The Gift of Time: 8 Ways to Use Extra Time in the Shop

Time is the greatest of gifts.  None of us knows how much of it we will have over our lifetime, and once it’s gone we can never get it back.  That’s why I’m not much bothered by the prospect of spending the next few weeks at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Nobody in our family is sick, but my university will probably move our courses online for the next few weeks, and the kids’ activities outside the house are being curtailed.)  The pandemic is giving me something I rarely get, especially at this time of year: extra time at home.

The question, though, is what to do with the extra time?  It would be so easy to squander it by binging TV shows or surfing the internet–which is what I’m afraid a lot of people will do with their extra time at home this month.  I intend to spend more time playing outdoors with my kids and going on long walks with my wife, but I’ll also be spending some extra time at the workbench.

If you’re a woodworker and find yourself stuck at home this month and next, here are some ideas for  making the best of your extra time in the shop during the next few weeks:

1. Clean Up

Let’s start with the obvious one.  If you’re anything like me, you probably have scraps to be sorted, hardware to be put away, garbage to be taken out, and nooks to be swept out.  But I’m going to make a counterintuitive suggestion here: don’t spend all your extra shop time cleaning, unless your shop has just become completely dysfunctional.  Use at least some of your extra shop time to actually make something, too.

2. Finish Something

Most of us have half-finished or almost-completed projects sitting around the shop, just waiting for us to muster the willpower to get them done.  Pick one of your incomplete projects and get it completed.

3. Replace “Temporary” Storage and Fixtures

You know that makeshift lumber and/or tool storage you slapped together–gosh, how many years ago was that now?  Or maybe you put together a “temporary” workbench one time, and you’ve been fighting its limitations ever since?  And how about that inadequate lighting over your workstations?  Your eyesight isn’t getting any better, you know.  Now is a good time to put your workshop right: tear out the makeshift, temporary fixtures and replace them with something truly permanent–something you will actually enjoy working with for the next few decades.

4. Use Those Shorts

Practically every woodworker I know has a pile of offcuts that are too short for most projects but too nice to just throw away.  We always think, “This would make a nice box.” Okay, great.  Make some boxes or other small objects out of the offcuts you’ve been saving.  Or make some wooden spoons or spatulas out of the hardwood offcuts–which is what I do with practically all of mine.

5. Do That Special Project

While you’re going through your lumber stash, you will likely come across that extra-nice piece of wood that you’ve been “saving for a special project.”  Perhaps now is the time to figure out what that special project is going to be so the wood you’ve been saving can finally see the light of day.

6. Catch up on Deferred Maintenance

Most of the tools we use require some regular maintenance, but often we put it off because we (rightly) prefer building things to maintaining our tools.  But maintenance can only be put off so long before our negligence beings to affect the quality of our work.  Whether it’s replacing worn parts (how are those bandsaw tires?), lubricating moving parts, or resharpening blades (how are those jointer/planer blades?), or whether it’s just cleaning the accumulated sawdust out of all the nooks and crannies, you could probably spend a whole day just tuning up your tools.

7. Practice a New Skill

Most of us have joints that we avoid putting into our pieces because we haven’t yet learned to cut them with confidence.  Pick a joint–half-blind dovetails, mortise and tenon–and practice it on some scraps.  Or pick a basic technique like four-squaring a board or sawing consistently to a line. Do two or three a day for the next three weeks, and you’ll be amazed at how much your skills will improve.

8. Teach Someone

If you’ve been meaning to bring a family member into your workspace and show him or her how to work wood, take a little time to do that.  One of the biggest impediments to teaching someone the trade is time–you have to set aside shop time for the teaching, and you have to be patient while the other person practices.  So if you don’t have to hurry through a lesson or through practice, you can not only pass on your skills, but you can also enjoy spending time together.

