Many woodworkers at some point find themselves enamored by the siren song of old tools. Old tools can be great. They have a history, they were often well made, they are often less costly than a new tool, and many of them simply look cool. Old tools can be an appealing choice to a woodworker looking to build up his/her tool set. In fact, quite a few woodworkers swear by old tools, and will not even bother going the new tool route; their logic being: they were well made, there’s still a lot of them to be found, and with some work they can be turned into a high quality tool that will last a life time. If you happen to be a woodworker who subscribes to the “old tool only” philosophy, and you’ve never attended a woodworking tool show, I would suggest that you stop reading right here.
Last Saturday, my wife, daughter, and father-in-law accompanied me to the Hearne Hardwoods open house in Oxford PA. There, you could not only browse through a world-class selection of hardwood lumber of every species imaginable, you could also get your hands on tools from Lie Nielsen, Matt Bickford, Daniel Schwank of Redrose Productions, and Blackburn tools among others. And after 30 minutes or so of using these tools, you will find yourself never wanting to purchase an old tool again.
I spoke to Matt Bickford briefly, and he mentioned something that I have also written about before: If you’ve never used a high quality and well tuned new tool, how in the world can you know how to restore an old tool? In my experience, the answer is: You Can’t.
I enjoy old tools as much as anybody; I own several, and I even detailed my own restoration processes of some of those tools right here on this blog. And while I can’t say that I will never purchase an old tool again, last weekend may have just pushed me back to the dark side of new tools. And one more thing, the argument can no longer be made that new tools are not as aesthetically pleasing as the antiques, because they look as good, or in many cases better, than most old tools I’ve come across. I was particularly impressed with both Bickford’s and Dan Schwank’s planes. In fact, after a half dozen shavings with Dan Schwank;s panel raiser, I nearly plunked down the money right there to put one on order. (My daughter was much more impressed with his spill plane).
As far as the Lie Nielsen tools are concerned, most woodworkers are aware of how good they really are. For my part, I had my sights set on either a tenon saw or a low angle block plane, because those are both tools that I could use. I messed with the tenon saw for a while and it worked great, and even my unskilled ass was able to saw a pretty respectable tenon without a marking gauge or even a pencil. The tenon saw was absolutely beautiful, and obviously well made, but it was also larger than I am used to working with. I have a Spear and Jackson (old tool) small tenon saw that I’ve used for quite some time, and though it probably needs another sharpening (it was also the first saw I’ve ever sharpened) it does a nice job. So instead I went with the block plane, the main reason being the only working block plane I have is one I made from a kit from Hock Tools. The kit block is actually a great little tool, with it’s Hock iron (easy to get razor sharp), it serves as a handy trimming tool and well as a nice option for cleaning up localized rough spots, but it can’t trim end grain, and the iron isn’t wide enough for working on edges (for the most part). I’ve used the LN 60 1/2 before, so I already knew just how good it is, but I did give it a test run at the show, and even my daughter was able to make some “curlies” with it. So I placed the order for the plane as well as a cap nut screw driver. The screw driver came home with me, the plane arrived at my house 4 days later.
Last night I gave the block plane and some other tools a honing/polishing. The iron was very sharp out of the box, so it really only needed to be polished. There was a very slight hollow dead center of the bevel that I left as it was. I polished the back, which took around five minutes solid, so that it was “shiny” across the whole front. I gave the plane a test run and it worked brilliantly. I have a new theory on sharpening and honing which is to spend a minute or less on each honing of the bevel, but that will be for another post.
So my trip to the tool show was a success. I got out of there without dropping a fortune, got to meet some top notch tool makers, and got to play with some of the best woodworking tools in the world for a little while. It was fun, the brick oven pizza was awesome, and I know what I want to ask Santa for this coming Christmas. I just wish I had a little more time and a lot more money, because if I did you all would be looking many more new tool photos right around now.