Category Archives: Product Reviews

Fair reviews of stuff that I have tried and liked

Quick update and local news

A few readers have asked if I’m still alive and/or building things out of wood.  I’m confirming both to the affirmative.  Thanks for the notes!  I suppose an update is in order.

All_T11s_1

You may have noticed that I just posted a lot of tools on my “for sale” page.  Don’t panic!  I haven’t quit woodworking and I’m not planning to die anytime soon.  I’m just reducing the number of tools that I have in my shop.  After my trip to a LN Hand Tool event, I’ve been hooked.  I’ve been switching over to LN planes (slowly) and I just haven’t been using the Stanleys as often.  I’m the type of person who can not keep things that I’m not using, so these tools can go to new homes if people will give me a fair price for them.

teacher

In other news, I’m scheduled to teach another hand plane class at the woodwork shop in Memphis, TN on April 25.  Watch that date – it may change to May.  I hope lots of people turn out because the class is always fun.  I really enjoy introducing people to the experience of using a well-tuned plane.  I never tire of seeing the fun people have when they experience how easy it is to surface wood with a sharp iron and good technique.

Now, for the “update”.  What have I been doing?  My middle daughter (call her K) expressed an interest in robotics a few months ago.  Thanks Disney and Big Hero 6.  I didn’t need much encouragement to pursue this interest since it involves making things and learning about new stuff.  I decided that building drones would be a fun way to teach/learn robotics, so that has consumed most of my shop time recently.

airplane_1 Airplane_4

Daughter (K) and nephew (J) really enjoy their time at the local R/C airfield.

Naturally, I’ve been working on what is called “scratch builds”.  Designing and building toys airplanes is just as fun as building furniture, it’s just a lot more temporary.  One crash and they are done.  I’ve developed a reputation at the R/C airfield for trying crazy designs – that fly a little crazy.

Airplane_3 Airplane_2

I can testify that a french workbench is also an excellent workbench for other building hobbies.

Least you think that I’m done with wood – fear not.  I’ve been working on some “staked furniture” as described by CS in his excellent new book.  I’m reading it now and will post a review when I’m done.  Suffice to say it is excellent and the techniques he describes can make the process of building nice furniture faster and easier than you think.  Buy it.

3_stools

Recent experiemental builds – 2 stools and a staked sawbench

Here are 3 things I’ve built recently as experiments.  The sawbench (far right) is a test of strength.  The legs are only 3/4 inch diameter at the top.  I wanted to test the limits of this staked technique.  It can hold 200 lbs with little trouble, providing the floor is not slippery.  That’s impressive considering how spindly the legs and top are.  It is super light, which is helpful for this shop appliance.  The carved stool on the left was an experiment in carving a seat.  Not great, but still surprisingly comfortable.  The stool in the middle is my best so far.  I plan to build 3 more like it next.  I should be able to do a build series on it, so stay tuned.  I think that’s all I can type for now.

Bob Jones

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Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event, Nashville

big-sign

I guess I should have sent out a notice before this event to help publicize it, but surely anyone who was interested would know before they read my little blog.

I attended my first ever Lie Nielsen (LN) Hand Tool Event last weekend.  LN does these events all over the country, but this is the closest they have ever come to Memphis.  Since the event was “free” it was pretty easy to justify a little road trip for my wife and me.  We made a fun weekend of it.  I got the LN event and she got a fancy dinner and a trip to the mall.  Spend – spend.

other_makers

Nice necklace, Scott.  He just made it of a really long shaving.

I think it’s great than LN invites other makers to their events.  This was a real plus for everyone.  Scott Meek (of Scott Meek Woodworks) and Josh Nava of Suburban Pallet were positioned at the front door.  It was fun to talk with both of them and try out Scott’s wooden body planes.  I don’t think I’m ready to give up my metal bodies just yet, but Scott’s planes are excellent.  He has a unique rear grip that felt great, but is hard to describe.  It’s kinda like shaking hands with a plane.  You just have to try it, but keep in mind that it is dominant hand specific.  Thankfully he had one left handed model for me to test out.  Scott was also showing a prototype low-angle spoke shave.  Sorry no pics, but it worked so well that I put myself on the list to buy one when he gets it all worked out.  It looked pretty similar to one that Bob R. is making now on his blog, but Scott is using hardware from Hock tools.

Josh was selling / making spoons.  As a failed spoon carver, I was impressed with his work.  Lindsay (my wife) was also impressed with his craft and bought a butter spreader at a good price.  Check out his website here.

Ft_houston

Sorry, no pics of the LN area.  I was too busy playing with the tools to take pictures.  You can find lots of those online anyway.

