Thursday, February 4, 2016

Intro To Woodworking Hand Tools Followup

While I usually try to post my class followups a little more promptly this one has taken a few weeks do to life happening at an unusual rate. I would, though, like to thank everyone who came to the class to get an intro to the basic woodworking hand tools. I'm not sure that at his point I'm able to remember many of the questions that I'd usually address in my followup post, so for this one I'm going to talk about a couple of the tool selections that made it into my student tool chests.

If you're just getting interested in hand tool woodwork tools can be pretty confusing. You'll see several tools that look quite alike at wildly different price points. Sometimes this leads to wildly different levels of usability, but not always. I know, I'm not clarifying much. Also, as traditional woodworking has gained popularity used tool prices have gone up. Where does this leave the beginning woodworker on a budget?

When looking for tools to include in the student tool chests I try to find things that are a good value (price/performance) and also reduce the frustration of getting started. This is not always easy to do, but I do try and sometimes I even win.

Value and Performance Winners

Here are a some new tools that have gone in the tool chest that I think are hard to beat for their solid value, overall quality and performance.

Narex Classic Bevel Edge Chisels and Narex Mortice Chisels (
Narex Mortice and Bevel Edge Chisels
If you're looking for a set of chisels that won't break the bank It's really hard to go wrong with these. Student tools will soon include a set of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch bevel edge chisels and a 5/16 mortice chisel. This group will get you through the vast majority of projects. They have decent balance when held by the blade as you do when chiseling out dovetails. The wood handle is lighter than the plastic/steel cap handle found on many inexpensive chisels. The steel is good and holds an edge well. The sides on the bevels are small to get into corners well. They come with edge protectors that don't fall off. My only, admittedly minor, complaints are that they come sprayed with clear lacquer to prevent rust and the machining needs some easing on the corners to keep you from cutting yourself. Both of these things are easily addressed with some sandpaper. Like the majority of chisels on the market they need some honing to be really sharp.

Veritas Molded Spine Back Saws (
Veritas Molded Spine Carcass Saw
These are really hard to beat for a new backsaw that is ready to go when you open the package.
I've tried some other cheaper back saws and the performance/quality just wasn't there and that leads to frustration for beginners in my opinion. Veritas makes these in 3 sizes and a couple of tooth arrangements each. I have the dovetail size in my own chest and the student boxes have the carcass size. They have what a good backsaw needs, a nicely weighted spine, appropriately sized handles, and sharp well designed and set teeth in a good steel plate. All this for half the price of a custom saw and without the trouble of getting a vintage saw into shape. To get by with one backsaw I've re-filed the carcass saws in the student kits to a hybrid filing (between rip and crosscut) to get good cuts in both directions out of a single saw, although this might be a bit advanced for a beginner. Check out the 3 saw set and get a great value and have all the back saws you'll ever need.

Great Neck N2610 26" Crosscut Hand Saw (
Great Neck N2610
Another high value saw. While not as refined as a vintage saw or new saws from other makers it's very accessible at under $30 and works well. This is a 10 tooth per inch (tpi) model that I think is good for breaking down 3/4 thickness stock and more. This saw is offered in a 12tpi model (N2612) as well. I like this saw since it's re-sharpenable, cuts well out of the box and is a full 26" length. The set is a bit heavier that what I like so I give it a quick stoning on each side to reduce the set somewhat. The handle grip is kinda large, but that's pretty common on new mass produced saws, even ones more expensive than this. I've had students that have never used a handsaw before cut well with this saw with the stock handle. I've used it to build several things and find it completely serviceable. It might not suit you if you have especially small hands, or you could modify the grip.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Landmarks Preservation Resource Center Classes

Classes at the Landmarks Preservation Resource Center for 2016 have been announced. Check out the schedule on the Teaching Dates page here. A few changes for this year include a longer class time of three hours running from 10am to 1pm and a year long arc of content on beginning hand tool woodworking. I'm excited about these changes since I felt in the past it was necessary to rush in the previous time window and that those who are able to attend all the sessions will get pretty complete exposure to woodworking with hand tools. Rest assured that each session will still continue to stand on its own and be of value even if you miss some sessions.

Take special note that the first class date is Saturday, January 16th. In this first session we'll be diving into the tool chest to discuss what you need and what you don't and participants will have an opportunity to try out some of the tools on their own. Should be a fun and interesting time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SCFS Spoon Carving Follow Up

Learning hook knife technique
I'm so pleased to have had the opportunity to support the Steel City Folk School and lead the spoon carving class this past Saturday. A big thank you to the students as well, you couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic and engaged group. I just wanted to post some additional information, some covered in the class and some not to help those who are interested continue their journey in the craft.

Axes are probably one of the more difficult purchases as quality varies wildly as do the the prices. The axes we used in class were:
  • Fiskars X7 hatchet (Orange and black handle) is probably a good choice for the beginner as it comes ground with flat bevels on both sides making it good for left or right handed carvers and only requires basic sharpening to get it going. Also a good value at under $40.
  • Kobalt hatchet from Lowe's is the budget choice. I found it to have good edge retention and good steel. It requires grinding of a flat bevel on the work side to suit your hand and sharpening after that. It also requires a sheath to protect the user once its sharpened adequately. Under $20
  • Craftsman hatchet made in USA. This is a vintage hatchet so prices vary. I thought it made a good spoon carver. Still needs a flat bevel on the work side to be ground. Prices vary in the used market. May or may not need a sheath.
  • Condor Scout Hatchet. This is the lightest of the four being under a pound. Required flat bevel grinding on both sides to get the edge angle more acute, but there is ample metal to do this. This also makes it suitable to share between left and right handers like the Fiskars above. Comes with an excellent sheath. Under $60
There are many different straight knives that can be used but I prefer the kind with a Scandinavian (Scandi) grind like we used in class. I think this provides for more natural carving and control and they are also easy to keep sharp without any special jigs or fixtures. Some popular models for spoon carving are below.
  • The Morakniv Carving Basic is the knife we used in class and is available under $15
  • The Morakniv 106 Carving Knife is super popular with spoon carvers, main difference is a wooden handle and a laminated carbon steel blade. I like this one better primarily due to the handle. Under $25 
  • The Morakniv 120 Carving Knife is pretty much a 106 with a shorter blade. I like it for details and small spoons. Also under $25
For hook knives I really only have experience with two, the ones from Morakniv and from Pinewood forge. Of those I only can recommend the ones from Pinewood forge as used in class. 

Students preparing spoon blanks
There was also the topic of wood selection. In class we used apple wood which has a nice closed grain structure and is relatively hard and clean cutting. Other good woods that I've used and enjoy are maple, cherry, and linden. While I have no direct experience I've also heard that rhododendron, lilac, and other fruitwoods are good choices.

Inspiration and continued learning are also important. Here I turn to books and Instagram. My favorite spoon carving book is "Swedish Carving Techniques" by Wille Sundqvist. It's this book that covers the knife holds we talked about in class and a ton more information as well. A must have for the spoon carver.

As for Instagram, I've gotten a lot of inspiration and know how from the following feeds in particular but in no particular order:

  • @sylva_spoon
  • @jarrodstonedahl
  • @thehungrysquirrel
  • @peterfollansbee
  • @alloway_handcraft
  • @jojowoodcraft
  • @robinwoodcraft
There are tons of others as well, and you'll find them if you follow most of these. 

Finally, I guess I should provide a list of where I get my tools, so here you go. You can also find most of these on my Blogs & Links page.
If there's anything I should add let me know in a comment. Class was a great time and I hope to offer it again in the future at Steel City Folk School