Building a Moxon Vise

Before Moxon vises were all the rage I used to make vises as I needed them. I would make them from pipe clamps and threaded rod. For example when I needed a long vise to hold the sides of the chest I was building for my grandson below, I made a vise to hold them. It was two pipe clamps threaded under my bench top with a chop made of a hunk of Maple the same thickness as my benchtop. It worked great believe it or not and I used it pretty often.

In those days I contrived most of my holding appliances including my end vise out of pipe clamps. If you want to see the kind of thing I am talking about check out this article. But as time went on I started hearing about Moxon vises. So eventually I just had to build one rather than improvise one for every need. So I built the one on the right.

Chest with Beckets

You may notice though I have not completely parted from my former ways. This vise is built around two 12″ pieces of threaded rod and 6 nuts. Baby steps I guess.

The Design

The design of this vise is really simple. It is just two threaded rods and 6 nuts. The rods are tightened to the rear chop. I left the rods long so that in a pinch I could increase the capacity of the grip.

The only tricky part is building the hand wheels. They were a glue up of White Oak. I drilled the parts then cut in the opening for the nut. After fitting the nut flush to the bottom of the hand wheel I glued on another small disk of White Oak and it became a very respectable hand wheel. The Oak is heavy enough that the hand wheels spin really well under their own weight. The upshot is that this vise works really smoothly.


Moxon vise and saw bench
Moxon vise in action with a saw bench


Finished Moxon Vise


Building a compass plane

compass plane

A compass plane is a tool for carving out concave surfaces, like chair seats and boat parts. However, until recently I have not really considered buying or making one because I was always able to find a work around.

When I started building stools and chairs though, I got more serious about adding some tools to my kit. Travishers and inshaves are traditional tools for chair building, but again good ones are very expensive. And I was wondering how often I was actually going to use one of these tools. Then I watched Paul Sellers build a simple compass plane on his Masterclass site and got inspired.

Step One – The Blade

In Paul Sellers’ video he made the blade as well the plane. I was not really up for this kind of thing so I used an old block plane blade I had laying around since the 80’s for the core of this project. The rest of the plane body was just Maple scrap I had laying around.

The beauty of a project like this is that it does not take much material. It is pretty much all fun and very little risk.

The only innovation that I added was in the shaping of this plane. I have made a bunch of planes over the years. Along the way I have developed some pretty strong opinions of what makes a plane nice or terrible to use. How a plane fits in your hands is very high on the list of important traits for any plane.

Shaping the body of the plane

This is a small plane, which means that in use it will need to be gripped in a variety of ways. What’s more this plane is designed to work in unusually shaped material, which means frequently changing direction and orientation of the tool. The grip on the tool above is very intentional, not an attempt to look cool. It is a very right handed tool to begin with. The thumb notch you see on the right hand side of the picture above (the left hand side of the tool) is designed to catch my left thumb when I am holding this plane in a conventional way. When held in this way my left forefinger runs over the top and into the notch on the other side.

When more force is needed the groove along the top is for the edge of my left hand as I cup my left hand over the chip escapement. And finally that same groove will accommodate my right forefinger tip when I am using the plane one handed. I am very pleased with this plane body. It feels good almost any way you would want to hold it in use. The only quibble I still have is that I still need to round the corners off of the blade a bit more. This will make it more comfortable when I am using it one handed.

Hope this inspires you to try. It is not as hard as it seems. The video at Paul sellers site is available with a free sign-up so have a look at that as well.


The “right” amount plane iron camber

Perfect Shaving

Not another article on plane sharpening!

Sharpening a plane, or sharpening anything for that matter is always interesting to talk about. This is because so many people are so sure they have in fact reached sharpening Nirvana. And they can’t wait to tell you about it, and why your way is silly. Nevertheless, I think I finally have some advice regarding plane blade camber that I am not afraid to share publicly. After trying a lot of things for quite a few years I think I have a way that works well and is pretty easy as well. So here goes…

What is a “cambered” blade?

This is nothing more than sharpening the cutting edge with a bit of a curve in it instead of straight across. Nothing more. There is a reason people like to talk about it though. The amount of camber you put on a blade makes a huge difference in the way the blade performs. Though it is not rocket science, it really does matter how much camber you put on various plane irons. And to make it more interesting, the amount of camber you need varies depending on the depth of cut you plan to use.

Jack plane set shallow

The “right amount” of camber

For me, the real questions start with how much camber is the right amount? Here is where years of trial and error come into play and what I hope to contribute with this article. So here is the secret formula as far as I am concerned.

The “right” amount of camber should produce a shaving that is 90-98% as wide as the blade and it should feather to nothing at both edges.

Try plane final flattening

This means that the correct amount of camber is directly related to the depth of cut you plan to make. This is why I do not even try to set up one plane to do everything. While this is possible and if you only have one plane it is necessary. If you have several planes set them up and use them to their best advantage. I sharpen each iron according to how I plan to use it. Scrub, Jack, Smoothing, Jointing all have different cambers. Look at the picture of the transitional plane above and you will see I am not taking a full width cut. That is because it is not cutting at full depth in that picture. A properly cambered blade should produce near full width shavings when you are working at the desired depth. The number 6 plane pictured above is perfect for final smoothing and flattening on a panel. It is cutting almost full width while set for a very fine shaving.

How to achieve the perfect camber

I have 5 or 6 planes that I use a lot. Each one of them has a slightly different blade profile. So if you are just pulling your plane out of the box. I would recommend just honing the edge and using it until you get a feel for the kind of use you are going demand from it. If you find for example that you are almost always using the plane set for a very fine cut then you need very little camber on that plane.

Scrub plane

My “system” and I use that phrase very loosely here, is a matter of adding camber to the iron until it performs at it’s best when it is set to the depth you prefer to use with that plane. So start flat or nearly flat and add camber with each sharpening until you reach what you feel is the optimum balance of width of cut and depth of cut with a smooth reduction of shaving thickness toward each edge of the blade. On a very fine cut it should look like the picture above with the shaving turning from solid in the center to lace at the edges.

Sharpening technique

Since there are an infinite number of opinions on this I am just going to tell you how I do this and you can adopt or discard anything you like. I do not really like orienting the stone lengthwise away from my body though many do. I prefer to orient the stones perpendicular to my body. This is done for basically two reasons.

  1. I sharpen in a figure 8 pattern, I find this honing pattern works well when trying to hone a smooth camber on a blade.
  2. Some of my plane irons are wider than some of my stones. So I have to work perpendicular to the stone in these cases. Since I rely a lot on muscle memory I like to keep my motions consistent. So I work that way on all my stones, even when I do not have to.

To add camber using the figure 8 sharpening pattern you just alternate pressure from the left corner to the right corner while keeping the elbow of your back hand anchored at your waist. For me that means my left hand is applying downward pressure just behind the cutting edge. With a finger just above each corner of the blade. My right hand is responsible for maintaining the honing angle so that elbow is locked at my side.

