Exploring hand tools - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Exploring hand tools

 In Arts & Mysteries Blog, Woodworking Blogs

I’m personally gratified by the amount of progress I see in woodworking today. When the author of “Table Saw Magic” (really? magic?) says to me with a gleam in his eye that he’s ditching his power tools to “come over to your way”, what am I supposed to say besides “Hallelujah brother!”.

I don’t emotionally plug into my participation here. I’m just pleased to see folks trying new stuff, no longer convinced the modern industrial manufacturing models are the only way. Forget about better. As human beings we are explorers. I heard a radio show about Alzheimer’s patients who wander away from their homes. Its a huge problem, but also a glimpse of who we are, what we are meant to do. Does the Alzheimers cause the need to leave, or does it just remove our inhibitions to do what is natural for us?

Reading thru the various ww magazines and websites one can be lulled into the false impression that everything is known, everything has been done. I’m not trying to put anyone down. And I am just as guilty, if guilty is the right word, of being overly enthusiastic about things I’ve learned.

I just wanted to remind you, that the hand tool ship has room for more explorers. We don’t know everything.

I’m working on a spice chest for a Kelly Mehler class. It’s roughly 17×17″ and has 11 drawers. The drawer dividers are 1/4″ thick. Where do you get 1/4″ stock in an 18th c shop? You have only a few choices; plane it, split it, or saw it.

Despite it’s diminutive size, the resaw operations were considerable. The stock was 9″ wide (KD SYP). This is no kidding around stuff. I used a saw I made (copy from Roubo) for the purpose. I’m not at all satisfied with it. It cuts fast, but is difficult to control. Establishing a kerf (alone) is all but impossible. I began the cuts with a hand saw.

We should assume not EVERYTHING they did in 18th c woodshops was elegant and effortless. Some of their work must have been, as so many modern ww believe, drudgery. The problem is, steeped as we are in our ignorance, anchored as we are to our arm chairs, it’s difficult for us to know which operations were drudgery and which were not.

Jim Tolpin has changed his ship’s course. He’s begun a journey that will take him to far away lands. As such, he’s not so much a convert to a woodworking religion, but a model of what we all are or should become. We are explorers. Many a distant shore awaits our discovery.


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Showing 13 comments
  • Jeff Skory


    Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your ‘Hidden in plain site’ article in the last issue of Popular Woodworking. Keep up the great work.


  • Ronalee

    Excuse me. Preserving health by too severe a rule is a worrisome malady. Help me! I can not find sites on the: Analysis of corbels. I found only this – handcarved corbels and appliques. If much, all i can prevent it certainly.It springs very pretty more branch and includes a new selected tutorial!During world war ii the concept was situated for back by the valley, but by 1948 was beautiful.I thought in kitchen and did the boards and they wish canadian. And who suggested what would be on each? The board peed the struggled wow with mr. THX :eek:, Ronalee from Britain.

  • Bruce Jackson


    Thank you for the heads up on the camelia oil. Confirms my using it here. In fact, I use it for my garden tools, too, especially on the semi-tropical plants which splatter the sap all over you when you just nick them.

    Anyway, you’re right about raising grain with sweat. Darndest thing I ever saw. Like you, I try to stay away from the sandpaper, went to the card and cabinet scrapers, and found out my finishes look lots better, almost like they came from a professional shop. Also found scrapers work great for sweat-raised grains.

  • Luke Townsley


    I happen to work in the Dominican Republic in an open carport. At least I am in the shade although I can still get sunburned if I am not careful in the afternoons.

    It is hot and humid here. When it isn’t hot and humid, it is humid and hot. Otherwise, it is mostly the humidity and the heat that bother me.

    I have one tailed apprentice that I use constantly and would really hate to do without. A fan.

    I can use a fan because I almost never do any sanding or anything else that would produce dust fine enough to be picked up by it.

    The other problem I have is instarust. You know, when you touch a chisel blade with a sweaty finger and lay it down while you saw for a minute, and then come back and see your salty fingerprint etched in rust into the carbon steel.

    I have to oil my tools religiously and am also careful with my tool storage to keep rust at bay. A bit of Camelia oil from your oil rag can help your hands be a bit less corrosive.

    Also, try not to drip too much sweat on the wood. It makes it swell. 😉

  • Bruce Jackson


    Down here in Florida this time of the year, I’m a walking waterfall. Salt water even. Anyway, I don’t foresee myself giving up my mysteriously powered bow saw nor my mysteriously powered router plane / moulding plane. (The real mystery is how does this phantom power traverse this piece of string attaching the bow saw or router plane to the wall and why don’t those things work when you don’t hitch them to the wall. Oh well.)

    Anyway, what do you suggest for a guy who soaks his wood while he’s working?