Posted in Kids, Musings, sharpening, skills, storage, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cedar Cigar Box

When I was a kid, a cigar box was something you made other things out of, not something you made.  But now I’ve gone and made a cigar box–by request.  Let’s hope this cigar box doesn’t meet the fate of many other cigar boxes down the ages.  (All you back-alley luthiers stay away!)  This box is made of red cedar, and the overall dimensions are 12″ wide, 9″ deep, and 3.5″ tall.  Here’s the finished product:


I was given a whole load of cedar scraps a while back, and I thought this box would be a perfect opportunity to use some of them.  My goal was not only to fashion a pretty box, but also to use as many of the odd-sized scraps as I could.  I wish I had taken a picture of the armload of shorts and offcuts I started with, but I had to get this box made in a hurry, so I kept the process pictures to a minimum.  The customer needs it tomorrow morning!


For ease of construction as well as durability, I chose to join the corners of the case with nailed rabbets.  Cutting the rabbets is simple–just a couple of saw cuts on each end of the board.  I glued the box together first, and once the glue had set, I nailed through the rabbets.


Here’s a random shot from the building process.  Checking for square across both diagonals is crucial.


The nails are cut headless brads made by the Tremont Nail Co.  Because I was nailing into a wood that splits very easily, I cut each brad down to about 2/3 of its original length before driving them in.  You can barely see the ends of the nails in each corner.

The top and bottom required me to glue up a couple little panels.  The top was fairly easy–two boards glued up.  The bottom was trickier, as the boards were quite thin (about 1/4″ thick), and there were three of them.


I used a tape trick to keep everything aligned: you squeeze the boards together and tape over the joints.  Then open the joints as you would a book, spread the glue, and close the joints again.  Just a little pressure from clamps makes for a firm glue-up.


I rabbeted the inside of the case (before glue-up) so that the bottom is inset and will have a bit of room to expand and contract.  I made the bottom oversized initially so I could cut it down to exactly the right dimensions.


A few nails through the sides keep the bottom in place.  The nails will allow for seasonal expansion and contraction.  It’s not a piston-fit by any means, but it doesn’t have to be.

The top is attached with hardware-store hinges surface-mounted on the back.  I chamfered the underside of the lid as well as the rim of the case so the fingers have an easy way to open the lid.


For the lid itself, I chose a particularly knotty piece.


Cedar is typically a knotty wood, so you can either waste a lot of wood trying to eliminate knots and other defects, or you can choose to use them as accents.


For this box, I chose character.  I think it works.

A bit of sanding and some paste wax on the outside of the box finished the job.  In all, it probably took me under 3 hours from start to finish–and that includes taking the pictures at the end.


Posted in Boxes, Wood and Woodwork | Leave a comment

The Card Scraper Wallet

Many woodworkers agree that the secret weapon of smoothness is the card scraper.  But there are many different opinions on the best way to store a set of card scrapers.  (If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, it looks too simple to work: a thin plate of tool steel whose edge has been rolled over into a microscopic hook which serves as a fragile but effective cutting edge.)  I’m not here to get into an argument, but to share an effective way to store your card scrapers.

Nearly a decade ago, I acquired my first set of four card scrapers.  To keep them together, I sewed a little wallet for them out of some canvas scraps.

Card Scraper Wallet 6-10 - 2

It took me perhaps an hour to put the whole thing together.  As sewing projects go, it was pretty straightforward, requiring only three pieces of cloth, some thread, and a sewing machine.

Card Scraper Wallet

I’ve acquired a few more card scraper since then.  The fabric is a little grimy now, but it holds and organizes the scrapers as conveniently as ever.

Card Scraper Wallet

It folds right up into a tidy package that fits neatly into any corner of my tool chest.

The advantages of card scrapers are that they are cheap, effective, and easy to use.

Walnut Mantle 8-2019

When the edge is prepared correctly, they will produce beautiful shavings and leave a finish-ready surface on dry hardwood.

But the downside is that the cutting edge is fragile and deteriorates quickly in use.  So it’s best to have several scrapers prepared all at once for big scraping jobs, like the fireplace mantle I’m working on above.  It’s also best to store all the scrapers in one place where the edges won’t get damaged by bumping up against other tools, and where they won’t be exposed to excess dust and humidity, which is a main cause of rust.

My scraper wallet answers all those requirements.  It contains several scrapers (20+ at the moment!) all in the same place.  It keeps the dust off of them, and it puts the cutting edges out of harm’s way.  After years of working out of this scraper wallet, I couldn’t think of a way it could be improved.

