Chris Schwarz's Blog

Tools that Talk to One Another

When I teach a class on sawing by hand, some students seem bewildered by how much work we do with planes and chisels.

When I teach a class on planes, there’s a lot of work with saws and chisels and rasps.

And when I teach a class on chisels…. Aw heck, nobody would take a class just on chisels (though perhaps we all should).

The truth is that it’s tough to teach or learn hand tools by focusing on one type of tool or another. Hand tools are designed to work together — and not just the chisels, planes and saws. The knives are a particularly flirty kind of tool – they tend to play around with all the hand tools in the chest.

And the wooden straightedge and try square? You might as well chuck your tools in the river without these essential tools of truth.

This week I’m teaching a class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking that shows how all the major tools work together to make your life easier. My outline is an ambitious 20-page document that covers the history of the major tools (we quoted the Bible today!), plus the care and feeding of everything from chisels to coping saws to moulding planes.

It’s actually a lot of fun to roam through the entire kit of tools while I’m teaching and be able to whip out the sawvise or the shooting board or the strop without worrying that it’s not on the syllabus. Everything is on the syllabus.

The only problem with the class is that it can seem a little scatterbrained at times as we jump around from tool to tool. During dinner tonight one of the students said, “Hey, you haven’t taught us anything about sharpening chisels yet. Is that because they are too easy and we should already know it?”

“Actually no, “ I replied. “Chisels are subtle tools. You’re actually not ready for the lesson yet.”

I’m not sure he bought my explanation.

The end result of the class is that we will build the English Square I wrote about in Popular Woodworking Magazine. It’s a project that uses a wide range of tools for surface preparation, joinery and shaping. It will be interesting to see if all the parts (and lessons) come together to make something cool — or a disjointed mess.

— Christopher Schwarz

Other Hand Tool Resources
• Want to build the English Square from this class? You can find the plans in the December 2010 issue. You can see a video of how to square up the finished square here.

• If you like building tools, you might be interested in building some fancy wooden try squares ripped right from the pages of Andre Roubo’s 18th-century books on woodworking. We prepared a detailed plan for these squares with full-size patterns that you can download for a small fee from our store here.

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