Woodworking Tools: Right Selection And Care Will Save You
Money, Part 4
Woodworking: Tools Of The Trade, Part 4 - Tools For
A civilization's maturity and intelligence is judged, in part,
by the diversity and sophistication of its tools. When it comes
to woodworking, the human race is quite advanced. There are
general tools that work well in many situations, and there are
specialty tools made for one specific purpose. There are tools
that require only manpower and a rudimentary knowledge, and
others that utilize computer programs, a wide range of knowledge,
and a powerful motor. We have even learned how to harness power
for our tools and package it in a small battery component, giving
us the freedom to take our tools wherever we need them.
It is truly amazing and wonderful to contemplate the vast
number of tools and all that woodworkers are capable of doing and
creating with the help of these tools. And for many people,
working with tools is one of the thrills, or even obsessions, of
Woodworking and related tools have become so popular that
there are numerous companies that manufacture these tools and
thousands of places to purchase them. Combine that with the vast
numbers of different types of tools and it can get overwhelming,
especially if you are new to woodworking. Our experts helped us
focus on the basics to develop an overview of those tools needed
to get a good start in woodworking.
In the most basic terms, a woodworker needs four kinds of
tools. They need a place to work, tools for cutting and shaping,
tools for assembly, and finishing equipment. This simple
statement provides the basis for the following discussion of
The tools listed and described here represent just the tip of
the iceberg. In keeping with the philosophy that it is best to
learn the basics first, and to not invest large sums of money
until a person is certain that they have an ongoing interest in
woodworking, the emphasis is on hand tools, with a few basic
power tools thrown in. These tools should prepare you for a
variety of beginner projects and give you a solid foundation of
equipment and knowledge to build upon.
Tools For Shaping
As you may already know, wood does not always come flat and
square, even when purchased precut. In addition, you may need to
size and shape pieces of wood so that they fit correctly or look
the way you want them to. There are many tools used to shape
wood, from those that smooth them to those that take pieces away
to create lines, holes, and other features.
As opposed to a saw, or even a knife, planes cut wood away in
small, uniform increments, which helps to create a smooth
surface. There are many different types of hand planes. More
commonly used planes are referred to as bench planes and include
the scrub plane, the smoothing plane, the jack plane and the
trying plane. Some planes come with more than one blade or can be
adjusted for different types of cuts. Others are used only for
You might use a plane if you wanted to round a corner or cut a
groove (with the grain) or a dado (across the grain). Specialized
planes will even cut rabbet or tongue and groove joins. In many
cases, a plane can take the place of a router for those who don't
have the power tool or prefer to do more traditional work.
Keep in mind that some planes can be nearly as expensive as a
router to purchase, so if you plan to do a variety of specialty
cuts, planes may not be the cheaper solution. A new planer can
cost anywhere from $20 for a basic, amateur model to over $100
for larger specialty or combination types.
Rather than going out and purchasing several different types of
planes, it is best to wait until you need a particular one for a
project, and then buy quality. Be sure the components fit
together well and hold tight when used. Hold the plane in your
hands in the position you would use when working to be sure it
feels comfortable. Be sure you understand what the plane is for
before purchasing it.
There are planes made of metal and of wood. Our experts had
different opinions about which is best, but it was mainly based
on personal preferences in material, rather than on performance.
You might buy one of each to compare for yourself.
Care & Maintenance
Planes may need to be adjusted as you use them to ensure proper
depth and angle. Each tool will have screws, nuts and levers to
adjust different aspects. Periodically, you will need to take the
plane apart, wipe it down and remove wood chips. Be careful that
you understand how to put the tool back together correctly after
The blade will eventually need sharpening. The angle and shape
of the cutting edge are critical to accurate performance and vary
depending on the plane. If you are uncertain, check any
instructions that came with the plane or bring the tool to an
Chisels & Gouges
Chisels and gouges are used to remove sections or pieces of wood
to get a certain shape. They generally consist of a blade with a
cutting edge attached to a wooden handle. The main difference
between the two is the shape of the cutting edge. A chisel has a
straight, beveled edge that makes straight marks while a gouge
has a curve to it. There are numerous types and sizes of chisels
and gouges, including those designed especially for woodcarving.
That group is discussed in greater detail in the woodcarving
section of this book.
A chisel can be pushed with your hands or struck with a mallet
for more force. Gouges are used to remove wood and also to create
certain shapes or features. They have curved cutting edges,
ranging from a nearly flat C shape to a deep U. The shape and
depth of the curve is called the sweep and is identified by a
number known as the Sheffield list number. Tools with the same
shape and depth of curve will have the same Sheffield number no
matter how wide they are or how long the shaft. Numbers range
from #1 to #12. The higher the sweep number, the more curved the
blade will be. The measurement in millimeters or inches tells you
the width of a tool.
Several common chisels and gouges include the firmer and the
mortise. Each of these has a solid handle that will withstand
blows from a mallet.
Choosing a chisel or gouges is basically a matter of selecting
the right tool for the job at hand. Some have special features
such as reinforced blades or leather washers between the blade
and handle to absorb shock. If you plan to work on projects where
you will be chiseling out joint cuts or cutting curves and
contours, you may want to invest in high-quality chisels and
gouges. Otherwise, standard tools will do and can be purchased
for $10-$15 each or as a set for around $50.
Care & Maintenance
The sharp cutting edge is the main concern on a chisel or gouge.
It is relatively easy to learn to sharpen these tools with a
whetstone or sharpening belt; however, we recommend having
someone show you how to do this if you are uncertain, rather than
try to learn by reading in a book. It is important that it be
done correctly to avoid damaging the tool.
The metal on a chisel or gouge should be wiped clean and kept
dry to avoid rust. Some woodworkers wax their metal blades with
beeswax as an added protectant.
Other hand shaping tools include files and rasps and small
power rotary tools, such as those sold by Dremel. These are
smaller, handheld tools with a variety of adjustable heads,
including bits for drilling and carving. They come in different
sizes and sets starting under $25.
One of the power tools used most often in woodworking is a
router. It comes with bits and jigs that are fabricated to make
different cuts and shapes and can be used to round edges, cut
channels and grooves, and carve decorative patterns. If you plan
to move beyond basic beginner projects, chances are you will
eventually need a router.
This completes part 4 of the condensed overview of some of the
tools that are commonly used in beginning woodworking projects.
As you can see, this topic could and has provided the content for
entire volumes of books and in order to fully understand the
possibilities in woodworking and create quality projects, it is
critical that you develop a more in-depth knowledge of the tools
you plan to use.
It is also important to note again that each type of tool has
its own care and maintenance needs that are often more specific
than what has been touched on here. The details have been left
out of this book to avoid overwhelming someone who is brand new
to woodworking. However, their omission does not mean they aren't
"Failing to care for your tools is ridiculous from a financial
standpoint," stated shop teacher, Kevin Warner. "Why spend $20 on
a good quality handsaw or clamp and then allow it to go dull or
rust? Not only will you loose money, your work will suffer
because your tools won't perform as intended. And it will take
you more time in the long run. Taking good care of your tools is
one of the first steps in becoming a serious woodworker."
Copyright © 2005 by Ferhat Gul. All rights reserved. You
may redistribute this article in its unedited entirety, including
this resource box, with all hyperlinked URLs kept intact.
Ferhat Gul is the publisher of the brand-new "Woodworking
Beginner's Guide - Tips From Experienced Woodworkers to Help You
Get Started", made just for people who love woodworking.
This comprehensive, yet compact woodworking introduction for
beginners is easy to read and helps to save time, money and
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