Getting started with hand tools #1: Setting up shop

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Blog entry by Tim posted 02-25-2013 01:37 AM 2199 reads 1 time favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Getting started with hand tools series Part 2: Sharpening a saw and some brace bits »

I’ve never blogged anything before, but I thought this might help me document where I’m at and keep organized. I thought it was also possible it might help some other beginning woodworkers looking to get started using hand tools. So here’s a little about how I got started in woodworking, why I’ve chosen to focus on hand tools, where I’m at so far, and maybe a little of my philosophy. First off I’d like to thank everyone here at Lumberjocks for their help and willingness to share. I’ve gotten great information and help already.

I’ve always enjoyed woodworking whenever I get a chance, but I’ve never had the space before. Watching PBS and cable shows over the years and reading books, I had always thought I would go the power tool route rather than the old fashioned way. But the thought of spending thousands of dollars setting up a power tool shop and taking over my garage where I like to keep our cars out of the snow didn’t appeal to me too much either. At some point I started reading about hand planes and read a recommendation that older hand tools are often cheap and of very good quality, and I decided to pick up a Stanley #5 from ebay since a jack plane seemed like it could be a versatile tool. After getting some sharpening supplies and making my first shavings I was instantly hooked. I knew right away that working wood with hand tools was the way I wanted to go. With toddlers around I have just a little bit of time to work on projects, but I’m having fun and learning.

Why hand tools? Everyone has their own preferences of course, but for me, hand tools have a lot of advantages. Beyond being cheaper and quieter, hand tools offer a chance to slow down and relax, which is exactly what I want in a hobby. If I’m not doing woodworking to make money, I figure I need to go with what I get the greatest sense of satisfaction out of. It’s not that you can’t be a great craftsman with power tools, but hand tools basically force you to pay attention to the details and craftsmanship. Not needing as much space for the power tools and no need for a dust collection system are big pluses for me too. Everyone else in my family sleeps so lightly that I would have very little chance to use my power tools anyway. As it is, for tapping on a chisel and sawing I’m looking for some ways to soundproof my workshop area. I can definitely see some situations where power tools would be appropriate for some people, and I’m not ruling them all out entirely or just trying to be old fashioned, but for now it seems like the right way to go. Buying vintage hand tools also fits with my desire to reuse things and keep them from being thrown out. We live in too much of a throw out society where skills and patience aren’t valued enough. To me, the best of woodworking is that it can be the opposite of that.

After getting my Stanley #5, I got a scrap of granite from a local kitchen place and some sand paper as a way to get started sharpening. I didn’t realize this method had the name scary sharp until later, I just thought I was being cheap. In the long run the sandpaper is going to add up to cost more than sharpening stones so I’m thinking I’ll go with diamond stones by the time the paper runs out. I got 600, 1000, and 2000 grit wet/dry paper and some spray adhesive. So far the method has worked great and using some tips from sharpening videos I found on Youtube, especially Paul Sellers, and the Woodwrights shop episode on hand planes, I was able to get an edge sharp enough to give nice results even without stropping yet. The camber on the #5 iron is a little challenging to sharpen evenly, and I have an idea for how to make a jig to sharpen it consistently, but I’m sticking with learning freehand for now.

Then I found a deal on Craigslist for a carpenters tool chest with most of the tools that were on my minimal hand tool list. It had a metal and wooden smoothing plane, a wooden jointer, a jack plane two block planes and a scraper plane, a few chisels, a Disston tenon saw a couple rip saws and a Disston crosscut saw, a nice brace and several bits, some measuring tools, some screwdrivers and some other odds and ends like an alcohol blow torch. I’ve been spending lots of time figuring out how to clean up the tools and restore them to a usable condition. I’m pretty comfortable that I don’t have anything valuable or collectable at this point, so I’ve been looking into rust removal methods and settled on Evapo-rust. I’ve read up on restoring saws, planes, and braces, and I’ve also looked up how to sharpen each of them. I’ll try to put together a list of my bookmarked sites and videos if anyone is interested.

The next thing on my list is getting a useable workbench put together. I plan to do a lot of planing so it needs to be vary sturdy to withstand the racking forces and that pretty much means mortice and tenon joints to me. Getting started I didn’t want to shell out for all the lumber and get in over my head in a workbench build so I thought I would repurpose an old fiberboard type desk from college that was not really holding up as a desk anymore either. I figured I could add some strengthening supports and have a pretty solid workbench to get me started. It’s going to be a funny sight to see for sure. I figured I could use mortice and tenon joints on the supports to add strength and get practice. Problem was the one really important missing tool was a mortice gauge to mark the mortices and tenons. After some help from some LJ’ers I have a mortice gauge on the way. The next thing I need to cut the tenons is to sharpen my tenon saw, since I’m assuming the grain on the 2×4’s I’m using to be cheap for now isn’t going to be regular enough to split all the tenon cheeks consistently. I’ve been looking at Grobet saw files to do the sharpening and they’re fairly pricy, but you can get 12 of a single size for about half the price from Amazon. In the meantime while I try to decide how many and which sizes to get, I think I’m going to try using the triangular diamond needle file from the diamond needle file set from HF. The tenon saw’s teeth are not quite regular so it’s going to take a fair bit of jointing and shaping to fix them up, but even just a bit of work on it should help a lot. The saw also has a bit of bend to the blade, though not as bad as the other saws from the tool chest. Bad axe tool works has some good saw restoration information, but I’m still looking for how to flatten saws. Once I get the bench made, I have to add the vice I got, also off craigslist. It’s a Wilton, but it’s missing the handle and vice dog. I think for now I’m going to shape a hardwood piece to fit in as the dog until I can find a source for the right size scrap metal to replace it. The handle I’ll probably buy a dowel for because the spokeshave I have seems to be missing a blade and I don’t know if I’ll have the patience to plane a dowel up before I even get the bench set up. We’ll see, hand making dowels sounds like fun in general, I’m just anxious to get my workbench completed so I can get some projects made.

By the time I’m done with the bench, if I add up everything I’ve spent on tools, 2×4’s for the bench and the vise, I’ll be under $400, which I think is pretty good for getting a fairly complete shop set up.

The projects I have planned so far are to make a shoe rack for our mud room/laundry room so there is more room for shoes than the cheap plastic and metal rack they are on now. I have it designed, I just need to finish getting my tools cleaned up, sharpened, and ready and get my workbench up to speed. A key rack/cubby for wallets etc is up next and I’m just going to copy the one we have but make it smaller to fit where we want it. After that, I’d like to make some toys and eventually a reproduction of a small chest of my great great aunt’s. A long term project I’d like to make is a treadle lathe.

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