Monday, April 11, 2016

Woodworking on $1.50 per day - Part 3

Here we are, entering month three.  You've spent the past month or so learning to cut dovetails, trying to figure out how to cut a housing dado with your ryoba saw, and hopefully making some shop furniture.  This month, we're going to make life easier by getting some marking tools.

A lot of people will tell you that you should spend a fortune buying marking and measuring tools, and that you need accuracy of .001" over a foot, and you need to buy a super expensive square to be that accurate.  In my view, that's nonsense.  You'll get that much movement in your board over the course of an hour, just from changing temperatures.  Yes, accuracy is important.  Yes, reliability is important.  But it doesn't have to be THAT good.  Here are some suggestions:


Assuming you live in the US, buy an Empire True Blue 16" Combination Square.  They're inexpensive ($14 at Home Depot, and only a little more on Amazon), easy to get, and mine has remained accurate for something like 6 years now.  This gets you a good square, a good 45 degree marker, and a 16" steel rule.  It'll be a little awkward for small parts, so consider supplementing it with their 6" version at some point later.  For right now, it will do.

Marking Gauge

I'll be honest:  I'm torn here.  The next tool you need is a marking gauge of some sort, and I'm unsure what to recommend.  So instead of a single recommendation, I'll give you a few choices, cheap to expensive.
  • Harbor Freight Mortise Gauge:  At $10 it's the least expensive of the lot.  It's also the cheapest.  If you go this route, open the package at the store.  Check to make sure the sliding arm is actually perpendicular to the fence when it's locked down, that it actually locks down, and that all three pins are there.  I have one, and I use it regularly, but it's sometimes frustrating because it's not really a precision tool.  Also, you'll want to file the pins down to a football cross-section, and use very little pressure when making the first mark.  It works, but it's not great.
  • Rockler or Wood River Wheel Marking Gauge:  If you have a Rockler or Woodcraft nearby, you can pick up one of their house branded gauges for about $17.  A wheel marking gauge is usually easier to set and use, and they'll almost certainly hold their setting better.
  • The Veritas Wheel Marking Gauge:  This is the best of the lot.  It's my most used gauge, and it's fantastic.  It's also over $30.
As I said, I'm not really sure how to go.  I think, in the end, I'd recommend buying one of the cheaper options, which will leave you enough money for item 3.  Probably go with the Rockler or Woodcraft gauge:  they seem to get good reviews, and are certainly higher quality and easier to use than the Harbor Freight version.

Marking Knife

A marking (or striking) knife.  Something like the one by iGaging will make your life a lot easier:  the spear point means you can get the blade flat against your rule or whatever you're using to mark, and they're pretty inexpensive.  Another option is a folding knife:  I went this route, with the Stanley 10-049 Pocket Knife, which is recommended by Paul Sellers.  It's easy to store in a shop apron pocket, and being able to close it means it'll stay sharp longer.  On the downside, I wasn't able to find any source for them except Amazon, which means you'll have to order it.

What can I do now?

To be honest, that hasn't changed much.  When I started this series, I wanted to prioritize tools that would get you working as quickly as possible, since most people aren't thrilled about spending three or four months buying tools they can't actually use.  The difference this month is accuracy.

A good square will enable you to do layout much more accurately:  if you can lay the line more precisely, you'll wind up with straighter cuts and parts that fit together better.  A marking gauge will make cutting rabbets or dovetails simpler, because it will be easier to mark the width of the rabbet or depth of the tails.  A marking knife makes a more precise line than a pencil or pen, and opens the option of using a knifewall to guide your saw, which is more accurate than just trying to cut on a line.

Basically, this doesn't let you do anything new, but it helps you get better at what you were already doing.


  1. I'm liking the idea of this series as an intro to tools and basic carpentry for my daughter. She'll be doing one term of woodworking at school later this year, but I'd like to try and build her up with a cheap set of tools and a Japanese toolbox to keep them in before then, just so she knows what she's doing.

    Thanks again for the great info!

    1. You're quite welcome, and I'm glad it's proving helpful to someone.

      I'm not going to be talking much about technique, since there are a lot of people out there who are better at it than me, but there doesn't seem to be much about inexpensive tools.

      I'll do a full post about books to look for at the library, but I absolutely recommend a copy of Paul Sellers' "Working Wood 1 & 2: The Artisan Course". It's available at Amazon, and has a lot of good introductory projects, introductions to tools, and sharpening information. "The New Traditional Woodworker", by Jim Tolpin, is also a fantastic starting point. It's also available at Amazon.

      Keep reading, and please let me know if there's anything particular you want reviewed!

    2. Thanks Andy. Both of those books are on my wish list :-). I've also enjoyed Tolpin's "By Hand And Eye" videos and articles on his web site.

    3. I also recommend basically everything else by Lost Art Press. Most relevant are probably "The Joiner and Cabinetmaker" and "The Anarchist's Toolchest." Both have a lot of good information about starting the process of acquiring a good tool kit.