Tools, their use and maintainance

This could be a big page and may become several later.

Most of us in woodwork came to it, at least in part, because we are tool freaks. I still browse tool catalogues and shop windows, but fortunately I now have most of the hand tools I need. Remember that tools are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. Once you can use them without conscious thought and effort, they become quite a minor element in the creative process. Here I shall deal with hand tools only, and devote another page or so to power tools.

Wood Chisels

The ordinary wood chisel is a simple and versatile tool. Too much is made of the choice and care of them. They are simply a piece of tough tool steel sharpened at one end and fitted into a wood or plastic handle the other. There are various types and patterns of chisel but the ones with special wood handles . Even rosewood, although perhaps nice to own, would be wasted in the general rough and tumble of my bench.

The wood chisel should become almost an extension of ones hand. They should live in a rack over ones bench and be in your hand without thinking. Anything from cutting dovetails to scraping squeezed out glue from the inside of a newly assembled drawer.

My advice to the serious woodworker is to get the best set of plastic, or if you can afford it, boxwood handled chisels and use them hard. I have never possessed a set but bought them one at a time when I could afford it or needed one for a special job.

I keep a piece of machine hacksaw blade sharpened to a chisel edge to clean hardened glue from my chisel blades and even wash wet glue off them sometimes.

You will find that a chisel that is sharpened with a long bevel, 20 degrees or so, and a narrow low honing angle will cut better and seem sharper than one with the normally recommended angles. Modern tool steels are quite able to stand the thin edge. I have only damaged one in a most extreme case which would have required re grinding even had the conventional angles have been applied.

Plane Irons

Modern plane irons are usually quite thin and in normal use do not require to be ground. Simply honing the plane iron will be sufficient to keep it in good order unless it is damaged or chipped . If this happens it will need to be ground to restore the edge.

The much thicker blades (irons) of wooden planes do need to be reground from time to time, as the edge gets too thick for honing to deal with.


A great deal too much is made of beautiful hardwood benches. The bench is the workhorse of the hand workshop. As such it must be robust. Not vulnerable to sawing, chiseling, drilling, scratching, spilling glue, polish, paint, and probably a cup of tea from time to time.

There is no wonder material we can use that will stand all this abuse. The best solution is to have a replaceble work surface and hardboard is about the best. I replace mine every year or so. Likewise, both inner and outer vice jaws need to be replaceable.


The bradawl is a much abused little tool. It comes in several sizes and is used to make holes for starting screws etc. It consists of a bulbous handle with a ferrule and a simple cylindrical blade ( with a pin through it so that it will not pull out) sharpened to a chisel edge.

Do not use bradawl for very hard timbers.

The correct use of the bradawl consists of two distinct movements. First, place the sharp edge at right angles to the grain of the timber and press firmly. Then, twist back and forth with the wrist and, when the blade edge is at right angles to the fibre again push once more. Repeat until required depth of hole is achieved. It is important to have the sharp edge at right angles to the grain at the pushing stage in order to cleanly sever the fibres of the timber.

Fitting a Hammer Handle

Fitting of hammer heads is quite simple.. the easy way is to purchase the correct size of handle and fit it. it isn't always possible to get the right one so sometimes you have to make it your self.. Copy the original as closely as possible if it is available and use Hickory or Ash in Europe and America.

Remove the remnants of the old handle from the socket of the hammer head by drilling out the wood and knocking out the remains. Save the metal wedge(s) if possible. Otherwise you should be able to purchase new ones quite easily. Remember that the wooden wedge is probably more important than the metal one as it expands the handle to fill the socket. The metal ones should just tighten the handle in the socket.

Fit the handle to the hole fairly closely.. don't make it too tight it needs to go all the way in when you begin to assemble the hammer. If you have time keep the new handle in a warm dry place for a few days ( over a radiator or by a warm air duct ) this will dry and shrink the handle mean that it should expand in the normal humidity conditions of the workshop and get even tighter in it's socket. Make a fairly generous saw cut in the handle to take the wooden wedge. make the wooden wedge out of something nice and hard.

Now drive in the handle and check that every thing is satisfactorily lined up.. once you wedge it it will be too late. Then drive in the wooden wedge. I usually put a bit of glue on it just for good measure. Trim off the wedge and any of the handle that protrudes from the hammerís socket Now make a slot in the handle at right angles to the wooden wedge with a chisel and drive in the metal wedge. Finish by flushing off the whole thing with a file or on a linisher.


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