On blades with a lot of camber like a jack or a scrub plane profile. Your anchor hand need to remain at a fixed height. So keep your elbow anchored. However, you will need to turn a bit at the wrist to allow the blade to follow the arch smoothly.

The last thing I would say is important is to use a lower bench, mine is 30″ high. That gives more control and allows you to rock your entire body back and forth without altering the angle of the blade relative to the stone.

Eat the meat spit out the bones!






Never practice your mistakes


Things music taught me

Before I was anything else, I was a musician. My mother was a church organist and a choir director. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the end of a pipe organ bench looking up at all those pipes listening to my mother practice.

When I came of age I was given music lessons as a matter of course. I began to play in band. To me that meant practicing two to four hours a day. Because I wanted to be the best. I learned over time though that it wasn’t how much I practiced that made the difference, but how I practiced.

The “Secret” to effective practice

The “secret” is this. You must never practice a mistake. If you do, that mistake will come back to bite you at the most inopportune time. Like for example, while you are standing in front of a bunch of people performing. If I made a mistake I immediately corrected it and then played through that passage correctly until I could do it without thinking.

There were more than a few well meaning teachers (and my mother who had to listen to this incessant repetition) who encouraged me to just push through when I made a mistake. But somehow I realized early on that if I practiced a mistake, I would repeat that mistake under pressure. The government oddly enough validated and reinforced this to me later, as I was being trained in weapons and tactics. They drummed the following into me as fact. “You will do under pressure what you have practiced in training”. It will happen without any thought. Worse yet, under pressure it may not even be possible to consciously overcome it.

What does this have to do with woodworking?

Although I was young, I had stumbled on to an axiom of real value. Never practice a mistake. As I practiced those corrections were pushed into the realm of “muscle memory” by brute repetition. Later under pressure I rarely reverted to my previous errors. I think this concept turns out to be really important in woodworking as well.

Hand tool woodworking requires “feel” and an “eye”. Whether you are cutting dovetails or sharpening your chisels, you are doing most things by feel and by eye. But if we are not careful we can allow ourselves to practice mistakes that then become habits. This process of reinforcing bad habits makes certain tasks very frustrating. We will find ourselves seemingly programmed to make mistakes. Which is exactly what is happening. If we do not address this problem effectively we may even be tempted to quit. Misled by our bad habits into thinking that we do not possess the “knack” for woodworking.

The fact is, we are making many of these mistakes not because we lack the talent. Rather the mistakes we make are often practiced mistakes that we have committed to muscle memory through repetition. Those mistakes come back to haunt us at the worst possible times. Like when we are making a difficult cut in an expensive piece of wood. But those mistakes can be overcome with proper practice. We need to reprogram our muscle memory and in the process develop both our “feel” and our “eye”.  In time we will find ourselves doing the right thing by reflex.

Practical examples

Personally I have noticed this principle the most in sharpening and planing. To be sure there are many that subscribe to the notion that we should all just buy a collection of sharpening jigs and let the jigs do the work. I suspect this is the motivation behind those weird fences that have been designed over the years for planes as well. But I think skill is much more valuable than gadgets for the woodworker.

As I discipline myself in both of these areas to be consistent and careful, I find my sense of “feel” improving greatly. Often I will be planing an edge when I suddenly become convinced that it is off. I may not be able to see it but I know it. So I throw a square to the edge and sure enough, through careless body position or technique I have allowed either the near or far end to drift off of square.

I have two choices at this point. Make hasty corrections and move on(sometimes necessary). Or take the time to analyze what went wrong and practice cutting the edge exactly square with the right technique. While  we train it is insanely important to check what we are doing constantly so that each stroke is done accurately and with correct technique. The more often you practice the correct form and technique the more likely it is that you will use the correct form and technique next time without even thinking about it.


One of the issues I have with many instructional videos on sharpening is that they focus way too much on how fast their particular technique is. So students think doing it right will be really fast. This is very misleading. If their technique is actually fast it is only because they have taken the time to develop their technique to the point that there is no wasted effort. Nor are they exhausting themselves fixing mistaken bevel angles and the like. The best thing we can do for up and coming woodworkers in my opinion is to encourage them to practice well. Practicing well is every bit as important as practicing often. Speed will develop naturally as they do it correctly over and over and over.

Intentionally building technique

I have added several exercises to my woodworking life in order to develop my skills, though I am by no means new to woodworking. One is using salvage wood to develop my hand tool technique. Since most of this wood is pine it is both good exercise and good practice. With the added bonus of getting some nice wood to work with when you are done.

With my sharpening I have also had to learn discipline. I am usually in such a hurry to restore an edge that I tend to cheat and “lean into” the bevel a bit more than I should. This works once or twice but before long you have a real mess to clean up because your bevel has become too steep. Or if you are a micro bevel sort of guy your micro bevel easily becomes anything but micro. Now you have to spend a bunch of time correcting the problems you caused by being in too much of hurry. Net result? Bad habits and a net gain of no time.

To sum up:
  1. When doing hand tool tasks that require touch, NEVER use bad technique. It will become a habit.
  2. Intentionally find ways to develop your technique in your off time, so that you do not have to struggle with it when you are working.




Building a small frame saw

frame saw parts
Frame Saw Bones

I have a great rip saw. It is an old Disston that has been re-sharpened almost out of existence. But it has the cool tote with the hole for my index finger, it feels good in my hands and cuts like crazy. However, there are jobs that are better done with other types of saws. I had seen these big frame saws on the internet and I thought they looked pretty handy for resawing and since I do not have a bandsaw I thought I would try building a small one. I have 3 blades that were designed for conventional frame (bow) saws that are about 24″ long so I thought I would start with building a frame saw to fit one of those. My thought is that if is works well I may get a kit from Blackburn tools and build a bigger one someday.

my benches
Dimensioning the frame saw parts

Getting Started

Since this was a bit of an experiment I just used a bit of reclaimed pine. So step one was squaring up the stock. A frame saw is a really simple object held together entirely by the tension on the blade. The main challenge is doing your joinery very accurately so that the frame stays straight and square under tension. So it is very important to have straight square and dry stock to start with.

frame saw parts
Frame Saw Bones

The bones of this project is made up of just four pieces of wood connected by four mortise and tenon joints. I would recommend doing all the joinery while the pieces are still square. This helps a ton while trying to cut the mortises and tenons.

The biggest trick in making this saw was developing a system of holding the blade straight without making changing the blade a complete pain. I finally settled on a very simple system of blocks and a pair of L shaped bolts to tighten the blade and pull the whole assembly together.

2016-03-13 17.30.49_1

Finishing up

Once these blocks were fitted it was a simple matter of shaping the side rails with some simple chamfers and rounding over the handles.

