Keep ’em on the Road! (or Bench)

That was the battle cry of all us Volkswagen owners/mechanics back in the hippie days.

Some of the pages in my copy were unreadably greasy-dirty

There was always something that needed doing on those air-cooled engines and we all became pretty good mechanics with the help of the John Muir book: How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. We were all proud of our abilities and that we were able to keep those old bugs and buses on the road.

I still get real satisfaction working on cars and machines, keeping them working and “on the road”. And I apply that same sensibility to tools, too. I know many of you reading this are always on the lookout for something rusty poking out from under the pile of kids clothes at a garage sale. Something that can be derusted, re-handled and put to valuable use in the shop (or even the kitchen. I found a greasy but otherwise perfectly good cast iron frying pan when I stopped along a country road to take, uh, in the scenery.)

I own several hand planes; none I bought new. They’re classic Stanleys close to a hundred years old and I take pride and pleasure in their patinated surfaces and well-used aura as they enter their “heirloom years”. And I assure you that they work as well as any plane once I cleaned and tuned them. My Uncle Vern gave me a #5 that was in perfectly well-used shape, but some of them have needed more than just cleaning and adjusting. I turned a walnut knob for one of them, glued a cracked tote, brazed a patch on the side of two of them. That sort of thing. Metal repair may be outside your area of expertise but cleaning and tuning are easy tasks that I find quite pleasurable.

A functional, if not pretty, repair on my FIL's block plane

I don’t try to make them much prettier or approach a brand new look. While a couple of them needed some paint, especially after the brazing, I mostly just want them to work perfectly. And even though I want to preserve these excellent tools as they pass through my hands and on, someday, to the next generation, I’m not a stickler for historic purity. These are well-tuned users, not collector’s items. All that functionality aside, the sculptural design of the casting is quite beautiful, yet to be improved upon.

This “infomercial” has a minute and a half showing the basic clean-up drill for an older plane. The pertinent part starts at about 3:00. A small investment of time making sure the frog mates to the plane body without rust or crud between will pay off with improved performance. While you’re at it, check that the leading edge of the mouth is sharp and square. That edge holds the shavings down to reduce tear-out and if it has been eroded, rounded over, by a century of shavings, it needs to be dressed with a file.

Sharp blade, tight mouth; all else is ergonomic or aesthetic. These classics are easy to preserve or restore and darned hard to wear out. Keep ‘em on the road, er, bench!

We’re Number… TWO!

I’m proud of this, from the Popular Woodworking Magazine blog:

“As we’re wrapping up 2010, any good company takes a look at what products sold well during the year. We’re doing the same, and it’s an interesting mix of the ten top-selling books of the last year. The list tells us what our readers are interested in, and what it may tell you is what books you may be just as interested in reading. Starting from #10, the list is as follows:

#10 – Box by Box
A favorite book with some great projects that has been selling well for four years now. Still a great book for any level woodworker.

#9 – Greene & Greene Furniture
Published earlier this summer, this is an amazing book documenting the furniture of designers Charles and Henry Greene. Full of original photos and amazing details.


#8 – Workbenches
A bestseller for three years, this book looks at the history of benches and talks about the features that make sense for your woodworking needs.

#7 – Popular Woodworking’s Arts & Crafts Furniture
Another favorite for fans of Arts & Crafts furniture. With 25 projects and a bonus CD-rom with even more projects and information, this book is a great collection.

#6 – I Can Do That Woodworking Projects
A great book for the occasional or beginning woodworker. Furniture projects that require minimal tools and materials, withe simple construction.

#5 – Puzzle Boxes
A great mix of boxes with secret compartments and puzzle boxes. Great band saw for every woodworker.

#4 – Easy To Build Birdhouses
25 projects, many designed to blend with their environment, but there are also some whimsical designs. All easy to build and guaranteed to please.

#3 – Birdhouses You Can Build in a Day
We love birdhouse, and it appears to do our readers. This book has been a best-seller for four years now, offering 51 birdhouse and bird feeder projects.

#2 – The Perfect Edge
Brand new this year, this book has all the information any woodworker needs to keep their cutting edges sharp. Excellent information presented in an easy-to-read style. A must have for the woodworking library.

#1 – Made By Hand
And our number one title is a book all about building furniture without power tools. Dedicated to the woodworker who has decided to build with traditional hand tools, this title shows how to use the tools, and how to build contemporary furniture with traditional tools.

– David Thiel

Congratulations to Tom Fidgen for capturing the #1 spot. It’s a great book, deserving the honor.

Thanks to all of you who’ve bought (and read, I hope) The Perfect Edge. I am proud of the book, pleased with the great job David Thiel and Brian Roeth at Popular Woodworking Books did putting it together and I’m especially pleased with the positive comments I continue to receive like this:

Ron, man, I love the book!! I don’t know how I overlooked it earlier. I’ve had to search everywhere to get useful, accurate information about tool steel. Everything on the internet is either somebody’s amateur, second-hand opinion (“Yeah, Rockwell 65 will keep an edge longer but gimme a good high carbon Sheffield O2 over them brittle Japanese chisels any day”) or it’s very general information designed for manufacturing customers. Everything in steel textbooks is designed for metallurgists, never for woodworkers. Blacksmithing and knife-making websites sometimes have good information, but they usually assume more knowledge than I have. I look forward every day to the half an hour of peace when I get to read parts of your book. I think I’ll order a few replacement irons for some of my old bedrocks, just to show a little appreciation for all you do for our hobby. Thank you! — T.H.

The Blade Bucks offer continues, by the way. Order The Perfect Edge (for yourself or someone you think deserves such a great gift). I’ll sign it AND we’ll include a certificate for $10 off your (or their) next order with HOCK TOOLS. Can’t beat that!

Linda and I wish all of you the very best of the holiday season.

Handy Trick for Scissors

I think I’ve received more positive comments about the scissor sharpening trick in The Perfect Edge than any other part of the book. My eighty-something-year-old Aunt Donna even called all excited that I had invoked her mother’s wisdom. She had complained about her dull scissors to the neighbor who had borrowed her copy of my book. He said, “It’s right there in your nephew’s book!” So now she’s finally reading it. I told there would be a quiz.

Looks awful -- works great!

From page 197:

Sharpen you scissors in three seconds with your burnisher! That’s right, unless they’ve been abused and are Very Dull, scissors can be restored by simply burnishing them. Couldn’t be simpler and almost sounds like one of those free-lunch ads for self-sharpening knives: just work your burnisher between the blades of the scissor as if you were trying to cut the burnisher in half. For me this was one of those little awakenings. When I was a kid my mother told me that her mother would sharpen scissors by “cutting” the neck of a milk bottle with them. That tidbit of old-country family lore rattled around in my head until I’d been making blades – and burnishers – for many years. I don’t know what made the lights of memory and recognition go on after some forty years but I tried a burnisher on a pair of scissors and have since made a number of people happy with this tip.

Try it on your gift-wrap scissors this holiday season.

Happy Holidays, everyone!