Winding sticks don’t have to be fancy. Heck, they don’t even need to be anything other than two pieces of material that have parallel edges – that’s all you need to use these sticks to diagnose a twisted board or assembly.
But I have a weakness for nice winding sticks, and they are a fun exercise for the beginning hand-tool woodworker.
For years I used winding sticks made of redheart where one of the sticks had a single inlaid full-length strip of maple. These have always worked fine, but a couple weeks ago I bought some vintage winding sticks from Ed Lebetkin, who runs the old tool store above Roy Underhill’s school.
They cost more than two sticks of wood should, but I liked their proportions and the fact that they had two satinwood inlays. So I bought them to study and compare them to other designs. (And my parents still wonder why I didn’t have many friends as a child.)
After using the vintage sticks a bit, I made my own version out of quartersawn walnut with maple inlays. I have to say that I find it much easier to see the twist in a board when I view it with winding sticks that have two separate inlays instead of one long inlay. Why? Don’t know. It might be my imagination, but I’m sure woodworker and eye doctor Rob Porcaro could offer an explanation or a rebuttal.
In any case, here are some dimensions and details on these winding sticks, in case you want to make your own just like them. No, I won’t be making a SketchUp file.
Vintage Winding Sticks: These are made from quartersawn mahogany that is 7/16” x 2” 17-1/2”. Each stick is a right triangle in cross-section that tapers down to 3/16” at the top. The satinwood inlays are the thickness of veneer and are 5/16” wide and 2-1/2” long. The inlays are positioned 2” from each end of the stick.
My Winding Sticks: These are made from quartersawn walnut that is 5/8” x 1-1/2” 24” – I sized them to fit inside my tool chest. Each stick is a right triangle in cross-section that tapers down to 1/4” at the top. The maple inlays are 1/16” thick by 1/4” wide and 2-1/2” long. The inlays are positioned 2” from each end of the stick.
I’ve seen other designs winding stick designs that use triangular-shaped inlays and even round dots of different diameters. If you think you have the ultimate design, let us know.
— Christopher Schwarz
I discuss winding sticks in detail in “Handplane Essentials” and “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” You’ll also find an excellent discussion in Robert Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker.” All these books are available at ShopWoodworking.com