, and is a really fun project.  The limitation I find with it is that with the fixed mouth it cuts only fine, not course.  I could set it up to cut course, but then that would be it.  It is not quite as versatile as the Veritas.  But what it does, it does extremely well.  I expect a vintage wooden jack would have similar limitations.

My home-made jack.  Madrone and Mahogany, 14 inches with a 45 degree bed.

Contrary to popular belief, the sides of a jack plane do not have to be perfectly perpendicular to the sole to shoot square.  Just make sure you check that the blade is square to the bed of the shooting board.

Lastly, you should consider a bevel-down jack like a Stanley number 5.  Vintage models are plentiful and cheap, although most probably need a little work.  Once tuned they should provide years of wonderful service.  

If you would like a new one, go with one of the premium versions like a Lie Nielsen.  If that is too rich for your blood, stick with a vintage model.  Stay away from the cheap brands made in India or communist China, as machining on these models tend not to be the highest quality.  You might spend more time rehabbing a new 49 dollar plane than on a vintage Stanley.  And then you still have to suffer with sloppy tolerances in the adjusting mechanisms. 

There you have it, you now know jack!  This series hopefully will influence you to not go out and buy fifty million new tools as a beginner, but to get a few really great tools which you should learn to use effectively.  

Next up, hand saws.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part II - Sharpening

I know, you really were looking forward to me telling you what saws, planes, chisels and other sexy tools you should buy.  But, no point in blowing hard-earned dough unless those edge tools will perform like surgical instruments.  Therefore, I think that the first thing you should think about is sharpening.  Besides, admit it, you've already obtained a tool or two and only wanted me to validate your choice, right?

I think the simplest method for sharpening and the easiest to absorb as a learner is found in Christopher Schwarz's DVD, Handplane Basics.  I have tried a couple different methods, and was blown away by the simplicity of this method.  It is so easy it is almost like cheating.  And as a bonus, you don't need to buy a $300 gizmo.  Chris demonstrates in this DVD how to use a cheap honing guide to get really good results, either to sharpen a straight blade or to impart a slight camber.  I won't repeat his lesson here.  The DVD is worth the money.

Although there are teachers and methods out there that will pursue edges sharper than this, it is plenty sharp enough for 99% of all the woodworking you will encounter.  Not too bad for a few minutes of instruction.  Save learning that last 1% for when you really need it.

OK, enough about The Schwarz.  I want to talk about my own opinions regarding equipment.  I've blown a lot more money than necessary to settle on the system I now use.  Here is a photo of what I am using as a sharpening station:

My dirt-simple sharpening setup.
You can read about why I chose this setup in this previous post.

There are three phases to sharpening:  grinding, honing and polishing.  Essentially, course, medium and fine (OK, I guess I am not completely done with CS).

There are also three major schools of thought regarding sharpening medium:  sandpaper, waterstones, and oilstones.  It doesn't really matter which you use, as long as you get good at it.  I use waterstones, because that is what all the rage was when I started sharpening, and I haven't found anything that makes my system faster, cheaper or better.

Sandpaper might be a good way when starting, because it will seem like you spend only a few bucks for a few sheets of paper rather than a couple hundred on all of the stones you will need.  This is a valid point, and if you choose it, that is fine.  Over time you may find it more expensive, as you have to continue to buy sandpaper.

My recommendation is a Norton combination 1000/8000 waterstone available at Lee Valley for less than $70.  While it may be true that oilstones wear slower than waterstones, this stone could very well last your entire life.  This stone will take care of all of your honing and polishing.  The only other thing you need is something for grinding, and a method to keep your stone truly flat.  Sandpaper and a flat tile is a good option for both of these, or if you don't want to mess with sandpaper, use a diamond plate.  I've gotten by for years with a course/extra course DuoSharp plate.  It is about a hundred bucks.

With those two purchases, you will be able to keep your stone flat, do simple grinding, shape, sharpen and polish all of your planes, chisels, and knives (except hollows and gouges).  Probably forever.

Not bad for a couple hundred bucks.  Also, don't get too bent out of shape about the brands and the latest fads.  They all work, more or less.  If you aren't getting sharp enough, it probably isn't because you didn't spend more money on your stones, it probably is your technique.  Watch the DVD again.

One thing I would recommend:  get the largest stones you can afford.  I got by for years with a King stone that was 8" x 2".   But there was a huge difference when I got the Norton, which is almost an inch wider.  No point skimping now if you'll just have to upgrade later.

Get out there and sharpen!  You'll need this skill when you acquire my next recommendation:  a jack plane.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part I - Introduction

Well, opinions are like assholes.  Everybody has one.
- Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Opinions are like assholes

I have a problem with the thought many writers have regarding their opinion of what a basic hand tool kit should contain.  So, let me tell you what tools you really need when starting out.  :o)

First, a little philisophical drivel:

You will want to do some research before blowing your hard-earned money.  I will venture to make a statement that everyone (including me) who has published a list of what the basic tools really should be, didn't start out doing that way.  We all went and blew a bunch of money on tools that we didn't need first. 

Read books and check out what bloggers are saying.  Find out not only what are the best tools, but learn what tools different basic skills require.  Make informed decisions based on not only your current project, but what projects you are likely to do in the future. 

You will want to read a bunch of books about what interests you in woodworking.  But, beware!  Just because your favorite author uses a $700 tool to make sliding dovetail joints, doesn't mean there is not an economical alternative.  Learn this joint with a saw and a chisel.  If it turns out you decide you want to make this joint 20 times a day, five days a week, that specialty tool may be worth it.  If, on the other hand, it is just for this one project, use your basic tool kit, and perhaps think of an alternative, simpler joint that may work just as good.

So in other words, this really is a list of "Now That I Know a Little Bit, Here Is What I Should Have Done."

If you want to learn to use hand tools effectively, focus on getting good at the fundamentals.  I know, I sound like your piano teacher from when you were a kid.  Nobody likes to learn scales, but once you do, you can make music!

Furniture building  requires tools to perform the following tasks:

  1. dimension wood
  2. straighten wood
  3. prepare surfaces for finish
  4. join wood
That's really all there is to it!  Oh, except you need some way to keep your tools sharp. Without truly sharp tools, you will quickly become frustrated and take up something easy.  Like golf.

Since I have started looking at my tool needs through this lens, I have found that I need a lot less than I thought.  Also, buying a couple single tools here and there makes far more sense than the false economy of buying entire sets (for example:  chisels).  Purchasing only the tools that you really need and use on a consistent basis keeps your shop cleaner and neater.  As a bonus, SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) doesn't give you the evil eye when you bring home yet another crusty tool that only sits in the shop somewhere not being used.  Make those looks worth it.

The upcoming posts in this series will hopefully teach us (myself included) about what it is we really need, how to conserve your "new tool fund" to get the most out of it by acquiring tools that will last and how to make them last, and also (something I haven't seen that much of) several different alternatives as to what choices you may want to make.

While you are waiting, read The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz.  This book, more than any other will help you put the "what tools do I need" question in perspective.