More often than not, this is where I found myself as a young apprentice. As I sit here at the old oak desk tapping away on my (insert brand of choice) laptop, writing about hand tools and their relevance to woodworkers, cabinetmakers, and all those involved in making things – I am gripped by a sense of inadequacy – me, the self-proclaimed modern man who worships at the altar of technology.
But it’s not my fault. My mother always told me that the most precious things to us are also the hardest to express, like love or hate or woodworking hand tools. It might be accurate, but I discovered early on that I wasn’t going to make a living from emotions. And yet here I am – loving the smell of freshly sawn wood and sharp hand tools, loathing the inevitable cuts and bruises from misusing them.
In an attempt to put things right – at least for my benefit – I have been compiling a list of tips and hints on how to get the most out of our favorite and most valuable assistants. Taking inspiration from my own experiences and those of other woodworkers, I now offer you two hacks for getting the most out of your hand tools…
1) Hold Your Tongue (and pencil)
Rule number one is that there are no rules. Every single woodworker and carpenter has a way of doing things when it comes to hand tools. And although we might use the same tools, we will all hold them in an entirely different manner – so don’t be afraid to experiment with what does and does not work for you.
My favorite grip for pencils is the ‘tripod grip’ where you rest the pencil between your thumb and tip of your index finger, with the 3rd and 4th fingers tucked gently under the pencil. This grip allows greater control when drawing curves or shaded areas as it is easier to use your knuckles to apply pressure than your whole hand.
When sawing, it is essential to maintain a relaxed grip on the saw handle, with your fingers spread apart like you are gripping for dear life (which you probably are). This relaxed grip allows better control of the blade when making aggressive cuts or intricate work.
2) Clean up dirty tools
Cleanliness is next to godliness in hand tool land. Dirty, rusty tools are dangerous and decrease the accuracy of their cuts. For plain carbon steel hand tools, this means using a wire brush to remove rust or build-up on blade teeth and handles before oiling/wiping with an oiled cloth.
Try placing them in an old electric oven or roasting pan for cutting-edge tools like chisels and plane blades. Fill it with sand and heat up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit leaving the tools in until they reach a uniform color. This should be done once every two months, depending on how often you use your hand tools.
One final point about cleaning is rust removal from saw teeth. The best tool for this job is a file for which there are two types to use. A ‘single cut’ (or bastard) file will cut across the teeth, while a ‘double cut’ (or smooth) file will cut with the grain of the blade.