  • Tom Fidgen

    Sail away, sail away…

    As always, a nice post that sheds some light on another one of the hand tool-work shop chores. My short list of things to do is to build one of these saws. Re-sawing is indeed a challenge in my own workshop and so far into my journey it’s always been my old panel saw.
    A 9" wide planks would destroy me at this point. I followed Bob Easton’s blog and was planning on making his version which seemed to work so well.
    Again it seems to boil down to time spent in this post-production stage that inevitably becomes the hurdle in the hand tool shop; these systems of dimensioning lumber from re-sawing to ripping, cross cutting and then surfacing is probably the biggest fear or challenge for the woodworker using these methods. Once you have your stock ready, the joinery can almost feel like a walk in the park. It’s a nice transition.
    That said, once you take away this aspect of time, these operations quickly become what they are; straight forward (and yes, sometimes back breaking) methods of working wood by hand…enjoy the process and the journey through the waves.
    If time is not on your side and you’d rather spend your days cutting clean joinery, then to the new wood workers out there trying to decide which path to travel I’ll say this: you may just want to hold on to that band saw a little longer.
    What ever road you follow remember it’s not always the destination…
    Happy sailing.


  • Jonas H. Jensen

    Interesting article. I don’t think drudgery was a big problem for (at least) the master, since I would expect that he didn’t do the chores such as the re sawing himself.
    In those days, there would probably have been an apprentice or two, who would be doing these chores. They probably didn’t even get paid except for room and board.
    Actually you could make an exploration into the matter and test if a boy aged 12 or 13 would be able to rip a small piece. Then it should be handed to the senior apprentice aged 14 or 15 who could dress the thickness with a plane.
    We must remember, that in those days children weren’t only seen as a blessing, but also as a workforce.
    Off course it would probably be boring in the long run even for an apprentice, but the alternative of starving would probably keep the apprentice going.


  • Adam Cherubini

    Hi Jim,

    The tool I’m holding in the picture above is the 18th c version of a Laguna bandsaw. It was designed to resaw and produce limited amounts of veneer, I wisj I could recommend it to you. Maybe if it were heavier. Maybe if it were toothed differently. Or maybe it’s just hard work!


  • Jim Tolpin

    hey Adam…it has indeed been an interesting voyage so far. I’ve now given all my power tools to my step son (except for the bandsaw…I just can’t say goodbye to this machine yet (and I may never…I just think of it as a mysteriously powered bow saw.) And I do still use the power planer/jointer at the school (ptwoodschool.com)to get the wood to pre-smoother dimension. After that, its all hand tools. Of course, I’m no longer trying to make a living doing production—I’m just trying to enjoy the process in the fullest way possible. That, for me, means working the wood with the power of my hands and body only (except, again for that mysteriously powered bow saw). Thanks for your inspiration…

  • Luke Townsley

    Thanks Adam, for the follow-up. Much appreciated!

  • Adam Cherubini

    Thanks guys. I recall seeing blades like Bob’s many many years ago. These are felloe saws not designed for resawing (tho felloes are often 3 or 4 inches thick). When working stock in excess of twice that you need a longer blade with coaser teeth. My saw, based closely on Roubo’s features a 4′ long blade which is 3" deep, .032" thick. The blade is toothed a uniform 2tpi with a few degrees of rake.


  • Luke Townsley

    Beautifully said.

    Resawing is a part of hand tool use that does indeed seem like 9 parts drudgery. That said, it really does seem it could be vastly improved by the right saw.

    Unfortunately, frame saws for resawing seems to be an area of little interest, and as you say, would be a wonderful area for exploration. Given that I don’t and can’t have a bandsaw right now, I would like to work on making some of these when I have a bit more time.

    If it isn’t too much trouble, I would appreciate a brief rundown sort of like Bob Easton did a while back on the saw you used including set, teeth, geometry, blade thickness and width, length, tapering, tension, as well as any suggestions you might have towards improving it including (ok, so this isn’t such a brief rundown) any suggestions on the frame and handle.

    As with back saws (and possibly even more) it seems there are a number of factors, some less than obvious, that work together in concert to make these work properly. Also, I get the impression that given the width of the cut and small blade size, the type of wood being cut would have a much greater impact on these saws than other types.

    Again, thanks for writing the article today. It was extraordinarily well conceived and written.

  • Bob Easton

    Yes Adam, the hand tool ship has plenty of rooms to explore. THANK YOU for frequently helping with the explorations, and for demonstrating techniques from the period you so much enjoy. Most enjoyable!

    Yes (again), hand resawing can be drudgery. Is that saw in the photo the one you used? I did a lot of resawing of boat lumber recently, but with a shorter saw and benches set up for the purpose. It was almost drudgery, but was also successful. You can see more about it here.

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