I also met a few LN reps that were really helpful.  First was Deneb Puchalski.  I’ve seen some of his youtube videos, so I recognized him right away.  In his videos he’s really controlled and level – not so in person.  He’s a colorful sort who enjoys a good argument more than I do (which is quite a bit).  He spent a lot of time answering all of my questions and trying to convince me that my Stanley planes and planing technique needed improvement.  I tried his technique, but was unconvinced.  His planes were more convincing.  I’m partial to my souped-up Stanley’s, but I see the advantages to the Lie Nielsen’s.  I think I may need one or two of them to know for sure, but I’ll have to find some extra cash for that experiment.

Another helpful rep was Keaven.  She’s a woodworker who works for LN (not just road trips).  She has a great blog at K.Willa.Designs. Her blog is a useful one for woodworkers because it covers topics that are adjacent to woodworking like refinishing and upholstery.  I’ve read a few of her upholstery posts and she has me thinking I could try that sometime.  Lindsay did say we needed a new couch. Hmmm

The real point of this post was to say that if you are ever able to attend one of these events, do it.  For those who can’t spare the time or cash to spend weeks at classes or tour distant tool showrooms, this is almost the only way to try out these premium tools without buying them.  Besides, these events are “free”.  There is no admission, but don’t expect to leave there with as much money as you brought with you.  I know I didn’t.  The tools were just too tempting.

Bob Jones

The worst chisel review, ever.

chisels_1

3 types of commonly available “mid-level” chisels

A good review would show plenty of close-ups of important details on the chisels and tell you how many mallet swings it takes to dull the tool in several types of wood.  This is not that kind of review, so stop reading now if that is what you need.  This is a more touchy-feely review.

I’m not big on reviewing multiple options of any one thing.  The biggest problem is that it involves buying more than one of the same thing.  No sponsors here, and no ironmongers sending me stuff to review (maybe this year?).  For this instance I will make an exception because I recently decided to experiment with different chisels and I learned a little in the process that I think could benefit others.

chisels_2

Here are the chisels in this comparison.  From left to right are Ashley Iles Mk2, Vintage Stanley Sockets, and new Stanley Sweetheart 750’s.  The picture shows a 3/4 and 1/4 inch of each type, which are the sizes that I use most often.

Ahley Iles Mk2 bevel edge chisels (on the left)

These were my primary user chisels for a few years.  They are excellent.  I have no complaints and no cons.  They are made from good steel that dulls without chipping the edge which makes them easy to sharpen and resharpen.  I always thought they held an edge well.  One really nice feature is the slight hollow grind on the back, which makes initial flattening really fast.  Highly recommended.  Buy them from Joel at TFWW and support a support a good business.

Vintage Stanley socket chisels (in the middle)

The two chisels in the middle do not really qualify as 750’s, but they are good vintage chisels.  I bought these from a reputable tool dealer because I wanted to see what the fuss was about with socket chisels.  Vintage tools are always the riskier option because you never know what you will get until you set them up and use them a while.  The steel has a lot of history that can be checkered.  As with all vintage tools initial sharpening took a while.  Small pitts on the back had to be lapped out and the bevels needed to be correctly ground.  After the initial sharpening I was really impressed.  These chisels felt different in my hands than my AI chisels.  Without thinking, I tend to hold these at the base of the socket in use.  I generally held the AI’s by the handles.  Overall they were great, except the time required to put them to work and the variability that is inevitable in vintage iron that may or may not have been abused by former hacks owners.

New Stanley Sweetheart 750 chisels (on your right)

I bought the 8 piece set on a splurge. I paid full price from my friends at the woodwork shop. They are surprisingly light, which feels great with the smaller ones but a little strange with the two largest. Why buy them?  I liked the vintage sockets and I thought the new ones may be even better.  I’d say they are a close tie, straight out of the box.  As received, the Stanley’s all have lands (edges) that are too thick for my liking.  The Ashley Iles chisels spoiled me, I suppose.  Other than the lands, these are great chisels.  Made in the UK, and priced in the “middle” of modern options.  You can’t go wrong with them for cabinet work.

chisels_3

My improved Stanley Sweetheart 750, 3/4inch chisel

I decided to take a chance on a modification of the new Stanley’s.  I asked a machinist friend who is good with a grinder to make the Stanleys look more like my AI chisels.  He did a commendable job, don’t you think?  After this improvement to the Stanleys, I sold the Ashley Iles.  I learned that I really liked the feel and balance of the socket chisels and with the lands now even, the edge went to the Stanley’s.  I sold the vintage Stanleys because I didn’t want to grind down the lands of the vintage chisels.  It just seemed wrong.

The new Stanley’s are really nice and were easy to sharpen.  The backs were all pretty flat.  I will admit, that if I had not ground the lands down, the Ashley Iles would have won out.  They are made to perfection, for a tanged chisel for cabinet work.