The biggest challenge it turned out was learning to use this saw accurately. It is a very different prospect ripping with a frame saw when you are used to a conventional western rip saw. But with a bit of trial and error and a some practice this is now my favorite way to resaw stock that is 3″ – 6″ wide.

Finished Saw
The finished saw.


My work bench turns 30

Bench 1
Happy 30th birthday!

I don’t have a Roubo bench or a Nicholson bench. But I do Have two benches that have been with me for a long time. They have both undergone changes over the years,  both cost me next to nothing to build, and they are both better now than ever. So I thought I would give a quick tour of them and discuss what I have found to be the most useful features in a workbench over the last 30 years.


The way they were…

main bench at work
Main bench pre-upgrades

My current benches go way back to 1985/6. I don’t have a any digital pictures of them back then but I dug up a few to show a bit of the evolution these two benches have gone through. The picture at the left shows the configuration of my main bench when I built it. Originally it was nothing but a slab of 1 1/8″ plywood(salvaged from a office furniture makers scrap heap) laminated together to a thickness of 2 1/4″. The legs were made of the same material and the whole thing was held together with threaded rod and lag screws. It had some holes in the top and some trays under it and that is the way it remained until about 2012. That may not seem like a very useful bench but my concept for many years for a work bench was as a platform to which I could attach various jigs and fixtures. I built both of these benches in the mid-eighties when I was very interested(to put it mildly) in building musical instruments. And they performed very well as a platform for my various work holding jigs.

step bench
My 30″ – 38″ step bench. (the metal hand crank at the right is my guitar side press leftover from the old days)

I had a full assortment of fairly elaborate fixtures that I would attach to these benches. Which meant that I did not want to commit to anything in a bench design except that it be sturdy, the right height, and that it be easy to attach my assortment of fixtures and vises. It was not until I fully embraced traditional hand tool woodworking that I started to feel like my benches needed an upgrade. As I got into more and more traditional hand tool woodworking and became involved in more furniture and tool projects (as opposed to instrument making and boat building) I started to really feel the need for a more conventional hand tool bench.

The Bench upgrade of 2012

my benches
The current bench crew

By now it was 2012 and I was closing in on the end of my cedar strip canoe project. I started to think it was time to upgrade.

For example in the old days I used pipe clamps to power various vise-like fixtures on my bench. I had a pipe clamp powered end vise, and also a pipe clamp 30″ moxon style vise along the long edge of my bench. I say Moxon because that is what people call them now, but this was several years before Moxon vises or Moxon for that matter really entered the common woodworking vernacular. I simply needed a long vise to hold my case sides while I dovetailed them. If I had only known what a ground breaking (re)inventor I was, maybe I could be as famous as Chris Schwarz! (sort of doubt it 😉  So I began by purchasing a decent vise screw from Lee Valley Tools, turning my cowboy pipe clamp end vise into a more proper end vise. I also added a planing stop to the other end of my bench and bought a couple holdfasts from Gramercy Tools. If you have not tried a pair of these yet, leave this post and order them now, you will not be sorry.

Bench planing rail
Planing rail for my bench

The Planing Rail and Tool Trays

The last major improvement was to add two more legs, a planing rail, and a quasi-Nicholson styled skirt on the far side of my bench. This added a lot of weight, more width, and just generally made my bench a more solid and useful platform for all around work. Without the need to constantly change jigs and fixtures.

The planing rail is as simple as can be, just a 2 1/4″ thick by 6″ wide slab of plywood like the rest of the bench supported by a 2 1/4″ thick side skirt with holdfast holes. The really neat part is the sliding tool trays, these were designed by necessity not genius, but I have to say after using them for a few years, I would never build a bench without them now. The ability to slide them around and even quickly remove them is wonderful, it allows for easy clamping around the perimeter of the main benchtop, easy removal to prevent them from filling with chips, and finally easy cleaning. I love them.

Cleaning up the joints
Using the bench overhang

The last decision I made that I am still quite happy about is the overhang on the end of the bench. This is handy so often that it is another one of those features I would not want to be without.

In fact when I think of an eventual replacement for this bench I think I would like to build in two overhangs in different widths to accommodate various sized work holding scenarios. A wide overhang and a narrow one and then the ability to use both together for even larger things.

I have also toyed around with a shoulder vise in place of my oversized birdsmouth, but I am still on the fence with that one. It turns out when I have a lot of planing to do the speed with which I can insert, remove, check for square and reinsert material in this system is really impressive. I am quite sure that for most jobs a shoulder vise would actually slow me down.

My “Other” bench

Sharpening bench
My “other” bench

My other bench is a sort of stepped affair that most likely does not make much sense without a bit of explanation. It has two surfaces the main one is 30 inches high and the smaller one is 38 inches high. And was built entirely from an old industrial solid core door. The step design was used to accommodate molds for instruments when I was building musical instruments in the 80’s. The mold would attach to the small elevated surface and could be pivoted around 360 degrees. The lower surface would hold my tools and give me a place to work on various components of the instrument without leaving the vicinity of the mold. It worked great. Later on though it became my “fixit” bench with the smaller higher surface used for detail work that I wanted to hold a bit closer to the tip of my nose.

Lately though I am using it almost exclusively as a sharpening bench. The two heights are often quite handy for various sharpening tasks. The post vise usually just holds my strop these days.

Split top saw bench
Split top saw bench

The only other addition is my two saw benches one I made years ago and the other I talk about in detail here.

So happy 30th birthday guys!

I wish it were mine again 😉





my benches
The current bench crew




A new tote for an old friend

Finally fixed my ol’ #26 Stanley.

new tote for my 26
My new tote

I bought this plane about 6 years ago at a flea market for 3 dollars. The sole was completely useless so I immediately put a new maple and purpleheart sole on it. The back tote was broken but tight so I did not worry about it at the time. With the age-old excuse that I will get to that soon.

I guess soon in my world turned out to be 6 years of hard use. But recently that broken tote finally got the better of me, and I replaced it with a nice piece of slightly flamed maple scrap and I think it turned out so well I can’t believe I waited this long to finally fix it.

While I was at it I enlarged the tote slightly since the original was weirdly small compared to other stanleys that I own. But since there was only so much room under the lateral adjuster I had to alter the profile a bit lifting up the angle of the horn and making it a bit beefier at the same time. This changed the “hang” of the tool a bit but after using it a while I think it is a change for the better. Now this workhorse is even sweeter to use. This plane tends to be the first one I grab for rough work. It is a wonderful jack plane. I do not have anywhere near the 8″ camber on it that some guys recommend. Mine is set up with a 15 – 20 inch camber which to my mind makes this plane useful for many more tasks than just hogging off wood. But still allows me to really get some work done when I let it off of it’s chain.

#26 Stanley with new tote
My #26 in all it’s splendor

Now all I have to do is put on a new front tote to match… but I am not holding my breath.

