Archive for the ‘Tool Review’ Category

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In:In the Shop, Tool Review, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on File Guides for Saw Sharpening

Sharpening hand saws is intimidating for most people, but there are some readily available options that simplify the process greatly.  Here’s a quick overview:

Angles: Before sharpening, you need to determine the angles you want to file into the teeth of your saw.  The rake angle is the angle between the face of a saw tooth and an imaginary line perpendicular to the baseline of the saw teeth seen when viewing a saw from the side. It is generally 12 to 15 degrees on a crosscut saw and 0 to 8 degrees on a rip saw.  You also need to control the fleam angle, the angle that is filed across the face of the teeth, creating a knife edge that slices wood fibers when cutting. On crosscut saws fleam typically ranges from 15 to 25 degrees, rip saws typically have little to no fleam.  (read Understanding Western Handsaws for more info)

Control: Once you know the angles you want to create, holding a file consistently and accurately for dozens of teeth in a row is tough.  Fortunately, there are several options available to you that make saw sharpening fairly straightforward.

Option one is to make your own file guide.  I picked this up from Ron Herman’s DVD and it works great.  I made my guide out of some scrap cherry in about 15 minutes.  The pictures will help explain the details, but the idea is to hold the file handle in your dominant hand and the file guide (with the tip of the file buried in it) in your off hand.  Hold the file level and the edge of the file guide perpendicular to the saw plate.  If you can do this, the guide will control the rake and fleam angles for you, it’s easier than it sounds.  (You may notice my guide is using a 30 deg rake and fleam angle, this is fairly steep for both but it was deliberate for this saw.  You typically want something closer to the angles listed above.)

File guide cut from scrapwood.

Cut the sides of the guide at the desired rake angle. In use, hold the angled face perpendicular to the saw plate which will skew the file to the correct angle.

Bury the file in a slightly undersized hole. The angle it’s bedded at off vertical will be the rake angle you induce during sharpening.

So this guide works well in a pinch, but if you have several saws to sharpen you’ll quickly realize you need a new file guide for every angle combination you want… this may only mean making 2 or 3 guides, but for others it would mean making many more.  So for all your file guiding needs there are a couple adjustable file guides you can purchase.  A reasonably priced option was recently released from Veritas and functions along the same principles as the wooden block, but you’ll notice a variety of angle combinations and file sizes can be accommodated with this single device. A second option from Blackburn Tools gives you the same functionality, but in a much classier package and at a premium price.

I have not purchased a file guide from Veritas or Blackburn so far, but I have more sharpening on the horizon so I intend to shortly.  Hopefully this gives you the confidence to pick up a saw (preferably a cheap one that you won’t mind practicing on) and get sharpening.  It’s really very simple and Ron’s DVD, as well as various free videos from youtube and Lie-Nielsen, will provide you with all the information you need.

Half the teeth sharpened, half to go.

-WMT

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In:Tool Review

Comments Off on Glen-Drake tite-mark review

There aren’t many “wheel-style” marking gauges out there.  A few cheap options not worth talking about, then there’s a respectable model from Veritas, but the king of gauges is the Glen-Drake Tite-Mark.  I’ve used the Veritas marking gauge for years (with the micro-adjust feature, don’t buy the standard gauge) and at around $40 it’s a nice tool at a great price, but the Tite-Mark at $89 is awesome and worth every penny.  Here’s a run-down of the features:

Tite-Mark “wheel style” marking gauge

First, the materials are quality steel and brass, precision machining all around.  The cutter is A2 tool steel and can be removed for sharpening.  The cutter also buries in the head to protect it when not in use (a common feature for these tools).  The lower knob locks in the head at its approximate location, then you simply rotate the knurled brass cylinder for micro-adjustment and tighten the top knob to hold your final setting.

Brass head with Knurled adjustment knob.

Two things to point out here, the micro-adjustment is designed for use with one hand which leaves your other hand free to hold your work or a scale if you’re aiming for a specific measurement.  This is a unique and highly desirable features on a marking gauge.  In addition to one-handed use, the head micro-adjusts approximately 3/4″, that’s roughly double what I get out of my Veritas gauge.

Next, there is a small nylon screw in the back of the head.  This allows the user to adjust the resistance between the head and rod.  If you want things to move freely you can loosen it slightly with your thumbnail.  If you want the head to stay put until you push on it, just tighten the screw a bit.  Most likely you will set this once and then never think about it again.

