Hand Tool Maintenance-Don't Ruin Your Tools! - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Hand Tool Maintenance-Don’t Ruin Your Tools!

 In Chisels, Feature Articles, Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

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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Showing 9 comments
  • 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.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

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

      • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • John Hutchinson

    That wasn’t funny. 🙁 That was GREAT!!! 🙂

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • 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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