Sharpening

Most woodworking blogs address sharpening at one point or another, so I may as well join the fold and get it over with!  I use a Veritas honing guide with Shapton 1k, 5k and 8k waterstones and a DMT coarse/extra course diamond plate for rough honing and waterstone flattening.  As you can see in the picture, I utilize the “ruler trick”, and the oak block is used to hold scrapers at 90 degrees.

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I keep my stones on a butcher block cutoff which prevents them from shifting during the sharpening process.  The stones are kept out of the way at the end of a bench top; they are ready  to go when I am.  The accessories are kept at hand in a peg board basket.  When not in use I simply cover the stones with an old dish towel.

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I took the advice of many – picked a system, learned it, and stuck with it.  If there is a better process I may never know, because this one is easy and it works!

ATC and the Dutch Tool Chest

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After the thrill of those first shavings from the Veritas block plane I wondered what else I was missing out on in the hand tool world.  Still somewhat new to the craft, I was more bent on working with wood than doing in depth Internet R&D.  I have been involved with hobbies where more time was spent researching than participating (which sometimes is part of the fun), but I was determined to avoid this trap with woodworking.  If there was available time, it was to be spent making in the shop.

Regardless, I began to look into basic hand tools.  It did not take long for the Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz to surface.  A book (and accompanying video) about the essential hand tools needed in a wood shop was exactly what I was looking for.

Much has been written about the ATC in the woodworking community.  For someone new to hand tool woodworking, it has been an invaluable resource for guiding and prioritizing tool selection. The title clearly suggests a message beyond the tools – and it does challenge the disposable approach to consumer goods, the importance of creating and making, and supporting the individual efforts of those who create quality goods and services with meaningful purpose.

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So I began obtaining and incorporating hand tools into my woodworking projects. As my collection of hand tools grew, I stored them in a bright red Snap On toolbox.  Not the most ideal or convenient home for the tools, it did keep them protected and relatively dust free.  Although a fan of the ATC book in general, I was not particularly keen on the English tool chest design for a couple reasons.  First, my shop is in a slightly oversized two-car garage – and I am adamant about parking two vehicles in it.  I did not want to take up floor space with a large box that needed head clearance for opening a lid.  Second, despite a clever layout using sliding trays, it seemed like you had to still shuffle things around a bit to get to the tools, and bend over in doing so.

Since my tools stay in the shop, I decided to build a hanging wall cabinet.  I didn’t have a proper bench, but I knew where it would be placed once I did – and there was a nice spot on the wall in close proximity.  As I researched a good cabinet design for current and future tools, I stumbled upon an opportunity to make an heirloom quality workbench (more on that later – hint: FORP).  So now I hand an opportunity to take my tools on the road – at least once.

Around this time Chris posted a series of blog posts and videos about a tool chest of Dutch origin.  To my eye, this chest had a series of advantages over the English counterpart: a more compact footprint, easy to stack on a rolling chest, and possibly even wall mountable via French cleat.  The tools were logically positioned inside, all accessible without moving or sliding anything out of the way.  If elevated off the floor, the tools could be retrieved without the need to stoop or bend over.  And unlike a wall cabinet, it was portable.

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I read on the Lost Art Press blog that Chris would have his Dutchman on display at the Lie Nielsen event at Popular Woodworking’s headquarters in Cincinnati.  I live just north of the city, and had never been to LN event, so I thought I would take the opportunity to check both out.   After seeing it in person, I knew that the Dutch chest was the right choice for my shop. Chris kindly e-mailed the SketchUp drawing, but insisted the only key dimension was the 30-degree lid angle.  The rest was open for interpretation.

So I set about the construction, using pine for the case and white oak for the tills and accoutrements.  To the sides I dovetailed the base, screwed the tongue and groove back, and Miller Doweled the front panel.  Lee Valley strap hinges were used to attach the breadboard top, and black General Finishes milk paint was the final touch.

For the tool layout I stuck with a basic format, using a tool holder along the back for handled tools (mostly 1/2″ holes on 1 1/4″ center), and an open area for the planes in front. I did incorporate a couple of my own design and functional elements:

  •  A stepped till for the backsaws.  This made a nice transition from the plane floor to the tool rack, and allowed slightly better access to the saws:

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  • A little till to keep small try and combination squares in the front right:

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  • A space for a coping saw behind the panel saws mounted under the lid.  A wooden hook holds the saw in place when the lid is closed:

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I currently keep the chest on a plywood cabinet on casters, but will ultimately make a small chest with similar design features found on the Dutch.   It is a pure joy to work out of this chest!

My Gateway Hand Tool – Veritas DX60 Block Plane

After a few small projects, I have become infected with the woodworking bug.  When I initially set up shop it was all about the power tools – that’s what we had in high school shop class, and it is what I thought a proper wood shop contained.  And when it came to power tools,  I simply wanted to work wood – not hunt for equipment on Craig’s List or restore machinery – so I opted for new tools.  Grizzly seemed to be the best bang for the buck, so I ultimately built up to some nice hardware from that purveyor.  The big machines are on mobile bases, and are kept against the wall when not in use so that I could still park the cars in the garage.  I am not going to scrape ice off a windshield if I can avoid it!

Grizzly      Grizzly Shop

I relied fully on power tools for those first projects, never giving any thought to hand tools.  In my ignorant bliss hand tools seemed primitive and archaic, a hassle to maintain, and only used by fuddy duddy die hards – not something for a modern, efficient shop.  So I tried to ignore every mention of them.

Then Fine Woodworking had an article on block planes, and the versatility they bring to a shop.  The Veritas DX60 was highly recommended – and it’s neoteric lines caught my eye. It’s design reminded me of a Harley Davidson V Rod – a modern take on the classic form.  I happened to be going to Toronto for a business trip a few weeks later, and with a Lee Valley store nearby I decided I would pick up one as a potentially functional souvenir.

During the next project I encountered some burn marks on the edge of a board from the table saw.  I had come to dread these burns – it took ages to sand them clean, and it often compromised the crisp square edges of the board.  So I got out the block plane and started fiddling around with it.  I truly didn’t know what I was doing, but after a while I finally got the blade set and took a pass along the edge. A thin curl of wood streamed from plane, and 90% of the burn marks were gone.  Wow!  After a second pass they were completely gone – leaving a smooth, crisp edge behind!

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I was so excited I brought the first couple shavings into Nicole, then started running the plane along every scrap piece of wood in the shop.  It was addictive.  Now that I was molding wood by hand, I was clearly a “real” woodworker.  Actually, I disagree with the statement that only real woodworkers use hand tools, but I can’t deny that this was the feeling I got the first time I created shavings by hand!