Monday, April 4, 2016

Woodworking on $1.50 per day - Part 2

It's been a month since you last went out to buy tools, and you're getting tired of nailing joints together.  You really want to cut some better joints, but you're not sure how to get started.  Well, that's what this month's purchasing is, so let's get going!

Month 2

This month we're going to find some chisels and sharpening tools.  This is where you get to make some choices.


For chisels, you want bevel-edge chisels in at least 1/4" and 1/2" sizes.  Adding a 1" chisel will make your life easier, but isn't necessary for a lot of things.  If you look at Amazon, you can get Irwin Marple chisels for $8-$9 each.  That's about $18.  I'd recommend buying a 1/4" and a 1/2", and spending the rest of this month's budget on sharpening stones.  If you don't want to order from Amazon, Sears and Home Depot have similar chisels at similar prices.  You can also keep an eye on thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales:  those are a bit risky, because you're not really going to have the tools to restore a badly damaged chisel, but you might find a fantastic deal.

Keep in mind these are not high-quality tools.  They're not going to be very sharp out of the box, and they probably won't hold an edge all that long.  That said, I worked with a set of Craftsman chisels for a few years, and while they sucked, they still worked.


Talking about sharpening is like tap-dancing through a minefield.  Given a budget of about $25, though, you're pretty limited.  Given that, I'm going to go with the two cheapest initial cost options.  There are a lot of excellent videos on how to sharpen, so I'm not going to cover it here.


First things first, you need a flat surface.  There are two cheap ways to get one, although neither will be perfect.  First, go to a home store and buy a granite floor tile.  They should run around $5-8, and will be flat enough.  The second option is to talk to a granite supplier.  See if they've got an off-cut too small to sell as a countertop, but big enough for your use.  You probably want something around 8"x2" at a minimum, and ground smooth on at least one side.  Larger is better.

Next, you should be looking for sandpaper.  You want wet/dry paper, and for routine sharpening you can probably start with 400 grit.  I'd go 400, 800, and 1000 grit.  If you want to, you can go up to 2000, but I mostly didn't bother when I was using sandpaper.  When you go to sharpen, drip some water or windex on the paper, set it on the granite plate, and sharpen.  

So what's the catch?  The catch is that while the initial investment is low, the long-term cost is high.  Yes, sandpaper is cheap, but the cost adds up.  You can't use the same sheet for very long, or you'll run into issues where half of the cutting edge is sharp and the other half isn't.


Oilstones are a slightly larger initial investment, but not horrible.  You can get a three-grit set on Amazon for around $25, which is just within our budget.  Similar options may be available at local stores, or they may not:  it's hard to guess in any given area.  You're mostly going to want fine and extra-fine grits, not the coarse one.  That's really for working on a damaged blade, which hopefully you won't have.

Is there a catch?  I've never used that particular set, so I don't really know.  In all honestly, I greatly prefer a diamond plate, and so I've switched to that exclusively.  But they're not cheap:  the combined price for the set I have is something like $150, which is absurd for a $45/month budget.  If you have a windfall, sharpening tools would be a great way to spend it, but for now just put it on your "someday when I'm rich" list.

What can I do now?

The addition of chisels makes a big change.  You can now cut dovetails, for instance.  For practice, I recommend buying a piece of 1x4 or 1x5, and cutting a set of dovetails every day for at least two weeks.  Try to get a little better every day, and fix something that didn't quite work right the day before.  At the end of two weeks or a month, you're likely to be cutting them fairly quickly and quite accurately.

So that means you can make dovetailed boxes, or drawers for a case that's nailed together.  You can make housing dados and rabbets if you're careful, which means you can make a pretty solid book case.  You can now make mortise and tenon joints in softwood, and in hardwood if you're cautious.

This is, honestly, the point where you can start making furniture.  You don't have a smoothing plane or a big range of sandpaper grits, so making fine furniture is a challenge, but you can make things.  For that matter, you now have the critical tools for making a workbench:  I didn't have much more than this when I built my small bench.

So spend the next month practicing sharpening and making joints, and I'll figure out what you should buy next.

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