Could just be another 6 years. After all, the front tote is not even broken 😉



Building the Melencolia plane

My next project (I hope).

Melencolia I – Durer

Like many woodworkers I have been fascinated by Durer’s “Melencolia I” woodcut. It is filled with amazing details and more than a few sweet tools.

I have already made a couple of “Melencolia Squares” and have even had a wack at reproducing the batten in the lower right corner. But the gem of the collection is still taunting me, and that is the amazing plane at the angel’s feet. I have looked at this for a while now and even found some examples of attempted reproductions of it on the internet. But looking at it is not really what I need as a builder, I have to make one of these things. Not just for curiosity, or some fixation on old tools (although I am afflicted with both of those things). No, I want to make this plane because I have a sneaky suspicion that this would be a really nice plane to use if built and tuned properly.

The Melencolia Plane

My analysis

Looking at this plane in high resolution I noticed it has some really nice features. Here are a few of the niceties that jumped out to me.

  1. It has a nice open throat for clearing chips. And unlike most wooden planes it has a pleasing rounded shape to the front of the throat which is just perfect for reaching in with your finger to clear the throat.
  2. It has an awesome front tote. All my hand built planes to date have been tote-less(except for my rebuild of a stanley #26) and I think I am ready for the additional challenges this plane provides.
  3. The wedge is also quite decorative(the picture makes it look like a cross between a barn owl’s face and Eddie Munsters hair), however it looks very functional as well when you examine the details, so I do not think this is simply an artist’s imagination at work. I am particularly interested in the business end of the wedge. It looks as if it has a cove running down to the sharp edge. Nevertheless I think shaping and fitting this wedge is going to be the most challenging part of this build. Instead of a simple wedge this is a sort of compound wedge(if it is proper to use such a phrase). If done exactly as shown it would require changing the angle of the shoulder of the journal that the wedge runs in to get a proper fit. I need to consider whether I will exactly match this wedge or cheat a bit by keeping the outer edges of the wedge square with the edges of the wedge. But either way I think this will be a real corker to execute well. My first thought is to cut a wedge with a higher angle, and then plane each side down to the final angle that I will layout on each side of the wedge blank. Then finally rounding the top and chamfering as shown. We shall see.
  4. Finally, I just like the looks of it. I think that shape would feel good in the hands. I am also going to make it on the large side of what the scale of this image allows. I am going for 10″ – 12″ in length and 2.5″ – 3″ overall width.

The Melencolia Square

Other Melencolia tools

I first heard of the “Melencolia Square” from Chris Schwarz’s blog. I have included a link to it here. He also gives free plans here. While I like the way they turned out(sort of a lovechild between a square and a french curve) I do want to make a couple more just to refine the form a bit. I mostly want to increase the width a bit to give me more reference area on the edge. I do not totally want to loose the narrow length to width ratio of the form though. I think it is one of it’s unique features as opposed to more modern forms of layout tools.


The Melencolia Batten

The Batten

I have also made a batten like the one shown in this illustration for securing things to my benchtop. However as I look at this image more and more I wonder if this really was not intended to be used more as a straight edge than as a batten. As a batten it’s narrow cross section does not give as much surface “grip” as a more conventional “doe’s foot” does. So I am thinking straight edge. But that is a matter of highly debatable interpretation. Some people really try to read a lot of things into the “real meaning” of this piece. I just like the tools.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the pic’s! When I get back to my shop I have a long list of “next” things to do. Looks like my list just increased by one.



Building a plane to match my plow plane

plow plane
1/4″ plow plane

Recently I built a fixed fence style plow plane that cuts a 1/4″ groove 1/4″ from the edge of the material. I did this to avoid building a good movable fence which very likely would have been more work than building the rest of the plane. I realized as I thought about it, that most of the work I wanted to do could easily be done with a plane with a fixed fence so why bother with all the added complexity.

finishedOnce I used this plane a few times though I started thinking about how nice it would be to have a matched plane that would cut a tongue so that I could have a dedicated tongue and groove plane set.

I had some leftover steel from an old Stanley blade so I decided to give it a try. Immediately I discovered that I had to make some choices. The most common configuration I have seen by far for a plane like this is to use a single blade with a gap cut in the blade for the tongue and then some kind of depth stop.

Generally, when you are building a tool that has been around for a long time you are working at your own risk to go against convention. There is usually a very good reason that the old tools were built the way they were. However, I was not convinced that I could get a perfect match between the two and once a tool like this is built it is very hard to adjust it. So I made a departure from tradition and essentially made two planes that were bolted together with a spacer between that could be easily adjusted to make various widths of tongues. This way if the tongues were a bit too tight or too loose I could adjust that easily by adjusting the thickness of the center shim.

Preparing the two cutter housings

This did mean however that there were two separate blades in this plane and adjusting the depth of cut would be a bit more of a challenge. Time will tell if this is a good idea or not. I may write a follow up to this story after I have used this plane a while to report on how this experiment works in everyday shop use.

On to the build

I started by making a rough sketch of this plane, since this plane had far more parts than a usual Krenov style plane I wanted to make sure I did not confuse the many pieces at some point and ruin any of my work.

Cutting out the blades.

I began this build like I did the last plane I built – with the blade. Once again I just used what I had on hand, in this case I cut two strips from an old Stanley iron with a cut-off wheel on my Dremel. I find this to be the cleanest and most accurate way to cut tool steel.

After that it just took a few minutes for each blade to clean and straighten them up a bit on the bench grinder and I was ready to build my plane. I always start with the blade because I find it easiest to match my wooden parts to the blade. And worst case scenario, I can always grind the blade slightly later if needed during the final fettling. Making blades our of old stanley blades is not ideal. Ideally the blades should be much thicker. But this is my third plane made with thin blades like this and my first two worked surprisingly well so I have no reason to think that this plane will not.

Blanks for the body

Making the body starts with cutting and thicknessing the various pieces. The thickness is determined by the blades we just made and the thickness of the groove the matching plane cuts. Once done we are ready to start construction.

I decided early on that the easiest way to build this plane would be to build two planes and then find a way to accurately clamp them together around a shim that is exactly the thickness of the groove that my plow plane cuts. Since this is a wooden plane and subject to wear and weather I felt that this design although not as good looking would be longer lasting and easier to tune up later. So overall I did what I usually do which is – to favor function over form.

Preparing the two cutter housings

Step one is cutting the bed pieces for the blades. I choose 48 degrees for the bed and 58 degrees for the wedge, leaving me with a 10 degree wedge. This angle is the one I obsess about the most. Too low of angle on the wedge and it will wedge so tight it is near impossible to remove especially on a plane with light, small irons. Too high of an angle however, and obviously it will not hold the blade tight during use. I have tested this angle a bit and it seems to hold, but comparing it to historical examples I do not think it would be wise to try anything much steeper than 10 degrees. I also cut my wedges a bit narrower in width than the opening, because I have found on my other planes with small narrow irons that it is often easier to loosen the wedge by moving it back and forth in the slot than by the usual smack it with a mallet method. The blades do not seem to have enough mass to shake everything loose on their own.