Nylon thumb screw for drag adjustment.

Unlike most gauges where the heads spin freely around the steel rod, the Tite-Mark locking screws ride in a groove.  This is necessary to enable the one-handed adjustment feature, but G-D took the extra effort to make it a stopped groove which prevents the head from accidentally sliding off the rod and potentially landing on an unkind surface (concrete floors).

Stopped groove

Finally, the Tite-Mark is the only gauge I know of that has numerous accessories and variations to meet your specific needs.  They offer a mini version for working on smaller parts, a longer rod version (9″ vs. standard 6″), and rod extensions to increase the rod length even further (making it more of a panel gauge).  There are also double-beveled cutters for laying out both walls of a mortise simultaneously.  These cutters can also be ganged up for double mortise layout, marking four separate walls in a single pass and with perfect repeatability between parts.

If you’re only going to buy one gauge I highly recommend the Tite-Mark.  I will not be getting rid of my Veritas gauge, however, as it will make a nice back up when I have multiple settings to maintain.

-WMT

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In:Tool Review, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on #112 Scraper Plane Comparison

Scrapers are the secret weapon of many woodworkers in the fight against tear out (a quick overview of their function can be read here).  Many woodworkers have never heard of them and in my experience the few who have struggle to get them to perform as they should.  Once you become comfortable with them, however, they become one of your best friends in the shop.  If you are already using scrapers with great success pat yourself on the back, you’re part of an elite woodworking minority.

Scrapers fit into three major categories (at that’s how I view them).  First is the simplest, least expensive, and most useful form of the tool, the card scraper.  Just a piece of steel typically rectangular in shape, though curved scrapers exist for handling (not surprisingly) curved profiles.  The edges are sharpened and honed like you would a chisel or plane iron, but unlike other hand tools these edges are honed 90 degrees to the faces.  A burnisher is then used to turn a hook, or burr, which is what actually allows the tool to remove a small shaving (not dust) and leave a tear-out free surface.  Many good card scrapers exist from companies like Lie-Nielsen, Bahco, and more.

Example of some common card scrapers

The second category is basically a card scraper held in a jig (I’m not sure what to actually call this category), the most famous arguably being the Stanley #80 which Veritas did a wonderful job recreating (and improving).  There were dozens of these contraptions put out by Stanley and others over the years, their advantage being that the handles keep you thumbs from burning (which happens with heavy use on a card scraper), they leave a flatter surface (card scrapers can easily dish out a localized area, this is both an advantage and disadvantage of card scrapers), and they are easier to sharpen since the cutter looks like a traditional plane iron (though a hook is often added after sharpening).  

Veritas #80

Finally, the third category is that of the scraper plane.  The large sole keeps the surface being worked extremely flat, they are comfortable to use, and unlike the category 2 tools, scraper planes have an angle adjustment that allows the user to optimize the cutting angle based on the hook.  Since turning a hook/burr is typically done by hand it will tend to vary slightly from one sharpening to another, being able to adjust the angle in the tool to account for this is an excellent feature not offered by the category 2 option.

The two premium options available today are from Lie-Nielsen and Veritas and both are modeled after the Stanley #112.  I recently picked up the Lie-Nielsen and Alan (Walke) owns a vintage Stanley, so I decided to compare the two and pass that information along.

Stanley and Lie-Nielsen #112 scraper planes.

The LN is almost identical in size and shape compared to the Stanley.  Some notable differences were the slightly larger angle adjustment knobs (from 1″ on the Stanley to 1-1/8″ on the LN) and two ribs added across the body for rigidity.

 

Note the thick blade, larger adjustment wheels and extra rib just below these wheels on the LN.

You can see the added rib in front of the mouth on the LN.  The only downside here is clearing shavings is a bit more difficult with the rib in the way.

To test their performance, I used each tool on Bubinga and curly Maple, both prone to tearing.  Each tool was capable of delivering good results, but I had an easier time on the LN, largely due to the blade.  The blade in the Stanley was very thin and was so short it was difficult to adjust… this may not be the original blade, so I don’t want to fault it too much, the tool itself is well made and felt solid in use.  On the downside, I tried using the LN blade in the Stanley tool, but it was too thick and would not fit in the Stanley.  The blade on the Stanley was also thin enough that I could feel it flexing in use which limited how thick of a shaving I could get from it.

