The Anxiety of Tool Care

Many of the tools I own and use are more than twice as old as I am. This actually produces a sense of anxiety about how I treat the tools and how well I care for them.  When you become, essentially, a keeper of the tool for the next generation, your relationship to these things change.  This bleeds over into my other, less provenanced, tools as well.

Take my set of 1990’s marples chisels for example. These were the bad-ass Dodge Stratus of the time and the entry-level chisel of every woodworker I know. And they’re still great. But my dog got ahold of the 3/4 chisel while I was sharpening one day and chewed the end. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the handle was mangled.

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Did this change how this chisels worked? No way. But it changed how I felt about it.  The handle stared back at me from my tool chest and kept saying “fix me.”  So I finally did.  I have made one chisel handle replacement before for a long paring chisel that was just a simple hexagon.  For this handle,  I decided to make a modified london pattern handle .  There are a number of tutorials on making these handles on the wb (see here, here, and here, for example).

The basic procedure is pretty simple.  Take a block of wood, ash in my case, and plane (or saw) into an octagon.  Chuck this into a lathe and turn the curvy parts.  Drill a tang hole and pound the handle home.  For this handle I picked up a ferrule from Ron Bontz at Bontz Saw Works because they are nice looking and I wanted something other than the copper pipe cutoffs that are the standard for the typical handle replacement.
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I am pretty happy with how it turned out.  The handle is a little tilted, but I was happy with the outcome from me free-handing it with the tange hole. When you put the handle on, try to line up one of the flats of the octagon with the plane of the blade.  It makes it easier to register when you pick it up.   I finished it with a little shellac and it’s now ready for another 20 years of work.

Jig Saw or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the reciprocation

The first, and only, experience I had with jig saws was using my dad’s vintage craftsman. 

Wholesale stolen from ebay.

It looked pretty much like the one above, but it had the additional “feature” of being able to “steer” the blade via a twisty handle at the top. It was loud, vibrated, and had the cut accuracy of the average user of public restrooms.  I hated using it. 

Fast forward 25 years and I was staring down needing to cut out a 12″ circle from 3″ thick poplar for my first staked furniture build.  I don’t have a capable bandsaw so my choices were rigging something up with a router or cutting it with a coping saw.  Neither was a great option for me (i have router phobia). 

I was wandering through the big box store and they happened to have a Bosch jigsaw on discount. Two minutes of in-store tool review searching and I picked up the JS470E and took it home. It stated on the box that it had 4″ hardwood cutting capacity, so I hoped that a a 33(.3333333…)% overcapacity would mean that it would actually work. I thought that I could at least get it close and then clean it up. It worked ao much better than I had expected. 


The saw easily handled the poplar and left a clean (and square) cut. Took less than 10 mins to zip out the blank above and that included clanping and unclamping from the workbench.  Technology has most certainly advanced in the last few years. 

Don’t fear freehanding a circle too. Draw your line and just cut. You can always fair it out with a plane and spokeshave later. Even with a bandsaw you’ll have to do something to clean up the saw marks. And your circle diesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to fool the eye.  

Twisting in the Wind

The space between projects is always an interesting one. There’s a sense of disorientation, for me at least, and a little bit of loss.  When you’ve been focused on the provess and goal for a long time, being without that focus can be disorienting. Since finishing  the nail cabinet, I decided to work on some essential hand woodworking layout and reference tools to fill the gap between larger projects.  The first up was a short straight edge from a scrap of maple I had lying around from my moxon vise build. I decided to make a couple of thumbnail ends and an ogee-like shape at the top for a finger hold. 


I cut these with a coping saw and then used a couple of rasps to clean up the shape.  I have a nicholson rat-tail and a Narex half-round. Both of which work fine and aren’t that expensive. I did further cleanup with some metal files.  The endgrain of this maple responded really well to the file.  Since this straightedge is only 1/4 inch wide you would think a 1/2 chisel would be enough to clean up the long sides. However, I had the best luck with my 2 in wide chisel. I think it let me feel if I was tilting and it also let me skew cut along the length.  

After the profile was shaped, I cut a finger recess with a gouge.  This worked OK, but it wasn’t very straight or even.  I used a curved scraper to straigten and smooth the groove. This was super critical because I couldn’t cut the groove with the gouge without tearing out. Curved scrapers are awesome and can be made from straight scapers with some judicious grinding. 


The next item was some winding sticks. I made these from quartersawn sapele that I picked up at woodcraft.  Not a cheap way to do it, but I wanted some dark wood.   The sticks are frequently triangle shaped because, I think, they are cut from one piece of wood.  That’s how sellers approached his. My wood wasn’t thick enough to do that, so I cut it in half and the ripped the angle. 


I cleaned up the cut on my sticking board, which let me run an angled jointer over this thin stick of wood.  If you haven’t made a sticking board, do it. It’s an incredibly useful piece of kit.  

Then came the inlay of a couple of lighter wood strips. I chose some quartersawn maple for a  nice understated ray fleck.  I defined the inlay recess with marking knives and a cutting gauge and then cleaned out the recess with a sharp chisel. A small router plane might have helped a lot here.  At least made the process faster.  

The inlay material was again cut from the moxon leftovers and then planed down to about 3/32 or so just using my smoothing plane and the bench stop. It was kinda scary planing at the toothed hook with a very thin piece, but as long as you press down hard before planing forward the part stays put. I then glued it into the 1/16 in-deep inlay recess and planed it flush with my block plane after the glue dried. 


There are some gaps, but overall I am pretty stoked with my first inlay attempt. One down side was that the sapele warped a little after gluing. I think the water in the glue caused this and I am hoping it will die down over time. The warp is along the length and doesn’t appear to impair use. Just looks bad. 

This was a lot of fun and a nice exercise in precision planing. Highly recommended. 

Stock Photos

If you asked someone what was is most fun part of woodworking, prepping stock is generally not everyone’s first choice.  While I wouldn’t sign up for a full week of prepping stick with handtools, I’ve found that I actually enjoy establishing a true edge and face.  I don’t have a jointer, so I have to do all the flattening by hand.  There is something satisfying about being able to run your square down an edge and have it all line up.  Makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something significant.

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I still use my dewalt surface planer to do a lot of thicknessing, but you have to establish a flat face for the planer to work properly.  Like all things in handwork, the stock prepping process is so much easier if your tools are sharp.  Especially in hardwoods.  You can usually muscle through pine.

If prepping your stock by hand seems scary, check out this video that popular woodworking recently posted.  It’s a great step by step for getting it done. Not a huge fan of the intro soundtrack on this video….