Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 139, March 2017
Making Wood Tools
By John Wilson

Book Review by J. Norman Reid

Crafting your own tools can be a satisfying, as well as cost-saving, way to build your own hand tool collection . And as John Wilson demonstrates in this 2nd and expanded edition of his classic book, Making Wood Tools , doing so is not as hard as it appears. Wilson's clear illustrations and careful instructions bring tool-building within the reach of any woodworker who is inclined to give it a try.

Wilson describes how you can make a wide variety of woodworking tools, mainly intended for shaping wood, as well as a few appliances for holding work and storing tools. In addition to describing how to make wooden plane bodies and tool handles, Wilson devotes considerable attention to making your own blades from readily available O1 steel stock. As a result, this book tells you all you need to know to make a variety of handplanes and other tools from start to finish.

A strength of the book is its clear drawings and excellent color photographs. In addition, Wilson gives advice, drawn from his own experience, about what not to do, and he is willing to admit to mistakes that can save the reader from the same traps.

This charmingly-written book reflects Wilson's own personable, outgoing style and is a pleasure to read. I found myself eager to dive into each new section as soon as I'd finished the preceding one.

The first part of the book, which occupies half its nearly 300 pages, deals with making planes and other tools. Among the many types of planes he describes are a block plane, two sizes of compass planes, a jack plane, scrub plane and smoothing plane. The planes incorporate different body styles, some handled and some not, and blade-holding methods that can be mixed and matched across plane types so that a variety of applications are readily possible. Other tools described include spokeshaves, router planes, travishers, hand adzes, draw knives, scrapers, a bow saw and a carving and layout knife.

Part 2 addresses the materials and methods for blade making. To some extent, this section brings together material first discussed in conjunction with the description of specific tools in Part 1. However, it's a convenient reference source for blade making in general. Wilson uses annealed O1 bar stock which he then shapes, hardens and tempers. He gives sources for the steel, which is available at a reasonable cost and can be hardened and tempered easily in a home workshop. He also discusses making your own bandsaw blades to save money and improve their lifespan and he describes a simple jig for holding the blade during silver soldering.

Part 3 describes a number of devices for holding work and keeping tools. He begins with a home shop workbench, which can be built with green lumber by following his guidelines for wood selection and orientation. The need to have a place to break down boards led to his design of a sawbench and shop stool. He also designed a portable workhorse to use for dovetailing, as well as a portable dovetail vise.

Tool-holding devices include a chisel holder that can be customized to any number and size of chisels in a collection, a Japanese tool box with a sliding top, and three styles of tool tote, including a boat-shaped tote.

Part 4 collects construction steps and tips from throughout the book into a single location, to serve as a checklist of action steps and a reminder of critical points of tool construction.

I found Making Wood Tools delightful to read and it has inspired me to delve more deeply into making tools for myself. Having recently built several wooden handplanes, I know how much fun tool-building can be and how readily achievable it is as well. I plan to use many of the ideas from this book in my own woodshop.

This book will be a good investment for any woodworker who wants to build his or her own tools, whether both the wooden and metal part or if blades will be obtained from other sources of supply. For the woodworker on a tight budget, this book offers a pathway to saving loads of money on hand tools. For the woodworker who simply enjoys the craft of making things for him- or herself, this is an excellent reference and source of ideas. If you see yourself in any of these categories, you'll enjoy this book. I did and I recommend it to you.

Find out more and purchase Making Wood Tools

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes . He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net .

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