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In my last blog I wrote about tools you don’t need. The point was that we don’t always get good information on what to buy. Our sources for tool recommendations aren’t always unbiased. We read others’ glowing reviews of tools they recently purchased, or magazines’ reviews of tools. What we don’t see is the sort of advice my brother gave me, undoubtedly advice we’ve all received from time to time. So hopefully that point was clear. That was the last post. This post is different.

Below is a list of tools I recommend, but freely admit you don’t need. I’ve considered the entire universe of tools you don’t need and selected those I personally like the most and recommend. Got it? Again, feel free to add to the list or quibble with those that made my cut.

1) Tool chest- This is something you definitely don’t need. In the 18th century, tool chests were used to transport tool kits to new places of employment, and safeguard them while there. Loaded, they can easily weigh 300lbs. This isn’t something you can use to schlep your tools around in. In family run shops, I would expect to see tools stored on the walls, on open shelves, not stored away in chests.

That said, traditional tool chests are fun projects to build. They are an opportunity for you to play with your own values. I wrote an article comparing period woodworking to speaking a foreign language. This is an excellent project to practice your language skills.

Traditional chests had certain features in common. Construction was certainly standardized. Yet each chest I’ve seen is an individual. This is your opportunity to use up your scrap wood or try your hand at marquetry. As you build recesses, tills, and different ways to store your tools, you must think about how often you use that tool and whether or not it even belongs in your chest. I highly recommend you build a tool chest even though you don’t technically need one.

2) Riven Shave horse- Underhill describes the process for building a dumb head shave horse. I built mine with very VERY few tools. I did allow myself a saw. Otherwise it was all axe and wedge type work and an absolute hoot! I think it’s questionable whether you need a shave horse at all, let alone one split from an oak log. I can say the finished product is fun to use. The rough seat and work surface grip well. But I think the lessons you learn building it are worth it.

3) Riven Saw horses- Ditto. Nobody needs a riven saw horse. Mine provide an interesting texture in an otherwise very smooth shop. I like them.

4) Period containers- I’m no expert on period pottery. But I keep my eye out for old glass bottles and pottery for linseed oil, wax, honing oils, etc. I like using bottles and glass ware for oils (be careful with pottery as the oil can leach out). In a shop filled with period tools, an old bottle of oil just looks right. When I paint, I mix my paints in old tea cups, or salt glazed pottery. When I use stains (I often mix minwax oil stains together to get the exact color I want) I use clam shells. I believe the practice was fairly common, especially so in coastal regions.

5) Cast iron glue pot- Absolutely unnecessary. You can mix up hot glue in pickle jars and it will stick just as well. I really like using an old pot. I like the way cast iron holds heat. In use I move the pot (inner and outer) from the electric burner on the other side of my shop to my work bench. The heavy iron pot, with it’s jacket of hot water, give me a little more work time. The other alternative is to locate the burner nearer the bench. I don’t like that idea for several reasons.

6) Home made paint/glue brushes- Love them! I make mine out of horse hair from my friend John. Not sure where you would buy horse hair or hog bristle. It’s possible you could cut up an old dust brushes. I like a glue brush with a long handle and short rounded bristles. The round shape holds a lot of glue and still lets you apply it precisely.

7) Wooden straight edge- A cheap aluminum 3′ ruler is really the best. But I have and prefer a 2-3′ walnut stick I use as a straight edge. Some of my preference for stuff like this came from my work at Pennsbury. When I do demos I use that stick as a pointer. I always take it with me.

There may be no advantage to using a wooden straight edge. But given the choice between buying a metal ruler for $2.99 and making a ruler, I say make one. You really want a quartersawn piece, which I got from slicing the edge of a thick flat sawn board. You need very straight grain and a good stable species (like walnut) to make a good straight edge.

Plane it with your best jointer and best technique. You can check it for straightness by scoring a line directly on your bench with your striking knife, then flipping the stick to the other side of the line and inspecting the difference(s). To be fair, I think it’s a little silly to spring for a fancy straight edge when you aren’t going to work to the line anyway (I don’t).

If you think about it, there are only a few times when you really have to work to the line. When I miter a molding for example, I mark the 45 and saw to it accurately. But because the case is always a tiny bit off, I almost always fix the miter with my chisel. So how accurate does the miter square need to be? Ditto for the straight edge.

8) Wooden square- Ditto. Metal is probably better. But I prefer my wooden squares

9) Wooden hand screw/clamp- I love this tool. It’s fun to make and a joy to use. It does function a tiny bit differently than those with metal screws. Both threads are righty tighty. So you can back off the rear screw without changing the jaws at all, turn the front screw until you have a decent fit, then adjust the back screw until you have just the right grab. With normal hand screws, you really have to turn both screws together more or less. The clamps you purchase work fine, so this really is a tool you don’t need. But it is fun to make and does function a little differently which may make you like them more. Check out Gaynor’s book, “Tools: Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century” and copy those you see there.

10) Antique dividers- These are still available inexpensively on eBay and elsewhere. It’s possible the design changed very little over the years. Hand forged dividers, which typically lack the little sector and thumb screw, are often very well made and are very easy to use, holding just about any position. It’s not a tool you’ll use every day, but I think these are nice to have, especially if you are buying up more and more period tools. I can’t imagine these being available forever.


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Showing 3 comments
  • Stan Bell

    I can’t live without my 90 degree bench-hook which I use as much for shooting end grain as for sawing. (I must credit Christopher Schwarz for introducing me to using it this way in his workbench book) Just as valuable and a whole lot nicer to look at is my 605 and 1/2 plane which spends a fair bit of time lying on it’s side lately!
    I wish I could make it to the Marketplace this weekend (Oct 1,2,3) but I already have plans to attend the 25th Anniversary Woodstock Woodshow being held at the Woodstock Ontario Fairgrounds (where else?)
    Apparently it’s the largest woodshow in North America. I must confess that it’s only an hour and a half drive for me and I’m ashamed that although I’ve been a hobby woodworker for just over 30 years, I’ve never made it to this particular show! I’ll let you know how it turns out.
    Stan Bell

  • Mark Maleski

    It’ll be difficult to add to the list since you’ve characterized it as a set of tools *you* would recommend. 😉 But I’ll go out on a limb anyway and add a few things that come to my mind:
    – Crosscut saw. Sure you could just knife the line. I often do even with a crosscut saw, but I sometimes care about the engrain surface left after the sawcut. A crosscut filing sets me up better for that.
    – Firmer gouge, IAW Don McConnel’s article in your Book-on-CD. (Hey, despite my opening sentence I think this one really should be on *your* list!)
    – Radio. I’ve seen very little evidence of 18th century craftsmen having radios in their workshop, but I wouldn’t be without one in mine.


  • Badger

    I think you’ve found your own counter point. You’re into tools that people don’t need, but they are also a lot of the tools that make people *happy* to own. 🙂

    I put my Stanley #45 in that group. You’re absolutely right, I don’t need it. In fact I have all the other functions it does in wooden varieties (my wooden moving fillister plane is a joy to use) but I do enjoy OWNING it. I only use it at a plow really, but i love the design of it. It’s a gadget pure and simple.



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