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When I fly somewhere to teach, I usually have a luggage limit of about 50 pounds. Amongst my heaps of lacy underwear, I pack the tools I cannot live without – about 12 pounds worth.

That means when I land at my destination, I usually need to make some tools to get through my classes – not every school or student has the same work habits as I do. Here are three of my favorite improvised tools.

Pinch Sticks. The easiest way to check a carcase for square is to use pinch sticks. These are two sticks with pointed ends that you can use to compare diagonal dimensions in a cabinet, for example.

There are commercial versions, of course, but scraps and blue tape do a great job. The blue tape “sleeves” are easy to make. First I wrap the tape around the sticks with the adhesive face out. Then I wrap a piece of tape around the sticks with the adhesive side in. This makes a tidy sleeve that allows the sticks to adjust.


Winding Sticks. I’ve always made winding sticks from scraps I find at woodworking schools. But during the summer, a student who was a Brooklyn firefighter made them better by putting blue tape on the ends of one of the sticks. Brilliant!


Scratch Beader. When I can’t bring a beading plane (or I forget to pack it) I make a scratch beader with a chunk of wood and a screw. I drive the screw into the block and touch it to a grinder to make a flat cutting surface. The beader works like a scraper (adjust the angle of attack with pliers). After cutting the quirk, I finish the bead by rounding over the corner (also called the arris) of the board.

Now I just need to figure out how to improvise a car, an IPA and a good night’s sleep and I’ll have travel licked.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 21 comments
  • Fox

    Gee I feel like an arris for not knowing that trick with the screw! I think I get that from watching you and Roy joke around! Enjoy your work.


  • peterjcheney

    I like the blue tape for the pinch sticks but don’t get what purpose the blue tape on the winding sticks serves. Please enlighten me.

  • Ken Mosley

    I’m confused by the obvious…Have you tried a different detergent on you undies lately? That could be the reason for your needing a new scratcher. Also if you would just skip the change of undies to the more practical once-a-week schedule you could pack your favorite scratcher in their place. Assuming NO accidents of course! Now, about that pincher!

  • Pheasantw

    If you want to see how to use the make shift beading tool, go to Paul Sellers blog:

    About half way down this blog is a detailed explanation.

    But read the 1st half, Paul shows how to round over a board with a hand plane. Very cool techniques.

  • TGK

    Less hassle than blue tape to hold the pinch sticks in place is using metal binder clips. The are quick, strong, come in different sizes to suit the stick sizes and, maybe best of all, you can apply them with one hand while holding the sticks in place with the other. Use two – works great.

  • Tony.Nak

    O MY GOD!! A craftsman and artist of your caliber and that’s the image you put in my head?? The exact image is of lacy panties, perhaps a marching teddy, with cute little pink four ounce ball peen hammers flying around on lacy angel wings… Anyone have any “mental floss??” GRRRR!!

  • dipstick

    Christopher, I am sure the local pubs will take care of the IPA, Keep your irons sharp

  • frpaulas

    I like the plan of packing lacy underwear so you can get the 16oz mallet on board

  • Cygnwulf

    Ok, so maybe I’m being dense, but your scrach beader seems to be missing a fence/guide protrusion?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Marking knife
    1/2″ chisel
    16 oz. brass mallet
    Mechanical pencil (extra lead)
    Combination square
    Dovetail saw
    Coping saw
    Block plane
    Dovetail marking template

  • pmac

    Since you’ve been posting about your trip down umder, I’ve been wondering if you brought ANY tools with you. So, I’m curious, which are your must have tools that made the cut?

  • Joel Jacobson

    > Blue tape – I always keep a roll in the bathroom for emergencies.

    Wooo … I can’t imagine a bathroom emergency that can be solved with blue tape. Am I missing out on something?

  • robert

    Blue tape – I always keep a roll in the bathroom for emergencies.

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