Best New Tools of 2006

One of our year end traditions is to pick our favorite tools of the year. Usually this list contains 10 or 12 tools, but this was no ordinary year. Our December issue has our choices on the 16 best new tools. Here is a brief excerpt from the article:

Steel City Machinery

We’ve never given a “Best New Tool” award to a company’s entire line of machinery, but this is an exceptional year, and Steel City makes exceptional tools. Elsewhere on the blog are reports on our first impressions of their small table saw.

These tools are serious, as evidenced by the close look we gave the company’s table saws. The trunnions on the company’s three styles of cabinet saws look like the trunnions STLCTY_band1.jpgon older beefy machines we’re familiar with. The T-square-style fences on the saws glide smoothly across the table , thanks to some clever engineering. And what is also nice is what the saws don’t have: a lot of bells and whistles. Instead, the company’s engineers upgraded what was important, such as the optional titanium nitrite coating for the top, which reduces galling and rust.

This was the same level of attention to detail throughout the line. The 15″ planer comes standard with a clever Wixey-brand digital depth gauge , the only upgrade a machine like this needs.
The Steel City steel-frame band saws (a 14″ cast-iron saw is in the works) are thoughtfully designed with a tensioning system that uses two springs. Plus, on the band saw as well as all the other machines, many of the handles are metal instead of the plastic we’ve come to expect.

And the prices? You’ll be pleased. The machines aren’t a low-price leader, but they do seem a lot of machine for the money. Additionally, we just received a report that Steel City will be offering rebates of $50-$200 on their machines from Nov. 1 to  Jan. 31, 2007.

Of course, the proof will be in how these machines perform, and we’re making plans to test several more of the tools in the line. But after inspecting the entire line machines like a customer would in a store, I can honestly say I was ready to get out my checkbook and plunk some serious money down on these tools. And after 10 years of seeing more new tools than I can count, that is saying something.

Lie-Nielsen Shave Horse
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I’ve gotten to work on a lot of shave horses at chairmaking classes and at other woodworkers’ shops. This one is the most comfortable, easy-to-use and versatile one I’ve ever straddled.

Designed by Kentucky Chair-maker Brian Boggs, this shave horse from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks lets you quickly move the head up and down for different stock thicknesses. And the leather on the head grips the stock with remarkable tenacity , it is almost impossible to pull your spindle stock out of the jaws, even in a heavy cut with a drawknife. The sculpted seat, which is nice for long spindle-shaping sessions, adjusts back and forth with ease so you can apply just the right amount of pressure to your work without straining your legs.

There are many plans for making your own shave horse out there, but if you’d rather just giddyap and get on with chairmaking, this shave horse belongs in the winner’s circle.

, Robert Lang

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