Why bother to post the “worst” review of anything? Because there is a lesson to learn.  There is no perfect tool, there is only the silly desire for perfection in our possessions.  The drive to have the best thing out there, or at least the best thing we can find today.  If I could stop this stupid behavior, I would live happier and longer.  I don’t think I can stop anymore than you.  To perfection we will strive!

Bob Jones

Building a bench in a weekend

 

Have you ever taken a weekend woodworking class?  I hadn’t before this month.  I made the drive up to Nashville, TN with a friend to build a bench with Greg Pennington.

Greg-teaching Greg-tenon_cutter

Greg was a great instructor and kept no trade secrets.  His unique techniques made the process of joining the legs and the top much easier than I expected.  I had to do very little math, which helps reduce errors.  I was a little surprised that he uses the 5/8 inch Lee Valley tenon cutter that I mentioned in my last post.  Apparently that tool is not just for rookies like me with no lathe.  Greg gave lots of tips on how to use mine more efficiently, which I will share in time.

Greg_lasers

Greg has updated traditional alignment techniques by using lasers in several steps of the process.  He has described it on his blog.  I really liked using the lasers and plan to us them whenever I get done with this monstrous dresser project. No update on the dresser, but I’m making progress on it.

Bob-lathe

I was able to turn for the first time – what a nice lathe that OneWay is!

At the shop

Hanging out at Greg’s shop was a blast for a woodworker (I’m eating a camp style dinner on the shop porch).  

Ok, the highlight of the trip was staying in the shop.  Yep, I slept in the loft on my camping cot.  Greg and his family were gracious hosts and let my friend and I stay in the shop all weekend.  It was a great environment and I was able to play in the shop from the time I woke up until I was too tired to move.  The environment of the shop was perfect for working.  I missed my family, but I was sorry to leave.  If only my family would be willing to uproot and live in the bunk house. Hmm…

Project_complete

Completed benches and happy students ready for the trip back to Hernando, MS.

What’s the most valuable thing I got from the class? Confidence. Greg took something that I previously thought was really complicated and unpacked it into understandable pieces. This type of joinery is still not simple, but it is now obtainable. Thanks Greg!

Bob Jones

Book Review – Going with the Grain, Making Chairs in the 21st Century

Green_work

I haven’t made much progress on my dresser recently, and it is mostly because I’ve been dabbling in some green woodworking, following the instructions in Mike Abbott’s book, Going with the Grain, Building a Chair in the 21st Century.

Book

This is really more than a book review, it’s also a process review.  The author of this book, Mike Abbott teaches green woodworking courses in a magical woodworking Neverland in the UK and has for many years.  In this book, he has documented exactly how he teaches the art of building chairs from green wood.  And I do mean EXACTLY.  This is a picture book that is detailed beyond any other woodworking source (DVD’s included) I’ve ever seen. This book was designed to show anyone precisely what to do in building a chair with green techniques and why they should.  Typically, I’m far too prideful to follow any published plans too closely, but while reading this book I decided that Mike made his process look so easy that I had to try it just like he teaches it.  He lays out the whole process from the perspective of someone who has no tools and no experience building anything. It starts with the tools required (probably obtained for less than $300) then moves in to building a shaving horse with construction grade lumber.  To his credit, he skipped the token 2 pages on sharpening tools.  He covered that in his other book (Living Wood), and there is tons of sharpening instruction freely available online.

 

Reading

One day I expect I will build a pretty, hardwood shaving horse.  In the meantime, this version that took me 2 hours to build is no compromise on functionality (only looks and comfort).  I built it 100% to Mike’s specifications, including a hardwood pin, which is the first thing I made using the shave horse.  I’m not publishing a how-to here because that is well documented in his book (you should buy it).

Club

I then turned to the next page and made a club (in the trustworthy hands of my nephew) with a piece of red oak firewood, again following his step by step process. The dabbling that I have been doing now is learning to use my froe and drawknife to make the first furniture project in the book – a footstool.  I thought this simple little stool was beneath me, but I decided that since these green techniques were new to me, I should start with the stool.

Stool_parts

I haven’t finished the stool yet, but I’m close.  Here’s all the pieces that I have so far.  I’m waiting for the rails/rungs to finish drying out so I can knock them into the legs. I rate this book as excellent for how-to instruction and highly recommend it to anyone considering building chairs.  Even if you think you want to saw chairs out of kiln dried lumber, this book is a great source and may convince you to find a fresh cut log instead.

Enough glowing, there are 2 problems opportunities with the book.  First, it was definitely written for woodworkers who love their Queen.  Almost all sources listed are UK based and all dimensions are given in metric (most have conversions given in Imperial).  If you can’t convert units (1 inch = 25.4mm), try Google.  (Apparently a new 2nd edition corrects this.)

