Woodwork Tools Blog

Jan

7

Woodwork Tools

I think it is fair to say that anyone with a passion for woodwork, generally shares an equal passion for their woodwork tools. After all, it is the knowledge of your woodwork tools, and your skill in using them that plays a huge part in the enjoyment, satisfaction, and results achieved in your workshop.
Powered woodwork tools play a major part in the modern workshop – you can get power tools for just about every application you can think of these days, as well as a whole range of tools that seem to cater specifically for applications that you haven’t thought of (for example the electric hammer – what were they thinking??). Power tools fulfill a couple of basic needs to the woodwork enthusiasts:
1. they have the potential to save enormous amounts of time and energy, and
2. they satisfy the needs of the “Tim the Toolman Taylor” inside all of us – that part of us that is always looking for the next gadget or gizmo that will give you “more power” to get a job done more quickly and easily. (I trust I was not the only person who found Home Improvement entertaining…)
I don’t think I would be alone in admitting to countless hours spent thumbing longingly through the latest tool catalogs, dreaming of the vast quantities of time that could be saved if only I had that little thing-a-me-jig. Even though I rarely buy any of these tools, I do still enjoy seeing what is available and and imagining what could be achieved if only I had a workshop stocked with all of the latest power tools.
But despite the interest in power tools, I have generally found that if you ask a woodwork junkie to pick out the woodwork tools which they enjoy the most, you will generally find them reaching, not for a specialist, high powered tool, but more likely for a cherished plane, a chisel or some other un-powered hand tool.
Hand tools seem to hold a strange attraction to woodworkers, and not just those that prefer the traditional methods. Often times I find that the right tool for the job is actually a hand tool – it is quicker to setup, quieter, and I believe often gives a better finish than a power tool. One of my favourite aspects of woodworking is taking a freshly sharpened plane to a piece of timber - I love the feel of the plane and even the sound that is made as a paper thin wafer of timber peels away. For me, this is what reminds me that I love woodworking – and this is a feeling that just cannot be replicated when using a power tool.
If there is one guide that I think is a must have in any woodworker’s library, it is “Hand Tool Essentials: Refine Your Power Tool Projects with Hand Tool Techniques”. This book is, to me, essential reading if you want to get the most out of your hand tools. It covers most of the hand tools you will ever need, including techniques for using, maintaining and sharpening your tools.
There are a couple of things that I feel really sets this book apart:
1. The book is aimed at people who actually use their woodwork tools – not people who just collect them – the authors have excellent knowledge, and impart a real sense of love for their subjects.
2. Hand tools are not being touted as the only way to do “real” woodwork – as the title suggests, the book embraces hand tools as complementary to power tools, rather than as competitors. This is an approach that is sorely lacking in many books, yet I believe is indicative of the way that most people go about their woodwork.
In my opinion, this book contains all the information required to transform your hand tool experience. Beginners and seasoned woodworkers alike will find this book an enjoyable read, and a handy reference guide for years to come.

I hope you enjoy the blog as much as you do your woodworking tools!

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Jul

18

A better steel for your woodwork tools?

Creating, and maintaining, a sharp edge on your woodwork tools is one of the keys to success with any edge tool such as a woodworking plane or chisel.

At the same time, it is one of the things that many people struggle with, particularly newcomers to woodworking.

There have been many advancements in tool steels over the years, with new alloys being produced, but as is so often the case, each new product brings its own set of problems. In general, the harder the metal, the longer it will hold its edge. At the same time, the harder the metal, the more brittle it will be, and the more difficult it is to sharpen.

As a result, I expect that the announcement from Veritas that they have started manufacturing their woodworking plane and chisel blades from a new, improved alloy is sure to evoke many heated discussions and debates over which steel is best for making blades.

The metal, which is known as PM-V11 (just rolls of the tongue doesn’t it) is said to hold its edge longer, and yet still be relatively easy to sharpen, so it seems to tick all the boxes required for a good tool steel. I will be interested to hear a few reviews of the new blades, to see if the experts agree that it is worth the investment.

Whilst the alloy itself is not a new product, Veritas do appear to have completed a good deal of testing before deciding to use PM-V11 for their blades. You can check out this site for more information on the qualities of the steel, and the testing that was carried out by Veritas.

As with most hand tools, I suspect that the only people that will notice the difference in steel quality will be the experts who are using their woodwork tools every day. For the rest of us, I suspect that we would probably gain more from learning to sharpen our existing tools better, than we would from investing in a set of replacement plane blades and chisels!

Looking forward to hearing any comments from people who do try one of the new blades!

