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A Guide To Hand Tools And Methods , by David Charlesworth

by J. Norman Reid
Delaplane, VA

This brief (144 pages) guide to hand tools is a gem. Drawing on David Charlesworth's 30-plus years of experience as a cabinetmaker, it contains much valuable information I've not seen anywhere else. Unlike some other hand tool treatments, it's not encyclopedic but focuses on selected and especially important tools. What sets it apart from other hand tool books is Charlesworth's opinionated stance. He comes directly to the point about particular styles and brands of tools and leaves the reader in no doubt about his preferences and assessments of their strengths and weaknesses.

Throughout, Charlesworth presents detailed and uniquely personal perspectives on the choice of tools, their design and setup. Limited attention is given to their actual use in woodworking. While some references in this nearly 10 year old classic are now dated, most of the commentary is timeless and valuable, the pointed observations of a master craftsman and teacher.

Following a brief introduction that reviews a variety of types of hand tools, Charlesworth turns to a more detailed discussion of hand planes. He offers an interesting comparison of infill and bedrock style planes, concluding from his experiments that traditional infill planes offer no advantage over modern bedrock planes, especially those manufactured by Lie-Nielsen . Charlesworth then presents valuable insights on flattening plane soles and the types of chipbreakers—he finds Lie-Nielsen's and Hock's to have significant advantages—and how to set them up. The chapter concludes with an interesting description of his trials in building the Shepherd infill plane from a kit.

Charlesworth's next topic is spokeshaves . Once again, he describes the variety of styles—old and new—that are available to the woodworker before turning his attention to techniques for grinding and honing them. He uses a Tormek Grinder with the blade secured in a shop-made holding device, whose construction he describes. He considers ways to enhance spokeshave performance. While he finds value in a variety of brands, he prefers Lie-Nielsen Spokeshaves. Other less expensive brands like Kunz can be made to function well but will require more work by the user. The chapter concludes with details on how he built a fine adjustment tool to set the Lie-Nielsen Boggs Spokeshave.

Chisels are the next topic. This chapter begins with the evolution of Charlesworth's preferences for chisels. His first chisels—blue-handled Stanleys—proved unsatisfactory. Old tool steel and Japanese chisels, if carefully chosen, have better quality steel. But his preference evolved to the hornbeam-handled Lie-Nielsen chisels that are hard enough to be tapped with a metal-headed mallet.

Sharpening, considered next, is a process and a skill that applies to each of these edge tools. Charlesworth touches on several sharpening methods but his own work employs the Tormek water-cooled grinding wheel, DMT Diamond Plates and King waterstones. He discusses grinding and honing angles for different tools and how to achieve the ultimate degree of sharpness. He advocates the use of a Honing Guide to achieve repeatable results and reviews several brands and types of these. A special section covers Japanese waterstones, which cut very quickly if properly maintained. He reflattens his stones after each four minutes of work to avoid creating a belly on his chisels and discusses effective methods for flattening them. He employs a Nagura Stone to create a slurry on his waterstones. Charlesworth gives particular attention to flattening chisel backs and goes into detail about methods to limit the hollowing of waterstones.

Following his discussion of these edge tools and sharpening them—the strength of this book—Charlesworth ventures into the area of finishing . He presents some history of his own finishing techniques and the evolution of his preferences. He particularly likes shellac and discusses a method for applying it. Greater attention is given to preparing a smooth surface and the process of sanding. His method is to use sanding blocks with a vacuum to keep the surface free of dust and grit and he offers opinions on the construction and use of sanding blocks.

A brief section considers making and using a pencil gauge—a marking gauge with a pencil substituted. He then turns to dovetails. He reviews dovetail angles, offers guidelines for the number and width of tails, the process of marking out dovetails with dividers and compares dovetail markers, including Lie-Nielsen's .

The following section lays out a scheme for marking the face, edge and fiber direction of each piece. His system not only indicates the reference faces—which he chooses for the insides rather than the show sides—but also the planing direction so this valuable information is not lost.

The penultimate section considers the uses of dowel plates—once again, he finds strong advantages in the Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate —and how to successfully make, install and finish dowels.

The final section demonstrates his creation of an elegant Sheraton-style elliptical table and considers some of the issues he overcame in building it.

Though in some respects limited—there is no discussion of handsaws, for example—Charlesworth's careful presentation of techniques and pointed observations about tools will provide valuable insights for cabinetmakers. It's a fun and informative read. This book will be especially useful for beginning and intermediate woodworkers, who can expect to gain help in the selection of tools and learn techniques to help them become more skilled. But advanced cabinetmakers, too, will glean valuable insights from this master craftsman.

CLICK HERE to order your copy of A Guide To Hand Tools And Methods

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living with his wife in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who believe they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He can be reached by email at .

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