Tuesday, November 5, 2013

CTR 8: Veritas Carcase Saw

This is a review of the Veritas 12TPI Carcase Saw.  Mine is filed rip, which seems to work fine for everything I've used it for.

As with the DMT sharpening plates, I'm a little hesitant to call this a "Cheap Tool Review".  The saw cost me about $80, which isn't cheap, especially not compared to, say, the gent's saw I reviewed a while back.  On the other hand, an equivalent tool from Lie Nielsen equivalent is about $140, and the prices mostly go up from there.


 Where, and How Much?

I purchased the saw from Woodcraft, and paid about $80.

What do you get, and What's the Construction Like?

You get a saw, and not much else, unless you count the rather nice cardboard box.  I don't.  The construction is up to the normal Veritas standards:  the handle is well-formed and comfortable to hold, made out of a good hardwood (currently Bubinga, although I can imagine them changing it if the supply gets low).  The teeth are well cut and even, and the set is just about perfect.  I'm not a big fan of the resin spine -- I think brass or steel would look better -- but it feels solid, and being able to mold the spine probably cuts some off the price.  Overall, it feels very well made, and it's comfortable to use.

 How does it work?

It works great.  I bought the 12TPI saw, filed for ripping.  Why?  Well, for a few reasons.

First and foremost, I'm convinced it doesn't actually matter at this tooth size.  There seems to be some agreement among hand-tool gurus that that's the case, and my experience with this saw seems to back it up.  Simply put, with teeth this small you'll get a relatively smooth cut no matter what the tooth geometry is.  Cross cutting is always easy even with rip teeth, and ripping always sucks with crosscut teeth.  So, if you're only going to get one saw in a size, and the size includes small (12 or more teeth per inch) teeth, just buy it filed for ripping.

A lot of what I want this for is ripping.  Cutting tenons, ripping very small stock, starting rip cuts on longer (thin) stock to continue with my ryoba, and things like that.  Any crosscutting I do will be small;  tenon shoulders, or cutting small pieces to length on a bench hook.

I've used it so far for both ripping and cross-cutting pine, maple, and poplar:  it had no trouble with anything.  It cuts straight unless I screw it up, and the cut is clean and fairly smooth, with very little tearout on the back.  My one complaint is that it's hard to start, and I think that will fade as I learn to use the saw better.

Final Thoughts?

While it's not precisely cheap, this is an excellent saw for the price.  I like the feel of the handle a lot, and while I don't exactly find it attractive, it works extremely well.

UPDATE, 16 June 2014:  I've come to dislike how thin the blade is.  I know, I know, it's supposed to make things easier, but I'd really prefer it just a touch thicker.  I now have an old Disston tenon saw to compare it to, and I really like the thicker blade on the Disston.  I still like it otherwise, and that's certainly a personal preference, so I still recommend the saw.

Would I buy another?

 Absolutely, but only if I manage to break this one.  I really can't see myself having a need for a second saw just like this.  If I decided to buy a dovetail saw, I'd seriously consider the one matching this saw.  Sadly, they don't make a larger saw;  I'd really like a saw roughly 14" long, with at least 4" of depth and around 12 teeth per inch, but those are hard to find.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dutch Toolchest project - not quite done!

Just for once, I decided to do what all the cool kids are doing, and built myself a Dutch Toolchest.  It's kind of neat to be part of a crowd.  The project isn't quite done, but it's done enough to photograph.

I imagine anyone who finds this post will have already seen more than they want to know about the chest, so I'll just include this link to Christopher Schwarz's article about them.

I made a few changes, some of which may cause trouble in the future, and some of which are already causing trouble.

The construction is standard:  I had a lot of 1x12 pine lying around after tearing up a workbench that was left behind by the previous owners of my house, so I used that.  So far I've managed to avoid buying any parts at all for this chest, and I'm hoping to keep it that way.  The shelves are set into dados in the sides, and the front and back are simply screwed on.  In the near future I'll add a chain or cloth tape to hold the lid open, but for now it just leans on whatever I've put behind the chest.  The boards for the back are shiplapped, since I didn't have a good set of irons for doing tongue and groove.  And now, on to the photos!  (click any of them to get a full sized image on Flickr)

Click here to see full size on Flickr

The Top Compartment:

Click here to see original on Flickr

As you can see, there's a LOT of space in there.  In this photo, it's holding:
  • 8 Chisels, ranging from 1/4" to 1 1/2".
  • 2 Screwdrivers;  one is a standard size flat-head, the other is a 4-in-1 type.  I'll be adding more screwdrivers later. 
  • A wheel-type marking gauge.
  • 2 Joinery saws, a gent's type dovetailing saw and a Veritas carcase saw.  I'm planning to add a 14" tenon saw to that eventually, but for now these do what I need.
  • Planes!  Fitted in the bottom of the compartment are:
    • A 24" transitional Siegley try plane.
    • A Stanley #5 jack plane
    • A Ward's Master #4 smoothing plane
    • A Stanley #3 smoothing plane (I use this more than the #4 these days)
    • Two block planes, one Stanley and the other Craftsman, both regular angle.
    • A 2" skew rebate plane
    • A 1" straight rebate plane.
  • Not present in the photo is my shop apron, which gets folded and set on top of the planes.
There's a stretch of open space next to the chisels, which I'll drill as necessary to hold other tools.  I'd like to add some mortising chisels to my tool kit, and I'll probably need to drill odd-sized holes for those, and my Yankee screwdriver will also need a much larger hole than the rest of my screwdrivers.

You can see I made one major change from the original chest here:  I added a false back to mount the tool rack on, and store joinery saws behind the false back.  Once I've worked out where I want them, I'll slide thin partitions down between the saws and tack them in place.  That should give the teeth more protection than they have in the Schwarz version, and give me an easy way to re-adjust what saws are where.

The Bottom Compartment:

Click here to see original on Flickr

The lower compartment is a lot messier, and I'm hoping to change that.  I'm starting to think I may want to add a drawer or two to hold small tools:  a stack at one end would hold drill bits, my #78, and parts for the combination plane quite nicely, with plenty of space left for everything else.

In the photo, you can see:
  • A Sargent made combination plane, and a roll of irons for it
  • A Stanley #78 moving fillister plane
  • A box of Forstner bits
  • A hammer and a plastic mallet
  • A brace
  • A 16" combination square
  • The tip of the carcase saw from the top.
 I'll be adding at least one more brace, a roll of auger and other bits, and an eggbeater drill.  That might be all that needs to fit, but I'm not sure.

What's left?

Since the title of this post indicates that there's some work left to do, I might as well mention that.

The first thing that remains to be done is adding a way to mount panel saws inside the lid.  The fact that I moved the tool rack forward means I don't have space to mount them the same way Christopher Schwarz did, with two saws stacked together.  Most likely what I'll do is add brackets that hold both saws flat against the lid.  If there's space, I'd also like to put that 16" combination square there, but I'm not going to count on it being possible.  As part of this, I need to remove the lid and create mortises for the hinges to sit in.

The second thing is building a drop panel for the front.  My intent has been to set that up the way everyone else does, with a simple latching mechanism and a removable panel.  I'm now thinking I might want to do something a little different, and hinge it so it stays attached.  That would let me pull things out and use the front panel as a small surface to, for instance, unpack the #78 and put it together.

