The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Landing a Plane

For the past few days I have been working on a 100-year-old Stanley #7 jointer plane that I picked up back in September. I unfortunately don’t have a before photo to compare this to but you can take my word for it that it looks better than it did when I received it. This isn’t to say that the plane was in bad shape. It really needed a good scrubbing, some light filing, and a cleaning of some nooks and crannies. I’m not finished yet; I will disassemble the plane again this coming weekend and scrub the entire body with sandflex and also work on the iron and frog some more. The iron worries me the most. I managed to get a very nice edge on it considering my skills but there are some minor nicks that I cannot get out with my sharpening tools. I will not grind it on the bench grinder I own; I purchased it some time ago and it wasn’t ever meant for woodworking. I’m afraid I will need a Tormek or something along that line to take care of the iron. I have considered purchasing a replacement but it’s actually in very good shape otherwise. There is no corrosion on it in the least and plenty of good steel to sharpen. My problem is that I don’t have the equipment to do it at home.
I am hoping that I can get the plane working as an edge jointer(large-scale flattening will be a bonus). I joint all boards by hand so far using my Jack plane. This has worked because I haven’t attempted a glue up much longer than 4 ft. I have nothing against power jointers except that I cannot not afford a good one and they are too fussy for me. I’m not a hand plane expert whatsoever but in my experience they take much less time to tune up than a jointer table does. If I cannot get this plane working the way I would like I will sell it to somebody who can and save up for a new jointer(or purchase an old plane that was professionally refurbished)
This is my first attempt at a true refurbish on a hand plane. I’ve said it before and contradicted myself every time, but if it doesn’t work I won’t try a refurbish again for the forseeable future. I see no shame in buying a new tool, unlike some people. My business isn’t tool restoration, it’s woodworking. If buying a new plane gets me back to woodworking more quickly than that is the right path. I have nothing against old tools either, but buying them can be risky. So hopefully I’ll land this sucker safely and walk away unscathed.


What is more foolish? Old tools or the fools who purchase them?

After a long week of work I had hoped to spend at least a few hours of my weekend in the garage at the workbench. However, a hurricane roughly the size of Jupiter is barreling towards my area and in around twelve hours time should be spreading havoc and generally making life miserable for everybody in its path. So rather than woodworking this weekend, I spent my time extending the gutters, cutting suspicious tree limbs, and preparing our emergency equipment in case the worst happens. Unfortunately this is nothing new for me. It seems that around this time of year, every year, my area of southeast PA gets hit by some kind of “freak” storm that ruins everyone’s fun. It’s a shame because otherwise this is one of my favorite times of year to woodwork. Although it is a rainy season even when we don’t have a hurricane heading our way, the weather is usually moderate enough where I can work in my garage without sweating or freezing. So for another weekend my bookcase project will be on hold. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t do anything woodworking related over the past 48 hours.

Six weeks or so ago I purchased a 100yr old Stanley/Bailey #7 jointer plane. I don’t buy used tools often because I’ve had no luck with them, but I found this plane in good shape with a mostly flat sole and very little rust so I took a chance on it. In the meantime I had to deal with a pretty bad chest cold and some weekends out-of-town or otherwise spoken for so I haven’t had a chance to really give the plane a go over. So when I got home from work on Friday night I took the plane apart and placed all of the small parts in a bowl of WD40, and I gave the plane body a wipe down. When I received the plane the blade was in decent shape for its age, I spent around 30 minutes flattening the back and honing it and I managed to get a pretty decent edge on it. I jointed two Pine boards and got a nice flat joint with a few passes. Though the sole of the plane is hardly perfectly flat that doesn’t bother me so much. I’ve read articles where some woodworkers claim that the jointer plane sole must be perfectly flat for it to work; vintage tool dealers claim that the sole doesn’t need to be perfect as long as the iron is sharp and the blade is set properly. I tend to agree with the vintage camp. Maybe they are just trying to sell less than perfect tools, but these guys usually seem much more down to earth than the people who write for woodworking magazines.

