Posts Tagged With: hand tools

Stuff that Works

“Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall”    — Lyrics by the late Guy Clark

This is not a forum for advocating anything in particular, including any brands, types, or manufacturers of tools. But when I find something that works unexpectedly well for me, it makes sense to put it out here. I spent quite a long time pounding away with a chisel and mallet, cleaning out and squaring up the rounded corners on the Shoji Style sliding doors.





Each of the two doors has 12 square acrylic panes, with four corners each. That’s 96 corners to clean up, in some pretty tough white oak.

I tried several different chisels, trying to find one that would work quickly and do several corners before it needed to be sharpened. A couple of no name chisels failed very quickly. My old Stanleys and newer Lie Nielsens did relatively well. Finally, I settled on a Lie Nielsen mortise chisel to chop out the majority of the waste , then clean it up by paring with a Stanley bench chisel. This combination worked great. After pounding on the Lie Nielsen mortise chisel for over half of the corners, its edge is still in great shape – it’s going right back into the drawer with no need for sharpening. And that Lie Nielsen mortise chisel is a wonderful tool. But this post isn’t about the chisel. It’s about the mallet.

“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.”   — Song lyrics by Paul Thorn


Blue Spruce Toolworks Mallet

I have to admit that I bought the Blue Spruce Toolworks mallet because it looks great. A classmate at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship had one and raved about how wonderful it was. When you hold it, it weighs WAY more than you can believe. Like its filled with lead or something. The Blue Spruce website says it is, “totally infused with acrylic resin to fill every cell.” I don’t have any idea how they would have done that to a gorgeous piece of tiger maple. But it looks great, with the African blackwood handle, and feels balanced and ergonomically perfect in the hand.

img_0934But here’s the amazing part: after beating on chisels, not only on this project but many others, there is not so much as a scratch on the mallet. Blue Spruce Toolworks claims that the acrylic infusion “helps prevent crushing of the face grain.” I can vouch for that. How does a mallet not get dented and scratched with use?

The Blue Spruce Toolworks mallet is a tool that works. I won’t ever have to buy or make another mallet. It feels great to use, works perfectly, and, yes, it still looks great!

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Lie Nielsen Toolworks Tour

While in Maine taking a class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, our instructors arranged for the class to tour the Lie Nielsen manufacturing facility, which is just down the road from the school near Rockport.

Lie Nielsen Toolworks makes some of the finest hand tools you can buy today. I only have a few of their tools, but they are among my most favorite, and get lots of use. The quality is obvious to both the eye and the hand. They have a feel and balance in their hand planes, chisels, saws, etc. that elevate them above most the competition.

It was a highlight of the trip to see how a chunk of metal becomes a Lie Nielsen hand plane.

The foundry work is done by a small family owned foundry not far away. The designs and molds are done in house. Much of the machining is done on old Bridgeport milling machines. They have also incorporated CNC milling machines into the process, but handwork is still a fundamental part of the process. They work in small batches, with the goal being that today’s manufacturing will be sold within a month.

Here are some photos.

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The castings arrive in a web and are cut apart

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Initial Milling of the blanks

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After initial milling and powder coating

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CNC milling area

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Final milling on the old Bridgeports

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Squaring the side to the bottom

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Blades blanks

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Caps and parts in process

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They have a wood shop for handles, etc

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Saws are finished with hand filing

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Blades ready to go

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Final assembly by hand

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Finished, boxed and ready to go

It was a great tour. Unfortunately, no free samples were given out. But you do get a 10% discount when you buy in person in the showroom. And, yes, I did purchase a few items. Some chisels, a small router plane, and their low angle smoothing plane that was too nice to pass up.

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Newest Tool is Very Old

My Newest Oldest Tool

My Newest Oldest Tool

Roy Underhill, the traditional woodworker with the long-running PBS show, “The Woodwright’s Shop,” has a storefront school in downtown Pittsboro, NC. If you visit the town, you will often find students building projects with hand tools — no power tools here! On the second floor of the school is a store with a huge inventory of hand tools. Hundreds of hand planes, chisels, saws, folding rules, braces and bits, and dozens of specialty tools used back in the day. It is a great place to go and look at examples of how things used to be done. You can actually hold history in your hand.

As I try to improve my hand tool skills, I often go over to that tool store and occasionally pick up something for my shop. Recently, I came home with perhaps the oldest “new” tool I have ever acquired – a wooden jointer plane. As I looked at some of the store’s inventory, Ed, the proprietor, showed me the jointer planes. We tried out a couple of different ones on a piece of lumber he had on his bench, and they had a nice feel, even with very dull blades. I grabbed one more from up on top of the cabinet, and examined it. Ed looked at it and noticed that it had a “Butcher” blade in it.

“W Butcher Warranted Cast Steel

It was 26 inches long, and had a metal owner’s mark tacked on to the end. He estimated this plane was from the early 1800’s, and it was obvious that it had been used a lot in its lifetime. I tried it out and the blade was very rusty and dull, but a little time with the sharpening stones can fix that. The area right behind the mouth had been worn down over the years and was just slightly hollow. Ed commented that if I didn’t buy this plane for the $20 shown on the price tag, it was going back on the shelf with a new, higher price, now that he had looked at it more closely.

So, I bought it and brought it home. I spent a couple hours on the blade, getting it razor sharp. The iron is made of two different metals bonded together – a softer one for the main body, and a harder one for the cutting edge. I had no idea that this was being done that long ago.

I know some will find this blasphemous, but after some thought and deliberation, I put the hollowed sole of the plane on my 8 inch, 220 volt modern power jointer. Taking only a few thousands off at a time, I got the hollow out and the sole flattened. I then bathed the plane in linseed oil, and later applied some paste wax.

Owner's mark on the end of the plane

Owner’s mark on the end of the plane

The plane iron had an interesting mark on it: “W. Butcher Warranted Cast Steel.” A little internet research revealed that Mr. Butcher was known back in the 1800’s for producing some of the finest steel for tools and razors in the world from his foundry in Sheffield, England. This hand plane very well could have been produced in the early 1800’s and this would have been the original iron.

The best part is . . . this plane works amazingly well! I took a rough piece of ash and had it completely flat and ready to work in short order. Notice the shavings in the photo above. Ah, but where does one store something like this?? It won’t fit in a drawer, or even on any of my shelves. Time for more tool storage! I had been thinking of building a hanging tool cabinet, and this new plane provided the push to get started.

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Wooden Hand Plane

Several woodworking schools have classes on building a wooden plane. I have considered signing up for a course, but haven’t been able to make the class schedule work with mine. Recently, I found some plans on line at the Popular Mechanics website:  The plans are designed to use Hock  plane irons. I thought I would try building one on my own.

Yellowheart Wooden Plane

Yellowheart Wooden Plane

I placed an order with Hock Tools and after a quick trip to the lumberyard, I had a few pieces that had potential as plane bodies: some cherry, walnut, hard maple, etc. I ended up using a piece of Yellowheart for the main body, with the sole made of Jatoba. I followed the Popular Mechanics plans for a 17″ long plane. It was actually a fairly easy project. The Hock plane iron is very heavy and thick, much thicker than a traditional plane blade. I flattened the back of the blade with a course diamond stone, and polished it with Japanese waterstones, finishing up on an 8000 grit. The blade is made with a 30 degree angle, and I polished the angle face to a mirror shine on the waterstones as well.

Construction of the plane only took a couple of days. I finished it with boiled linseed oil, and a couple coats of wax.  It turned out looking pretty nice, and it works well, too.


Here’s a video of the plane making shavings.


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