Possibly before that, but certainly before finishing, I need to get some handles on this chest.  It weighs quite a lot, and right now it's basically impossible to lift without removing at least some of the planes.  Right now I'm thinking to use 1 1/2" square strips across both sides, with a hollow on the underside to get my fingers into.  I'd love to use quality iron lifts, but I'm still trying to make this work without buying any parts, and I don't have any lifts handy.

Finally, I want to paint the chest.  I have a few small tester-size cans of a dark blue paint, which I'll use after an oil-based primer.  The wood I used is fairly dirty, and I'd like that to not stain through the paint.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Current projects

I haven't written much here in a while, because life has been crazy.  I'm working again, which is great, but leaves me with very limited shop time.  Add in the fact that I keep scheduling my weekends for travel, and I have even less.

That said, I've made some progress.  I'm just about done with construction of my all-scrap Dutch tool chest:  it was made from the remains of a workbench which really wasn't useful to me (2x3 and 1x12 construction, and it wiggled when I pushed on it with one finger).  I even managed to scrounge enough screws to do most of the assembly.  I'll need to buy a few more screws, some hardwood for the lid-mounted saw rack, and one more board (probably) for the front panel, but it's basically done other than that.

So what's next?  A new bench.  The one I have is great:  it's heavy, it's solid, and I like the way it looks.  Unfortunately, it's in my unheated shop, where I won't be working for the rest of the year.  So I'm going to build a new one.  My intent is to make it portable:  either folding, or just something I can dismantle.

Right now, I have two ideas. 

1) The Roy Underhill "Woodwright's Apprentice" bench. I like the design, he claims it's stable, and removing a couple of screws lets the whole thing fold up.  It'd be pretty cool to be able to fold up my bench and slide it and my toolbox into the back of my car.

2) The Paul Sellers bench.  This would require some extra work:  it's not really designed to be broken down, though just leaving the legs separate and wedging them in place or something would probably work.  It wouldn't fold down into a single package, though.  On the plus side, I've worked at one, and I quite liked it.

Either way I don't feel the need for a tail vise (I may install a wagon vise, if I can find a way to make it not stick out at all on the end), and I'm OK with a limited front vise:  I'm actually considering just going with the frog design from the Underhill bench regardless of what else I do.

Regardless, it should be an interesting challenge.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Extremely old tools: Rabbt plane restore

Last summer, my uncle found time to go through the basement of my grandparents' house.  Since I'm the only woodworker in the family, he offered me all the possibly useful woodworking tools.  Some of them were really just not useful (used up chisels, seriously heavy-duty metalworking vises, things like that), but there were a few nice things.

Among them was a box with a bunch of hand planes in it.  Some of them were basically in new condition:  the Stanley #3 needed to be sharpened and adjusted, but that was about it.  The Stanley #78 may not ever have been actually used:  some of the parts still had what appeared to be packing grease on them, and it was all in the original box.

Then there were a few much older planes.  Among them were a coffin plane, which is in good shape except that the iron needs to be re-ground, and this.

Rabbet 01

It's a skew rabbet plane, in somewhat rough shape.    It's wide, too:  something like 2 or 2 1/2".  The iron has been sharpened down to almost nothing (there might be as much as 3/4" remaining before it's too short to use, but I suspect it's more like 1/2"), and the bottom was actually rippled.  I started out by getting the iron and wedge loose, which was quite a challenge.  The iron had more or less rusted in place, and I wound up having to smack it pretty hard with a hammer to get it to move.  Once it was out, I sanded it down.  The good news was that it had been kept at the right grinding angle, so I didn't have to regrind from scratch, just get rid of the rust and then sharpen.

Here's a photo from partway through:  you can see how much of the iron is gone.

Rabbet 02

I also touched up the wedge on sandpaper to get rid of the rust, but I did my best to avoid changing the shape at all.

Next up was dealing with the sole.  This was the part I was worried about.  I needed to remove something like a 1/8", which seemed impractical to do with sandpaper.  I knew, though, that the sole was a little shorter than the sole of my #5, so it seemed likely that I just joint it.  As it turned out, it worked fine;  really old beech planes nicely, and I managed to get the sole at exactly 90 degrees to the left side.  That should mean it will register correctly against the edge of a rabbet, and actually cut a square joint.  In the process, though, I discovered something unpleasant.

Rabbet 04

Yep, those are cracks that run all the way from the toe to the heel.  In the end, I decided to just leave it.  Right now the plane can be used;  it cuts smoothly, and feels solid.  If I ever have some hide glue on hand I may rub some into the joint, but otherwise I'll simply use it until it breaks.  At that point, I'll glue it back together and either keep using it or, more likely, retire it to a shelf as a reminder of my grandfather.

The downside to natural light

I love natural light.  My shop, at the moment, is half of my detached two car garage (the other half is, at the moment, storage and motorcycle parking).  That's fine:  on good days I get a ton of light, and I've placed my bench directly in front of the doors, so working there is a pleasure.

The problem is that I only have natural light.  See, there's not really any power to my garage.  There's a single bulb lamp on the outside, and a single outlet inside.  Neither one is grounded, and the wiring is left over from sometime probably in the 50s.  Sooner or later I'll run new (three conductor) wire and install lights and a couple more outlets, but for now, I can't work at night, or when it's heavily overcast.

Oh well.  At least I have a shop, and for most of the year it's a pleasure to work in.  That's really the important part, after all.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Back to the shop

It feels fantastic to be back in the shop.

It's been a crazy year.  First, I moved in January.  That involved quitting my job, selling my house, buying a new house, moving (you'll notice the gap in between... I lived in a miserable apartment for two months, December and January), and then discovering I didn't have a job in the new location.  So for the next six months I unpacked, job hunted, and did my best to relax and recover from my last job.  (It worked... my blood pressure dropped 20 points, both systolic and diastolic.)  Then I got a new job, which coincided with a social schedule of being gone every weekend for three months.

Today, I FINALLY got a day in the shop, and over the last few months I've bought a few new (well, used, really) toys.  The big ones were an old Millers Falls miter box, complete with the original Disston backsaw, and a Craftsman combination plane that appears to have been made by Sargent.  So, what to do?  Well, I started turning a pile of old lumber into a toolchest.  The lumber came from a workbench that was in the basement when we moved into the house, and while it looked good, it wasn't useful to me:  poking it with one finger (while it was loaded down with air conditioners, no less!) made it sway a good three or four inches.  For some things, that's fine.  For hand tool work, it's not really useful.  But it included six 30" and six 72" pieces of 1x12, and even if they aren't the best (lots of big knots and pitch pockets), careful cutting should yield a fair amount of usable lumber.

The chest I'm building is approximately the Dutch Tool Chest that Christopher Schwarz has made popular over the last few months(Link!).  As much as I love the full size joiner's chest, it won't work for me.  I need to be able to move my tools from the garage to the basement as the seasons change, and I'm so not carrying one of those big chests down the rickety outdoor steps into my basement.  The Dutch chest, on the other hand, I ought to be able to pretty much pick up and carry.

I didn't do much in the way of measuring for this chest.  My largest panel saw (8 TPI, filed rip) is about 28 inches long.  My longest hand plane is 24 inches long.  That means the inside needed to be about 29-30 inches.  Since I don't like ripping lumber, I'm going with the full width of the 1x12, and the height is a somewhat random 27".  I picked that based on the theory of "Hmm.  This seems like it should be easy to reach everything.  Why not?"  The length, including the sides, turns out to be almost exactly 31".