Enjoy your woodwork tools!

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Nov

9

Woodworking Ideas – How to draw an ellipse (oval)

I was watching this short video (see below) on a woodwork tools jig used to draw an ellipse (or an oval), and whilst I was impressed by the simplicity of the jig, it also reminded me of another simple method for drawing an oval which I have used in the past.

The method I have used is even simpler than that shown in the video, and requires only a couple of nails, a loop of string and a pencil. Hammer the nails into a piece of scrap board, so that they are protruding by a 1/2 an inch or more and are a distance apart. Attach the board to the your work piece with some double sided tape (or any other method that won’t damage your workpiece).
Place the loop of string around both the nails, and use the pencil to pull the loop of string out so it remains taut, marking out the shape that is traced as you move the pencil around the two pivot points (the nails), whilst also keeping the string taut. You will find you have marked out a perfect ellipse.

The distance between the nails (like the distance between the dowels in the video) will define the shape of the ellipse – as the nails move closer together, the ellipse will tend towards a circle. Nails further apart will define a longer, narrower ellipse.

By using some basic math (which I have long since forgotten, but could no doubt work out if I sat down for long enough), it is possible to work out the distance that is required between the nails, and the length of string required, in order to mark out ellipses of specific heights/widths.

My technique uses the same concept (as I suppose any ellipse jig would do), of that shown in the video, and is probably quicker to set up (the only woodwork tools required to make the jig is a hammer), but the jig in the video certainly has a degree of elegance and magic about it that is just not acheived by using a couple of nails and a piece of string.

The only thing that does concern me with the jig in the video is the chance of a slight imperfection in the shape at the point that the two slots intersect – it would take a bit of practise to ensure that the dowel slides smoothly through the point of intersection rather than sliding down one of the perpendicular slots. Assuming you were just using the jig to mark out the shape (ie with a pencil), then this would be a minor correction, but if you were using a jig of this type to actually cut out the shape (eg by attaching a router to the end, instead of a pencil), then the results could be a little more disastrous.

Anyhow, check out the video, and if anyone has any other methods or jigs they have used for marking out an ellipse, please let me know! Enjoy your woodwork tools!

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Sep

29

How to turn £5 into £145,000 with your woodwork tools

I read with great interest this story about the £145,000 that was raised at the auction of 240 tools from the collection of a cabinet maker, and it all started with a £5 investment in a single Norris woodworking plane.

Admittedly, this was no ordinary collection – the owner of the collection, David Russell, has written a book on the subject of antique tools (Antique Woodworking Tools Their Craftsmanship from Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century). The book primarily focuses on edge tools (such as woodworking planes) and boring tools, and is based on his own collection of fine woodworking tools. Since being published, this book has become recognized as the bible on the subject.

I was initially drawn to this article by the seemingly ridiculous amount of money that was raised at the auction, but having read the article, it is the manner in which David started his collection that has really stuck with me. Whilst there aren’t many similarities between my measly collection of woodwork tools (which may raise $500 if people were feeling generous), and the collection in the article, I can definitely identify with how David first became interested in collecting woodwork tools.

“I had almost an irresistible urge to pick up and handle it whenever I saw it,” David is quoted as saying, speaking of a Norris woodwork plane that his boss at the time owned.

It is this feeling that really rings true with me, as I am sure it does for many avid woodworkers, professional and amateur alike. My first instinct whenever I see a fine woodwork tool, is to reach out and touch it – to feel the finish on the timber, to weigh it in my hands and feel the balance of the tool. This feeling is only multiplied when you actually get to use a fine tool such as a woodwork plane – the feel, and even the sound of a well tuned tool as it cuts through timber is one of the most gratifying things that I can do. So much so, that I have been known to plane a piece of wood down to shavings, just for the sheer pleasure of it (but maybe that is just me?).

So next time you find yourself with an irresistible urge to pick up a quality woodwork tool, and need to convince your better half (or yourself) that it is a wise investment, be sure to point them to this article, and remind them that a relatively small investment in your woodwork tools now could one day turn into a small fortune!!

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Sep

8

Woodwork Tools – Quality Vs Price

Wander into any shop that sells woodwork tools, and you will be struck by the wide variety of prices that are on display, for items which appear to be almost identical. Take the compound miter saw as an example. When looking at compound miter saws, you can pretty much pay as much or as little as you like – from a model something along these lines (Klutch Compound Sliding Miter Saw with Laser Guide – 10in) right up to this Festool (Festool Kapex KS 120 Sliding Compound Miter Saw) which sits somewhere near the top of the range. Clearly, comparing these 2 products is about as extreme an example as you can get, but it does serve to highlight the enormous range in prices for woodwork tools that is seen in todays marketplace – all claiming to perform more or less the same function.