Except that maybe I could have made it bigger, so as to hold even more card scrapers….

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Flattening Your Oilstone Is Really Easy

While sharpening some blades this afternoon, I finally got sick enough of my dished oilstone to actually do something about it.  I’ve had this double-sided (soft/hard) Arkansas stone for probably 5-10 years and have never flattened it.  The soft side especially just kept getting more and more dished every year.  But I kept putting off flattening it because I’ve got an old belt sander in pieces stored away, and I always figured I’d eventually put the sander back into working order, and then the first thing I’d do would be to flatten my oilstones.  Today I realized that wasn’t going to happen.

I decided to dress this stone the old-fashioned way: by hand.  Buts it turned out, flattening this stone was really easy and really fast.  (It took me longer to write this blog post than to actually flatten the stone.)  Here’s how I did it:

Step #1: Find a flat-ish surface and attach a long roll of coarse sandpaper. 

I’m a big fan of the Klingspor bargain boxes of sandpaper rolls, and I happened to have a roll of coarse sandpaper sitting right there on my workbench.  I located a relatively flat stretch of real estate on my workbench and affixed one end of the sandpaper roll with a holdfast.

Oil Stone Flattening 2019

This length of sandpaper was over 3′ long, and I used the whole length.  (If you don’t have a holdfast, consider using a staple gun.)

Step #2: Push in one direction, turn, and repeat. 

You will be tempted to just rub the stone back and forth on the sandpaper.  Don’t.  That will create a convex surface, not a flat one.  Instead, just push the stone down the length of the sandpaper, lift it up at the end of the stroke, turn it around, and repeat.  Turning the stone every stroke or two helps you keep everything nice and flat.

Oil Stone Flattening 2019

When the sandpaper loads up with dust, you can replace the sandpaper.  Or, if you’re a cheapskate like me, just vacuum or brush the dust off and keep going.  I probably cleaned the dust out of the sandpaper four or five times during this process.

Step #3: When it’s flat, stop.

Once the old surface has been completely removed, you can stop.  The stone is as flat as it’s going to get.

Oil Stone Flattening 2019

Depending on how dished the stone is (and on how hard the stone is), it may take you 10-15 minutes of work to completely flatten the stone.  But in the grand scheme of things, that’s pretty fast.

Oil Stone Flattening 2019

A little bit of oil brings out the color variations in the natural stone.  It’s ready to use again! (I did also flatten the other side of this stone, which is hard Arkansas stone, and that took a little bit longer.)

Is the stone now absolutely-professional-level-within-a-millionth-of-an-inch-over-the-entire-surface flat?  Nah, probably not.  But it’s MUCH flatter than it was before, and that’s what matters to me.   And it took me only about ten minutes from start to finish.

If I had known how quick and easy this job was going to be, I wouldn’t have put it off so long!  I might just make this an annual routine maintenance job.

Posted in sharpening, Tutorials, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Folding Outfeed Table for My Bandsaw

I don’t enjoy working with powered machines nearly as much as I enjoy working with hand tools, but I do rely a lot on my bandsaw for cutting down big pieces of wood into smaller pieces.  My main bandsaw is a 14″ Steel City saw, which has the capacity to cut material that’s almost a foot thick.

I use this bandsaw especially for sawing sections of logs into boards, which is very difficult to do if I don’t have adequate outfeed support for the workpiece.  (I’ve tried balancing a long board on the bandsaw’s table alone.  I didn’t get good results.)  If you do a lot of long rips, and especially resawing, consider putting a similar outfeed table on your bandsaw.

Here’s the outfeed table I came up with:

Bandsaw Folding Outfeed Table 2019

I had looked around online for designs for a bandsaw outfeed table and found very little (maybe I was looking in the wrong places).  The outfeed table I envisioned needed to meet two main requirements:

  1. It needed to attach to the saw itself, mainly for stability.  You can buy free-standing devices for outfeed support, but I doubted their ability to adequately support the kinds of workpieces I’ll be putting through this saw.  And besides, they cost money, and I was pretty sure I could build something with stock I had on hand.
  2. It needed to fold up flat against the saw.  Space is at a premium here, and I have a couple tools all crowded into the same space.  So a folding table is a must.

