Big fat granite surface plates are nice, but they are overkill for most woodworking shops. The granite surface plates are intended for machinists and other metalworkers who work to thousandths or ten-thousandths of an inch.
We work with material that changes size when you breathe on it.
I’ve found that I don’t need a granite surface plate in my shop. Instead, I use granite floor tiles from the home center that are $4.99. When I shop for them, I take a straightedge (or borrow an extruded aluminum one from the tool section of the home center) to check the tiles for flatness.
Some tiles are double-dog dang flat (it’s not a machinist’s spec, but it’s fine for woodworking). I can’t even get a .001” feeler gauge under the straightedge.
You might be wondering: What good are granite tiles in the workshop? Lots of things. When I need to correct or clean up the soles of my small planes, I affix #220-grit sandpaper to my tile and use it to remove burrs from the soles or to correct minor problems.
When I need to sand small parts with great accuracy, I affix sandpaper to the tile and then rub the part on the sandpaper to do the job.
When I fix old tools or prepare new ones to use, I affix #100-grit cubic zirconia belt sander paper (the blue stuff) to the tile and it flattens the backs of chisels and plane irons with ease.
In a pinch, I can flatten my waterstones on it with some wet/dry sandpaper.
The best thing about it? If someone drops it on the floor and it breaks, I’m out only $5.
So, save your money. Spend the cash you socked away for a granite surface plate on a nice chisel, your spouse, your kids or something else.
— Christopher Schwarz
Read other entries in the Anarchist’s Gift Guide.