One plus for North Americans is easy access to the only proprietary tool he recommends, the Lee Valley 5/8 inch tenon cutter.  So, living in North America actually makes it easier to follow this distinctive teaching.

The second issue is that he generally goes from the tree in the woods to completed chair in a week or so.  Why is that a problem?  Mike “turns” tenons while the wood is very green and plans for them to shrink into ovals (like a naturally wedged M&T).  This is fine and good if you are working with wood that is still dripping wet, but what about wood that is semi-green, or closer to dry?  I’m currently working with some cherry that I quartered a few months ago, and I’ve tried to keep green.  In my experimenting so far, this wood does not shrink up as much as Mike teaches, but he shows what to do in this case.

FYI – I’m working on a modified technique for semi-green wood.  I’ll post it here if it works (and if it doesn’t). After I finish the foot stool, I hope to build a few bar stools for our kitchen and then a spindle back chair (or 6).  Both of these builds are covered in this book in plenty of detail.  I’m really enjoying the process of green woodworking.  There is just something great about dominating a massive log with a wedge and maul, then finessing firewood with a froe and drawknife to yield the pieces needed that makes you feel like you can make anything.  That’s a powerful feeling.

Bob Jones

Quick review – Firestone Knife Sharpener

FireStone

Kitchen knives are used in the kitchen, but the camera was already set up in my shop.

No, this is not strictly woodworking, but it is about tools.  I recently picked up a Firestone Knife Sharpener from my friends at the woodwork shop, and I really like it.  I have been looking for a simple way to sharpen kitchen knives and this thing is just that – simple and consistent.  I was using my Lansky set, but that took a long time (maybe it was just me) and replicating the bevel angle is not as easy as it looks.  This Firestone is super quick and gets a nice edge.  The first time I used the Firestone I sharpened 3 kitchen knives in about 15 minutes.  They went from really dull to sharp and it was super simple.  Just hold the knife vertical and draw it through the coarse stones a few times, then the fine stones a few times.  During the first few draws over each stone I felt a little chatter.  I figure that must be the burr on the edge being worn away by the stones. After the first few draws the chatter was gone and the blade was sharp.

I’ve now used it to sharpen my primary kitchen knife at least 4 times (letting it dull naturally between) and I’m still really happy with the sharpener.  Each time I sharpen the process gets faster and seems to have a better edge.  I’m really impressed.  Anyone who has learned to sharpen knows that it is easier to get a great edge once than it is to consistently get a great edge.  Not bad for less than $25!

Bob Jones

The most original woodworking book in the last decade

By_Hand_Eye

I enjoy reading woodworking books.  Each one I read makes me better at my favorite hobby.  I read books focused on hand tools because that is what I enjoy most.  This generally means reading books written before 1950 (or 1800).  There are a few exceptions to this, but people have been using hand tools for woodworking for a long time so coming up with “original” content that is relevant must be difficult.

What is original?  I just finished reading “By Hand & Eye” by George Walker and Jim Tolpin.  I highly recommend the book.  When I first heard of the concept, I placed my order right away.  Why? It’s a woodworking book that is not about tools, particular furniture styles, or methods of building.  It’s about learning how to design good looking stuff.  I can’t think of any woodworking book that is similar.

I’m an engineer by training, so form follows function (and only function) with me.  I have built more than one piece of furniture that I designed but was not happy with the look.  After reading this book, I understand more about what “looks right” and more about how to get there through thoughtful design.  I didn’t need the drafting lessons in the book, although they are very complete and helpful. I didn’t need the project ideas in the back, but they are good starting materials.  I needed the understanding of what was already in my mind.  Before reading this book I could look at something and know right away if it “looked right” or not, but I could not place what was wrong.  Now I have a better sense for “right” & “wrong” – aka proportionate or disproportionate.  After I got into the book, I started noticing elements in the design of everything around me that I have never seen before.  I’m measuring buildings, cars, people (not too closely on this one), and furniture with my eyes to see what looks right and what does not.  It really is an eye opening experience.

I found this book very original, even though I did not notice anything in the book that was invented by George or Jim.  The originality was their idea that we should explore designs that have been around for 1,000’s of years.  This approach is original in the new woodworking book market.  I enjoyed how they distilled tons of established references and made classic design lessons easy to grasp.

I will say the writing of the book is unconventional.  It is conversational and there are two authors who are talking to the reader.  They make it work pretty well, but it is different from other “how to” books.  Also, some of Mr. Walkers writings (his blog and PWW articles) are eye opening but others leave me scratching my noggin.  This book is the eye opening writing style – no guesswork.

So, read it today and improve your designs.  Maybe this book will move you from following magazine article sketches to design your own pieces.  It’s not rocket science.

tool_cabinet_edited

My tool cabinet – the design was refined using tips from Mr Walkers PWW articles.

Bob Jones