As to the joinery, I decided to take the easy way out, which also gave me an opportunity to try out my new combination plane:  the bottom, like the shelf, is set in a dado, rather than being dovetailed.  A dadoed, glued, and screwed joint should be just about as strong as it needs to be, and it meant I could get the majority of the work done in a day.  The one other real change I'm making is in how small saws will be stored.  I just don't like the saw till in the Schwarz version, so I'm adding a false back to the top compartment, and narrowing the base of that compartment so saws can be slid down behind.  I may end up regretting that if the joinery saws hang up on the panel saws in use, but I think it will work out OK.

In all, I spent a good six hours or so in the shop, and most of the complicated work is done.  I'll need to rabbet the boards for the back, screw them to the carcase, and do the same for the front.  Then it's a matter of adding a tool rack and lid, and figuring out how to get all my tools in.  Probably not more than another six hours of work, not counting the tool-fitting.

And it felt GREAT to be out in the shop again.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Saw Sharpening

I just had another experience to support my "people really overcomplicate things" theory.  The theory, in short, is that people overcomplicate things by assuming they're harder then they are.

This experience was using a saw set.

Now, I know that a lot people think sharpening a saw is hard.  I don't know why they think that, but I also don't know why people think putting up tile walls is hard.  I'd always been a little hesitant to say "Sharpening saws is easy," because I'd never had to set the teeth before.  Well, now I'm going to say it:  sharpening saws is easy.

A year or so ago I bought a saw on eBay.  It cost $7.50, with free shipping, so I knew I wasn't getting a fantastic saw.  But it was a backsaw, with a usable looking tote, and around 14TPI, which was what I wanted.  After some poking, I decided it had three real problems with it:

1) The plate was curved.  That wasn't too hard to fix, so I did.

2) The teeth were dull.  OK, that still needs to be fixed (I still can't figure out where I packed my needle file when I moved), but I've done it before, and it's not hard.

3) The teeth had no set at all.  In fact, it's possible that they were leaving a kerf narrower than the sawplate.  In any case, it would jam tight about 1/4" into a piece of wood, which isn't actually very useful.

Over the weekend, though, I finally found a saw-set that would work on teeth that small, and time to use it.  You know what?  It's easy.  Granted it's a small saw -- about 11" -- but the teeth are pretty small, too.  It took me about 10 minutes, some of which was spent trying to figure out how to best clamp it to be able to reach everything.  Given that sharpening usually takes me about 10-15 minutes, I would say the whole job could be done in under half an hour per saw, barring weirdness like severely bellied blades, missing teeth, or a desire for unusual tooth geometry. 

Do I think everyone should be able to completely sharpen and set a saw in 20-25 minutes?  No.  I have some advantages going in.  I have better than average vision, which helps with the little teeth.  I have good hand-eye coordination, which means I hit the wrong tooth fairly rarely.  And I don't feel a need for my tools to be perfect, just very good, which means I don't worry about it a lot if I get one stroke too many or few on a couple of teeth.  Yeah, it's not ideal, but it will average out in the long run.

But, do I think everyone who uses hand saws should pick up a file and saw set and learn to use them?  Yes.  It's easy.  Just try not to overcomplicate things too much.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A question of glue

I recently read "The Joiner and Cabinetmaker", republished by Lost Art Press.  I'll write up a full review of it sometime, but that's not the point here.  One of the things they included was an overview of how to apply veneer, and why you should be careful while doing it.  Their technique is to basically pour the glue on, really soaking the piece, before placing the veneer.  The logic was that glue is cheap, it's better to have too much than not enough, and it wasn't going to interfere with any finishes anyway.  One of their final comments was that a poor craftsman, who hadn't used enough glue, would have to steam the veneer loose and replace it, which was a waste of time and might damage the veneer.

I also recently read a couple of articles about veneering in modern publications.  One, which I can't recall the source of, talked about how you had to be fairly careful not to get glue on the outside of the veneer, because it would make it hard to apply a finish.  The other was an article in the most recent Fine Woodworking about veneer, and how to fix a void at the edge.  They said that, if the void was small, you could fill it using a wax pencil.  But then they went on to say that if it was large, you were going to have to sand or plane the veneer off and start over, because there's no way to fill that void.

Having read both, I found myself wondering if the new glues are really that big an improvement:  not only do new glues (PVA glues, specifically) interfere with finishing if you get them on the surface of the piece, but they're not reversible, so you can't fix things if you make a mistake.  Is this really progress?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Quality

I know:  this is a journal about woodworking on the cheap.  And since I'm still kind of a cheapskate, I'll keep with that theme, for the most part.  But here's the thing:  in woodworking, up to a point, you get what you pay for.  At the lowest end, even a few dollars makes a difference:  The difference between a $15 saw and a $20 saw can be pretty significant.  At the top end, it kind of ceases to matter:  sure, that $2000 plane may be better than $500 one, but is it really four times as good?  Or is it maybe $20 better?


For the last year or so, my primary smoothing plane has been a Ward's Master No. 4.  It's essentially a Stanley #4, except not as good.  I've always had some trouble with it:  the cutter regularly slips side to side, and adjusting the depth of cut can be frustrating.  But once it's set, it can take some beautiful thin shavings, thin to the point of translucence.  And the improvement in my sharpening skills has been helping, too... sharp can compensate somewhat for slightly out of adjustment.

Today, I finally pulled out my Stanley #3.  It's an old plane -- the date on the cutter is in the 1890s, and the latest patent date listed is 1910 -- and it's in beautiful shape.  I inherited it:  when my uncle went to clean out my grandfather's basement, quite a few years after my grandfather passed away, it was there with some other tools.  Since I'm the only woodworker in the family, they mostly came to me.  That was last summer, and I'm just now managing to do the necessary cleanup, which tells you something about my life for the past year.

It's amazing.  It didn't need much:  it'd been stored in something like cosmoline, so it wasn't especially rusty, despite having been in an unheated basement for years.  I cleaned the grease off with WD-40 (aerosolized kerosene is a wonderful thing...), and did a little light tuneup.  The sole had a touch of rust, so I sanded that lightly with sandpaper on a piece of plate-glass, and the iron was badly in need of sharpening.  But once that was done... it just worked.  Drop the iron in and line up the lateral adjustment, and it's straight.  The mouth was pretty far closed already, so a spin of the depth adjuster brought the cutter down below the sole, ready to take a fine cut.  With the first cut, I knew I was replacing the No. 4.  Depth adjustment is quick and precise, with very little backlash (the main problem with the Ward's plane).  The lateral adjustment works quickly and cleanly.  The tote feels more like wood, and less like Bakelite.  And, while the iron still needs a little work, I could go from custruction-paper-thickness shavings right down to those "read large print through them" shavings, with no problem.

So what's the big difference here?  Quality.  The channel on the depth adjusting wheel on the No. 4 is far larger than it should be, which means depth adjustment is hard.  The frog doesn't sit quite straight (it's only a degree or two off, but that's enough), which means lateral adjustment is a little strange.  The lever cap is always too tight or too loose, no matter how you adjust the screw.

The Stanley probably cost twice as much new, despite being a smaller tool.  But it will be a better quality tool for as long as it's cared for.