So with high hopes I went into my garage this afternoon and inspected my WD40 bath, and I wasn’t disappointed. The cleansing had gotten rid of much of the grime and rust that was present on all of the small parts. I wiped each first with a rag and then with some steel wool and then turned to something I haven’t used since basic training: Brasso. The Brasso did a very nice job cleaning the threaded parts and even managed to put a like-new shine on the cap nuts of the tote and knob. I also used around twenty Brasso infused q-tips to get into the crevices and female threads on the plane; dirt and grime was coming off in buckets and the hardware took on a much nicer look. In the meanwhile, as an experiment, I removed the knob and gave it a good sanding up to 220 grit. I then applied a coat of wipe on poly. I estimate that it will need about 4 or 5 more coats to get it looking how I want it. If this experiment works I will do the same thing to the tote, which is in much better shape finish wise than the knob is.

I will post some photos regardless of how this turns out because I would like anybody who reads this blog to give me an honest opinion on how I did. To be clear, I am not in the business of refurbishing old tools. I respect those that do it but for me I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to the task. Still, at least one good thing will come from this; I think I’ve come up with another tip that a woodworking magazine would like to publish, but I digress.
A few weeks ago I came across a fellow on the internet who refurbishes old hand planes to a very high level and sells them. If I had known about him I would have never purchased the #7 I have now. At the time this guy had a #7 Bailey nearly identical to mine that was completely refurbished and the asking price was only $50 more  than I had paid for mine, which as I said is in good shape, but this guy’s was ridiculous. It, in my opinion, looked even better than a new plane. The tote and knob were a highly polished rosewood, the blade nearly perfect, and the whole enchilada was placed in a rust removing bath, cleaned, and then given several fresh coats of paint. I wish I had saved his website because I can’t find it again for the life of me. He may be getting a phone call real soon.

Woodworking Rant Redux

When I’m Master of the Woodworking Universe…
Woodworking magazines will stop showing photos of “dream” workshops. It’s bad enough that most of my woodworking is done in a 10×10 section of my garage with no conditioned air and mediocre lighting. Do I have to open up a woodworking magazine and see some home hobbyist working in the Taj Mahal of home shops every month? One home shop in particular was filled with a collection of power tools that would have Norm drooling, and to add insult to injury had an entire wall of high-end hand tools along with TWO Lie Nielsen workbenches! COME ON! Though they didn’t show a photo of the guy who owned the shop, I am going to assume that he looks like Brad Pitt and just dumped Jennifer Aniston. I could not think of a better way to make me feel worse about my dingy little shop and small tool set. Thank you woodworking magazines for dashing my hopes and making me feel just a little more inadequate.

When I’m Master of the Woodworking Universe…
Professional woodworkers will stop being so freakin miserable! What the hell! I thought that woodworking was supposed to be fun? I thought I complained a lot. Every pro seems to have to pad his resume with a background of misery. Talk to a pro about his training period and you would think that the guy stormed Omaha beach on D-day. I’ve met drill sergeants with better attitudes. I’ve never worked in a shop or had a formal apprenticeship so I’m not exactly sure what goes on but do people often die there? Do you lose close friends at a moments notice? Are there daily moments of torture? Does the master make you play Russian Roulette? If anybody has the answer to those questions please let me in on it.

When I’m Master of the Woodworking Universe…
Staining a project will be easy. I am at the point where I absolutely dread applying finish to a project. It is by far the most nerve-wracking experience of a woodworking build. And the products on the market that are supposed to make it easier do nothing but make it more difficult. Because I use common woods I can’t get away with using clear finishes, unless I want the project to look awful. My only hope is that with experience I somehow manage to make this process less painful. But truth is, every time I apply stain I’m scared as hell.

If I offended anybody I’m not sorry. This is a rant after all…


On a recent trip to the Depot to pick up some paint thinner I found myself in the lumber section. The Home Depot usually has a not too bad selection of Select Pine in different thicknesses, not just the standard 3/4″, and the wood is usually clear, dry, and flat. I built my last two projects from Home Depot Pine and I think they turned out nicely, so I’ve decided to not buck the trend and make my bookcase out of Pine as well. Because I wasn’t feeling well for a few weeks, and because my weekends were booked full for the past two weekends, I haven’t been doing much woodworking besides some basic tool maintenance and plan drawing. One of the things I wanted to do was pick up the lumber for my next project but because I had little time, and because money is a little tight, I decided against it, or would have except for one thing: I decided to make the carcase for my bookcase out of Baltic Birch Plywood.

