hand tool recommendations

A Loving Home

A package came in the mail on Saturday.  James over at The Daily Skep was gracious enough to gift to me the box he made for his custom box for a Veritas Large Router Plane.  I am happy to say the box now has a new home in my tool chest.


Fits very nicely.

For those who haven’t seen it before, it holds the plane itself, the fence and some additional blades, with a sliding lid.  I am particularly fond of the bits of veneer that hold the plane in place in the well.  It feels very Dutch tool chest-like in its own way.


I seem to have one more extra blade than James.

Thanks very much, James.  By the way, if you’re not a reader of The Daily Skep, you should be.



The Worst Words…

… a handtool woodworker ever hears are “hey, would you make me a cutting board?” from a friend.  In my experience, cutting boards (especially the butcher block variety) are largely a way to turn scraps into revenue.  And more often than not, they tend to be made from hard maple (a P.I.T.A. to work with hand tools).

But this particular friend is a very close friend, and I had some leftover 2×6 hard maple from my old workbench.  And so, a rather utilitarian cutting board is born.


I’m an adult and I can own a Nerf chaingun if I want.

I had thought about doing a “Basic Project” installment on this project, but there wouldn’t be much to it.  In fact, the hardest part was flattening the kiln-dried 8/4 hard maple.  Step 1: Laminate the board.  Step 2: Glue on four wooden feet.  Step 3: Break the hard edges with a plane, sandpaper or a trim router. Step 4: Apply foodsafe oil.


It occurs to me that I always take pictures from the right side.

There is plenty left over for a second cutting board, if I so desire.  Which I will not.


Something Old, Something New

The point at which you first install workholding on a workbench is a bit thrilling.  The bench transforms from furniture to functioning tool.  Even if the workholding is just an aluminum planing stop.



Final flattening of the bench only took about 30 minutes.

I have been enamored with these Lee Valley-Veritas planing stops for some time.  I tried a toothed planing stop on my previous workbench, but I never really liked it.  Unless I needed the extra 6 inches or so of benchtop, I always went back to these aluminum stops. They are low profile and easy to install (requiring only two 3/4″ dog holes).  And they can be cut to perfect length.

This time, I even remembered to space the holes so they’d line up with a row of tail vise dog holes, if I ever install a metal front vise as a tail vise.  I mean to, eventually, but I only have 12″ from the end of the benchtop to the top stretchers, so I’d need a pretty compact front vise.  Before I do, though, I’m going to try working with just holdfasts and does’ feet.  I hear it works pretty well.

My first project on the new workbench will be that plant stand I was making last year, which is very similar to a previous prototype.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: working home center spruce is such a joy.


Warrington Pattern Hammer Recommendation

I don’t usually do tool recommendations, but I have been very pleased with my new Warrington Pattern Hammer.  It’s nothing special, just a $25 dollar amazon find, but it’s worked well so far.


I may have lucked out, but the hammer is well handled and straight, and the balance of the 12oz head feels good in my hand.  If you’re looking for a relatively cheap woodworking hammer, you could do worse.


The Essential Tool Kit, Redux!

Over the weekend, I was asked by my mother to clean up some poorly-mitered baseboard moulding. Not knowing what the moulding was made of (MDF, by the way), I packed up a small toolbox with enough woodworking handtools to tackle any task. I’ve been down this road before, but I took the chance to think through the essential handtool woodworking kit once again.

More than anything, I was confined by what I could fit in or on the toolbox, which is about 16″ long and has been with me since the beginning.

Seen here

Seen here, mostly empty.

Here is what I came up with:

  • Tool roll, with chisels from 1/4″ to 1″, plus 1/2″ mortise chisel, birdcage awl and 18 oz mallet
  • Tape measure, 12″ combination square, sliding bevel and marking knife
  • 14″ rip cut tenon saw and 22″ rip cut panel saw
  • No. 5 1/2 jack plane and small chisel plane
  • 600 and 1200 grit diamond plates, saw file roll and plane adjustment hammer
  • Some screwdrivers and mechanical pencils

And that’s it.

Looking back, I had room for a small router plane and a couple clamps. Maybe a dovetail saw, spokeshave and Shinto rasp if feeling fancy. A hammer and cut nails too. Plus a 200 grit diamond plate and honing guide for grinding.

And that, along with a small cordless power drill, would be enough to get started making anything, I think.  Just don’t forget the glue and blue tape.


About Damned Time

In a vulnerable and impressionable state the other day, I splurged on a new scrub plane. I’ve mostly gotten my retail therapy habit under control as of late, but in this case, the price point was too good to resist.  I weighed the benefits of merely buying an extra iron for my No. 4, but without a bench grinder in my apartment, this seemed a less attractive option.

This is my favorite part of woodworking.

