New Traveling Tool Box #2

My first efforts for the new tool box addressed the empty canvas of the lid verso.  As with the retrofitting of the large vintage tool chest for my 18thC tool demos (more about that much later) I decided the underside of the lid would be a good place for the saws that did not neatly fit elsewhere in the toolbox.  So, I made some fittings and hung the saws there.

The first step in this was to trim the tip of the lovely little panel saw that was oversized by about a half inch.  By rounding the top corner of the saw tip it fit the space diagonally just right.

The size and configuration of the exquisite Knew Concepts saw frame made it a problematic fit in the inner space, so it wound up being hung here as well.  It was overlaid on the panel saw and my re-fashioned Tyzak dovetail saw was inserted in-between.  The void in the center of the coping saw was just right for the DelVe square to hang right there.

SawWorks I – Buying

I read recently that my old friend and Martin Donnelly auction companion Josh Clark is dispersing Tom Law’s inventory of saws.  I did not know Tom well but I always tried to find a few minutes to chat with him during the PATINA annual tool extravaganza.  He knew more about saws in his pinkie finger than almost any woodworkers know in their whole bodies and was an indefatigable rescuer and rehabilitator of old saws.  In a way it does not surprise me that his inventory was roughly one thousand saws at the time of his death.  It makes my “collection” of two dozen carpenter’s handsaws puny by any comparison.

All of the saws in my “collection” are or will be working saws, most that I have purchased at tool swaps and the like.  I have an approach to selecting a vintage saw for use (or gifting) with the menu of features including the following.

Saws Are Like Pizza

This is a near-perfect candidate for my own tool kit. The plate is heavy, the tip is nearly 3″ wide, indicating it has not been re-toothed, the surface rust is pretty minor (the pitting after cleaning will be minor), and the planarity is nearly perfect. The slight flattening and sharpening will be demonstrated in coming posts.  Plus, it was only five bucks at a MWTCA shindig.

Like pizza a vintage saw plate better have lotsa meat.  I like saw plates that have not been used or sharpened a lot, definitely not re-toothed.  I like them to be not only thick in gauge but also as wide as possible.  In other words, in “as new” configuration even if not in “as new” condition.

No Bad Skin Cancer

A little surface rust is fine, maybe even a little more than that, providing the overall strength/integrity of the plate is intact.  It only takes me a minute to determine whether the surface can be polished enough to make the tool work smoothly.

Unlike Elected Officials, No Kinks

I know that real saw maestros can reclaim a badly bent saw plate, but I do not possess the skill nor the desire to do so.  I don’t mind a teensy bit of bend in the plate, providing it is not literally creased, but a gentle level of un-planarity can be addressed easily and quickly.  There are many videos on-line to show how this is done, the best one for me is Bob Rozaieski’s video.

He’s The One With A Full Set Of Teeth.

Many years ago I was trying to identify one of the colorful local fellows to Mrs. Barn, and I was getting nowhere with my attempt.  Old guy.  White beard.  Glasses.  Baseball cap.  I was having no luck sparking her memory as that list describes 90% of the men in the region.  Then I latched on to the descriptor that prompted her memory.  “He’s the one with a full set of teeth.”  Immediately she knew who I was talking about.

That also describes what I want when buying a vintage hand saw.  All the teeth, in good condition.  It’s okay if they need sharpening, but they all gotta be there and in good overall shape.  Once you master saw sharpening it becomes quite pleasurable to do.

No Need for a Handle

The handle is of little importance to me.  If it is in nice condition and a configuration I want that’s fine.  The saw handle in this image was somehow married, and mutilated in the matchmaking, to the plate it was on when I got this saw (all the nut holes were wallowed out to somehow “fit” the holes in the plate).  What was once a very nice handle has been ruined and ready for the kindling pile.

Making a saw handle is actually a lot of fun and can be a great act of creativity using a piece of wood you want and your own hand as the template.

If a saw meets these criteria, I’m good to go provided the price is right.