Tear out in curly maple

When using scraper planes, you’ll want a few extra accessories compared to standard hand planes.  A 4 oz hammer (brass prevents dinging up the blade) is crucial for fine depth and skew adjustments and waxing the sole helps to reduce the force to push the tool in use (same as with a hand plane).  I found a small brush to clear the mouth to be essential as well.  Unlike hand planes where shavings tend to flow out of the tool, scraper shavings bunch up and are often so thin that they break apart.  And because such a small amount of material is being removed, even the slightest shaving hanging out of the mouth can get pinched under the tool and lift the blade off the wood.  I found my self brushing the mouth clean every four or five strokes.  This is a bit tedious, but if you’re using the tool appropriately you shouldn’t have too many strokes to take before you’re done so it didn’t really bother me and the results were worth it.

Useful accessories for scraper planes

And how were the results?  Well, I was able to take full shavings that measured just over 0.001″ thick.  This is about as thick as you’d go with a scraper plane, it gets very difficult to push the tool if a thicker shaving is being taken (remember you’re scraping the wood, not slicing it, so you can’t take nearly as thick of a cut as you could using a hand plane).  In general, I was scraping shavings a little under 0.001″ and leaving clean, smooth surfaces behind.  I also found you could hold the tool comfortably by gripping the front knob alone, or by wrapping your fingers around the knob and placing your thumb behind the bronze blade holder, which lead to a little trick I am calling the “thumb trick”.  If the shaving is a bit on the light side using a normal grip, try placing your thumb behind the blade holder and applying some pressure during the stroke.  This deflected things enough to give the blade just a bit more bite in use.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it allowed for some control over heavy vs light shavings without having to reset the tool (not the easiest operation to complete with a scraper plane).  I should note that I don’t over-tighten the blade clamp wheel, if you do you may stiffen things up so much that the thumb trick is not effective.

Bubinga shavings

Full shavings in curly Maple

Final results, right off the tool, no finish or additional clean up to the wood at this point.

So should you go out and buy a scraper plane?  For most the answer is probably no, at least not yet.  They are a bit tricky to master, both in their setup and their use.  If you aren’t comfortable with card scrapers yet, start with those.  They are cheap and will be used far more often than a dedicated scraper plane.  If you’re comfortable with card scrapers, do you work tricky woods, particularly larger surfaces you want to keep as flat as possible?  If not, again there is probably little benefit of owning a scraper plane.  However, if you’re answering “yes” to the previous statements, a scraper plane might really be useful for you, just be patient with them, it may take some time to come up the curve.

A few final comments, I purchased the LN #112 used and it arrived with some damaged handles.  I contacted Lie-Nielsen about getting some replacements and they sent them for free.  What a great company to work with and purchase tools from.  Also, I focused on the #112, but LN sells a smaller version, a rabbet version, and offers toothed blades if you’re trying to rough up a surface slightly for veneer work.  They also have helpful videos on their website discussing the setup and use of their scrapers.

-WMT

 

 

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In:Tool Review

Comments Off on Saddle-tail review update

I recently reviewed the saddle-tail from Sterling Tool Works (click here to read).  However, a more economical version (called the saddle-tail2) was just put up for sale that I thought was worth mentioning.

For specifics, check out Sterling’s blog about the new tool here, but here’s a preview:

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In:Tool Review

Comments Off on Sterling’s saddle-tail review

Sterling Tool Works makes one tool (so far), but they make it well.  The Saddle-Tail (S-T) can be used as a dovetail marker or a saddle square and is made in America from machined brass and tool steel.  Before I get too far along, let me say I love dovetail markers.  They are fast, accurate, and repeatable and after using one I think you’ll be very reluctant to go back to squares and adjustable bevels.  Now lets talk details.

The Lie-Nielsen dovetail marker (left) and two Saddle-Tail markers (right).

For years I’ve been using the Lie-Nielsen (LN) dovetail marker and am relatively pleased with it.  It’s made from brass and cocobolo, comes with a 1:7 slope and 1:6 slope and costs a reasonable $35.  The S-T from Sterling Tool Works is different.  Instead of two slope options like the LN guide, the S-T has one sloped face and one square face, thus making it both a saddle square and dovetail marker.  In addition to having a saddle square, the claim is that with one sloped face you won’t accidentally flip the tool in use and mark two different slopes on the same board.  Personally, I could go either way on this point.  I like having more than one slope option and with the LN guide you get two options in one tool.  You can get up to three slopes from Sterling but you have to purchase multiple tools.  This would be my only quibble, it’s a matter of personal preference and it’s not really against the tool itself.  If Sterling ever offers a dual-sloped version (and I think they should) there would be no debate on who owns the dovetail marker market… though I suppose a dual-sloped guide could no longer be called a “Saddle-Tail”, oh well.

Now lets get into the things I like… and there is a surprising amount for such a small tool.  First off, the manufacturing quality is top notch.  The fit is outstanding and the finger recess machined in the brass is the first indication of the thought that went into the tool.  There is also a relief notch in the corner to allow a snug fit even on boards with rough edges.

The finger recess in the brass is a very satisfying addition to the tool.

Next, the heft of the tool is substantial.  Instead of aluminum or wood, the body is brass which adds appreciable weight especially when combined with the thickness of both the brass and steel.  This thickness not only adds weight, but gives the user more surface area to register a marking knife against (though you’ll probably use a pencil most often with this tool).

Thicker…

…is better.

Now for my favorite feature, the size.  After all a dovetail marker is little help if it doesn’t mark full lines.  This is my only complaint about the LN guide.  It’s a beautiful tool and works well, but any stock over 3/4″ thick doesn’t get a full line marked across it.  3/4″ is plenty for a single drawer side, but most people cut both drawer sides at the same time, doubling the thickness of the cut.  As a result, drawer sides over 3/8″ thick can not be marked in pairs without going back and extending the line with a standard square.  Dovetailed carcasses are also over 3/4″ in many cases so the additional length of the S-T, as I said before, is my favorite feature.  How much reach do you actually get?  The brass body extends 1-5/8″ and the steel extends 1-1/4″.

This board is just over an inch thick. Note that the LN guide can’t reach the back portion for marking a line, but the S-T still has plenty of length to spare. Awesome.

The length is also necessary for making the tool a useful saddle square.  My favorite saddle square is from Veritas.  It’s inexpensive, large, and comfortable.  The S-T, however, is almost the same size and makes owning the Veritas version unnecessary.

Using the S-T as a saddle square.

The Veritas square functions in the same way.

Compared to the Veritas saddle square, the S-T has the same marking capabilities on one edge and is only slightly shorter on the other.

Finally, the slopes being offered by Sterling are somewhat unique in themselves.  When cutting dovetails in hardwood today, a slope of 1:7 or 1:8 is suggested, softwoods use a steeper slope at 1:6.  However, pictures and existing pieces of older furniture suggest steeper slopes were often used.  Sterling decided to offer slopes at 1:4, 1:6, and 1:8.  As you can see in the first picture, between my LN and two Saddle-Tail guides I can choose from 1:4, 1:6, 1:7, or 1:8 so I’ve got plenty of options.

In closing I’ll say this, the Saddle-Tail guide from Sterling Tool Works is an outstanding tool I highly recommend and one you will be proud to own.  However, premium tools are never cheap and the S-T guides run a hefty $75 a piece.  If you can’t swing that for a layout tool, the LN guide is well worth the $35 (though be aware of its length limitations as I mentioned above) as is the Precision Dovetail Template from Wood Joy. And if you’re really pinching pennies you can get the aluminum guides from Veritas (just don’t buy this version, they’re useless in my opinion).

If only cutting dovetails were as easy as laying them out. -WMT

Update: click here.

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In:Tool Review

Comments Off on Flattening Waterstones

One thing I struggled with when learning to sharpen hand tools was creating the proper geometry.  Whether I was flattening a chisel back or cambering a plane iron, the results were always unpredictable.  Eventually I caught onto the fact that my stones were not as flat as I thought they were… but why not?  I was flattening them with a flattening stone after all, shouldn’t they be flat?  Isn’t that why it’s called a “flattening” stone?

My problem was the flattening stone itself was not flat.  This created non-flat waterstones which resulted if poor tool geometry.  I am making the distinction about the geometry because I think it’s important.  I was getting a perfectly acceptable polish on the tool, but not always where I was expecting it.  Poor honing (or polishing) requires a finer sharpening media, inaccurate or inconsistent honing requires a flatter sharpening media.

So down to business.  I strongly recommend avoiding the Norton Flattening Stone.  It’s inexpensive and might work at first (though don’t count on it), but it quickly goes out of flat and will do more harm than good.  “But can’t you just re-flatten the flattening stone?” you might ask… sure, if you want to burn through a lot of sandpaper on a regular basis, waste time, and always wonder if it’s time to re-flatten the flattening stone.  I’ve also heard other woodworkers and even a student of mine complain about this product, so save yourself the hassle and try one of the alternative methods I talk about below.

A granite lapping stone on the left, the Norton Flattening Stone in the middle, and the DMT dia-flat lapping plate on the right.

Notice the hollow on the Norton Flattening Stone letting light through.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not bashing Norton.  I use their waterstones and use several other products they manufacture.  This stone is just not one of them.  So if you’re struggling with something as simple as lapping a chisel, your stones may not be flat.  Here are some things I would suggest you try:

-Lap your stones on sandpaper laid over a flat surface such as granite.  This is not my favorite, it’s expensive and messy, but in a pinch it works well.

-Buy a reliable lapping plate.  There are several and the are pricey.  I own the DMT Dia-Flat Lapping Plate and it can cost up to $195.  Shapton also makes a lapping plate that runs around $400.  Others use course diamond stones to lap their waterstones.  As long as the lapping stone stays flat it should work.

No light visible on the DMT lapping plate.

-Use stones to flatten stones.  I know a few people who do this (though I’ve never tried it) and they have no complaints.  If you’re on a budget, give this a shot… it’s essentially free.  The typical process would be to buy a combination stone, such as a 1000/4000 grit stone, buy a purely course (1000 grit) stone, and a purely fine (8000+ grit) stone.  Use the course side of the combination stone to flatten the purely course stone.  Then use that stone to flatten the 4000 grit side of the combination stone, then use the 4000 grit stone to flatten the 8000 grit stone.

-I know some people lap on a cinder block… that’s actually not a terrible idea except you can’t rinse it clean very easily and I would think it could be ground hollow, especially with course stones, fairly quickly.  I would avoid this method personally, but I can’t say it won’t work for you, at least temporarily.

A few more tips for flattening your waterstones: -Rinse your lapping plate between grits to avoid embedding courser grit on finer stones. -Chamfer the corners of your stones.  If you leave them sharp they will eventually chip out.  This can be done right on the lapping stone.  If you’re using the stones to flatten each other, you can’t do this so chamfer the stones on something else like a cinder block… or hey, go buy the inexpensive Norton flattening stone and use it solely to chamfer your stone’s corners… at least that’s one thing it would be useful for.

Keep it sharp. -WMT

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In:Tool Review, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on Which Drills and Why

The biggest issue when getting started in working wood with hand tools is wondering, “what tools do I need?”  I remember thinking I needed all bench planes #1 – #8 and every saw or chisel size sold by a given manufacturer.  After all, if I didn’t need all the sizes they wouldn’t be offering them, right?

Well, as you spend some time in the shop and read a few books you will quickly learn that is very wrong.  And while there is a lot of information out there on which planes or saws you should get, I’ve seen little to no words of wisdom around what drills are useful and why.  So here is what I’ve found most useful:

First, no single drill will handle all your hole-boring needs (or to some, your boring hole needs, but I digress).  The diameter of the hole you want to drill determines how much torque your drill will need to provide.  A traditional hand drill (or “egg-beater drill” as they’re often called) can only handle small holes, up to about a 1/4″ in diameter.  They are fantastic tools that can be easily found on the vintage market at a very affordable price.  Take the time to get a decent one that is complete and in good shape and/or fix it up yourself (see my restoration advice here).  I own two of these drills, one smaller than the other.  The larger (a Millers Falls #2) is my workhorse.  It does the bulk of the drilling in my shop and if I had to live with the absolute minimum number of tools, this would be one of the two drills I would own (I actually own five drills total).  My second hand drill is smaller (a Millers Falls #5a) and is nice to have on hand for very delicate work or if I’m alternating between different drill bit sizes, I can dedicate each of my drills to a different bit size rather than switching bits back and forth between the same drill.  I also find these drills easier to keep vertical compared to a cordless drill which is always trying to tip over due to the offset handle and battery weight.

My Millers Falls #2 and #5a hand drills

Perfect for general drilling up to 1/4″

When I need to drill small holes horizontally, I prefer a breast drill.  The name is derived from how the tool is used; the pad at the top is pressed under your… well… breast and your hands align and crank the drill.  I own a two-speed version (a Stanley 905) that allows me to choose between faster drilling or more torque, just like with a battery powered drill.  I find this drill easier to support, keep flat, and crank when drilling horizontally, but as this is not something most woodworkers do very often I wouldn’t go nuts trying to track one down.

My Stanley 905 breast drill

Tool-free speed change. Just press a button, pop out the drive gear, and place it in the other hole.

My favorite method for drilling holes up to 1/4″ horizontally

Now for the larger holes.  From about 1/4″ – 1″ diameter holes, hand braces are awesome and readily available… the bits (called auger bits), on the other hand, can be a little tough to find in a complete set (sets typically range from 1/4″ – 1″ sizes in 1/16″ increments).

Vintage auger bits made by Irwin

The term “brace” is based on the older wooden versions of this drill which were reinforced with brass plates, or braces, to avoid cracking the wooden frame during use.  Hand braces have two major features that differentiate one from another.  First is the sweep size.  A 10″ brace, for instance, is one which has a handle offset 5″ from the chuck, thus creating a 10″ diameter circle you must sweep the brace around to turn the bit.  The larger the sweep distance, the more torque you can generate (nice for your largest drilling needs), where smaller sweep distances allow for faster drilling (preferable for smaller bits).  The second feature to look for in a brace is ratcheting chucks vs solid chucks.  Ratchets allow for reversing the direction of rotation when an obstruction prevents the brace from making a complete circle.  This sounds like a big advantage and indeed if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t make a full sweep of the brace you will want a ratcheting chuck.  However, this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence and the ratcheting mechanism can add a sloppy feel to the drill (depending who made the tool and how well it’s been cared for).  Thus, I have two braces.  The first is an original (before Stanley bought them out) North Brothers Yankee 2101A brace with a ratcheting chuck and 12″ sweep.  This would be the second of my two essential drills and can handle any large-hole-drilling need I may have.  However, when drilling a smaller hole (maybe 5/8″ or less) and assuming there is nothing in my way, I will often reach for my Millers Falls brace without a ratcheting head.  These tools are so cheap it’s worth having a couple around, especially if you vary the features they bring to your shop.  These tools work well drilling vertically or horizontally, but the way I use them differs based on the situation.

My Millers Falls brace (top) with a 10″ sweep and solid chuck, followed by my Yankee brace with ratcheting chuck and 12″ sweep.

For vertical drilling, the right hand holds the pad, the left hand spins the drill.

For horizontal drilling, I hold the pad against my chest with my left hand and drive the drill with my right. Here I was adding holes in my bench legs to store my holdfasts when not in use.

A few tips on the bits themselves.  For hand drills, you can use the vintage bits that accompany some drills, but I just use brad point bits.  They are just easier to find and cut cleaner.  For the auger bits, two common styles exist: Jennings and Irwin.  I can’t say I prefer one over the other, but if they get dull they can be tuned up with an auger bit file (check Lie-Nielsen’s website to buy one, they are only $8.50).  Finally, if your auger bits are blowing out the back of your board, stop drilling as soon as the lead screw pokes through the back.  Then flip the board over, line the bit up with hole, and finish drilling from the backside.

Brad point bit in a hand drill

Auger bit file

Have a great day, -WMT

 

 

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In:On the Road, Tool Review

Comments Off on Tool Comparison

One of the best parts about attending Handworks last week was the opportunity to try various brands of similar tools or variation of the same tool by the same maker.  Here are my thoughts:

Dovetail Saws: While there weren’t many individual premium saw makers at the show (Bad Axe, Wenzloff, etc) the bigger companies like Lie-Nielsen and Veritas were there, as was Gramercy.  Veritas saws don’t do it for me, period.  I’m not a fan of the black backs or brushed saw plates (but you can’t argue with their price-point if you’re on a budget).  As for Gramercy, their teeth are too fine for my liking when it comes to a dovetail saw and the handles feel a bit thin for me, but that’s obviously going to vary person to person, hand to hand.

What I really want to talk about is the wide variety Lie-Nielsen now offers.  When I bought my dovetail saw from LN I only had one choice to make, 15ppi or progressive pitch teeth (I chose progressive).  A few years later, the 9″ saw I have is discontinued as they are all 10, both dovetail and carcass.  This is a definite improvement.  When you consider most people only use 7″-8″ of their 9″ plate (if you’re good at sawing, some only use 3″-4″) adding the extra 1″ is around a 13% increase in your efficiency.  The saw does not feel unbalanced in the least, in fact I felt it balanced the saw slightly better than the 9″ version.  About the only thing going for my 9″ at this point is that it’s now a collectors item (if someone wants to offer me $500 it’s theirs).