This is my favorite part of woodworking.

I’ve been managing well without a true scrub plane for a while. Lately, all my traversing is done with an exaggerated camber on a No. 4.  This is perfectly fine for pines and softer hardwoods, but some upcoming hardwood projects (real hardwoods: oak, ash and maple) made it time for an upgrade. I’ll straighten the iron on my No.4 so it can return to general purpose/shooting duties.

What drove me over the edge, though – aside from over-tiredness and crushing existential dread – was taking down the width of several long boards, where the waste was not thick enough for hand-sawing away but was too much for even a heavy-set bench plane. So I splurged.

This is my first Lee Valley/Veritas plane.  I own several of their saws (as well as some winding sticks, wheel marking gauges and other miscellany) and am always impressed with their quality and pricing.  I was nonetheless blown away by how little tuning was required.  Right out of the box, the sole was dead flat.  As was the iron, which was already ground to radius (thankfully).  After a mineral spirits wipedown to remove the shipping grease and a quick coat of T-9, I assumed all the plane would need is a secondary bevel on the iron before taking shavings.

The quality of machining is a joy.

The quality of machining is such a joy.

Christopher Schwarz did a great blog post on scrub plane iron sharpening a while back that demystified the process.  I am always grateful for his wisdom.  A quick thumbnail test, though, revealed the iron was already rather sharp.  I could polish it further, but “well enough alone” is the rule of my apartment woodworking shop.  I literally just had to center the blade and tighten down the set screws before the plane was ready for use.

Overall, so far so good.  I will post a follow-up with some pictures once I’ve had a chance to take shavings.


The Largest Thicknesser of All

I absolutely adore my thickness planer.  When preparing rough stock for a new project, I often simply plane two faces of each board straight and square, and then clean up the other two faces with my thicknesser.  Even though it lives at my parents’ house, but I still get to use it fairly regularly.

The capacity, however, is limited to 13″ for face planing and 6″ for edge planing.  This isn’t normally a problem.  I rarely work with boards wider than 13″ and if I am, it’s probably because I glued up smaller board which I already surfaced individually (and jointed in reference to each other).  I can then flatten and square by hand the finished tabletop (or whatever).

But for pieces wider than 6″ that need parallel edges (e.g., the top of a footstool), the thicknesser just won’t cut it.  Instead, I need to scribe a line on the board indicating the desired thickness and hand plane down to that line (just like you would do for a smaller board, such as a table leg).  For a long time, I had been making due with my combination square for marking thickness, but I recently splurged on a Lie-Nielsen panel marking gauge.


Not sure how I ever did without one.

It takes a little bit of practice to master (especially in swirling grain woods), but the panel marking gauge is a welcome addition to my tool chest (it actually lives on my benchtop).  Planing down to a well-scribed line doesn’t take much more time or effort than sending a board through the thicknesser a couple times and it’s how they did it before thicknessers were a thing, anyway.

I’m thinking about doing a “tools I didn’t realize I couldn’t live without” segment at some point.  A panel marking gauge is certainly on my list.  What about you?


Usually not a fan of Brooklyn…

Just received a pair of Gramercy holdfasts from https://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/store/dept/CGT


I guess not everything from Brooklyn is terrible hipsters…

Two is probably a bit much for a 30″ workbench, but the price was just so I right for the pair, so I was more than happy to replace the cast iron holdfast on my sawbench.  Shipping was fast and the included issue of The Comely Advertiser was good for some smiles.

Much better

Much better

All in all, I am glad to know I probably never have to buy holdfasts again.


What hand tools should a beginner woodworker buy first?

For the last few weeks, in what little spare time I’ve had, I have agonized over one question: “What hand tools should a beginner woodworker buy first?”  I tried (and hopefully succeeded) in answering that question over the last few “Bare Essentials” posts.  In response to a question from a colleague, though, and for the TL;DR crowd out there, I thought I would take one more stab at it.

It’s a tough question and there is no easy answer, of course.  Partly, because the answer depends on what kind of woodworking the beginner wants to do; partly, because each person’s budget and/or available space vary.

So, instead, I will answer an easier question: “If I had a time machine, what basic set of hand tools would I have bought my past self as a birthday present when I was a beginner hand tool woodworker?”  I know it’s cheating, but, after all, the paradoxes largely resolve themselves and this is my website.

Basic Tools

Happy 30th Birthday, Past-James!

The picture above is for (literally) illustrative purposes only.  I thought it would be fun to fit everything in a single camera frame, but I don’t actually own one of the tools I recommend (a No. 5 jack plane) and I apparently forgot to include three others in the picture (low angle block plane, 600 grit diamond stone, saw files).

