- 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.
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.|
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 Hyperkitten.com: firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Leach of Blood and Gore fame: email@example.com
Sanford Moss of Sydnassloot: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.|
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: