Posts Tagged ‘tools’
FYI- This is probably my most unnecessary and awesome restorations to date.
About a month ago I picked up a vintage, Chicago-made Mead 1″ belt sander off craigslist for a measly $60. It was in great shape, the previous owner had it for decades and he took the time to re-paint the body of the sander and the motor as well as grease up all the pulleys. He did a great job on these parts and I could have just plugged it in and started sanding. Being ridiculous, however, I decided to take it from classy to world-class. There were a few minor things that bothered me (the belt wasn’t aligned precisely between the motor and sander pulleys, the wire path was ugly, the wood used for the base and sanding deck was cheap and cracked, and the deck wasn’t square to the belt) and one major point of irritation (the on/off switch).
The first thing I addressed was the tilted table. The previous owner used a copper shim to correct the table but I wanted to fix it for good. I painted the body with red layout fluid, then loosely installed the deck. After pivoting the deck a few times I removed it and could clearly see the high spots in the casting that needed to be knocked down with a round file. I repeated this process a couple times and after about 10 minutes had the table nicely squared up to the belt.
Next I swapped out the switch with a vintage style toggle switch that seemed appropriate and made a simple wooden box to house it. I also took the time to inlay the face plate into the housing.
The last thing I will cover in this post is the new base. I used walnut that was a little thicker than the original base, but otherwise I left the dimensions nearly the same. The feet were made from the same board, cut free from either end of the base. I could have cut long-grain feet instead of short-grain, but then I’d have to deal with differential expansion and the grain pattern wouldn’t be continuous. The short grain feet aren’t as strong, but given that they’re thick and trapped in a dado I think they will be fine… they certainly look nicer to me, especially when you don’t see end grain on the sides of the board. I used an old router template I had lying around to cut an arch in the feet and a stacked dado set (that I was already using for a larger job) to dado the base. One note on dado sets, they leave small V’s in the corners of the cut where the outer blades score the fibers. This is great for clean cross-cuts, but I don’t like the small V it leaves after the cut. I correct this is seconds with a router plane set to a depth that aligns to the tip of the V. Run the plane through the dado and you’ve got a perfectly square recess for the feet to sit in.
For the wire path I wanted something as clean and hidden as possible. The motor wire runs immediately underneath the base where it is captured by a series of custom made wooden hold-downs. The wires pass through the base where the front foot gets installed, into the switch box, and finally out the back of the base. Overall I think it will look very nice when finished.
The last operation for the base was laying out the hole locations for mounting the motor and sander. I couldn’t simply copy the original because as I said before they weren’t aligned very well, but after a few minutes of measuring double checking the belt everything was ready for drilling. When I went to dry-fit everything I noticed the belt sander had some wobble to it, so I touched that off on a larger belt sander and got the casting dead flat in a matter of minutes.
That’s all for now, in two following entries I will wrap up the (improved) deck, overall assembly, detailing and finishing. I’ll also discuss the belts I use and a few of the things that make this sander so useful. Stay tuned.
Things don’t always go as planned… so here was a failed attempt at cleaning up a Stanley #62 brass bound 4-fold rule.
I purchased the tool for $10 and it was in decent shape, just missing the pins that help keep it aligned when closed. That’s easy enough to fix, but the face was a little dirty so I thought I’d try cleaning it up. I knew it would be a gamble given that I would be working with thin brass, wood, and printed letters, but it was only $10 so I took a shot (and missed completely).
I didn’t want to use an abrasive method for cleaning as I knew I would wear through the lines and numbers quickly so I started with a chemical treatment. I had some oxygen bleach on hand from cleaning my cedar siding and was hoping it wouldn’t effect the print much… it did.
I figured I’d had it at this point, but the printed areas were pressed to a reasonable depth in the wood so I took it a step further. I tried painting the face with black paint then quickly wiped off the excess, leaving the bulk of the remaining paint in the indented areas, right where I want it.
This made the 4-fold rule look as bad as when I bought it, maybe worse. Finally, with nothing left to lose I gave abrasive cleaning a shot. This left the tool a mess; some areas looking like new, some just okay, and some downright terrible. My $10 and 45 minutes were wasted, but at least I learned a few things.
Rather than simply throwing it out, I decided to cut it apart and get a better look at the binding and joints. I will share the details of how these rules were constructed in a following post.
Guess I have to find another rule for the shop… -WMT
I’ve been asked a few times about what tools are required to get started in woodworking… specifically working wood by hand. Chris Schwarz compiled an excellent list of necessary hand tools for his book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest. To see that list, check here. And while that is an excellent list, it assumes you are not using any power tools and doesn’t really give any ranking in terms of what to buy first and what can come a little later. The following is my opinion on what to buy and when to buy it (the tools I mention first are the ones I would buy first), especially if you’re going to be using the hybrid approach of some work done by hand, some with the assistance of electricity.
A Bench – Sounds obvious, but without something to hold wood flat, on its edge, and vertically, you won’t get very far.
Bench Planes – Get three: a jack, jointer, and smoother. Ideally you will have all three, but the jack will be used a lot and a vintage one will do fine (low cost) as it is primarily a roughing tool. This is also the easiest plane to learn on as many of its properties (mouth opening, sole flatness, etc) are not critical for it to function properly. The jointer is next and will leave your surfaces flat… but powered jointers and planers can replace this if you so choose (though not in my shop). Finally, a smoother is another work-horse in my shop, but the reality is that once your surface is flat, you can (and a lot of people do) use sandpaper to get the final finish. Again, a smoother is better for a lot of reasons, but if money is tight it can be purchased last (and if you’re able, buy a premium model). Purchasing this last also allows you to get comfortable with hand planes before getting into the most temperamental of all models. A smoother must have a razor sharp blade and be tuned to perfection if you want the results we all dream about in our sleep (we do all dream about hand planes, yes?). And on a similar note, a card scraper is critical in my shop while others go their whole careers never even seeing one and get by with sandpaper. Oh, and you’ll need a way to sharpen these tools (and a grinder isn’t it).
Chisels – 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″. A bit bigger is nice as is a skewed pair or fishtail chisel, but not essential. Mortise chisels are also nice, but if you drill the waste out or use a mortising machine, they aren’t going to see any use.
Saws – Start with a dovetail saw, next I’d get a carcass (or crosscut) saw. That will be all many woodworkers need. Full sized hand saws, tenon saws, or bow saws are commonly replaced by table saws and bandsaws today, but a backsaw filed rip and another crosscut are worth their weight in gold.
Specialty Planes – A spokeshave, block plane, and large router plane will see a lot of use, even in a power tool shop. I’m not going to get into the uses of these tools, the router plane especially may seem foreign to some, but they are critical in my shop. I’m not recommending shoulder, rabbet, or plow planes because, while they are essential in a hand tool shop, many will be just fine using a table saw or router for these operations so I wouldn’t rate these as essential (unless you’re not using any power tools).
Drills – I can’t say these are essential, most people have a cordless drill and/or drill press, but for the cost I find an “egg beater” drill and hand brace to be very useful and more responsive for fine woodworking. For more info on drills, see here.
And finally, the usual mix of hammers, dividers, marking gauges, a tape measure, clamps, etc. are all necessary in any shop. Schwarz’s list does a good job outlining those tools, plus some useful shop accessories like bench hooks and shooting boards, but above are the critical tools I believe everyone in every shop will use, regardless of your woodworking preferences.
Hopefully that helps. It can be overwhelming to see a complete hand tool shop, the cost and time associated with purchasing and learning to use those tools is substantial. If you start with what I recommend above, you can slowly add to it as your skills and preferences take over. Good luck, get working.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Have a great day, -WMT
For any beginners out there, or just someone looking for a simple-to-make project, boxes are a good and inexpensive option. I recently made a batch of display boxes that required me to come up with something that looked nice, but didn’t take a long time to make. There are a few tricks-of-the-trade I used that others may benefit from, so here goes…
The sides of the box are naturally all going to be the same height and thickness, but I also made the top’s length, width, and thickness match the bottom (though these dimensions are different from the side’s). So, start by flattening and bringing your wood to thickness in your preferred manner, for most that will be using a powered planer. Then rip your boards to width on the table saw. Pretty straight forward, but here is where some of the tips start to come into play:
Clean up the top edge of all the sides, not the bottom edge, that will get cleaned up at the end. This will be your reference edge for all future cuts and will not be easy to smooth out once the box is assembled.
The joinery for the box will be glued mitered edges. This allows through-grooves to be cut in sides to house the top and bottom panels. It also looks nice. Yes other joints work well and can even be stronger, but they are more complicated and this is meant to be simple and mass-producible. So with that in mind, use a mitered cross-cut sled to cut one edge at a 45 degree angle, then flip the board and reference it against a hard-stop. This ensures the box sides are the same length. If your sides are slightly different lengths OR if your angle is not exactly 45 degrees, your joints will not be tight in the end. Make sure to get this right, especially if you’re making a large run of these boxes. After the board is mitered into the box-wall components, label them with some form of mark on the outside face, towards the top edge (your reference edge).
Now for the grooves which I do after cutting the miters. If the grooves are cut first and then you cross-cut the miters, you risk small blow-out as the blade crosses the grooves. A minor detail, but it’s simple enough to groove after mitering, so I do. Two things to be aware of here: first, both grooves are cut with the top edge registering against the fence. This ensures the grooves will be parallel to each other, even if the bottom edge of the board is slightly off. It also ensures your top edge will align nicely when the box is assembled which ensures a gap-free top panel and because we already cleaned up this edge, you won’t have much to do here after glue-up. Second, the groove cut in the side for the lid is the same as the groove cut in the lid (the bottom doesn’t get a groove). You don’t have to do it this way, but it’s a lot faster than cutting an arbitrary groove in the box side, then moving the fence and trying to dial in a different groove for the top panel. The pictures should help this make sense. The bottom groove is wider because it has to house the entire bottom panel. I used a stacked dado set for this, but didn’t have it installed when I took the picture (sorry).
And with that, you’re just about there. The top and bottom panels should fit nicely in their grooves, tight enough that there isn’t rattling, but loose enough that they can float freely without binding to allow for expansion. Dry-fit your box, see how it looks, and when the joints look tight, glue it up. I use packaging tape stretched across the miters. It pulls the joint tight, it’s cheap, and it works. After the glue dries, check the bottom edges. They probably don’t align perfectly and that’s okay. We deliberately did all our referencing off the top edge and ignored the bottom edge error until now. You can use a block plane or belt sander to flush up the bottom edges and make a flat-sitting box.
Finally, sand the box and cut off the lid, either by hand, on a band saw, or a table saw. You’ll have a little glue squeeze-out on the inner corners to remove, then you’re about done. All you have to decide is how to attach the lid. I like a press-fit liner, but hinges will also work. If you do make a liner, it should match the box walls in grain-orientation and be mitered in the corners, held in by friction alone. Gluing the liner in isn’t a terrible idea, but it’s nice if the liner can be removed if it gets damaged or if you want to change the configuration of the inside by adding divider walls, etc.
To spice it up a bit, you can add mouldings, glue in keys across the mitered joint for added strength, or look into other methods for wrapping the grain pattern completely around the box without interruption, but again, those are a bit more advanced and this simple box is a good place to start.
Tips and Troubleshooting: -reference all joinery off the top edge, clean up the bottom after glue-up. -top panel groove should be identical to the groove in the side wall that houses the top panel. -top and bottom panels are identical except for groove added to the top panel. -pick a good proportion for you box, mine was around 6″ long x 4″ wide x 3″ tall. An awkward proportioned box will never look good. -miters don’t pull tight? check the following: 1) are my miters at 45 degrees exactly? 2) are my opposing side walls exactly the same length? 3) are my top/bottom panels too wide or long, preventing the corner joint from closing completely? 4) is there anything (wood chip, etc) stuck in my groove, preventing the top/bottom panel from seating properly?
Enjoy and have a great day. -WMT
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.
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?”
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.
That’s all for now, have a great day.
I recently returned from the Handworks event in Amana, Iowa, held on 5/24 & 5/25. It was an awesome trip featuring only hand tool vendors and only the best of the best. The chance to meet so many talented tool makers and try out so many premium tools in one sitting was unparalleled. Hopefully this becomes an annual event and maybe even moves around the country year to year to give more people a chance to attend.