Fitting the wedge

One final note on this. I plane the wedges to a taper so that they fit very well down near the mouth, but have even side to side play at the top to allow me to loosen them up for sharpening and adjustment.


Glue up is the really important part, I usually cut all my pieces just a bit oversize to allow me to glue up with my wedges in place this saves a lot of hassle later. Truing up the edges with a plane after glue-up is far easier than trying to fit the wedge later by trial and error. So as you can see I glue up with the wedges and blades in place.

Also, do not use any more glue than necessary because too much glue will cause the pieces to swim all over the place making it harder to precisely position them. It will also cause an annoying amount of squeeze out. I find a thin coat on both pieces is the best for this kind of work, rather than my usual thicker coat on one piece and rubbing them together.

Assembly and fettling

Shaping the throat.
Shaping the throat.

Now it is time to begin the challenging part. Getting all these pieces to work together. As I mentioned earlier I built this plane essentially as two planes. One that ejects it chips to the right and one that ejects it’s chips to the left. Between these two planes I am clamping a shim that is the thickness of the tongue that I want to leave in my work. This shim also serves as a depth stop that will bottom out when the tongue is high enough.

This looks like it might be difficult but this is really one of the easiest steps in building a plane like this. You drill a hole with a forstner bit to begin then egg it out with a combination of chisels, gouges, and rasps.

Ready for final assembly
Ready for final assembly

That took me to the point at the right. Now it is time to think about alignment as I finish this project. I started with the center shim and planed it to what I thought would be the final thickness. Then I cut two brass pins 3/32″ in diameter. The diameter does not really matter as long as they are not too thin. I then drill the center shim to receive these pins, making sure they were perfectly square and fit very tight in the holes.

With this done I used the center shim to gauge exactly where the holes in the two planes should fall. Once I was sure of the position I tapped on the pins leaving marks exactly where they needed to be and since the pins were relatively small they penetrated far enough that they served to guide the drill bit.

Now the plane could be assembled and disassembled at will without ruining the alignment. This turned out to be very important because fettling this plane turned out to be a real challenge.

Bolting it all together and shaping
Bolting it all together and shaping

Bolting it all together with large stainless steel machine screws was next. I chose square nuts mostly because the hardware store had some nice looking ones, and as an added bonus square nuts are really easy to let into the wood. I just needed a few taps with a 3/8″ chisel to turn a 3/8″ hole into a 3/8″ square and I was done.

I was pretty excited at this point but in fact I still had a couple of hours of fettling to go before I could honestly say that this plane was a match to my other plane. In the end I needed to add a few sheets of paper to my shim in order to get the fit I wanted between the tongue and the groove my other plane cuts. As big a pain as this plane was to build with two blades and all, I think I am still glad I went this direction. As both planes are wooden planes I expect wear over time, and at that point the complexity that drove me nuts building this plane will become an advantage making future repairs and adjustments relatively easy.


What I learned

  1. Making a plane that works is easy.
  2. Making a plane that works well is harder.
  3. Making a plane that works well and looks great is harder still.
  4. Making two planes that look good, work well, and match each other exactly – CRAZY HARD.

But I had fun, and they both work now. Not sure about the looks though.



Building a plow plane

plow plane
1/4″ plow plane

Building the 1/4″ plow plane

Once again I needed a tool and decided to build it rather than buy it or use the power tool equivalent. I have done this before with a molding plane. This weekend that tool was a 1/4″ plow plane patterned after the groove cutting half of a tongue a groove matched set.

Originally I was going to put on an adjustable fence and a depth stop. But as the build went on I realized that the vast majority of grooves I need to cut are 1/4″ wide and 3/8″ deep and 1/4″ away from the edge of the work. So I built this “one trick pony” of a plow plane. And so far I like it.

Also, I have realized that making this type of plane is not really hard at all. In fact I really like building them. This one took about 3 hours all told. It is made with a slice off of an old stanley plane blade. I cut a 1/4″ strip off of it with a dremel cutting wheel. Then I cleaned it up on the bench grinder. Once I had the blade I built the plane around it.

plow plane parts
Cutting the basic parts

Step one is cutting the parts.

This is a Krenov style plane but instead of 3 parts, this one needs four.

A solid 1/2″ thick piece for the far side of the plane I used soft maple.

A 1/4″ piece cut in 2 pieces at a 47 degree angle. Cut the other face about 6 degrees steeper.

Cut a wedge that matches the V between the two pieces that you just cut as in the picture on the left.

Then cut a 1/4″ piece that will be the spacer between the plow and the fence.

Then cut a 1/2″ piece that is wider than the others by 3/4″ or so for the fence.

Glue up
Glue up the first two layers

Glue up

The only real trick to gluing up this plane is gluing up the first two pieces. As you can see from the picture on the right I glued up the first two pieces with the wedge and blade in place. If you have cut all of your pieces slightly over-size then it can save you a lot of headache to glue up with your wedge and blade in place and perfectly mated. Even if that means that the two angle cut pieces are slightly out of align with the solid piece. You can correct this in a couple of seconds with a plane after the glue dries. Doing it this way is far faster than gluing up and trying to do the final fitting of the wedge later.

Boring the ejection hole

Before you glue up the rest you will want to bore the chip ejection hole as shown in the picture on the left. Notice that the drill cuts into the wedge as well. This will also be very helpful later. All you have to do is cut the wedge blank just below the cutout from the drill.

Now is the time to flip this assembly over and shape the chip ejector chute on the far side of the plane. A combination of chisels, a round rasp, and a half round file should get you most of the way there. If you look closely at the finished picture you will notice that I cut through the web near the throat and opened that area up a bit. This will help the chips to pass through the throat much better.

Shaping the ejection chute
Shaping the ejection chute

Cut through the web at the same angle as the bed of the blade. But make sure to stay away from the bed by the thickness of the blade. This is not as difficult as it sounds, and if you do it right it will create a clear path for the chips to begin their journey up into the ejection chute and off to the side.

The more you do at this stage the easier it is so it is worth the time to get this ejection chute as close to perfect as possible at this stage.

Once this is done you are ready to glue up the other two pieces. I would do this one at a time though, squaring up with a plane after each glue up.

blank ready
Blank ready for final shaping

That will take you to the point at the left. You will notice that I do not have the webbing cut near the throat. When I tested this plane I found out it did nothing but choke that is how I came to the conclusion that I needed to modify the throat. I did this by carefully sawing through the webbing as described earlier. It was much more difficult to do this at this stage of construction which is why I mentioned it in an earlier step.