Anyway, beyond the increased length, LN also offers a thin plate version (0.015″ thick vs 0.020″) as well as tapered blades.  I’d not had the opportunity to try any of these until last week and the differences are noticeable.  After playing with all the variations, two stand out to me as my favorites: The progressive pitch and the thin plate, no taper for either.  The taper, in general, I do not care for on backsaws.  I understand why it’s there, but it’s a preference thing and I prefer a non-tapered blade.  The thin plate cuts faster than the standard saw because it’s removing less material, and it cuts very smoothly at 15ppi.  The progressive pitch also cuts smoothly (with fine teeth getting the cut started) but also quickly (with the aggressive teeth at the heel of the saw).  And again, thanks to the 10″ plate, they both cut faster than the saw I use today.  I still do not care for the standard plate at 15ppi.  It’s fine teeth cut smoothly, but without the thinner plate it’s a bit slow.  How should you choose?  If you’re new to sawing go for the progressive pitch, the blade is less kink-prone.  If you like super-fine pins, get the thin plate.

Hand Stitched Rasps: Most woodworkers are aware of the French rasp manufacturer, Auriou (pronounced are-you).  These are most readily available through Lie-Nielsen and come fitted with a LN maple handle.  More recently, Tools for Working Wood started carrying their own hand stitched rasps under their Gramercy label.  These are made in Pakistan, handles made in USA.  I tried the Gramercy rasps at Handworks and noticed a couple of things I thought were worth mentioning.  First, they are nice tools and could be a welcome addition to any shop.  However, when compared to Auriou, I felt that the Gramercy handles were too small (and I don’t have particularly large hands either).  A woman or younger woodworker might prefer these handles, but I immediately felt like the handle needed replacing.  As far as the cutting is concerned, these bite the wood more than I’m used to after using my Auriou rasps for a few years.  The teeth seem taller, more pointed than the Auriou rasps and made starting the cut a little more difficult.  Once moving, however, they removed material in a hurry.  This can be a good thing, but I’m more of a mind set that if you want to remove material faster get a courser rasp, not taller teeth (if that makes sense).  I would imagine you could get used to the feel of how these rasps cut and they do leave an excellent finish, but I’d have to give Auriou the edge in user-friendliness.  Auriou also has a wider range of rasp sizes, grain, etc. if you have extensive rasp needs.

Gramercy rasps

Infill Hand Planes: The most unpredictable part of traveling to the Handworks event was winning one of the door prizes… in fact, I took home the most valuable door prize being awarded, a $1,200 Ron Brese block plane.  I spent a few minutes trying out some of Ron’s larger planes at his bench (which cost between $2,000-$3,000) and they are sweet.  But now that I’ve had some time to play with his block plane at home and compare it to my Lie-Nielsen low angle block plane, a lot of people have asked the obvious question, “does it work better than the Lie-Nielsen?”

Ron Brese planes at his bench at Handworks

The block plane I won as a door prize… wow.

In short, my answer is no, an infill block plane cannot do anything for you that any other well tuned plane can do.  My Lie-Nielsen is just as sharp as the Brese plane, the bed angles are comparable, the soles on both tools are flat, and the mouth opening is very tight on the Brese plane, the Lie-Nielsen is adjustable.  I planed some cherry and both tools gave fantastic results, as they should.  So if the wood doesn’t care what is being used to cut it, why is a premium Lie-Nielsen $165 (already too much for some people) and a Brese plane $1,200?  And why even buy one if it doesn’t leave a better finish?  Here are my thoughts.  First understand Ron’s price is not over-inflated.  It’s a high price tag because each plane is hand made, the machining and woodworking are impeccable, and the tool performs beautifully.  And that’s what you’re really paying for, the privilege of owning a functional work of art.  Most woodworkers will never even see an infill plane in person, far fewer will own one, if you want to be in that group it comes at a cost.  If all you’re after, however, is high-end performance, buy a Lie-Nielsen and don’t look back.  It works great and to be honest, it’s more comfortable to use than an infill plane, it’s easier to adjust the depth of cut, and the mouth can be opened up for heavy material removal.  So while my Brese plane will be put to use in my shop and cherished for generations, it will not be the workhorse.  That remains the role of my LN 60.5 block plane.

Lie-Nielsen cut on the left, Ron Brese on the right.

That’s all for now, have a great day.