I eventually settled on a design in which legs are attached to the sides of a solid table with long wood screws so the legs can pivot.  The legs stand on a little riser to keep the table co-planar with the band saw’s table.  (That’s the one little compromise I had to make with this design.  If the legs were long enough on their own, they would be too long to fold up alongside the table.)

The outfeed table itself is just glued up out of 2X stock I had lying around.

Bandsaw Folding Outfeed Table 2019

After the glue was dry, I leveled it off with a jack plane.  I didn’t need a perfect surface, just something that workpieces won’t catch on.  And at least I got to use a hand tool on this project.

The table is (about) the same width as the bandsaw table, and it’s as long as the distance from the underside of the table to the floor, or really a hair under.

The only mildly challenging part was attaching the table to the rails on the bandsaw table, which required drilling through the rails, inserting a wooden spacer, and attaching hinges with bolts and stop nuts.  (Depending on how your bandsaw table is constructed, you might have to modify the hinge placement/attachment process.)  Bandsaws produce a lot of vibration, which can shake nuts loose quickly.  I think the stop nuts will hold, though.

Bandsaw Folding Outfeed Table 2019

The wooden spacer had to be just thick enough to put the top of the outfeed table at the same level as the top of the bandsaw table.  It took me a couple tries to get it exactly right.

Bandsaw Folding Outfeed Table 2019

The table folds down perfectly.  With the table down, I can wheel the saw back up against the wall if I need extra space.

Bandsaw Folding Outfeed Table 2019

I had to position the cross-member on the legs so that it cleared the housing for the belt and pulley.

I haven’t yet stress-tested it with really heavy material, but it works just fine so far on light-duty cuts.  If the legs turn out to be too spindly (they’re only 3/4″ thick) I’ll replace them with some thicker ones.

In the meantime, I have some sections of pecan logs that need to be sawn up into proper boards.

Posted in power tools, Tutorials, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Want to Carve Spoons? Use a Template

On a spoon-carving forum I read, the question of templates comes up frequently.  A lot of spoon carvers say they “just wing it,” or as others put it, “just see what the wood wants to be.”

Now, there’s no question that woodworking of any kind requires a certain amount of negotiation between the woodworker and the wood.  Certain pieces of wood have certain features that will nudge a thoughtful woodworker in certain directions.  But it’s important not to let the wood always be the one in charge.  Because, as one astute forum member once remarked, “what the wood really ‘wants’ to be is a stick.”  To turn it into anything else (like a spoon), you have to be willing to impose your will on the material.

I’ve made a lot of spoons over the past few years, and I’ve handled quite a few made by other woodworkers.  In my kitchen, I’ve used the spoons that I and others have made.  That experience has taught me something about the importance of templates–which is to say, about the importance of careful design.

Spoons carved by “just winging it” aren’t usually very good.  Unless l you are very experienced (or just have a preternaturally good eye for this sort of thing), just winging it will result in something between not-quite-right and fairly-useless about 90% of the time.

There’s a pretty narrow range of dimensions beyond which a wooden spoon becomes less than comfortable to use.  If an eating spoon is too long, it doesn’t balance correctly, but if it’s too short, your hand ends up getting dipped in the soup.  If the bowl is too narrow or too shallow, it doesn’t hold enough food.  Too deep or too wide, and it’s hard to eat out of.

I haven’t reduced any of these dimensions to numerical values, and I’m not going to.  I arrived at my own templates by trying to use some of my first spoons to cook with and considering why I didn’t like them–too long, too short, too wide, too thick, whatever.  I also observed what I liked about the one or two spoons that I found myself reaching for over and over–the bowl was the right size, the handle was the right shape, the whole thing was the right length, etc.

Eventually I traced out a couple of my best spoons and made myself some templates so I could replicate my success.  Because ultimately, that’s what a template helps you do–succeed repeatedly–instead of just finding new ways to fail.


(Templates can be made out of anything you can trace around–a thin piece of wood, a bit of paperboard, or even a piece of plastic cut out of a milk jug.  I often put the date on mine, just for fun.)