I'll hang onto that Ward's Master plane:  it was the first I ever bought, and I have some ideas for fixing some of the more egregious problems.  But in the end, it's a lower quality tool, and it will probably never be as good.  So when you can, buy quality.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I never thought I'd do this...

But this post is purely to point to someone else's post:

"The acquisitive spirit is the enemy of craft. Nobody has ever made anything out of wood by wishing he had a bigger shop in which to work. The best way to work in a small space is to go work in it."

The Literary Workshop Blog

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thoughts on chisels

I have two sets of chisels, purchased at very different times in my woodworking hobby.

The second set is a no-longer-available set of eight Wood River bench chisels from WoodCraft.  This set is pretty much the six smallest chisels, although the handles look a little different.  I bought them not long after I started trying to actually learn woodworking, when I decided it would be nice to have some tools actually designed to do what I wanted. 

They're decent.  Not super high quality, and they've got some odd quirks (every single one of them has a handle that's about one degree out of parallel with the blade, tipped up away from the flat back of the chisel -- I have no idea why, but they all do it), but they're serving me well.  I like them, but they're not much good for chopping mortises.  They're not exactly paring chisels, but they're also really not designed as mortise chisels, and whaling away at them makes me nervous.

This morning, I had a brainstorm:  I remembered my first set of chisels.  I bought them at Sears years ago, when I needed to reshape a 2x8 to fit around a pipe that stuck out of the ceiling.  Long story, don't ask.  These things (though I got a 4-piece set, which appears to no longer exist) are ugly.  Short blades.  Big lands on the sides.  Oddly tapered.  Black plastic handles, with steel butt caps.  But... they're thick, solid blades.  There's no way the handle is going to split:  that steel end cap should make sure of that.  So I dug one out.  It turned out to be a half-inch, which was fine.  This was just a test.  Time to find the rest later.  I flattened the back (which took surprisingly little work -- it actually was essentially flat to begin with), and put a new edge on it.  Then I grabbed a scrap of pine, and started bashing away.

And you know what?  I don't need to buy those Narex mortise chisels right now.  These aren't fantastic -- they won't hold an edge all that long, for one thing -- but they work a LOT better than the Wood River ones ever did for mortises.

And all this for something like $20.  I now have, if I can find them all, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 1" mortise chisels.  I'd be happier with just a 1/4 and a 5/8, but hey... these'll do.  And they don't require me to spend more money right now, which is worth quite a lot.  Who knew?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

CTR 6: Deer brand Gent's Saw

Let's get it out of the way right now:  This is a $16 saw.  It's not going to be the best tool you'll ever use.  Woodworking is one of those weird places where, up to a point, you really do get what you pay for, and $16 is CHEAP for a back saw.

This is the saw that WoodCraft sells as the "4140/250 Straight Back Saw".  My first impression was pretty poor, but I've figured some things out since then.

What do you get, and what's the construction like?

It's a back saw;  wood handle, steel saw plate, steel back.  The handle is a touch small for me, but I find that the grip is reasonably comfortable.  It's around 15TPI, filed rip.  Remember here that with teeth that size, it really doesn't matter whether teeth are filed rip or crosscut:  it does both equally well.  Mine has held up pretty well:  the printed logo is worn off to just about exactly half the depth, showing that it's really deeper than it needs to be for most things I use it for.  I think that, in large part, that's because I like the Shark ryoba better for longer cuts. 

 How does it work?

Initially, it was terrible.  Slow cutting, hard to start, hard to keep on a straight line, and with a miserable finish left behind.  If it wasn't for the fact that it's the perfect size to use with a bench hook, and the ryoba isn't, I probably never would have used it.

However:  last week I went out to the shop to putter.  I've promised myself I'll spend some time, no matter how little, doing SOMETHING in the shop every day.  I picked up the saw, and thought about trying to hand cut some dovetails, but I just couldn't bring myself to deal with the hassle of using it.  So instead, I started trying to figure out why it didn't work well.

A saw is a simple tool.  It needs:

1) A straight, flat sawplate.  This one had that, so that wasn't the problem.

2) A handle you can grip reasonably comfortable for as long as you're going to use it.  This saw also had that, so that wasn't the problem either.

3) Sharp teeth.  OK, the thing could use some sharpening, but it's not THAT dull.

4) Proper set to the teeth.  Huh.  To quote, "Well, there's your problem!"  The set on the teeth made the kerf nearly three times the thickness of the saw plate.  That's ridiculous.  How many of the problems could fixing that address?  Let's see... Slow cutting?  Check.  Hard to start?  Check.  Hard to keep on a line?  Check.  Lousy surface after cutting?  Maybe. 

Once I'd figured out the problem, I decided on the easiest solution.  The back of my machinist's vise has a small anvil on it, and I have a small hammer.  I went up the blade, tapping each bunch of teeth with the hammer.  This is a lightweight hammer, and I basically dropped it on the teeth from about five inches up.  The teeth had visibly less set when I finished one pass, so I took the saw back to the bench.... and it's like it's a completely different tool.  Starting is a lot easier, it cuts straighter, it cuts far, far, faster, and the surface left behind is a little bit cleaner.  Not much, but a little.

At this point, the saw could really use sharpening, but it's no longer a matter of cursing when I realize I need to use it.  Now it's just another saw in my toolbox, and worth grabbing if I have a job of the proper scale for it.

Final Thoughts?

I'm normally opposed to tools that need work before you can use them.  If it's used, fine... all tools need tuning once in a while, and who knows what the previous owner did.  But, out of the box, a saw should be sharp, set, and ready to cut.  This one isn't.  But... it's $16.  A good dovetail saw will cost four or five times that:  that's why I don't have one.  So this is a reasonable compromise, in my opinion.  If this is what you can afford, it's possible to turn it into a pretty decent tool with very little work.

Would I buy another?

If I needed a really cheap saw of this size, sure.  For what it is, it works fine.  That said, I plan to sharpen it once, then find a higher-quality dovetail saw to use instead.  Sharpening it will give me practice filing teeth that small, and give me some time to find a good dovetail saw I can afford.

UPDATE:  I'm now using a Veritas carcase saw (reviewed later on in this series) for almost everything I used to use this saw for.  It's in my tool chest, and it comes out occasionally for cutting really small pieces, but I barely use it.  Like I said, don't buy this unless you can't afford to buy better.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: Milescraft Turnlock 3-in-1 Router Guide Kit

This is, as you might guess from the title, a review of Milescraft's Router Guide Kit.  I bought mine at WoodCraft, and the current MSRP is $39.99.  Amazon also has them, and I think Home Depot does, too.

OK.  Before I write this, I have a confession to make:

I hate routers.  I can't stand them.  They're loud, they're messy, they're dangerous, and I can't think of a single tool that is more prone to wandering off and doing what it feels like doing while you're trying to accomplish something.  I've yet to use a table-mounted router, and I suspect I'd hate that less, but that's not what this kit is for, anyway.

So there's my confession.  I'll try to stay objective and talk about the kit, rather than how much I'd rather be using another tool -- any other tool -- than a router.

What do you get, and What's the Construction Like?

So what do you get with this thing?  I haven't used all the parts yet, but here's what I've got.

