The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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3 quick tips.


I’m not a woodworking expert, and I’ve never claimed to be a woodworking expert. But I do like to think I know a little bit about the hobby (notice I didn’t say “craft”). Like most people who woodwork on a somewhat regular basis, I have picked and/or developed a few tricks along the way. And just to throw my resume out there in case you think I’m just some madman looking to lead you astray; I have had three woodworking tips published in two separate woodworking magazines. So if you don’t want to take my word for it, maybe you will believe a magazine editor or two. And just for full disclosure, the following tips are just observations I’ve made over the course of five years of woodworking, though I do like to think that what I am about to tell you is a little more than just my opinion.

Tip #1

Most woodworkers use a coping saw at some point, even if you are a woodworker who mainly uses power tools. Most woodworkers also will note that coping saw blades are about as durable as dry-rotted shoelaces. I’ve found that when using a coping saw, the “fine” blades seem to break most often. Why? I’m not sure really. Maybe they don’t make enough kerf. In any event, in my experience they do break far more often, so I don’t even bother using the fine blades; I stick with the medium and coarse cut. They cut more quickly, they last longer, and because most coping saw cuts need to be refined with other tools, I can’t see the need for the cut to be “fine” 99% of the time anyway. On a side note, the Home Depot sells an inexpensive 5 pack of blades (Husky brand) which are American made, and they are as good as anything else I’ve ever come across.

Tip #2

Everybody has an opinion on sharpening, and everybody thinks that theirs is the correct one. I use a fairly common system: Diasharp, water stones, and leather strop. Sometimes I will use sandpaper, but that is most often for curved or profiled irons. What I don’t recommend is the so-called “ruler trick”. I’ve found two things out after trying this trick: one is that it is no faster than traditional sharpening methods; two is that it needs to be done nearly every time you sharpen to get it to work correctly. If you flatten the backs of your chisels and plane irons properly the first time, you will not have to do it again for a long time after. That isn’t the case with the ruler trick. The ruler trick is an unnecessary extra step that does not make your steel any sharper and, in my opinion, can actually make sharpening more difficult over the long term. There is one “but”, and that is with router plane irons. The ruler trick makes sharpening a router plane iron far more easy, because you are essentially turning the flat into the bevel, and making the bevel the flat. I didn’t come up with this; I saw it on the Popular Woodworking blog once and tried it, and it really does work.

While we’re on the subject of sharpening, I will also say that I do not care for micro-bevels. Micro bevels do not hold up for the most part, and once again I’ve found if you properly set-up your tools when you first get them then you will have no trouble honing them later. That being said, I do use a micro-bevel on my smooth plane, because it takes such a fine cut to begin with. I also use it on my paring chisel as well as my 3/4 chisel (which I use a lot for cleaning out dovetail sockets) But for the grunt work I leave the micro bevel off my tools. In my opinion sharpening the full bevel makes your edges more durable.

Tip #3

If you happen to have trees on your property, in particular sugar maple trees, you may notice some large branches on your lawn around this time of year. I normally break these branches and bundle them up for the township to collect, but at times some of the branches are too large to just stomp on. I have a basic bow saw, but I’ve found that an inexpensive Japanese style Ryoba saw does a much quicker job of cross-cutting branches than a bow saw does. Just for an example, this morning I found a branch at least three inches in diameter and about twelve feet long. I had it bucked up into foot long pieces in literally less than two minutes. Ryoba saws are, in my opinion, easier to grip than a metal bow saw, they are also far sharper, and they are much lighter and less fatiguing if you happen to have more than just a few branches to saw (as is the always the case with my lawn). And if you’re worried about it having trouble with wet/green wood, don’t. I’ve never had any problems in that sense whether the board was bone dry or still green.

So as I said at the beginning of the post: I’m no expert. But I do feel safe in giving you all my opinion here. I’m letting my experience do the talking here, not just my wacky outlook on the wide world of woodworking.



  1. Kinderhook88 says:

    All good advice, in my humble opinion. I love my Japanese pull saw, and I agree with you about sharpening. I get my tools as sharp as they need to be to do what I need them to do, and I don’t waste time doing it.

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October 2015
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