Using a template does not take the joy out of spoon carving.  It just releases you from having to do the design work and the carving work all at once.  When you do the design work first, even if that’s just sketching out a few pencil lines freehand on the face of a bit of wood, you liberate yourself to focus on the carving itself once you put your knife to the wood.  (There is great freedom in being able to do just one thing at a time instead of many things all at once.)  And if you find that you need to depart from your intended design, you can always do that, too.

If you want to make good wooden spoons, a pencil is the first carving tool, and one of the most indispensable.

Posted in Carving, handicraft, Musings, skills, Wood and Woodwork, Woodenware | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Make Your Own Drawer Pulls?

I had finally assembled this dovetailed, built-in shoe cabinet for my kids shoes, and it was time to consider the hardware.  (This post is not about building the shoe cabinet, though I give a few construction details at the end.  Hang with me, here.)  Without thinking much about it, I drove out to the local Lowes and picked up eight drawer knobs for about $2 each.  There were a nice antique brass color, which I thought would look nice up against the pine cabinet.

IMG_9986 2

But before I got around to attaching them to the drawer fronts, my wife and I had one of our periodic sit-down-with-the-household-budget sessions, and it made me rethink my decision to buy the knobs.  Why should I go out and buy something if I might be able to make my own version with materials I already have on hand?

Because–let’s face it–I’ve been shaping small pieces of wood to my liking for years now.  I have saws, planes, and carving gouges.  How hard could it be to fashion a few drawer pulls out of some scrap wood?

As it turns out, not hard at all.  It was, in fact, one of the easiest parts of the whole project.  I made a couple of prototypes out of a section of 2X4 and showed them to my wife.  She critiqued the design and dimensions, and we settled on something we both thought would complement the cabinet.


I was surprised at how simple it was to make these things.  When it came right down to it, four drawer pulls took me under an hour to fashion.  (This post is not about how to make them, but the process was simple.  I used a 1″ wide carving gouge to carve out the inside.  Then I used a saw, handplane, and spokeshave to round over the ends and top edges.  Making them all out of a single piece wood ensures they are perfectly matched.  Dimensions are 1″ thick, 1 1/2″ tall, and 5″ wide.)


I was able to make each pull wide enough that only one is needed on each drawer.


I screwed them on from the back using wood screws.


Each one is perfectly fitted to the human hand.

So, to answer the question in the title, there are several good reasons to make your own drawer pulls.

  1. You can make them to match your work perfectly.  Making them from offcuts from your project ensures flawless grain/color matching.  Or you can use a contrasting wood of your choice.  You could even laminate woods of several different colors for a psychedelic effect.  (I briefly considered making these from a darker wood for contrast but then decided that the prominent grain pattern of the southern yellow pine needed no further contrasting elements.)
  2. You can make them whatever size and shape you want.  Are your hands exceptionally large or small?  Scale them to your own personal comfort.  You can make them narrow or wide.  You can round the corners or make them perfect squares.  You can make circular pulls if you really want.  The dimensions can be exactly suited to the piece you are building.
  3. They cost you little more than time to make, especially because you can nearly always make them from scrap wood you already have lying around.  Unlike money, we all have exactly the same amount of time to spend, and we get a new supply of it every day as long as we live.  Turning time into money which we then spend on things is often an inefficient process–better to spend your time directly on producing a thing and cut out the money altogether.
  4. Making your own pulls frees you from the limitations imposed on your work by mass-production and arbitrary fashion.  You don’t have to design your work around the hardware that large corporations happen to have made available to you at the moment.  You don’t have to embellish your custom-made work with mass-produced hardware that looks just like the hardware on ever other piece of furniture out there.

If you are enough of a woodworker to build something that needs handles and/or pulls, then you are enough of a woodworker to make your own.


(And if you’re just reading this in hopes of getting more construction details about the shoe cabinet, here are a couple more shots that shows how each drawer tips out.  The carcase is made of 1X8s dovetailed at the corners.  The drawers fronts are each made of glued-up 2X8s.  Drawers are dovetailed, and there’s a solid bottom captured in a groove.  The sides come only about 2/3 the way up the fronts, and the backs are just two rails dovetailed into the sides.  The drawers rest on rails screwed into the inside of the carcase.  The “hinge” at the bottom of each drawer is just a long finish nail, and there’s a cord that prevents the drawer from tipping too far out.)