1) A baseplate.  This thing has a ton of holes and slots in it, and should theoretically fit just about any router you can find.  WoodCraft sells this thing, and they claim on their site it will fit most routers up to and including 3HP models.  All I can say for sure is that it fit both my ancient Craftsman and my more modern Rigid, and it fits both the plunge and fixed bases for the Rigid.

2) An edge-guide fence.  The baseplate drops into this, and then twists to lock in place.  It holds solidly, and the fence can be locked down tight enough that I haven't seen it vary at all.  The beam is extruded aluminum, and is straight and solid.  The beam also gets used with the circle cutting guide.

3) An offset base, for edge routing.  I haven't used this for routing, but I did check to make sure the baseplate fits into it, and it feels just as solid as the edge-guide.

4) A circle cutting guide.  This is another one I haven't used, but it looks like it should work just fine.  Basically, it's a piece that the beam slides into after you've put a nail through it to mark the center of the circle.  I don't see any reason it shouldn't work well.

5) Some tools for setting everything up.

 How do they work?

I can only really speak for the edge guide, which works fairly well.  The fence locks in place solidly, the beam locks into the base solidly, and everything goes together fairly easily with only a little persuasion.

However... this is where the cost-saving measures came into effect.  There IS a scale (two, actually, one metric and one imperial) -- essentially a very narrow tape measure -- built into the beam, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it's supposed to measure.  The zero mark falls nowhere near where it would need to be to actually put the fence in line with either the center or the edge of any bit I have.  It's not a crippling problem, but it's weird.  It seems like it wouldn't have been hard to make it work right, and it just doesn't.  It's possible mine is defective, and that most of them line up right;  I'd be surprised, but I haven't looked at any others, so it is possible.

The offset base would certainly make it easier to use an edge-shaping bit;  it's basically a teardrop shape, with the router insert at the big end and a big, handle at the other end.  If you were using a bearing-guided bit, I can see it making a lot easier to keep the router upright.

Final Thoughts?

Not bad.  I think I paid about $25 for mine, but the current MSRP is $39.99.  While you ought to be able to get a decent fence or offset base for that, you might not be able to get all three tools.  And if you have a bunch of routers, you can buy extra baseplates for a fairly reasonable price (it looks like they're about $20 right now) and just put them on all your routers.  The quality is pretty reasonable, and it doesn't seem like they could make it cheaper without making it a lot flimsier.

Would I buy another?

Nope.  But not because the product is bad... I wouldn't buy another because I'm finding I just don't like using the router, and I'll take almost any excuse to use a different tool.  If I used my router more, this might be more valuable to me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

(Semi) CTR 7: DMT Diamond Stones -- Three 6 inch stones

I've hesitated over writing this review here.  So it gets to be a Semi-Cheap Tool Review, and part of the series.  A $75 set of sharpening "stones" is not exactly cheap, though it's less expensive than some sets out there.  On the other hand, every woodworker will need to sharpen tools sooner or later, and it's hard to get inexpensive stones these days.  Even sandpaper is kind of pricey if you do enough sharpening.

I got these in December.  Unfortunately, I'd more or less finished packing up my shop to move, and it's taken this long to get them back out and give them a fair test.

So here are my thoughts.

Where, and how much?

These are available a lot of places.  At the moment, you can get them from Amazon (here) for about $75.  They may be more or less expensive other places.

What do you get, and what's the construction like?

This is a kit of three diamond plates in a fitted wooden case.  The plates are 325 (blue), 600 (red), and 1200 (green) grit diamond mesh plates on a plastic substrate.  The wooden case is decent, and well enough fitted to prevent damage.  You can use the stones wet (with water) or dry.

How do they work?

Quite well.  Up until I got these I'd been using an old combination oil stone;  medium on one side, fine on the other.  It worked well, and still does, but oilstones are comparatively messy.  They must be oiled, and they tend to stain if you make the mistake of putting them down on cloth or wood.

I've done three real sharpening jobs with these.

First, the standard stuff.  Chisels that I'd gotten moderately sharp, then used until they were dull.  I skipped the coarse stone here, and did the 600 and 1200.  I always follow with a leather strop charged with some kind of yellow stropping compound.  I've lost the packaging and don't recall the details, so that's all I can tell you.  These worked great.  Taking curls off wet Douglas Fir end grain great.  I'm pretty sure my technique hasn't gotten that much better, so I have to assume the plates are a lot better than my old oilstone.

Second, a first-time setup.  I had a plane that I bought unused, but never did more than a cursory swipe over the oilstones.  So it had the factory grind and a little more, but had never been what you'd call "sharp".  I started that one on the red plate, but moved back to the blue when I figured out how flat the bevel wasn't.  Once the bevel was sharpening as if it was fairly flat, I moved to the red and green plates, followed by the strop.  This particular plane isn't what you'd call a precision tool (it's the Shelter Institute rabbet plane I reviewed last year), and I'm not very good at adjusting it, but it works a lot better now than it did.  It still needs some tweaking, though.

Finally, a damaged plane iron.  I have an old Stanley #5 that I use for stock removal.  It wasn't good for much else, because there was a big nick - maybe 1/32" deep, maybe a bit more --  I couldn't be bothered to remove from the edge.  I had a good #4 for smoothing, why do I need a #5 set up for it?  This was the real test.  The iron is exactly the same width as the plate (about 2"), and had been indifferently sharpened with the nick in it.  So I started with the blue 45 grit plate.  I still don't have the nick completely out, because I only had about 10 minutes to work.  It's faster than the 80 grit sandpaper I've used for grinding, and leaves a much nicer surface.  I followed it up with 20 strokes each on the red and green, then a few on the strop.   I also ground the back on the blue plate and polished the back on the green -- it's not quite mirror finished now, but it's pretty close, and the nick is almost entirely gone.  Total elapsed time on that blade, maybe 8 minutes.  It takes nicer shavings, too.

Final Thoughts

I'm not going to tell you to rush right out and buy a set of these.  They're nice, no doubt about it, but there are some limitations.  If you have a system you like, and it gets your tools as sharp as you want them, stick with those.  Don't give in to the new tool temptation.

So what were the limitations?  The main one is size.  These plates are 6"x2".  That's fine for chisels, pocket knives, and rabbet planes, but it's a challenge on anything big.  For the #5 that I was working on, I had two choices:  skew the iron and run it across at an angle, or use my fingers as runners to make sure it didn't slip off the edge.  With my try plane (an old Siegley 24" transitional), I won't have that choice:  it uses an iron about 2 5/8" across, so it will be skew or nothing.  If you don't sharpen any big tools, that's not a limitation.  For me, I'm considering buying a larger stone or plate just for my try plane.

Would I buy another?

If these vanished, I'd probably go get another diamond plate set.  That said, I think I'd look for a larger plate.  I'd like one large enough that I can sharpen any of my bench tools without having to skew them, and that means I need a stone at least 2 5/8" wide.  More than that would be better.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grinding without a grinder

I'll admit it.  I'm terrified of powered grinders.  Last time I tried to use one I didn't grip the metal firmly enough, and it caught, shot down towards the floor, left a divot in the concrete between my feet, and wound up halfway across the garage.  Sooner or later I'll have to try again, but not soon, I hope.

But it does leave me with a dilemma.  Everyone occasionally nicks a blade, and chisels and plane irons are a little pricey to just throw away if they get nicked.  And grinding out a big nick on sandpaper is... well, my time may not be worth much, but it's worth more than that.  So what's a cowardly cheapskate to do?