At this point it is really complete except for the final shaping and adjustments. I chose to go with a very simple rounded block style but if you are feeling more creative the sky’s the limit at this point. Knock yourself out if you like.

Finished plane
The finished plane

Tips for building a plane like this

  • Use the thickest blade you can find. I used a slice of an old stanley blade because that is what I had laying around on the day I made this plane. If you are not building from salvage go thick.
  • Make sure you reduce the thickness of the skate slightly. It will make it run in the groove much, much easier.
  • Use a thicker wedge than the one I used here. This works but I don’t like it. I made that decision on the fly and it was not my best decision.
  • I am still debating my decision on not making an adjustable fence. Don’t be surprised if I write another article about how I retrofitted this plane with an adjustable fence. It is more likely though that I will make a mate for this plane and have a dedicated tongue and groove matched set.


Building a new molding plane

Building a new molding plane

New hollow plane
3/8″ hollow plane

Recently I needed a router bit that I did not have. I looked at my favorite router bit store and they had nothing in the size I needed. So, I was left with no real alternative but to build a plane in that profile… right? (it sounded good in my head anyway)

I saw a plane like this a while ago for sale on the internet and I thought, “how hard could it be?”. Weirdly, it was not actually all that hard. I had an old stanley blade and some cutting wheels for my dremel so I found a few maple scraps and went for it. Some days are just good shop days I had the plane to the shape you see it on the right in just over 3 hours. (I fiddled around for two hours looking for a router bit, just for the sake of comparison.)

That would be the end of the story but it turns out that building the plane to this point was really just the beginning. What I learned is that a plane with a standard top ejection system does not work all that well when you reduce the width of the blade down to the sizes used in smaller molding planes. This plane has a 3/8″ wide cambered blade and when I started to actually use it I learned very quickly why almost all molding planes of this sort have a giant hole drilled through the side. The plane as shown above was almost impossible to keep from fouling. So my initial success was not good enough to really use. It looked like I had to risk a whole afternoons work to try and salvage this project. So I went for my forstner bit and hoped for the best.

side ejection plane
New improved version

It really was a good shop day because just eyeballing the placement of the hole actually turned out pretty well. And now this thing is almost impossible to choke with chips. Finally I am ready to use this plane in place of the router bit I could not find.

That took me to the next thing I learned. Using a plane of this sort requires a fair bit of practice. My first attempts at making a cove in the size I needed turned out horribly. But after destroying a few useless pieces of scrap I learned how to use this plane for making a cove profile in sizes from 3/8″ to 1/2″. The secret it turns out is getting started straight and clean. Once I learned to use a fence to get started I was making consistent successful coves. I was finally able to create a respectable rule joint on the table I am working on, which was the reason I went down this road in the first place.

The construction of this plane was really very straight forward, it is just a Krenov style plane with a rounded bottom. After the success of this plane I plan on making a couple more of these in some other sizes. Curiously the other thing I learned is that I do not need hollow planes as much as I thought I did. I was able to make the bead portion of the rule joint with nothing more than a rebate plane. So for the time being rounds are in and hollows can wait. The blades for hollow planes are really hard to grind and sharpen anyway.



Modern Woodworking Myths

Workshop overview

I have been deeply enjoying the modern revival of hand tools and classical woodworking techniques. I have been a fan of Roy Underhill since the beginning of his career. And Chris Schwarz is  a fantastic spokesman for this movement. However, as with all things, when they gain a certain amount of popularity many things get taught as fact that are at best a matter of opinion if not an outright myth. I am going to try to explain a few of my favorite myths and trends surrounding hand tool woodworking.