As I was leaving I passed by the Depot’s selection of cabinet grade, hardwood ply and was mildly impressed. They had a decent selection of Maple, Oak, and the Birch; I fingered through the stacks and found mostly nice looking sheets with very few defects. The best part, however, was the cost. The Birch was under $50 for a 4×8 sheet. A sheet that size will be enough for the entire carcase as well as the shelves. I had originally budgeted around $300 for the bookcase, with around half of that going for the carcase itself. The plywood is less than 1/3 of the cost. If I stick to my original plan I can build the entire bookcase for under $200. So I picked up the sheet and had one of the guys use the panel saw to rip three pieces 12 1/8 x 8ft which left me with one cut-off roughly 11 1/4 x 8ft, which is still a very usable piece. At that point I considered making the face frames and decorative pieces out of something a bit more exotic than Pine. But this case is going in my living room with some other pieces I made and I want them to look like the came from the same collection, so I will stick with Pine this time.

This will be the first time I’ve used plywood to build a carcase. I do have some experience using ply to make case backs and drawer bottoms. I had no complaints other than it is not a very traditional material, and I am a traditional woodworker when it comes down to it(I never thought I would be saying that). But, Christmas is coming, and we are also saving for a new car, so if I can save a hundred bucks here or there and still continue to woodwork on a regular basis then plywood is okay in my book. My biggest worry is finishing it. I am hardly the best finisher to begin with, and I’ve never finished plywood on a large scale. I’m hoping that it’s not much different than finishing a solid board. In fact, if anybody out there has any tips I would appreciate them.

There is still a small part of me that feels bad about using the ply. I wish I could say what the reason is, but I almost feel like I’m cheating.  I guess that since I’ve been woodworking and reading about woodworking I always envisioned working on solid boards with exciting grain patterns and no warp. Warp nearly destroyed my last project, along with my sanity. With the plywood the chances of warp should be lessened greatly. If I were building this piece to sell it would be different, and I probably would go the more traditional route( as well as use Mahogany ) But this bookcase is being built because we need one for our living room, and because I want to have some fun woodworking. So I will attempt something new and go with plywood, and I will hope for the best.

Every time I get out…They pull me back in…

Today I encountered somewhat of a moral dilemma. I received an email from a Popular Woodworking editor asking permission to publish a tip that I submitted back in June. For my trouble I would receive a small monetary fee, and of course it is a bit of an honor to have a tip that you came up with published in a magazine. I sent an email back to the editor giving my permission to publish the tip and also thanking him. I was and still am pretty excited by the news; I even gave my wife a call at work to let her know. Then something occurred to me: just a few days ago I wrote a blog reviewing all of the woodworking magazines that I’ve ever subscribed with, and in it I decided that PW was one of the magazines I would not renew my subscription to.
I gave PW a nice review. I’ve been subscribing to it about as long as I’ve been woodworking. Its good points outweigh its bad points by a pretty nice margin, and a professional woodworker I know is a  contributing writer. My decision to not renew wasn’t based on a dislike of the magazine; it was mainly based on a desire to limit my woodworking magazine reading to one publication. I decided on Woodsmith Magazine as my winner. Like PW, I’ve been subscribing to Woodsmith since I’ve been woodworking. I like the consistency of the magazine and it always features nice projects, and I also like the tools and technique sections offered in each issue. So it was a pretty clear choice.
Subscribing to more than one woodworking magazine at a time can lead to conflicting advice; I am trying to avoid conflicting advice whenever I can. I think I am on my way to becoming a pretty good woodworker. I’ve come a long way in a short time period. I’ve even had people who weren’t relatives offer to pay me to make furniture for them, I politely declined. While I may be getting pretty good I am not at the level of a professional…yet. And that means that I still am in the learning phase, and that means that I need to pick one “method” and stick with it until it isn’t working for me. That is why I am trying to stay with one magazine. So here is my dilemma……
My PW renewal form is sitting on my kitchen counter right now, it has been for about a week. My subscription is up in two issues. Do I go against my own advice and renew? The fact is that at least one of PW’s editors thought enough of me to publish a woodworking tip that I came up with. That is saying something in my estimation. I have an ego like everybody else, but I don’t think this is about ego; it may be about loyalty, though. I am nothing if not honest and loyal, and I think that they are two important qualities to have, and like anything worthwhile they need to be practiced at every turn. Just like becoming a good musician, or woodworker, or writer takes practice, so do good virtues. So I will be honest to everybody who takes some time out of their day to read my thoughts on woodworking, and sometimes other topics, and say that I have decided to renew my PW subscription. I will recant what I said in an earlier blog and even offer an apology for it. I just hope that everybody who is nice enough to read this blog and share their thoughts and comments with me knows that I am always being honest in everything I say here. This may be about quid pro quo, too, but I think that sometimes it can be a good thing. If we are honest and loyal to those that are honest and loyal to us, wouldn’t that make the world a little bit better place?