Find a solution, that's what.

Here's how I deal with this problem.  Anyone else who has the same problem may like this solution too.

First, make sure you have a drill press, and that it's set nice and slow.  If you don't... well, go buy one.  They're less terrifying than grinders, and they have more uses.

Next, cut a wedge to the angle you want your iron sharpened at.  Screw that secondary bevel nonsense;  this is for the big bevel.  Make sure it's wider than the largest blade you'll want to sharpen, and not too long.  Also, make sure you can attach it firmly to your drill press table.

Third, go find a 3" or 4 1/2" sanding disk.  These things are moderately rigid, and they've got a hole around 3/8" in the middle.  Make it coarse:  80 grit works nicely, and I've used one at 60 grit that removed an amazing amount of metal in seconds.  Pick up an arbor that fits it;  that shouldn't be too hard.  Worst case, a bolt, washers, and two nuts should work, but try to find the real thing.

Fit the disk to the arbor, chuck the assembly up in the drill press, and fasten your nicked blade to the ramp.  Make sure it's not going to contact the arbor, and set the table so the blade is about an inch from the sanding disk.  More than that, and you'll wear out your arm.  Less, and you won't be able to see what you're doing.

Finally, start the drill press, and start bringing the disk down into contact with the blade.  Short touches:  not more than a couple seconds.  Each time there's contact you'll probably see sparks, and the blade will start heating up.  But at 60 grit and a few hundred RPM, it works fast;  you just need to keep bringing the disk down and checking to see if the blade is too hot.  If it is, spray it with water or stop for a while.

When you're done, the bevel will be heavily gouged by the rough paper, but you can take that out pretty easily with a coarse stone or some 80 grit sandpaper.

So there you have it.  A way to get rid of your grinder!  It's fast, it's easy, and it's pretty cheap, if you've already got a drill press.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My luggable toolbox.

Old portable computers used to be referred to as "luggables".  They were portable, sure, but they still weighed a ton.  They weren't something you'd be willing to put on your lap, not if you wanted to stand up again.

Well, that's the category my toolbox falls under.  When I was packing up to move, I decided to take some pictures of what goes into it.  I missed a few things, but here's the basic rundown.  Unfortunately, it's all still packed, and I can't easily dig things out, so some of the details may be wrong, but I'll be pretty close.

The box itself is an old Union brand tool box ("Tool Chest", according to the label) which my father's father used for storing hand saws.  Some of those saws, once they've been restored and sharpened, will make their way back into it.  It's just shy of three feet long, just long enough for my Disston rip saw, and if it was any bigger I might not be able to lift it when it was fully loaded.

The Contents

So what goes into it?  Unfortunately, I'm not able to give you a tool-by tool photo shoot.  Things go in pretty much as they fit, but I shot by categories.  So here's what we've got, roughly bottom to top.


I fit four saws in here.  The top three in the photo fit into the holder in the lid of the box.  From the top of the photo down, they are:
1) A Craftsman "Kromedge" cross-cut saw.  It's 8TPI, and it was indifferently sharpened by a professional with a sharpening machine last summer.  I'll be re-sharpening it by hand, and probably reducing the set, too.  This one was my father's, and may be the one of the reasons I thought I hated hand saws until I'd worked with a newly sharpened saw.  It's better now, but it needs more work.

2) An old Disston.  It's about 5 1/2TPI, filed rip, and it's the first saw I did a restoration on, and the first saw I filed.  It cuts beautifully, and convinced me that hand tools are worth using.

3) A Shark brand Ryoba.  This is a travesty of a tool.  Machine stamped.  Machine filed.  Impulse hardened teeth.  Plastic grip, with plastic pegs holding the blade in.  And yet... I can't work without it.  It cuts so smoothly I sometimes don't need to plane or sand.  It's quick, it's reliable, and I can split a line the width of a two by four in seconds.  I've used it for cutting dovetails in pine and ripping oak.  You might have guessed by now that I'm a little conflicted about this saw, but it's earned its place in my tool box.

4) A gent's saw.  I don't even know the brand... as far as I can tell, the brand name is "Professional Quality", which seems like cheating to me.  It needs sharpening, but it's not bad.  I paid about $15 for it, and it works for small cuts in soft wood.  This one gets tucked in the side of the box wherever it will fit without the teeth hitting anything metal.

Hand Planes & Chisels

Generally speaking I put three planes in this box.  The largest, near the back, is a Ward's Master #4.  It will take a deep cut if I'm careful, or take feathery thin shavings for smoothing.  It's no good as a jointer, but I figure I'm not going to be doing any large scale work straight from this box anyway.  If I replace the box with something larger, I'll add a #6 or so, and if I know I'm going to want a longer plane I can replace this one with a #6.  It'll just about fit.

The second is a Millers Falls #85.  I use it for everything.  It works remarkably well for thinning stock, and of course it's a decent rabbet plane.  There's no depth gauge on it -- it was lost long before I got the thing -- but I can live with that.  That's what a marking gauge is for.

The last is a Craftsman block plane, and I have sort of a hate/hate relationship with it.  I keep it because my father gave it to me, and there are times when nothing else will fit.  But it's got no lateral adjustment at all, and the depth adjustment is so coarse as to be of questionable value.  Hopefully someday I'll get a better one, and this one can retire to a shelf in the shop.

These are the chisels I use most often, ranging from 1" down to 1/4".  They travel rolled up that piece of suede to protect both them and everything around them.  I flop the edge up over the blades, roll it so they can't touch, and then fold the other edge over the whole thing.  Takes about two seconds, and when I get around to sewing pockets in I'll already know where to put them.  The chisel roll goes in the top of the case, more for spacing than any belief that I'll need chisels more often than planes.

Drills and bits

 Yep, that's a Ryobi drill bit roll.  And it's mostly got Ryobi bits in it.  They're OK, and I'm replacing them slowly as they dull. Some of them I haven't used yet,and the masonry bits I'll probably never use, especially with a brace.  But the rest are good enough.

The brace was made by Craftsman, and while the ratchet works beautifully, there's just no way to get it to grip a round drill bit.  It will hold just long enough to get the bit about 1/8" into the wood, then let it start to turn.  But it works like a charm when fitted with an old tapered square shank bit (which I have, I just forgot to get them in the picture), and the hex adapter in the picture lets it drive screws like you wouldn't believe.

The eggbeater, on the other hand, works great, and grips a round-shanked drill bit just fine.  It'll drill up to a quarter inch, and above that I have either an auger bit or an electric drill.

These generally both go as near the top of the box as I can get them, since I want them more often than any other tool except a tape measure.

Marking and Measuring

The six inch try square was cheap at a flea market, and almost square.  I committed a mortal sin by filing it square, and now it's perfect.  

The Empire brand bevel was a complete waste of money, but it's the only one I have, so I use it.  Someday I'll find a better one.  The Empire brand combination square, on the other hand, was a happy surprise:  it was cheap, and it's accurate.  I have no idea how that happened, and I check it regularly to make sure it's staying accurate, but it's good to within the limits of my ability to test, which means it's well within the tolerances of my work.  

The marking gauges... wow.  Opposite ends of the scale, here.  One is a Veritas gauge, and is as good as you'd expect.  The other is a Harbor Freight mortise gauge, and is... well, about as good as you'd expect.  Maybe a bit better.  Filing the pins helped, and I'm learning to make better use of it, but it'll never be my favorite tool.