Sharpening Set-up Tip

Here’s a sharpening tip I have used for the past several years.

In order to get the back-bevel secondary angle consistent and effortless, many folks use the “ruler method” and rest the back side of the blade on a metal ruler to get the back bevel/micro secondary bevel.  Since some of my machinists’ rules have different thickness, in addition to the preference for not using an actual rule since they can move during the process, I pulled out a thin brass strip from my supply box and cut and bent it to fit the stone in question.

By overbending the tips a smidge the metal strip is basically spring-loaded into place, thus the micro-bevel jig stays put during the final few strokes of sharpening.

The brass strips are available at almost any hardware or hobby store, usually for a dollar or two.  Obviously you could use any thin strip of sheet metal as well, flashing would work just fine.

Visiting An Old Friend

During our recent visit to Youngerbarndottir and Li’l T I arranged to travel a few dozen miles to visit my long-time friend “Jersey Jon” of American Pickers fame.  Jon is one of the smartest and most creative people I have ever met, not only exceedingly talented but extraordinarily skilled at a whole host of activities.  I am honored to be in his circle of friends and colleagues.

His reputation as perhaps the world’s leading expert on the history and restoration of pre-WWI motorbikes is well deserved.  We spent a few hours rummaging around his old bank building as he described a never-ending menu of upcoming projects.

One mind-blowing project was his need to rebuild this crankcase of a very early motorbike engine that had blown itself to smithereens.  As we noodled the process and outcome of the project, I was pleased to realize that the smelting furnace I gave him two years ago was likely to be integral to the solution to the problem of getting this ultra-vintage motor bike back on the road.

It could have been a much longer visit but he was on the countdown to leaving the next morning for a fortnight of Pickers filming.

New Traveling Tool Box

In preparation for his visit to me a couple months ago for us to build his black walnut split-top Roubo bench, Webmeister Tim got together with a woodworking pal and built a small toolbox which he presented to me as a gift.  It’s 20″ wide x 14″ deep x 16″ high.

I had already decided to retire my traveling toolbox of the last decade-plus, a repurposed and augmented mahogany box originally made for housing a surveyor’s theodolite.  Not that I will be discarding it, but for now it will serve as the repository for small-ish tools gathered for a little boy whose use of them will begin sooner than we can contemplate.

Back to the new box.

The box is exceedingly well-built and sturdy (read: heavy) and capacious so I need to be careful in outfitting it; I still have to haul it to wherever I am working away from the barn.  As to the space inside, I will be tricking it out to have lots of sub-sections and fittings to hold the tools I might need to accomplish a full range of woodworking tasks while away from Shangri-la.

To that end I will be spending many hours over the coming weeks to make of its interior what I want and need.  Probably not as obsessively as did Henry Studley with his tool cabinet, (our only “profile” of Studley is his tool cabinet and based on that I would guess he was wrapped pretty tight) and certainly not as elegantly — there will be no ivory, mother of pearl, or ebony fittings –but I will have stops and starts as I compose the interior of the box.  I will of course be musing silently and not-so-silently about Studley and his interior layout for his preposterously magnificent opus.

Stay tuned on that.

As for the exterior of the box I am undecided.  Do I make it a canvas for fauxrushi, or French marquetry?  Decisions, decisions.  At the moment I am contemplating leaving the recto of the lid alone to let it serve as a work surface.

Thanks to Webmeister Tim’s generosity I have a delightful puzzle to solve.

First Tools

As I assemble a tool kit for Li’l T I find myself reminiscing about my own first ventures into Tooldom.  Thanks to the guidance of my own Dad when it came to buying real tools I followed the path of Quality.  In 1969 that meant Sears/Craftsman (Woodcraft, Constantine, and other catalog merchants came into my orbit much later).  My first few tools, screwdriver and pliers, were bought at the new Sears in North Palm Beach, Florida with my lawnmowing money.  When I finally got steady income working illegally in a scaffolding yard at 15, then legally at a bakery at 16, the purchases became more substantial.  Wrenches.  Ratchets and sockets.  Screwdriver sets.  Channel Locks.  A tool box.

