This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
Using Hand Tools
Now that power tools have been covered, it’s time to introduce some hand tools. These are by no means all that the world has to offer, but they are some common tools that just about every woodworker will have.
As you start making things, you may end up getting a few of these, and if you take care of them they will serve you well.
Many times, a well cared for hand tool will out perform a power tool in speed. Especially when you have to do one simple thing, or remove something right away.
Sometimes it’s not worth the time to haul out the power version and get it all set up when you can accomplish the same thing with a hand tool much faster.
Also, hand tools in general are less expensive than power tools, and that means you can get more of them for the same money. In this way, you can stock up your shop faster, but beware of the one thing that hand tools do lack when compared to power tools.
Hand tools, for all the love that many people have for them, do require more effort than power tools. I don’t care how good you are, and how well tuned your hand plane is, the job is far easier and faster just passing it through a machine.
However, you may never feel the emotional and physical connection between yourself and your project as much as when you work the wood by hand. Hand tools get you closer to the actual project, and you are more responsible for how it looks in the end.
The Hand Plane
A good hand plane is a pleasure to work with, and can be one of the most useful hand tools you own.
There are lots of hand planes out there, but a basic block plane that is about the size of your hand or a little bigger is perfect for most jobs.
This tool is a metal or wood body, typically a couple inches wide, a couple more tall, and 6-8 inches long.
There is a blade in the center that is about as wide as the plane, and it sits on an angle sloping downwards towards the front of the tool. The blade is set so that a tiny bit of the edge comes out on the bottom, and when you slide the tool on the surface of the wood, the blade removes material.
The description here is really basic, and you can get hand planes in so many different looks that you can never collect them all. In the beginning, you may want to consider making your own hand plane though, because it will teach you a lot about woodworking in the process.
The Krenov method for making a hand plane from wood is pretty much the gold standard among woodworkers, and it’s really easy to make. You can buy a nice iron online, or buy one in a store.
Build your plane around the iron, and you will have a tool that you use all the time when you are finished.
A hand plane is a great hand tool to have. Spend some time learning about sharpening, and proper use, and you will do many things with this humble tool.
Chisels are great to have when you need to remove wood from the outside of a surface, or from inside a cavity with straight sides. They are long pieces of narrow metal with a flat cutting edge at the tip.
They have a handle, and the tip can vary from as little as 1/8 inch to over 2 inches. You sharpen your chisel really well, and then you can remove wood almost effortlessly as it cuts.
A good set of chisels in a few sizes can be had for not much money, and if you take care of them well you will get a lifetime of use from each one. These tools are the most valuable when you have to remove larger amounts of wood from a surface, or take more wood from a piece than is economical by sanding.
For example, a guitar maker uses a chisel to shape the internal braces on an acoustic guitar. A very sharp chisel easily takes off fine slivers of wood until the Spruce braces are all the right shape for the guitar to sound good.
A chisel is also used by people that make mortise and tenon joints, and are great at clearing the excess wood.
A chisel can also be used for carving, but is not as useful as dedicated carving tools. Chisel blades are flat, so it can be hard to make any kind of curved surface with the exception of an outside curve.
Working with a chisel can be a little tough at first until you get the hang of the process, but remember to take very thin passes, and you will get much better results.
The Cabinet Scraper
The cabinet scraper is an old time solution to smoothing out the surface of a piece of wood from a time when we did not have sandpaper. This is a flexible metal card, a few inches by a few inches, and fairly thin so as to bend.
A burnishing tool is used to draw out a burr on the edge of the card, which acts like a micro planing iron, and helps you remove material.
After you get the surface planed, you will have some marks that still need to be removed. The cabinet scraper does a great job at this process, and since it cuts rather than grinds, it leaves behind a really smooth surface.
All you do is bend the scraper slightly with your thumbs in the center of the card and your fingers on the edges, and you then push it at an angle across the surface of the wood.
The burr on the card removes wood as it passes across the piece, and you just move around taking out the bad spots until they are all gone. Every once in a while you will have to stop and draw out a new edge, but you can get going again right away.
Before sandpaper, many old master woodworkers and instrument makers used cabinet scrapers to smooth their wooden pieces before finishing.
It can take a little time to get the process down, but once you are good, you can nearly stop using sandpaper. Scrapers leave a great surface behind right away on the first passes, and you never have to change grits.