So when it comes to woodwork tools, is the cheap version going to cut it (pardon the pun)? Is it worth paying 10 times the price, or are you really just paying for the brand name and better marketing?

With few exceptions, when it comes to woodwork tools, experience has shown me that you generally get what you pay for. Tools are one area in which I have found the old adage “buy cheap, buy twice” to be particularly apt. Too many times I have been sucked into what appears to be a bargain price, only to find myself realising relatively quickly why it was so bargain priced. There are a couple of examples from my personal experiences that immediately spring to mind

The first is something that seems so simple, that is hard to imagine how there can be a substantial difference between the cheapest model and the top of the line – the claw hammer. I can tell you from personal experience that even with this simplest of woodwork tools, it is worth avoiding the cheapest versions if you can afford to. I have a mid-priced claw hammer, but it was only when I was given a cheap claw hammer that I realised how much better my original tool was. The first thing that I noticed about the cheap hammer was that it just wasn’t as well balanced as my original hammer, and I found using it more tiring than my original hammer. The second thing that became apparent after a bit of use was that the metal quality was far inferior. After only a short period of use removing nails, I found that the claw was deformed – clearly the metal of the nails was harder than the metal of the hammer!! So in short, you can still drive a nail in using the hammer, but it is now effectively useless for removing them, and is far less comfortable to use. Metal quality is also a common issue in other types of woodwork tools such as chisels, woodworking planes, screwdrivers etc.

The second example that has stuck in my mind is a cheap cut off saw (also known as a “drop saw” or a “miter saw”) that I purchased. I have an old Dewalt radial arm saw, which I have used for some years now, but recently, while replacing some decking timber it decided to die on me. Since I didn’t want to hold up getting the job done, I decided my best course of action would be to pick up a cheap cut off saw, which I managed to find for about $50. At the time, my logic in buying the cheapest I could find was something along the lines of “how hard can it be to cut a board – surely even the cheapest saw can do that…”, and I also couldn’t afford the time to properly research my options. As I soon found out, even the cheapest of saws can cut a board, but not all of them can do it well.

The decking timber I was laying was hardwood, and almost as soon as I started using the new saw, I discovered that the boards were not butting together as well as they had been. The first thing I adjusted was the fence, and discovered that the 90 degree positive stop wasn’t actually at 90 degrees. Not an uncommon issue, and a relatively simple fix, but the boards still weren’t fitting as well as they had been. It took me a while to realise what was actually going on – as the blade travelled through the hard timber, it was actually deflecting sideways, resulting in a somewhat angled cut. Now fortunately, this was not too much of a problem in this situation, but the result is that I now have a cheap saw that I no longer trust whenever I need accurate cuts, and I definitely wish I had spent a few more dollars and got a saw of reasonable quality.

So how much do you need to spend? In general, my approach is to buy the best tool that I can afford (although there have been exceptions, as demonstrated above). I generally have a good look around on the internet for reviews of any tools that I am looking to purchase, and if I realise that I can’t afford a tool that has decent reviews, I will put off buying it until I can afford it. Taking this approach also makes me think about whether I really need a tool, as often purchasing a new tool will make the job easier, but you can generally get by without it as well – it may just take a little more creativity to achieve the same result with your old fashioned woodwork tools!

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Aug

29

Woodworking Ideas – Simple Hammer Tip


Picture by Kyle May

Sometimes the simplest woodworking ideas can make a huge difference when trying to get the best out of your woodwork tools, so I thought I would share a simple tip that was passed on to me when I was replacing the decking timber on my deck.

As the deck is exposed to the elements, I was using galvanized nails to secure the boards. After driving a number of nails, I found that often as I was hitting the nail, the hammer was starting to slide off the top (to be honest, I didn’t really pick up on the fact that this was happening until I switched to a different hammer, and found it a lot easier to drive the nails. Up until then, I was starting to question my ability, skills and all round co-ordination).

Fortunately, I was talking about this strange phenomenon with a friend of mine who is in the building trade, and he managed to set my mind at ease. Apparently it was not at all related to my skills with a hammer. It seems that when you are using galvanized nails, each time you hit the nail, a small amount of the gal will build up on the face of the hammer. This makes the head of the hammer more likely to slide off the head of the nail as you are driving it in.

