Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 167, July 2019
Book Review: Woodworking With Hand Tools
Review by J. Norman Reid

Choosing to work with hand tools in woodworking is a trend whose popularity continues to grow. Perhaps it's the low dust environment, or the peacefulness of largely noise-free working conditions, or the simple pleasure of crafting special pieces by one's own hand that accounts for its appeal. But even for woodworkers who perform much of their work with electron-driven power, hand tools offer the option of achieving fine tolerances and finishes otherwise unattainable.

But, if you're new to hand tools or only roughly acquainted with them, how do you know what to do? What tools will best meet your needs? How do they need to be set up to be most effective? And how can you use them to their best advantage?

Fortunately, the editors of Fine Woodworking Magazine have come to the rescue with their book, Woodworking With Hand Tools, a new collection of articles drawn from the magazine's contents. Exclusively focused on hand tools, it includes a useful selection of brief, helpful articles featuring a wide range of hand tools. Well-illustrated with color photos and diagrams, the articles cover the selection, setup and use of hand tools, including the construction of several tools in the home woodshop.

Part One addresses the tools themselves. To get you started on your hand tool journey, Dan Faia reviews the essential hand tool kit. The components include the measuring and marking tools all woodworkers need, a few handplanes for surface preparation and scrapers for finishing, saws and chisels for joinery, and spokeshaves and files for shaping. A good quality combination square is an essential tool for all woodworkers, and Timothy Rousseau demonstrates the ways it can be used for a multitude of tasks. He also explains why a good, knife-edged cutting gauge is useful and how to tune up an inexpensive gauge so it's a great performer. Then, he shows the value of a good set of machinist's calipers to perfectly fit joints and make precise machine setups.

One of the simplest hand tools is the card scraper, and Matthew Teague demonstrates how to set up and use this simple card of steel to get ultra-smooth finished surfaces. A related tool is the cabinet scraper, which Philip Lowe shows how to set up and use.

Special planes are available for joinery, and Vic Tesolin describes four useful ones: the shoulder plane, router plane, rabbet plane — especially valuable for case joinery — and the plow plane, which excels at cutting drawer grooves.

Not to be overlooked are Japanese planes, and Andrew Hunter offers a good introduction to the steps you'll need to set up a new plane for use (some assembly is required) before describing how to use them for fine craftsmanship.

Shoulder planes, too, may require some checking to enhance their performance, and Philip Lowe shows what to look for and how to do it.

A skew chisel can be purchased to help clean out the corners of dovetails and other tight spots, but as Garrett Hack shows, you can easily grind your own from an inexpensive chisel.

An alternative to Western chisels are Japanese chisels, which are constructed differently. John Reed Fox tells us why they excel, demystifies their various styles, and describes how to use them. His buying guide is valuable advice for those just starting out with Japanese chisels and well worth the price of the book. Likewise, his article on setting up a new Japanese chisel provides critical insights on getting the best performance from them.

Hand saws are also important components of any hand tool shop, and Matthew Kenney shows four essential saws: a dovetail saw, crosscut saw, dozuki, and a coping saw.

All hand tools must be sharp to perform well, and Brian Boggs describes how he uses diamond plates to get excellent results. He then shows how a block plane can be used for a variety of tasks for which it's well-suited.

Matthew Kenney shows three ways to clamp drawers for planing their edges. Chris Gochnour demonstrates good sawing techniques. Philip Lowe offers some tips for using chisels effectively, and Chris Gochnour tells us why files may be just the tool needed to finish joints for a perfect fit.

Smoothing curves with spokeshaves eliminates rough spots and fairs them with ease, and Jeff Miller shows the types of spokeshaves and other curve-shaping tools. Chris Gochnour shows how to use spokeshaves for both convex and concave curves.

Scratch stocks enable woodworkers to cut custom profiles, and Garrett Hack offers advice on creating your own, then using them in conjunction with handplanes to create custom moldings.

Prepping rough lumber is basic to all woodworking, and Andrew Hunter shows how he does this with hand tools.

Cutting dovetails is a key process in joinery, and Christian Becksvoort demonstrates his method for doing so, then for gluing them up and fixing mistakes.

Part Three focuses on projects to build your own hand tools. Tom Callisto shows how to build your own hand saws, both a carcass saw and a dovetail saw. Garrett Hack illustrates making scrapers for custom work, Matthew Kenney describes making a matched pair of grooving planes, and Bob Van Dyke details how to make your own cutting gauge.

Holding work securely while handplaning is critical, and Norman Pirollo shows how to build four jigs for work holding.

Hand tools need a home, and Andrew Hunter describes how he's built numerous simple Japanese-style toolboxes to house his tools.

The volume concludes with Tim Manney's description of how to build a shaving horse that will meet many hand tool needs.

It's clear that these articles, well-organized into a single, valuable volume, offer much key advice. While the book will be essential to newer hand tool woodworkers, the tools and techniques described will also be useful to many intermediate hand tool woodworkers, who are sure to find important nuggets of advice embedded within.

This paperback volume, which runs to 231 packed pages of text, is concisely-written, fully-illustrated, and loaded with value. It will make a great acquisition.

Find out more and purchase Woodworking With Hand 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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