The Sanding Block
A sanding block is a small flat block of wood or rubber that you wrap with sandpaper. The block is laid flat on the surface of the wood, and you use the flat surface to transfer that same surface to the project.
If you check out a woodworking store, you can find sanding blocks in a number of sizes and shapes. They are not always flat and square, sometimes you can find curved blocks or cylinders that are useful in many different woodworking situations.
If you are planning on doing a lot of sanding by hand, pick up some of these sanding blocks from the store or make them yourself.
To make sanding blocks, all you need is some wood and a sheet of thin cork. Go to a craft store or a sewing store and look for 1/8 inch thick rolled cork for making a cork board. Buy a piece, and you will have the material for the faces of your sanding blocks.
In the shop, cut some wooden blocks and level the faces so they are very flat. Then, apply some wood glue, and glue the cork on the faces of the blocks. Once dry, trim them flush, and you will have your own arsenal of sanding blocks for any occasion. You can also make other shapes too and add cork on the outside.
A sanding block makes your sanding better by reducing the chance that you will sand an indent by using your fingers. The block distributes the force, and only targets the higher areas that need to be leveled.
The Hand Saw
There are a number of different hand saws, but they all do the job that a table saw or a miter saw would do in the power tool world. Some of these saws are longer, and have a more aggressive tooth set for rougher cuts.
Some are very fine, and meant to leave very smooth faces after the cut. Still other specialty saws are designed with a certain tooth set to make slots of a specific width.
If you are going completely unplugged, the saw you buy is going to be a big choice. Without power, making long cuts by hand can be exhausting. It will be even more painful with a poor quality saw.
As you make long cuts, you want to know that you are going to have a nice looking face in the end, and that you are going to have a really straight cut. Buying a good saw for this job will make a difference, even though you can still hand plane the edges afterwards.
There are special saws for different things like dovetails, and for cross cutting. Look into these if you are thinking about going without power in your shop. Take the time to consider what each saw does, and make sure that you are using the right saw for the right job.
Long gone are the days where you use a big hand saw for everything you cut. In a modern workshop, the different hand tools make the process easier, and make it more enjoyable for the extra effort that hand tools require.
A few more dollars here can mean several minutes taken off your cuts, and that means more energy to continue working.
The Coping Saw
A coping saw is a very common hand tool, and one that you can get in a number of tool stores. The thin blade works similarly to a scroll saw, and you can make a lot of really curvy and technical cuts with it.
The tool itself looks like a handle with a D shaped metal bar, and a blade in the same side as the handle. The blade runs from the front of the handle to the other side of the D shaped bar, and you can easily take out the blade for making inside cuts.
The coping saw is not meant for thicker pieces of wood, though with patience and time you can work through something a little thicker than normal. A coping saw shines on curved cuts, and when you need to almost carve off wood using a very thin blade.
You can do scroll saw type work with a coping saw by holding the flat piece of wood against the bench top, and since the blade comes off so easily the inside cuts are a breeze to execute.
You can also use several different styles of blades that do different things, and perform better under certain circumstances.
The hardware store versions of this tool are pretty good, though there are woodworking store versions that are a little nicer.
Pick up some blades for your saw, and ask the clerk about which blades are best for the type of wood cutting that you are doing. This non-power saw will let you cut curves, and is a good companion to a flat saw.
A mallet is a tool that carvers and people who work with chisels use, and is more of an assisting tool than a primary tool. Sure, you can use the mallet as a primary tool by driving in dowels, bumping pieces into shape, and using the hammer-like features, but most of the time a mallet is used for assisting an edged tool.
Mallets come in a number of sizes, shapes, and materials. One of the most common in construction is a dead blow mallet, that delivers a heavy hit without bouncing back. Another example is the carving mallet, which can be round or square, and is made from heavy wood to assist a chisel.
A rubber mallet is another example, and this is used when you want to get a firm hit, but you don’t want to mar the surface. The hammer still has momentum, but it lacks any hard edges, so it does not damage the surface of the wood being hit.
Depending on your type of woodworking, you may end up needing a mallet so that you can assist in working a chisel, or assist in assembly. Select the mallet that suits your needs in the best way, and you will enjoy the assistance that this tool provides.
Store your mallet in the same area that you store the tools you will use at the same time, and you will always have it in reach. This tool saves your arms, and saves your energy so that you can devote more of it to making your project.
Part 17 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 17 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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