So with all of that said and done, my next blog will get back to the woodworking.

If I had $2000…

Earlier today I read a blog from a professional woodworker about getting started in the hobby. From what I could gather, a fellow interested in woodworking asked him what tools he should pick up first to get up and running. Of course the pro gave him the standard answer: you don’t need much, you can get by with just a saw and a chisel for now, blah blah blah. Anybody who has read my blog knows how I feel about that logic: I think it’s total B.S. But, I decided to not leave a comment with my opinion, like I normally would. Last night I was reminded yet again how humorless and miserable many professional woodworkers can be. Anybody who has read my blog previously knows how I feel about that as well. The average pro woodworker tries hard to come off as friendly, down to earth, fun, happy-go-lucky (insert flattering adjectives). But when you question the opinion of a pro they become miserable pricks; pardon my French. Anyway, I digress.
So, since so many woodworking blogists have given their 2 cents on the subject of essential woodworking tools for the beginner, I decided to give my 200,000 cents. Back when I first started this blog, I estimated that a hobbyist woodworker would need about $5000 worth of equipment to complete most woodworking tasks. To come to that estimate I priced up middle of the pack tools that I considered essential for a woodworker. The link to that blog entry is:
That entry got me to thinking: what would be the minimum amount of tools that a new woodworker would need to hit the ground running. So I came up with a budget of $2000. I figured that two grand is what one might reasonably spend on any individual hobby in a year, be it golf, joining a gym, or hunting. And I guesstimated that two grand is about what the average person makes every two weeks, give or take. So I came up with my list of essential tools for the new woodworker.

1. Table Saw. Be prepared to spend nearly half of your $2000 here. I would pick up a decent contractor saw which you can probably get for around $850 including tax.  Unless you are planning to make nothing but very small items such as boxes, don’t even consider a bench top; they are a waste of time and money and lead down a road to frustration.

2. Work bench. This one you are probably going to have to make yourself, though you could easily spend $2000 on material and hardware on a home-made bench as well. You just aren’t going to find a commercial bench that’s worth buying for under $1000. You can make one from construction lumber with a good vice and some holdfasts for about $400.

3. Clamps. Every pro woodworker forgets to mention clamps when he or she lists the essential shop tools, or they mentioned as an after thought. If you are planning on using glue you will need around $100 worth of clamps to get started.

4. Chisels. You will need a good set of chisels. You can probably get by with four-piece set of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 1″ chisels. Amazon sells a four piece set from Stanley for around $100 which are of nice quality. My basic set is a six piece from MHG that I paid around $110 for on sale. This is another area where you need a better quality tool right away.

5. Backsaw. If I was going to have one back saw it would be a Veritas Dovetail Saw. It is a good quality saw for cutting dovetails and other basic joinery and you can get if for around $70.

6. Jack Plane. Again, you are going to have to spend some bucks here. I’ve seen some decent used ones for in the $100 dollar range. If you are going to buy new, stick to Lie Nielsen or Veritas. It will be the some of the best tool money you ever spend. $200-$300.

7. Jig Saw. This may sound like a strange choice, but it is the second most used power tool in my shop. A good one from Bosch for around $100 will allow you to cut arches and curves and do some cross cutting. This is another tool I use on nearly every project.

8. Marking gauge and mallet. These are simple tools but also completely necessary and will be used on every project. You can pick up decent quality marking gauges and mallets for around $30 each.

9. Combination Square. This is another must have tool that will be used on every project. I use mine to scribe, set depth, and lay out reveals among a dozen other things. I use a 6″ Craftsman that I bought at Sears for around $20. You can certainly spend 4 times that on a top quality square from Starrett that would be well worth the money, but I found the Craftsman to be plenty accurate for what I do.