The last tool here is just a metal rule, marked in metric and imperial, with a cork backing.  It's occasionally useful, and so small and light I just toss it in for lack of a better place to store it.


These are not glamorous tools.  The hammer is ancient, and fits my hand perfectly.  I wouldn't want to use it for driving heavy construction nails, but for anything I'm likely to work with using these tools, it's great.  The mallet... is a Harbor Freight panel mallet.  I use it for tapping chisels, adjusting planes, and generally hitting things I don't want to hit with metal.  It works, and it was so cheap I won't care when it breaks.

The screwdriver, coping saw, and level are all Home Depot specials... cheap and functional, but not very good.  Actually, that's not true:  the screwdriver is as good (and as bad) as any other mid-range screwdriver, and has four bits and two hex drivers.  The level is accurate, light, and has a magnet in one side and a V-shaped trough in the other, so it will stick to or balance on just about anything.  The coping saw pretty much sucks, though.

The spokeshave... well, I don't know whether the problem is it, or me, but it's not very good.  I'm betting on a combination of the two.

Do I really need to say anything about the notebook?


These days I'm mostly using a set of DMT diamond plates for sharpening in the shop, but the stone is more portable.  The paper towel holds some mineral oil, and the foil keeps it off everything else.  I've found that between the stone (it's coarse on one side, fine on the other, and was made by Brookstone so long ago that they no longer admit to having manufactured it) and the strop, I can put a pretty good edge on a chisel or plane iron.

Apron Tools

This is my embarrassment of a shop apron, and the tools that live in it.  As you can see, I shot this picture as I was finishing up a project, and hadn't cleaned the rasp off yet.  Oops.  All simple stuff, here:  the mechanical pencil was cheap and will be easy to replace when I break or lose it.  The 4-in-1 rasp was likewise cheap, and I pay for that every time I use it.  It's not bad enough to throw away yet, though.  The Stanley knife is completely standard.

The square... well, that's a little weird.  It IS square, but the markings are inches on one edge and centimeters on the other, and it's kind of annoying to have to remember which edge I'm looking at.  It was free, though, and I like having a square I can drop in my apron pocket (the bigger one is 16" -- a little long for a pocket!). The tape I picked up for $1 at a flea market, and it's marked only in inches.  No feet, no highlighting for stud distances, just inches and fractions of inches, down to eighths.  Oddly, it matches my other rulers and tapes at 6" and 12", but not at 8".  I have no idea why.  There are a few other marks that aren't quite right, but as long as I use just this tape throughout, it doesn't really matter.

The apron is tiny, and started out life as a tool to hold roofing nails.  It works great.

So there you have it.  That's (almost) everything I put in my tool box when I want to travel and might want to do some carpentry-type woodworking.  You can see in the final picture that I manage to squeeze a few 16" clamps in, but that's about all there's space for.  And as for weight... I can't actually use the handle to lift the box:  the whole top bows, and I'm afraid the handle may break.  Maybe I need a second box, or a real portable chest....

Book Review 3: Civil War Woodworking

The third in a series of book reviews.

The same disclaimer as usual applies:  I am, if no longer a beginner, then nowhere near a master.  Not even a journeyman.  I have a little experience, a lot of theoretical knowledge, and loads of opinions.  So take these reviews with a grain of salt.

First Thoughts:

This review is of Civil War Woodworking, by A. J. Hamler.  It's not quite the same as the other two books I've reviewed so far.  Those were really focused on teaching you about hand tools, and how to use them.  This book, despite discussing projects from before the age of electric power tools, assumes the use of power tools almost exclusively, and doesn't talk much about technique.  Instead, it's a collection of 17 plans for furniture and camp equipment from the era of the American Civil War.  

Overall, I like the book a lot.  Several of the projects are now on my "Try to get around to this sometime" list, and some are on my "Do this as soon as your new shop is set up!" list.  While the suggestions for how to use power tools to achieve results that look like they were done with historically accurate tools occasionally irritate me ("Look, if you'd just use the right tool, you wouldn't HAVE to spend time making it look right!"), that wasn't the focus of the book, and I was able to ignore it. 

Now, on to the details!


The book is basically divided into two main sections, plus a list of references and resources at the end.

The first section begins with historical information, and a discussion about "authenticity" and the idea of a "historically correct" campsite.  I enjoyed the discussion, and found some of it useful in a general sense, but I really wanted a book on woodworking:  Going through the first section (about 10 pages) had me a little concerned that this was going to be a book about reenactment, with a few nods in the direction of woodworking.  Starting around page 11, there's discussion about historical woodworking, and how the stock and tools have changed since the Civil War (spoiler:  not as much as you might expect, advent of power tools notwithstanding).

The real meat of the book, for me, starts on page 28, with the first of projects.  The projects in the book range from the quick-and-dirty (five-board bench, hardtack crate) to somewhat more complex (officer's field desk, Lt. Kelly's camp chair).  Some of them build on earlier projects:  the field desk, for instance, is designed as dividers and modifications to a hardtack crate, since that's how some of them would have been built.

One detail I enjoyed was the sidebars:  for instance, in the section on building a hardtack crate, Mr. Hamler included a recipe for hardtack.  Do you need one?  Probably not.  Does it have anything to do with woodworking?  Nope!  But it's an interesting addition, and if you're really planning to do reenactment, having hardtack available might be useful, so why not have some?

Each of the 17 projects begins with a description of its historical provenance:  where Mr. Hamler found the description, where the photos (if any) came from, and how it would have been used.  For some things -- most notably the hardtack and ammunition crates -- he is able to quote Army regulations on construction technique and sizing.  In other cases, he has existing historical artifacts to draw from, or sometimes just photos.  One of the projects on my "Do it soon!" list is Lt. Kelly's camp chair, which he found three photos of from different angles.  While the original is almost certainly long gone, the photos gave enough information to produce a good replica.

From historical information, Mr. Hamler moves on to materials and construction.  For the most part, standard 3/4" stock is perfectly usable, but Mr. Hamler pushes the idea of using different sizes.  Why?  Well, because 3/4" wasn't really a standard, historically.  So if you're going to use it, that's fine, but it shouldn't be everywhere.  That's one of his complaints about the camp furniture that's so common with reenactors;  too much of it is made from standard sized lumber.  Once he's explained what lumber to use, he moves on to layout and technique.  This is possibly where the book is most lacking.

Mr. Hamler is mostly concerned with historical information.  That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it means that many of the projects are a bit sparse on construction detail.  There's plenty of information to figure it out if you have a little experience -- I didn't have any trouble reading between the lines, and I'm barely an apprentice, skills-wise -- but don't expect layout diagrams and cut-lists like you'll find in a woodworking magazine.  They don't exist, for the most part.  He does discuss each component necessary, and the joints used, and usually in quite a lot of detail, but the instructions are sometimes a little disjointed.  Really, though, that's my only complaint with the book, and I certainly feel confident that I could easily come up with a plan for any of the projects in the book.  And if I can, then anyone with the skill to use the necessary tools should really be able to.

Final Thoughts:

So what else is there to say?  I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to do reenactment.  Whether they're planning to build their own furniture or not, there's a lot of excellent information here.  If you plan to build camp furniture for Civil War reenactment, I'd say buying the book is a no-brainer.  There's good historical information, there's good construction information, and the photos give a clear sense of how things were actually used.