Luckily for me, the solution is extremely simple. If you are working with galvanized nails, keep a brick or a piece of coarse sand paper next to you (or some other coarse material). If the gal builds up on the face of the hammer, simply give the hammer a few rubs over the brick, and it will clean the buildup off the face of the hammer, ensuring you can drive your nails home just like a professional!

It is little woodworking ideas like this that are only gained from experience, but they can really set the experienced apart from the beginner. One day, this little tip may come in handy when using your woodwork tools, so file this away in your list of tips and woodworking ideas!!

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Jul

29

Woodwork Tools – The Hold Down Clamp

One of the issues that you are sure to run into as you tread down the path of a woodworker is how to hold your workpiece safe and secure while you attack it with your woodwork tools. Clamps are typically not something that jumps to mind when most people think about woodwork tools, and yet some sort of clamping device is required almost every time you pick up a chisel, a woodworking plane or a saw. There are a ton of different clamping devices available, many of which are quite common-place that we are all quite familiar with.

Recently, however, I stumbled across a clamping device that I hadn’t seen before, so I thought I would mention it here, as it seems like such a handy device which is very quick and easy to use.

The “hold down clamp” (also called a “holdfast” or “Hold downs”) is a very simple looking device, and yet is surprisingly effective. The hold down clamp is basically a piece of metal, with a straight stem, and a curved “foot”. The stem provides the holding power on the bench, and the “foot” pushes down on your workpiece, holding it in place. In order to use the hold down clamp, you will need to pre-drill some holes in your bench top – the hole should match the diameter of the stem of the hold down clamp very closely, so that it is a snug fit.

Once the holes are drilled, it is a very simple matter to use the hold down clamp. Simply place the stem into the hole in the bench top, place the curved “foot” of the hold down clamp onto the top of your workpiece (make sure you protect your workpiece by placing a piece of scrap timber between the workpiece and the foot of the hold down clamp). Once the hold down clamp is positioned correctly, take your mallet, and give it a couple of solid taps on the top. This will apply pressure to your workpiece, holding it to the bench, and the friction between the stem of the hold down clamp and the hole it is sitting in will ensure it doesn’t move.

To loosen the hold down clamp, simply tap it with your mallet again, but this time on the side of the stem. This will free the stem from the hole, and the workpiece will be released.

Hold down clamps are generally most effective when used in pairs, and they do come in different sizes.

So if you’ve ever found yourself battling with clamps to hold down your work piece, pick yourself up a pair of hold down clamps – it will transform the way you work!

There are several other types of hold down clamp available, but none seem as simple as this tried and tested method.

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Jul

12

Woodworking Safety and Your Woodwork Tools

I was reminded recently of the dangers involved with the use of any woodwork tools, and that safety is not just something for power tools!
 

In the process of moving house, I was carrying out some last minute repairs, without the benefit of my workbench and woodworking vise, which had already been moved. It was only a small job I had to do which required me to cut an unusual shape out of a small piece of timber, so I pulled out a trusty old coping saw and got stuck in. Unfortunately, as I was just starting a stroke with the saw, the workpiece broke, and instead of my saw stroke cutting smoothly through the piece of timber, I managed to cut about 1/3 of an inch directly into the end of my thumb!

In hindsight, it is clear that there were a couple of things about what I did that pretty much guaranteed that the outcome of this work wasn’t going to be as I had planned.

The first issue was that I was in a hurry, and trying to rush through a job is a surefire way to have an accident, or at least to end up with work that is of substandard quality. The old saying “More haste, less speed” definitely rang true in this case – what should have been a 5 minute job, ended up costing me several hours. It wasn’t just the trip to the doctor to ensure I wasn’t going to die a horrible death, but also the time lost as I found myself hampered by my injured thumb.

Clearly my biggest mistake however, was attempting to work with a small piece of timber that wasn’t properly secured. As a result of the piece not being secured, it was necessary for me to use one hand to hold it, making it almost inevitable that at some stage my hand would be in the wrong place if the blade slipped for any reason.

All in all, I consider myself to be quite lucky to have just ended up with a small scar, and a slight loss of sensation in the end of my thumb. There are too many woodworkers around that have a missing finger, or part of a finger – and I’m sure that most of them would admit that they ended up that way as a result of similar factors to my minor accident.

So next time you pick up your woodwork tools, make sure you have a good think about what you’re about to do, and always make safety your highest priority!

