Episode No. 12 Hand tools part 2

April 19, 2006

Hey everyone thanks for checking out the show again, I really appreciate it.

This episode is the continuation of the hand tool talk. We talk about the last three categories of hand tools I think no shop should be without.

Chisels, hand saws and edged tools such as hand planes. When it comes to chisels the best all around type to get are the bevel edged chisels. They are truly the workhorses of the chisel family. Once a sharp edge is established bevel edged chisels can do light paring cuts to heavier mortising cuts. Of course depending on what punishment you put them through will determine how often they need sharpening.

There are a variety of hand saws but perhaps the most useful in my shop is a nice sharp crosscut saw. One of the benefits of using a hand saw is that you can bring the tool to the wood which in many situations is a lot easier and safer than trying to balance it on a table saw or miter saw stand. Not to mention that with a little practice you may actually find that your cuts may be just as accurate and quick as the cuts from a power tool.

When choosing a saw you may want to consider whether you would prefer a Western style or Japanese style tooth setup. Japanese style saws are becoming more popular today because of how easy they are to cut with. The main difference between the styles is in the direction of the cutting action. Western saws cut by pushing away from the user while Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke.

When it comes to edged tools it’s easy to become addicted to them. In this day and age of power everything tools, the old fashioned muscle powered tools seem useless, but in fact once you discover how to set them up and use them properly you’ll be amazed at how easy they are to use and to some degree how they can make you a better woodworker. Older hand planes and spokeshaves can be found at antique stores, flea markets, etc. they may take a little elbow grease to set up, but trust me, once you do you’ll enjoy them over and over. Remember don’t be fooled by the numbering system used to identify the planes.

Most manufacturers, old and new, use the old Stanley tools numbering system. The numbers don’t indicate the order of use, but rather the size of the tools. No. 8 – No. 6 are the largest and are used for leveling surfaces. No. 5’s are the real workhorses of the hand planes and are often referred to as ‘Jack’ planes. The Jack planes are used for mostly rougher dimensioning or prepping a surface for the larger No. 8 – No. 6 to joint. No. 4 or smaller are the final planes to touch the woods surface.

These are actually the ones that would be used prior to finishing a piece. Today though you can easily get away with using a No. 4 to prep a surface and then go straight to your finer grit sand papers. The one problem most amateur woodworkers face when it comes to either chisels or hand planes tends to be the assumption that they are sharpened and ready to go from the moment they’re out of the package. This is not true no matter what the manufacturer tells you. Take the time to flatten the back of the blade and learn how to put a sharp edge on the tool.

There are great articles out there will walk you through it and trust me once you learn you’ll love using them every time. A good place to look for such an article is in Popular Woodworking’s special issue from January 2006 all about Hand tools in the modern workshop. Christopher Schwartz’s article about sharpening is in there, this is the same article that gave me the confidence to try and I haven’t looked back since. Also if you’re really interested in learning more about hand tools in the wood shop check out Andy Rae’s book “Choosing and Using Hand Tools” by Lark Press. His book played a major role in putting the last two episodes together.

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