Hand Tool Maintenance-Don’t Ruin Your Tools!

Woodworking, like fishing, covers a lot of territory, so the audience for our magazine and web site is a diverse lot. When I learned how to make stuff out of wood, the Internet didn’t exist and there was only one magazine and few books available on the subject. Lacking these modern resources, I was forced to make do with the advice of guys who had been making stuff most of their lives. I never had the benefit of extended discussions about taking care of my tools so they wouldn’t be ruined. I never thought about:

  • ChiselsBLG_0040What’s the best oil to use to wipe down my tools?
  • What’s the best rag to use with the best oil to wipe down my tools?
  • What’s the best plan to make a dedicated tool oiler, because even the best rag is sorely lacking?
  • Should I wipe my tools down every time I touch them because human skin excretes incredibly corrosive substances that will instantaneously cause devastating rust?
  • When I finish wiping down all of my tools should I start over because the atmosphere of planet Earth also contains incredibly corrosive substances that will instantaneously cause devastating  rust?

ChiselsBLG_0046Looking back, the sum total of advice I received was “get it sharp and get back to work.” The chisels in the photo above were purchased new in 1979. I try to keep them sharp and free from big gobs of foreign stuff. I use the back of the edges to scrape off glue, and wipe them off with whatever is handy, if I notice. If I don’t, I scrape off the surface with the handiest sharp object. I suppose that I could spend some time making them look like they just came out of the box, but I would rather be making stuff. There’s a long way to go before they’re completely useless.

–Robert W. Lang

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9 thoughts on “Hand Tool Maintenance-Don’t Ruin Your Tools!

  1. BLZeebub

    I am thoroughly amazed at the amount of typesetting committed to caring for one’s toolage. Give me a break! As a young man interested in mechanical devices, I was taught to care for machines and tools made of metal. A spritz with ANY light machine oil and wipe off the excess was all that was needed then and if I am not mistaken the atmosphere hasn’t quite turned to pure acid yet so the same old is the same old. Now, excoriations aside, a competing publication did a head-to-head comparison of corrosion fighting solutions ranging from a promise to the most exotic. The result was the self same solution I’ve used for eons, WD40 and thinly used at that. I use a boar’s hair shaving brush to daub and spread an uber thin layer and I have yet to have a corrosion problem AND I live in near-tropical Florida where 100% RH is common. So, if you “believe” it’s necessary to fork over shekels for carnation squeezings then go ahead. Just put it on thin and quit fretting, we’ve got work to do.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick

      Well yes, but I like jojoba oil because it’s also a nice treatment for dry skin. WD-40, not so much…

      1. robert

        Well… My grandmother used to spray WD-40 on her knees, then wrap them in Saran-wrap. She swore that this treatment was the only thing that eased the pain in her knees. Oh, and she lived the age of 97. She did kind of smell like a machine shop, but there are worse things.

  2. bobbollin

    Thanks, Bob. Learning to make and maintain a truly sharp edge was one of the most recent and most valuable skills I have learned in 50-some years of woodworking. MOUNTAINS of frustration evaporated. And I learned it from you and your associates there at PW.

    Thank you!

  3. agardo

    I keep tools I like sharp, clean and reday for action. Sometimes I give steel surfaces a wipe with a suitable wax. Tools I dislike goes somewhere else. Price for a tools is no concern, it is all about percieved quality.

  4. Moontoad

    Wow, after taking an interest in woodworking a few years ago, and trying to take advantage of every learning resource I could – books, magazines (the first year I subscribed to eight!), blogs, videos, TV shows, classes, seminars, local guild groups, etc., this is the first time I’ve seen anyone suggest that some of the tools I have might be good enough. Thank you, Bob, for perhaps planting a seed that might end my “I’ve got to have that tool” insanity. If others appreciate it, too, maybe PW could consider adding some tools reviews on low-end tools that are serviceable (as opposed to “tool-shaped objects”.

  5. gumpbelly

    I`m pretty sure somewhere the internet woodworking forum Gods, and the magazine writing Gods are hard at work planning a painful exit for you Bob. Until then please keep writing reality reminders like this, mostly thanks for starting my morning off with a boomer laugh.

  6. DanWyant

    A big crowd milled around the first tee of a big golf tournament I played in recently. A nattily attired man strode up for his teams tee time, planted his tee, set the ball upon it and proceeded to top it into the creek forty yards out. A round of applause erupted as I looked over to his cart to see a pro-sized bag, emblazoned with Nike, containing a full set of shiny new clubs, head-covers and all. Waiting for the cheers to die for a second, the man called out, “Just think how bad I would hit it if I didn’t spend $4000 on clothes, shoes and clubs.”

    I share your attitude towards tools , Robert. Well said.

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