  1. The too slippery bench
    • I have heard lots of variations on this one. I have even seen a guy on YouTube take a toothing plane to his freshly minted benchtop so that he can avoid the perils of the “too slippery benchtop”. One of the reasons people don’t want to use film finishes on bench tops (my next myth) is fear of slipperiness. Seriously, I am 55 years old and built my first bench at 13 and never had a mishap due to benchtop slipperiness. Now, I would not want a bench with a formica top or anything ridiculous like that but within reason, smooth is good, because what I have had is little things hiding on my bench that have scratched my work. Smooth makes these pesky little scratchers easier to see and to feel. That is why I cringed at the thought of cutting thousands of little junk catching crevices into an otherwise beautiful benchtop with a toothing plane. I love a silky smooth benchtop because beside being nice to touch, and a benchtop is something I touch a lot, it is also very easy to check for cleanliness with a simple swoosh of my hand. If your work is slipping around you are not clamping it correctly or you have a poorly designed bench. Simply making your benchtop less “slippery” will not fix any of the real problems with design or technique.
  2. No film finishes on bench tops
    • This one is a bit more understandable to me, but this is nothing like a rule. I have been using a bench with a spar varnish finish since 1985. This finish made it very easy to clean up glue drips and since I do not have a hardwood benchtop the spar varnish (especially 30 year old spar varnish) adds a lot of toughness to the top. I recently scraped the finish off stopping just short of the wood’s surface. The benchtop was in remarkable shape for its age. I looked it over, checked it with a straightedge, and threw a coat of BLO on it and called it a day. It is hard for me to criticize a finish that did so well for so long.
  3. The 30 second sharpening technique
    • As tempting as it is to think there is a magical sharpening technique that makes sharpening easy and quick and painless, in my experience there is no such thing. The only thing that will increase your speed at sharpening is practice, and of course not waiting too long between sharpenings. Sometimes it does take only 30 seconds to restore an edge, but don’t count on it. That 30 seconds does not take into account care for your stones, occasional regrinds, nicks, or very dull blades. But don’t worry, sharpening does go quicker with practice and make sure that whatever system you end up going with, you use it for long enough to really get good at it. For me just getting a new stone throws me off for quite some time until I get the feel of the new stone. So use the same tools and practice until you get good with them. Personally I am a hand sharpener because to me the best sharpening system is the the one with the fewest gadgets and tricks. To me the skill is the thing, because the skill will easily transfer to other tasks. Getting good with a jig that holds your blade at the perfect angle is of no use when you need to sharpen a molding plane or a carving gouge.
      • My best advice on all of this:
        •  Sharpen a little bit and often. I think in the long run, this is the fastest and least annoying way to sharpen. Whatever way you ultimately decide is best. Eliminating annoyance is very important. Because if sharpening is annoying or overly-complicated you won’t do it as often as you should.
        • Practice, Practice, Practice…
  4. I need a lot of planes
    • (Oh wait that is actually true)
  5. Bench height
    • There are lots of people out there pontificating on the “correct bench height” or something similar. Many books have been written and many videos have been made. The best advice I ever read on this came from Jim Tolpin’s book. I think Jim gives great advice generally and his discussion on bench height is no exception. In my experience the best height for me when doing general work is around the height of my wrist from the ground. [Updated 3.14.16] Jim Tolpin also recently created a video about calculating bench height which is very, very good, it is based on his recent work with whole number proportions in design from his book By Hand and Eye. I once watched a video by Paul Sellers which I thought was a very sober discussion of the topic as well. He was saying his bench was 38″ high, but then he mentioned he was around six feet tall. Well let’s just say I am not, and leave it at that (lot of bad high school memories there). After doing a bit of basic math I realized that functionally my bench was roughly the same height as his. Before we go any farther let me explain how I really determined the height of all my benches and it turns out they are also all (but one) at my wrist height. I have a small shop (12’x24′), I own a table saw and a compound miter saw, and sometimes I use sheet stock. The table saws height became the standard for my wall length CMS bench as well as my hand tool bench. This way my hand tool bench doubles as an outfeed table for my table saw and my CMS bench becomes a very sturdy outrigger for supporting sheet stock when I am trying reduce 4×8 sheets down to workable sized pieces. So the correct height for all my benches is 34 1/4″. There you have it, the correct answer for bench heights. (kidding) I also have a 30″ and a very small 38″ surface. Both of which are very handy for specific tasks. So my final advice is this, don’t let anyone pull your chain, your bench(s) must fit you, your work, and your shop or they are wrong.
  6. Hating on Boiled Linseed Oil
    • Boiled Linseed Oil or BLO is the second finish I learned to use on wood. I don’t count paint because I consider paint an insult to fine woodworking. You might as well use MDF if paint is the final destination. Just my opinion, I know paint is a trend that comes and goes and now I guess I need to learn to use Milk Paint. sigh. Anyway I was taught about BLO in 8th grade shop class. Mostly because it was basically impossible to screw it up and it could be done in a dusty shop with and bunch of kids messing around. Now I know BLO is not the be all and end all of finishes far from it. Especially if you wish to get paid for your work. A good BLO finish literally takes forever, you are never really done. But there are certain applications for BLO that nothing I have ever used can match.
      • Hand tools – Infinite repairability and a tactile sense that nothing else can match make this the ultimate tool finish as far as I am concerned. And if they get scratched or start looking dull and lifeless you just put on another coat and it will take on the most satisfying glow of any finish I know. Plus if you miscalculate and find you need to use that tool one more time before the end of the day you just pick it up and use it. no harm, no foul. Try that with any other finish beside maybe wax and see what happens. And wax makes me uncomfortable because other finishes are effected by it. BLO is compatible with most things (not water based I assume but then I don’t really like water based finishes for wood either).
      • Bench tops – BLO is the only finish that just keeps getting better year after year. I have 2 benches turning 30 this year that have had countless coats of BLO applied over the years and they really have that awesome deep glow and silky feeling that I absolutely love. It does not make your benchtop too slippery (see notes above) and it is infinitely fixable. And the best part is that you can re-coat it naturally every time you finish something else (with oil) on your bench. Whatever dribbles or is left over you simply rub into your benchtop. It’s a win, win.
      • In combination with turpentine and spar varnish – this finish has been a real workhorse for me over the last 40 years. I have written a more detailed article about the application process for this finish. I actually make it in 3 flavors depending on the characteristics I am after. I use a 3 digit code on my containers to keep track of them.
        • 111 – This is 1 part Spar, 1 part Turpentine, 1 part BLO. This is the classic homemade oil finish it works well but dries a bit slow. But it does dry unlike BLO by itself.
        • 221 – This is one I use a lot – 2 parts Spar, 2 parts Turpentine, 1 part BLO. This is a very thin deep penetrating finish with a proportionately higher content of varnish making it an excellent sealing finish. It dries within 24 hours and within 3 or 4 coats sanding lightly between gives you a sheen and texture that is warm and soft with no surface build up. It is like very smooth richly colored wood. You don’t notice the finish at all, just the beauty of the wood.
        • 122 – I will let you do the math on this one. This has the slowest drying of the three but has enough spar in it to help it really set up. I usually just use BLO instead of this one. But it is useful in it’s place.
  7. Metal Bench Dogs
    • This is my personal rant. I think I understand historically why they would put metal teeth on bench stops and so forth. But I have to admit to being puzzled at why this trend has continued. I do not own any bench dogs that have not at some point been at least grazed by an edge tool. Every time one of these little mishaps occurs I find myself thinking, if that were a metal dog I would be sharpening this tool now. Then I smile and continue working with my nice sharp edge tool. Now I see two main reasons why people use metal bench dogs.
      1. That is what  everyone sells – since wooden ones can be made for virtually nothing by anyone. No market there.
      2. To withstand the earth shattering pressures applied by modern tail vises, etc. I would say, don’t use that much pressure it will only distort and/or damage your stock. Plus, if you have to put that much force into holding something, there is probably a better way to hold your work.
      3. The only metal dog that makes any sense at all(but I still don’t use them) is the old time dog with teeth on the top that is designed to keep your work from riding over the dog. Learn good technique with your planes and be more thoughtful when flattening your work and this will not be a problem in my experience.
    • Personally I use a full width wooden bench stop that is height adjustable and as simple as oatmeal, and it has the added feature of directing most of the chips off your bench and on to the floor which is where they belong. I usually do not have to secure the work at all. When I do, a batten or small wooden benchdog or even a holdfast will do the trick.  I also have a V notched piece of MDF that I use to hold smaller stock for edge work. No clamps, no dogs, no expensive vises. I feel I need to give Jim Tolpin proper credit for this little gizmo since I adapted it from a picture is his book as well. Once I made this I could not imagine being without it. It is on my benchtop as much as my bench hook.
    • Plane stop
    • What benchdogs do I use? – Mostly the worlds simplest wooden bench dogs. A piece of 3/4″ dowel and a scrap of hardwood with a hole in it. They sit in my holdfast holes as needed and I keep a box of them under my bench in different sizes and thicknesses. I never find myself wishing they were made of brass or steel.
    • Wooden Bench dog

      bench dogs
      Dogs working in a pack

That is my take on current trends in woodworking. Sometimes the simplest answers really are the best.



I will never see a saw the same again


Recently, I built a dovetail saw using parts from Blackburn Tools. It was a fun project but far more challenging than I anticipated.

I bought all the metal parts as a kit from Blackburn Tools, I already had the rosewood and figured it would be a fairly simple project. This was before I started cutting. Shaping the handle was actually fun, I had a variety of templates that I downloaded from Two Guys in a Garage. I chose a handle design with two bolts since that is what was included in the kit. But it was about at this time that I really started to appreciate the saw makers art.

I decided it was time to cut the saw kerf to receive the blade and I thought I would try a technique that I found on YouTube. It was a simple enough looking plan that involved pinching the new blade between two pieces of wood and clamping the whole stack to the bench top. Simple enough. Then I began slowly working the saw into the wood exactly in the middle. Again no problem  – until I got in deeper and the thin blade began to follow the grain in the handle blank. Not a lot but enough. Well I fought with this a while and finally got the saw kerf what I considered at the time to be “good enough” (it wasn’t but I went on). I thought it was time to drill for the split nut saw bolts I had. I learned for the 1000th time that speed and confidence can be a good way to waste material and time.

