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My Woodworking Philosophies (and other ramblings...)

Safety - Tool Purchasing - Hand Tools - Bits, Blades, Etc - Sharpening - Feedback

Safety! Safety! Safety! Don't make sacrifices. Don't take shortcuts. I've been there and done that. One crazy Saturday when SWMBO and I were in the middle of a hundred things, I stole a quick moment to test a new chisel. I was rushing and not thinking things through. The chisel slipped and cut deeply into the first and middle fingers of my left hand. Many stiches. Nerve damage. Tendons still not back to the normal range of motion. Blood everywhere. The funny thing was that I was thinking "boy, if the chisel slips it won't be pretty", and the next thing you know it's like deja vu all over again. Even when tools are not being used the bits and blades are still very sharp and dangerous (DAMHIKT). Check the various Web discussions for accidents and near misses. They happen every day to even the most careful woodworkers. Take every precaution you can to not let an accident happen to you.

There are plenty of good safety devices that you could/should employ. My tablesaw is equipped with an overarm blade guard and a splitter. A good dust colletion system is often viewed as way to keep the shop clean, but it also plays a major role in preventing health problems caused by airborne dust (reference Bill Pentz' site). Gaurds are often a PITA, but use them anyway. Unguarded tools like a router table, bandsaw, power miter saw, etc can cause a lot of heavy damage before you know what happened. Personal protective equipment is also a must. Items like hearing protection (Peltor ear muffs are fantastic), eye protection (I can hear Norm now), and things as mundane as closed toe shoes and gloves when handling rough lumber are invaluable.

OK, enough with the lecture....

Tool Purchasing:
On the "Tools" page, I discuss my major shop tools (you can get there from the previous page - after you finish this one). I made the choice up front to stay away from an "all-in-one" machine like a ShopSmith and purchase individual machines for several reasons. I had/have the shop space for dedicated single-use tools. The setup changes necessary when switching operations on the all-in-one tools is something I wanted to avoid. I've heard problems with accuracy such as table height variations, etc. I also wanted to avoid shutting the shop down if the motor in the all-in-one dies. Looking back I think I made the right choice, but others opt for the all-in-ones for valid reasons. The choice is yours, but think carefully. You don't want to find after you've invested major $$ in tools that you went the wrong way. The only saving grace is that woodworking tools generally hold their values well.

There is a lot of advice on the net to buy the best tool the first time you make a purchase. That makes a lot of sense if you know you're going to stick with this hobby. It can get expensive to keep upgrading a tool to get a "bigger better" model. I know this from painful first hand experience - I'm on my fourth (and last) tablesaw.

Hand tools:
Hand tools have their uses and are indispensable in many instances. Although I don't talk about them much on these pages, I have a decent selection of hand planes, hand saws, scrapers, etc. It's very refreshing to work with wood without a motor screaming and a cutter head turning ominously at some crazy speed. I'm certainly not a Neanderthal, but I do have a healthy respect for hand tools. Every shop should have a few indispensible items like a block plane, a couple hand saws (dovetail, rip, crosscut, dozuki), and a good set of chisels.

Bits, Blades, etc:
Buy the best bits and blades you can. I buy nothing buy carbide tipped blades and bits. I mostly use a combination blade in the table saw and a 96 tooth blade in the CMS. Don't use the stock blade on your bandsaw - buy a Timberwolf or similar. There are many quality router bit manufacturers, so buy the best you can afford. I choose not to use a dado blade in most cases, instead choosing to use a router and straight-edge clamp. Try to have a good drill bit selection - twist bits, brad points, circle cutters, plug cutters, vix bits, forstner bits, etc. You'll find that the one bit you don't have is the one you really need at the worst time possible. It's inevitable. You'll also find you have a significant investment in bits and blades, so don't overlook them on your insurance policy (you have your tools covered, right???).

It's inevitable that your tools will dull. That old cliche about dull tools being dangerous is true, but they also produce poor woodworking projects. There are many ways to sharpen tools, and I've tried most of them. Waterstones, oilstones, diamond plates, sandpaper on glass (Scary Sharp), grinders, slow speed wet grinders, etc. I currently use a variety of methods depending on the tool, but my Tormek slow speed wet grinder gets the most use. If your just starting out, I'd highly recommend the Scary Sharp method. It's relatively inexpensive and relatively easy to obtain sharp edges consistently.

If you’d like to comment on this stuff, or if you think it’s all a bunch of whooie, send me an email.

Last revised: 4/18/06

© Copyright 2006 Chris Billman