Add up my totals and you are coming in at exactly $2000. I didn’t do any creative accounting here. In fact, I probably over estimated a hair but if you check my numbers on the internet you will see that I am very close to the mark. Now I surely left off more than a few essential tools, including a jointer plane and block plane, a carcase saw, and some kind of thickness planer. But I think that with this set of tools a beginner could easily get started and feel confident that he or she has the right amount of tools to get a project finished.
I’m not about B.S. and I think this is a fair assessment of the bare minimum needed to do some serious woodworking. I hope this will help somebody who is thinking of getting started. The pros, however well-meaning they may or may not be, don’t always give accurate information on this topic. My experiences as not only an amateur woodworker, but a fellow who purchases hardware and tools everyday at work, I think are just as relevant as any professional cabinetmaker who maybe forgot what it was like when he started.

A Few Woodworking Questions….

Though I write a woodworking blog on the occasion, I don’t consider myself an expert, or even advanced. I consider myself a pretty good woodworker commensurate with the length of time I’ve actually been woodworking and the amount of time I get to actually practice my skills during any given week. So I still have hundreds of questions about woodworking that I would like to ask the woodworking community at large who may or may not be able to answer them. So, without further adieu…

If I use plywood on my next project, will the woodworking equivalent of Jacob Marley’s ghost appear to me and tell me that if I don’t change my ways my woodworking will be eternally damned?

I’m a fan of traditional woodworking, where you would probably not find plywood being used. I love the interesting grain patterns that you can find on wide boards. I also know that if I make the case of my next project out of plywood I will have no issues with warp, I will save some money, and it should, in theory, still look fine. And from what I understand plywood is considered ecologically sound. Something, somewhere is steering me away from using plywood and I don’t know what. I’ve used plywood in the past for drawer bottoms and case backs, professional woodworkers use it all the time, I’ve never had an issue with using plywood structurally. So what is stopping me? Is it my love of a completely natural board? Do I feel like I’m somehow cheating? I just don’t know.

Just exactly how sharp are my chisels supposed to be?

I am well aware of the importance of a sharp tool: they work better, they make you work better, and they are much safer than using a dull one. I am still baffled about how sharp is sharp. I generally hone my chisels and plane irons before each project, and then as needed during. It usually takes me a few minutes on each tool where I can get them to the point that they shave off hair quite easily. But every book and article I read seems to suggest that they should be “scary sharp.” I’m not sure what scary sharp is supposed to look like. Should my chisels be so sharp that I receive spontaneous cuts just by looking at them the wrong way, sort of like somebody who is possessed by a demon? Should the point where the bevel meets the flat be so acute that it defies the laws of physics and creates a hole in the space-time continuum? Should I be able to use my chisels for an emergency appendectomy? I just don’t know.

Why is Walnut so expensive?

Before starting a project I create a rough drawing with a close but approximate list of the amount of wood needed. For the most part I can come in pretty near the mark when it comes time to do the purchasing of the material. I do this because it saves time, money, and waste. Believe me it’s not all about money, money, money. I do not like to waste wood, it bothers me much the same way that wasting water by leaving the faucets open does.Because I don’t have an over abundance of spare cash, I make most of my projects out of basic select Pine, Poplar, Fir, and every now and again, Oak. However, my wood of choice is Walnut. I’ve made two projects out of Walnut: a Shaker table and a coat rack(and a small saw rack with the leftover pieces) Walnut is strong, easy to work with, and beautiful when finished. So when I drew up the plans for my latest project(an Arts and Crafts bookcase) I decided to price it up using Walnut because I really think that the bookcase I’m going to build will turn out great, and because it’s nice to treat yourself sometimes. So after getting a few price quotes from the internet and a local mill I was a little surprised. After my wife applied the smelling salts, and I took some Advil and drank a cup of coffee, I decided that my 5-year-old daughter may want to go to college one day so I had better not purchase Walnut and stick with clear Pine.
I just can’t figure out why it costs so much. I’m pretty sure it is really abundant in this area. Is there something about the milling process that makes it costly? Do the trees yield little usable wood? I’m all for lumber mills making a profit and paying their workers a good wage, but at this price women should be wearing Walnut jewelry. Is Walnut a lot more rare than I think it is? I just don’t know.

These are just a few of my questions. If somebody knows the answers and would like to set me straight feel free to leave me a comment. Because I’m at a loss…

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