So anyway, I’m taking the knobs I bought back to the store for a refund.

I may never buy drawer pulls again.

Posted in skills, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Last Bedstead

When my youngest child–my only son, R.–finally outgrew our old toddler bed (which I had originally built for his older sister, and which had then been passed down through the siblings to him, and which I eventually gave away to a young family in town), it was time to make him a twin-size bed of his own.  Like all the bed frames in the house, it needed to be affordable to make, it needed to be disassemble-able, and it needed to be robustly built because I intend it to last through R.’s teenage years.

Southern yellow pine is an excellent wood for this kind of project–cheap and very strong.  I had a few 2X8s and 2X10s stored away for this project.  Every time I get lumber at the local home center, I buy one or two extra boards–the clearest, straightest ones I can find.  They come in handy for projects like this.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

R. is just big enough that he wanted to help me break down the stock.  I started the cut, and he almost finished it.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

One of his sisters also wanted to take a turn.  She insisted on finishing her cut.  Then they let me make the rest of the cuts myself.

The design of the frame is fairly simple, but I’ve never seen anything else quite like it, so I suppose it’s my own design.

The head board is joined with mortise-and-tenon joints, and the panel is solid boards, shiplapped and screwed into a rabbet from the back.  The screws are set close to the middle of each board and put into oversize holes to allow for wood movement.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

Here is the dog taking temporary shelter under the partially-finished headboard.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

One of the cats found the workbench comfortable.  And he didn’t even seem to mind having tools and workpieces set on top of him.

Anyhow, back to the joinery.  The headboard and footboard are solid pieces, joined with mortises and tenons.  The side rails, which also support the mattress, are joined to the headboard and footboard by big lapped dovetails, secured by carriage bolts.

Cutting dovetails on the ends of long boards is an adventure, to be sure.  Once the tails are cut, I use the tails to lay out the sockets on each side of the headboard and footboard.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

After I sawed the lines on each side as much as I could, I used a bit and brace to remove most of the waste.  The rest I split out, and then I trued up the bottom with a router plane.  The resulting socket still looks pretty rough.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

But it looks a lot better when the tail fits perfectly the first time.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

After applying the finish (lacquer) and letting it dry thoroughly, I assembled the joints and pinned them with carriage bolts.  Stop-nuts on the bolts keep everything tight.

The undercarriage that supports the mattress is a set of 2X6s laid loose across battens screwed to the inside of each rail.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

R. enjoyed drilling the pilot holes for the screws that attach the battens.

After bolting everything together, we set the mattress on top to see how everything fits together.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

I think he likes it, although we did have to do some serious room-cleaning to make space for the bed.  As you can see, it’s a very small room, so I made the bed high enough that he can store things underneath in plastic tubs.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

Then, as soon as we had the bed in place, his sister M. came in to help him arrange things.  She likes “staging” rooms.

He was more interested in making faces a the camera.

R Bed Frame 6-2019

So there you go–that should be the last bed frame I have to make for quite a while.

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A Beginning Woodworker’s Toolkit

If you want to begin doing woodworking with hand tools, it’s hard to know where to begin.  There are so many woodworking tools on the market.  A beginner’s tool kit need not be large, and you can do good work with only a few basic tools.  I posted the following list here on my blog nine years ago, and I still think it’s a good list (with a couple additions at the end). 

When I began working wood in earnest, I had almost no woodworking tools.  I owned a circular saw, an electric drill, a couple hammers, a tape measure, and a helplessly dull hand saw.  Then I took a couple courses in hand-tool joinery at the School of Woodworking at Homestead Heritage in central Texas.  There I was taught to cut three basic joints using ten hand tools.  In preparation for the first class, the instructor distributed a list of basic hand tools that would be used in the course.  My skills have developed a lot since then, but I still use many of the same techniques I was taught there.  I have modified the list based on my own needs and practices, and I offer it here as a way to begin working wood.

Smoother in Shavings 2012 - - 3

Woodworking doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, although it frequently is.  You can build most anything you need using the tools below.  Of course I now have more tools than this, but these are still the tools I reach for most often.