But what if you're not a reenactor?  Well, then it gets a little more iffy.  I'm not, and I don't expect to be.  I'm still planning to do a few of the projects:  that camp chair would go quite nicely on my front porch, and the stool would make a nice foot-rest to go with it, or just as extra seating.  While I don't need a folding camp mirror, I have friends who would probably enjoy having something like it as a simple portable mirror.  I've already got a five-board bench on my porch, made by my grandfather, and making another to match it would even out the porch quite nicely.  So sure... if you're not into reenactment, but you are a woodworker, you may well get value out of the book.  I certainly have, so I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

Book Review 2: "The New Traditional Woodworker"

So this second review will be a lot more positive than the first one.

The same disclaimer as last time applies:  I am, if no longer a beginner, then nowhere near a master.  Not even a journeyman.  I have a little experience, a lot of theoretical knowledge, and loads of opinions.  So take these reviews with a grain of salt.

First Thoughts:

The second book I got was "The New Traditional Woodworker", by Jim Tolpin.  Again, let's get the first response out of the way:  I quite liked this one.

"I didn't think I would need to write another book on woodworking" starts out Mr. Tolpin.  "I figured the ten other books I wrote on the subject pretty much covered it..." 

As you might expect, Mr. Tolpin figured out he was wrong.  All those earlier books focused on power tools, and he found he wanted to write one on hand tools.

While much of the information in the book is fairly general, Mr. Tolpin covers a lot of ground in a fairly limited amount of space.  I think his decisions about what to include and what to leave out, while not always the ones I would have made, were mostly good ones  He manages to cover enough information that someone completely new to hand-tool woodworking would probably be able to at least figure out how to get through it, and someone with power tool experience would have no trouble at all.


Let's talk for a minute about the structure of the book.  The book is roughly divided into three sections.  The first is what you might call philosophical:  the mindset involved in using hand tools, and why you might want to acquire that mindset.  The second is equipment:  descriptions of types of tools.  The third section is project-based:  tools you can make for your shop.  Now, for a bit more detail.

1) Philosophy

"My five-year-old son learned in less than ten minutes how to cut accurately to length using a backsaw and bench hook.  The dog, however, took a little longer..."  (p10)
This section was the shortest, and is the one I have the least to say about.  Mr. Tolpin talks a lot about why you might want to work with hand tools, but it all boils down to things other people have said:  it's quieter, it's cleaner, and if you're not trying to mass produce, it's usually more fun and not all that much slower.  I like it, but if you're reading the book you probably already know most of it.  He does talk a little about shop layout here, as well as types of benches, but it's mostly old news and not very technical.

2) Tools

"When you pay home and garden store prices, what you get are tools that are -- how can I put this delicately -- garden variety." (p29)
This is where the real content begins.  Mr. Tolpin discusses both general classes of tools and specifics within those classes.  The classes he uses are:

  • Layout Tools
  • Tools for Changing the Size of the Board
  • Tools for Creating Planes and Angles
  • Tools for Joinery
  • Tools for Shaping Edges
  • Tools for Smoothing the Wood
  • Tools for Making Holes
  • Tools for Assembling Parts
  • (Non-Human) Powered Tools
  • Sharpening
For each of those categories except the last two, each is broken down into smaller subsets ("Tools for Laying out Curved Lines") and specific tools ("Marking Gauges").  For each tool, there are three sections:
  • What They Do:  This section explains exactly what the tooldoes, why you want one, and gives some specific examples of use.
  • How They Do It:  This has details of how the tool is designed, and sometimes why it's designed that way, and how you make use of it.  Sometimes that's simple (marking gauges) and sometimes it's a little more involved (bench planes), but he keeps to a fairly low level of detail here.
  • Which Ones You Need:  This is basically a bare-bones list of the minimal kit you're going to want of this particular tool, with some sketchy explanation of why.
As seems to be common among hand-tool woodworkers, the two places Mr. Tolpin compromises are a bandsaw and a drill press, both of which speed up and simplify things that are hard or tedious with hand-tools (ripping or resawing long boards, cutting long curves, or drilling large numbers of accurate holes).  

As for sharpening, he covers the basics.  What is a sharp blade, why should you grind a blade, why is hollow-ground easier to sharpen, and things like that.  He uses a combination of sandpaper, waterstones, and powered grinders and sanders, depending on what he's sharpening, and gives at least enough information to get started.  I cant' really judge the accuracy of a lot of his instruction here, because I don't use any of those methods these days.  For what it's worth, nothing he said struck me as inherently wrong, just not the way I do things.

3) Projects

"Because it is your body that is providing the energy source for the tools (all 1/5th horsepower of it!), the ability to sharpen and properly set up or configure a tool becomes paramount..." (p73)
Mr. Tolpin starts this section with a lot of general information, including a chart on "Handtool-Friendly American Furniture Woods", with comments, species name, specific gravity at 12% moisture, stability, strength, and hardness.  He also includes information on selecting wood, why it warps, and how to figure out which way it warps.

He then moves on to the projects.  In order, they are:

  • Straightedge
  • Try Squares
  • Winding Sticks
  • Face Planing Stop
  • Bench Hook Pair
  • Edge Planing Stop
  • Sticking Board
  • Workbench Tote
  • Oiling Pad (probably the simplest project in the book!)
  • Diagonal Testing Stick
  • Vise for Sharpening Saws and Scrapers
  • Sawbench Pair
  • Waste Backing Block
  • Drawing Bows (for drawing curves)
  • Sticking Board for Dowels
For each project, he moves through a similar set of sub-sections to the tool section.  He starts by explaining what the thing is used for, and why it will be useful to you.  He also lists what skills he introduces with the project, and what tools it uses for the first time.  In several cases, the project uses the tools from earlier projects, and the skills generally advance from the first project to the last.

Mr. Tolpin then goes through the process of actually building the thing.  For some projects -- like the Oiling Pad -- that takes up about two paragraphs.  For some, like the bench hook pair, that's 15 pages of detailed text and photos.  His approach mostly works for me;  there are a few places I find his explanations to be too vague or too in depth, but since everyone has a different background, I can't say how it will work for you.  In general, I'd say anyone with a little experience should be able to work through all the projects in order.

The Projects section ends with a description (again, with photos) of the process of squaring and truing all six sides of a board, which is a nice addition. 

Final Thoughts:

So what else is there to say about this book?

There are a few problems with it.  The big one as far as projects go is the old paradox of woodworking:  you need a square to make a square, and the same holds true for a lot of projects here.  It's hard to figure out if your straightedge is true if you don't have a straightedge, it's hard to build a sawbench without a good place to make cuts in large pieces of lumber, and so on.  Mr. Tolpin does make some good suggestions about how to work around some of these problems, but there's only so much you can do about others.

The only other real complaint I have about the book is the editing.  There are a number of typos, misuses of apostrophes, and things like that.  Does it detract factually from the book?  No.  Will most people notice them?  Again, no.  But sloppy editing in a published book bothers me.

The book is somewhat limited by space;  there are places where the discussion of a tool or project is a little bit sketchy, but if he'd gone into full detail about everything this would have been an encyclopedia, not a reasonably priced book.

Overall, I can happily recommend this book.  It's got a lot of good information in it, and it's mostly well written and useful.