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Mar

31

Woodwork Tools – The Arbortech Mini-Grinder Power Carver

After being given a couple of burls by a friend, I was looking around for the quickest way to hollow them out to turn them into bowls, and stumbled across this very cool woodwork tool – the Arbortech Mini Grinder. This is probably one of the coolest woodworking power tools that I have seen.
You can check out the product specs and videos of it in use at http://arbortech.com.au/view/woodworking-information/mini-grinder_20070202100615 (while you’re there, make sure you check out the air board – another very cool looking (although slightly impractical) device from these guys – a bit of a strange mix of products though!). There are also a few wood carving patterns available on their site, so have a look around if you are interested in some free wood carving patterns.
 
One of the reviews on Amazon says that it is cheaper over at Bailey’s but I had a look around, and Amazon seemed to have the best price that I could find (at the time of writing), so the review may be out of date. Note that almost all of the places that I found that mentioned this tool gave it a great review, and most also suggested buying the “Mini Carbide Cutter” blade as well, as it was so much more effective for finer detail work. Sounds like it would be great if you are into chainsaw carving for cleaning up those rough edges.
 
Unfortunately, it is probably not the sort of thing that you would buy just to carve a couple of burls, but for serious wood carvers, it looks like an ideal power tool for finer carving work.
 

I am still trying to find enough uses for it so that I can justify purchasing it – let me know if you come up with any uses for this tool that aren’t immediately obvious!

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Mar

23

Welcome the Wood Scraper, Card Scraper or Cabinet Scraper to my Woodwork Tools

So, about 8 months after the birth of my 4th daughter, I have finally managed to get back to my workbench, and spend some of my precious time with my woodwork tools again.

My first attempt at building a stitch and glue kayak (based on the plans in this excellent book, also worth checking out the new edition), although successful (in that I got a boat that actually floated), clearly demonstrated the fact that I have absolutely no experience (or natural skill) in working with fibreglass and epoxy resin. As a result of a number of amateur mistakes, and a general lack of knowledge on how to work with epoxy, I ended up with a boat that I was forced to christen “Old Dribbles”, due to the large number of runs of epoxy that highlight the finish.

I decided it really was time that I cleaned these up, and so I started into it with a few sheets of sandpaper and a sanding block. This didn’t last long…Sanding has never been my favourite pastime and sanding epoxy seemed to amplify my dislike for it, so I started thinking of other ways to attack it. I had tried using my block plane in the past, with some success, but I thought this might be a good opportunity to try out a wood scraper (also sometimes called a card scraper, or a cabinet scraper). The wood scraper is a tool that I have always shied away from, as the process for sharpening seems so laborious and precise.

I happened to have an offcut of stainless steel lying around which already appeared (to an amateur card scraper user such as myself) to have the desirable qualities of a card scraper – the metal is quite hard, and it even already had a bit of a burr which must have been put there when it was guillotined. Not having any idea of how to sharpen it properly, I thought I would give it a go as it was. I must say, I was very impressed. The small burr on the edge of the card scraper was quite efficient at removing the excess epoxy, and yet it still removed small enough quantities that I didn’t feel there was any danger of cutting too deeply into the epoxy, or through the epoxy to the wood.

After my initial success using the card scraper on epoxy, I turned it to another of my least favourite tasks – removing paint from recycled timber. Again, I was very impressed with how effective the scraper was at removing a fine layer such as paint.

After a while experimenting with the card scraper, I could tell that it was losing its edge, and so I turned to my old friend google to get some information on how to sharpen it.

There are any number of sites that will show you how to sharpen a card scraper, and the process can seem quite daunting to a new user, indeed, as I mentioned before, the process of sharpening a card scraper is one of the reasons that I have shied away from using a card scraper in the past.

After checking out this site: http://woodgears.ca/scraper/index.html, I was feeling the same apprehension as I had previously, particularly as it reminded me that I didn’t have a burnishing tool to sharpen my card scraper.

I then stumbled across this site: http://woodtube.ning.com/video/the-easy-way-to-sharpen-a-card which has an excellent video on the rough and ready way to sharpen a card scraper. The method described in this video will not suit everyone, but it was perfect for what I was looking to use the card scraper for at the time, and is so quick and easy that it should be enough to convert anyone who has been hesitant to try a card scraper because they weren’t confident they could sharpen it.

Following my experimentation, I would highly recommend that everyone have a go at using a card scraper – particularly if, like me, you don’t particularly enjoy sanding. Whilst I am still in the beginning stages of appreciation for the card scraper, the results were so impressive that I am already planning on investing more time in this tool so that I can get beyond the rough and ready method of sharpening, and get to the point where I am confident with sharpening it in the traditional method.

Look out for me down at the tool store – you’ll find me checking out burnishing tools…

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