I am sure my views will evolve over time, but for now, here is what I believe should have been the first tools I owned as a beginner hand tool woodworker (with the goal of making tables and chairs):

Safety: Eye protection (ALWAYS!)
Bench Chisels: 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 18 oz. mallet
Hand Planes: #5 jack, low angle block
Hand Saws: rip cut panel (8-10 TPI), rip cut tenon (8-12 TPI)
Marking and Measuring: 12 inch combination square (the best you can afford), 12 foot tape measure, double bevel marking knife, mechanical pencils
Sharpening: 600 grit diamond plate, 1200 grit diamond plate, eclipse-style honing guide, saw files
Other: spray lubricant, screwdrivers, deadblow mallet, 2x 12″ bar clamps, 2x 8″ bar clamps, 24″ straightedge, 50″ straightedge clamp, blue tape

These tools (plus a regular claw hammer, a power drill, wood glue and some sand paper) should give a new hand tool woodworker everything absolutely required to get started cutting joints and making things out of wood.   Remember to stick to your budget and always do your safety, technique and sharpening research ahead of time.

I started out working on a WorkMate Portable Workbench, but any stout surface you can clamp material to (such as a sturdy dining table) is just fine.  I recommend laying down some hardboard or plywood to protect any finished surfaces from tool marks and marring, though.

Note: if you are interested in brand recommendations for the above, please leave a comment or email me.


The Bare Essentials (Part 2, Handplane Edition)

Welcome back to The Apartment Woodworker!

This week, I will be rounding out the workshop tour with an in-depth look at the set of hand planes that I’ve come to know and love.  Just like always, I won’t be using brand names in any description.  After all, only one of my planes is a premium brand (the large router plane; thanks, Mom!) and everything else is at best a mid-budget brand.  If you are here looking for hand tool porn, you are still in the wrong place.


From left to right: No. 5 1/2, No. 4 1/2, No. 4, low angle block, large router, small router, small chisel, small shoulder, trimming.

Every woodworker loves planes, even woodworkers who don’t use hand tools, and for good reason: planes are the most beautiful and complicated (and expensive) hand tools in the woodworker’s arsenal.  From straightening and squaring rough stock to refining the fit of a joint to preparing the final piece for finishing, hand planes are essential at every step of furniture building.  Even the most die-hard power tool enthusiast still needs at least a block plane.

Ownership of a hand plane is sort of endothermic.  Only through consistent use and maintenance will a plane (and the woodworker using the tool) reach full potential.  Be it a premium modern plane or a rehabilitated antique-store find, “up and running” is just the first step in the lifelong maturity and growth of tool and user alike.  Once the sole is flat and the iron is sharp, the real fun begins.  Plus, S4S’ing a piece of 12/4 ash is excellent exercise.


This is reclaimed pine, but it’s still super way better than going to the gym.

In my hand-tool woodworking, I quickly developed a preference for two particular planes: the #5 1/2 jack plane and the #4 bench plane.  The #5 1/2 is plenty long enough for jointing, the #4 is plenty short enough for smoothing, and those two planes will touch every single piece of wood in every single project.  I definitely use my other planes (for instance, I’m very fond of my large router plane, and the # 4 1/2 is “super tuned” for smoothing), but the #5 1/2 and the #4 form the foundation of my tool chest. It’s true that sometimes I struggle when edge jointing thin stock, because the #5 1/2 is rather too heavy and tippy and the #4, though thinner and lighter, is probably too short.  Other times, flattening very long boards is a chore because even the #5 1/2 is too short.   Generally, though, these two planes (and a block plane) give me everything I need to prepare all six faces of a board (faces, sides and ends) for joinery and finishing.


I rarely reach for anything else.

As an aside, I know quality hand planes are expensive and I’m not advocating that any beginner woodworker go out and spend a fortune on premium versions of the planes shown above.  Truth be told, each plane has its limitations and I have made compromises for lack of space.  As always, stick to your budget and figure out what works for you.  If you are dying for a recommendation, though, first go out and buy a regular home center block plane.  Learn how to sharpen it and adjust it.  Then, make your second hand plane a decent quality #5, which I guarantee will get the job done. After that, get a small router plane and hand cut a housing joint. It will change your life.

So, that’s it for the “this is my apartment workshop and these are my tools” portion of The Apartment Woodworker.  I purposely didn’t bore you with my straightedges and other miscellany and I hope you have enjoyed the tour.  Next time, I hope to share with you a silly little personal project that was a little bit about necessity and a lot about testing the capabilities of the Milkman’s Workbench.

The Milkman's Workbench

This thing

By the way, Happy Halloween to everyone!  Do yourself a favor and treat your Saturday hangover to a Netflix binge on Supernatural.  It’s still an amazingly entertaining show, even though it jumped the shark like a billion years ago.