Long story short. I cut a new blank and left the other one on my bench to remind me to be more careful.

The next thing I learned about building a back saw is that the mortise for the back needs to be let in with a freakish level of accuracy. My brother is a machinist and I am sure he would have been horrified by the way I did this with a chisel and a mallet. But I finally got the mortise done and was ready to try to put the whole thing together. The fit was not bad but I did have to shim one side with a piece of paper in order to keep the blade from distorting when the bolts were tightened down. A few thousandths is enough to make a difference here.

I then set the back on the blade according to the instructions on Blackburns site (very helpful site). And sharpened it up as a rip saw with a 0 degree rake angle. I was so excited until I tried to cut something with it and found that it was not a smooth cutting saw at all. The hang angle was not what it should of been it turns out. After reading a couple of articles on hang angle and contemplating making yet another handle for this saw I found another article on Blackburns site discussing the relationship between hang angle and rake angle. After relaxing my rake angle by 4 degrees I finally had a saw that I truly enjoyed using.

Now I just need to put about 10 more coats of Boiled linseed oil on the handle until it looks and feels the way I like it.

Bottom line, there is a reason why quality saws are expensive. But it was fun to build a saw from the ground up, I learned more about how a saw works in the few days I worked on this saw than in all the years of previous woodworking combined. (Which is more years than I care to mention.)

If you decide to do this save yourself a ton of trouble and read the entire set of articles on the Blackburn site that takes you from start to finish in the process of building a saw. You will be glad you did.



Tool chest or wall storage?

2013-12-31 16.49.22

Lately it seems there has been endless buzz around building tool chests. Recently I joined the fray and built a small Dutch tool chest myself and found it to be an extremely rewarding project. However, in practice I am not sure a tool chest is always the right choice as a way to organize and store your tools. In fact I think the real question becomes, “How, or possibly more important where, do I work?”.  Am I working in a dedicated shop space, or am I working in a shared space. Do I need to travel with my tools? These questions are the most important to me when deciding what kind of tool storage to build.

Twenty-five years ago I built a toolbox in the “french fit” style. The whole thing had no wasted space. Everything went together like a jigsaw puzzle. At the time I was moving across the country and did not want to leave all my tools behind. I had visions of opening up this sweet toolbox and working wherever and whenever I could find the time and the space, since I was leaving my basement workshop behind. The problem is, it turns out that that kind of toolbox is really not very handy when it comes time to actually use it. You end up taking everything out when you want to do some actual work and then take a bunch of time to fit it all back in again when you are done. I think of that toolbox often when I look at works of art like the Studley toolchest. It’s fun to look at, but does it really work as anything but a beautiful piece of storage art? I can’t even imagine working on an actual project and needing a tool buried in that massive tangle of tools.

Some years later I once again had a dedicated workshop space. It took me no time at all to abandon that toolbox and put all my tools on nice accessible shelves. In the 40+ years I have been involved with woodworking I think I have to say that tool chests of all kinds should only be used if you have to travel a lot with your tools. If you have a consistent work space, by far the most efficient way to store tools is on simple (or relatively simple) shelves. In my experience the best tool storage is to put your tools on shelves that are easily visible and take the specific tools you want for the operation at hand and move them to your workbench tray.  Or a shelf under your workbench. Shelf – not a drawer and not a cabinet, it is all about visibility and easy access as far as I am concerned. Any storage system that does not offer those two features in abundance is an inferior system in my opinion. The other huge  advantage of using this system is it takes up no floor space. And unless you have an enormous shop, floor space is your most valuable commodity.

These days the only things I keep in drawers are things I need to keep absolutely clean, like paper. Or small things I don’t use very often like various drill and router bits or my files and rasps. But I know exactly where each of those items are so it still works. For the rest of my things it is shelves.

You may notice that they are not pretty. You are right, but they work and they are easy to change and rearrange as my tool set and needs change. Building a work of art with a place for everything you own is great until you get a couple of new tools. Then what? Build a new work of art? Not if you like to build something other than tool chests and cabinets.
So for my money (and time), a combination of shelves and the trays on my bench are the most flexible and efficient setup.

One final comment, Christopher Schwarz makes a pretty big deal about dirt and its relationship to rust. I would make two comments on that. If your tools are gathering dust you should probably sell them because you are not using them enough. I’m kidding (sort of), but I will say with all seriousness that one of the huge advantages in moving to using primarily hand tools is that my shop stays remarkably clean now. And my second comment is if you live in a damp area you need to do whatever is necessary to protect your tools. I have lived in a humid area with a basement shop and now I live in a dry area with a heated shop. The need for protection from the elements varies widely depending on where you live and work.  Do what you have to but don’t obsess on this unless you are having real problems. The sweat from my (or my grandchildren’s) hands is the biggest worry where I live, and that is easy enough to manage.

To sum up

  1. If you work in a consistent dedicated space, use shelves and move whatever tools you need immediately to your bench. Make sure your shelving is not so fancy that you can not easily change and update it.
  2. If you work in a shared space, then build a tool chest similar to the anarchist’s tool chest. Make sure it has good wheels on it and leave it as open as you can.
  3. If you can not store your tools in the space where you work then look at something like a dutch chest. And I would suggest that you build a modular unit with a separate upper and lower chest. Making sure that neither of the chests is bigger or heavier than you can move around by yourself.


Small Dutch Tool Chest

My grandson is coming of age and wanted some tools for Christmas. This was just the excuse I needed to build a small dutch tool chest. I opted to build a smaller than usual Dutch tool chest with no lower storage. As he was only 10 I did not think he needed a very big toolbox to start off. However, as I got into this project I was surprised by just how much space was available even in a single compartment chest. 2013-12-31 16.49.07

A standard Dutch toolchest has a much shallower main compartment with another compartment under it that you access through a removable front panel. Since this was for a young boy with few tools and even less space I opted for this design. A deeper main compartment with three small removable sliding tills.

2013-12-31 16.49.22

So using Christopher Schwarz’s method for guaging the depth of the top compartment I measured the depth of the biggest tool that would be stored in this space and made sure it would fit under the tills. This left and overall height of about 16 to 18 inches. For the depth I just made it the depth of a standard 1×12.


2013-12-31 17.05.11

The tills are stepped in height and ride on oak rails glued along the apron in front of the tool rack and the front of the case.

2013-12-31 17.05.40





After making a couple of marking gauges, squares, and clamps. I had a tool kit ready for Christmas morning.

2013-12-31 16.48.43
2014-01-07 18.27.072014-01-07 18.25.46