Now more than 50 years later I still have all those tools and use them regularly.  After all, this was when Craftsman was still, well, Craftsman.

My very first tool was the black folding tri-blade Boy Scout knife, now that I think of it probably bought not in Florida but at the Sears in my hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota, around 1965.  It still resides in the top drawer of the end table next to my recliner.  It was probably 3 or 4 dollars, maybe only $2, still a lot of money to a kid making 25-cents per lawn to mow.  I just can’t remember exactly, but it would have been during my very brief tenure in the Scouts (I just couldn’t take the structure and hierarchy.  It’s amusing to think of iconoclastic me trying to enlist in the US Navy in 1973.  That would not have been a happy outcome as I do not respond well to arbitrary orders.)  I’m pretty sure I blogged about that knife some time ago.

My first honest to goodness woodworking tools were these two, a Craftsman (Stanley) block plane that is still a favorite, and this dovetail saw that has cut an untold number of joints in the past five decades.  It was a “Craftsman” probably made by Disston, although it is devoid of marks.  I do remember that each tool was $13, a number I recall because it was the number of Wilt Chamberlain.

As I compile to tool kit for L’il T and his new sibling (early March 2024) it will be real tools, sharp and ready to go.  His/their Dad and I will teach them the right way to use them, just as my Dad taught me.  (Li’l T’s other Grandpa was a high school shop teacher so the heritage runs deep)  And if Elderbarndottir and her new husband are blessed with children, they will be getting real tools from Grandpa too.

Got ‘er Done

Married, that is.  Elderbarndottir and her beloved were joined in Holy Matrimony in a beautiful day of bountiful blessing on Saturday, in the worshipful company of several hundred of their friends they have met over the years.  Mrs. Barn did a fantastic job of pulling it all together vis-a-vie the reception and we were back at the house by 4.30 to collapse.  Quite a divergence from our own wedding 43 years ago, with a dozen folks in my parents living room.

Yesterday was the first day of feeling “normal” in the aftermath, today is our Thanksgiving, and I’ll get back to woodworking today.

The best part (?) of the entire affair is that I now have two magnificent sons, neither of whom I had to navigate adolescence with.

In 46 Hours…

… Elderbarndottir will be a brand new Mrs.  We will rejoice and, likely, collapse.  It’s been a hectic fortnight, now with her house now being overrun with flowers.  The first pile o’ bouquets is cooling their heels on the back porch until they are called into the game Saturday morning.

Not a whole lot of woodworking this week.

Perspective 111123

A longtime friend, great furniture maker, military historian, tank commander SteveD (West Point’76 IIRC), once put this day into the best and most concise perspective I have ever heard.

I wrote a blank check to this nation and signed it with my blood.

Though uttered in a casual conversation many years ago, the sentiment expressed has never left my mind.  My heartfelt thanks to him and all those who have made this pledge on my/our behalf, especially my beloved baby brother and my two sons.

Flattening A Water Stone

For a lot of my routine sharpening I finish off with an 8000 grit water stone, and I recently had a stretch where I did not attend to the stone’s needs as conscientiously as I should have and it got wallowed out.  That it was my setup at my daughter’s house was no excuse, but in all honesty I am more attentive out in the barn shop.

Not having my marble slab for referencing the surface to flatten this one, I relied on one of the theorems (or was it a Postulate or Law?) from eighth grade Geometry class.  That is, “every circle defines a plane.”  Using a concrete block with a piece of mirror I had laying around and a sheet of sandpaper I was able to flatten the dried-out stone face-down on the abrasive by pressing and moving it in a roughly 1-to-2-inch circular motion.  Before long I had a super flat stone and got it back to work.


I’m glad that some lessons from 55 years ago took root, allowing me to minister to this stone in need of, well, ministrations.

The cost?  One sheet of 80-grit sandpaper, five minutes of my time, and a bit of elbow grease.

The result?  Priceless.