  • An accurate combination square.  Get a good one.  Most hardware store brands are inaccurate.  PEC squares, such as the Lee Valley and Woodcraft brand, are a good value.
  • A set of chisels: 1/4”, 1/2”, 3/4” and 1”
  • A layout knife.  A utility knife or Exacto knife is adequate to begin with, or you can make one.
  • A marking gauge.  Eventually you will want several, including a mortise gauge.
  • A dovetail or gents saw (Crown is fine)
  • A carcase saw.  This is a small backsaw, usually 10”-12” in length.  A vintage saw, such as a Disston or Atkins, is an excellent choice.
  • A regular hand saw, 8-12 ppi, filed for crosscuts.  Again, find a good vintage saw, such as a Disston or an Atkins.
  • A small hammer for tacks and joint assembly.  A ball peen or small claw hammer works well.
  • A solid joiner’s mallet.  Buy one, or make your own.
  • A handplane.  A used Stanley, such as a #4 or #5, is a good choice.
  • A jointer plane.  Again, a used Stanley #7 is excellent.
  • A flat-bottomed spokeshave.  A vintage Stanley 151 works very well.
  • Sharpening equipment: coarse abrasive, fine abrasive, and a strop.
  • A box Band-Aid Tough Strips.  $3 at Wal-Mart, and worth every penny!

It is imperative that you have functioning sharpening equipment.  The most expensive tools in the world are useless if they are dull.  It is generally recommended that you put your money into a good layout square and a good smoothing plane.  Many good tools can be found used and at lower costs than they can be bought new.  Look especially for used saws, hammers, and planes.  However, used tools must often be cleaned and/or repaired before use.  There are several excellent guides available for those who wish to learn to restore vintage woodworking tools.

No debate is more intense in the hand-tool world than the ongoing debate on sharpening materials and techniques.  My advice is to pick one method and stick with it until you master it.  Here are some options for sharpening.

  • For starters, try the “Scary Sharp” method, which uses sandpaper on a hard, flat surface.  Oil stones, waterstones, and diamond stones are also great choices.  DMT makes a 2-sided coarse/fine stone, which is a good economical choice for diamond stones.
  • A strop is a piece of leather glued to a flat piece of seasoned hardwood, and usually rubbed with an abrasive compound.  Lee Valley sells a very good honing compound.  The strop both polishes the edge and cleanly removes any burr left from the coarser abrasives, resulting in a smooth, keen edge.
  • Taper files for sharpening saws, and a saw set.  This is not an immediate need, but at some point your saws will get dull, and you will have to either sharpen them or replace them.

As I read over my original list, I have only two additional tool recommendations, as well as recommendations for books that weren’t available when I made the initial post.

  • Clamps.  You will need to clamp your joints together as the glue dries.  (Did I mention you will also need wood glue?  Any wood glue on the market will be fine.  Don’t over-think this one.  And don’t buy too much at a time–the small bottle is just fine.)  The most versatile clamps for a beginner are pipe clamps.  Get the kind that work with 1/2″ black pipe, and buy lengths of pipe as you need them.  You should have at least four pipe clamps to begin with.
  • A workbench with a vise–a woodworker’s vise, not a machinist’s vise.  You don’t need a big, fancy bench at first, but you do need something that is sturdy and heavy enough that it won’t wobble or scoot across the floor in use.  There’s nothing wrong with screwing together 2X6s from the lumberyard.  (2X6s tend to be better quality than 2X4s and aren’t any more expensive inch-for-inch.)  Good dimensions are 6-8 feet long, 2-3 feet deep, and 32-34 inches tall.

And that brings me to books.  One of the best investments you can make in this hobby is not in tools or wood but in information.  Before you build your first serious workbench, buy and read Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use by Chris Schwarz.  You will learn all about what a workbench can and should do, and you will avoid many pitfalls in design and construction.

Lastly, as you continue to build your tool kit, it will be worth your time to buy and read The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, also by Chris Schwarz.  The book isn’t cheap, and the writing style is pedestrian, but you will not find a better single-volume guide to selecting and using hand tools any time soon.

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