Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Joiner's Holiday Wish List

Note: please also see the post "Think Artisinal"

My family has, to a large part, abandoned holiday gifts for a number of reasons.  We have most of our material needs satisfied, and we've all learned that more stuff does not enrich life.  We do make exceptions: the kids still get some toys and clothes, and sometimes we give each other pertinent books or other small items to show thoughtfulness.  I am therefore not expecting to receive gifts, and don't generally make out a list.  However, I realize many or most others (such as readers of this blog) out there do exchange gifts, and it can save all involved some time and money to point out gifts which are actually wanted.  That said, these are the things on my own joiner's wish list, with a brief mention of why.  Since hand tool work can be so variable, I can't say everyone needs all or even any of these items.  Its impossible to make a list of what "anyone" would need, although the Anarchist's Tool Chest is a great start.  With that in mind, these are mostly luxury and "nice to have" tools.  And so, I present the 2011 Joiner's Wish List.

If you use water stones, as I do,  its important to keep them flat.  Otherwise, your edges will not be straight.  I bought the Norton flattening stone along with my Norton water stones, but it is frustrating to use and needs to be flattened itself after several uses.  This diamond based stone, while not cheap, promises to make good on the failure of the Norton stone.  This is an item I consider mandatory.

The last saw on my list, this is for making very precise and smooth crosscuts in boards larger than the sash saw can handle.  This is a saw which is not used often, but when it is needed, nothing else will do the job as well.  I have loved my Wenzloff and Sons saws, but would also like to try Lie-Nielsen's approach to saws, so my personal choice would be their 12 ppi Crosscut saw.

After my recent workshop on spokeshaves, I need to get one sooner or later.  The Lee Valley flat-bottomed spokeshave is very simple to use, adjust, and sharpen.  I would save the round bottom one until the need really arises. I would choose the A2 steel although both flavors are fine.

I would love to do more heavy stock removal with a hatchet, especially since I live in a forest and have an abundance of interesting hunks of wood available.  Wetterling's Hjärtum Carpenter’s Axe and Gransfors  both seem ideal.  These tools are unique in that one face is flat for precision while the other is beveled for leverage.  A typical hatchet has both faces beveled for as much leverage as possible.

This portion of the plane can be swapped out to provide better results on highly-figured wood, such as some maple I have milled from a tree in my yard.  This very beautiful and special wood demands different tools and approaches, and this replacement frog is part of the puzzle:

The image shows the entire plane, but it is only the guts that are in question here:

50 degree High Angle Frog for No. 3 & No. 5-1/4 Bench Plane + Lie-Nielsen No. 3 Bench Plane Replacement Blade (to be ground at unique angles)

This is a very specific gift and the above is my personal situation.  If you want to help someone improve their planes, you really need to know which ones they are.  As far as I know, only Lie-Nielsen planes offer modified frogs such as this.

Veritas hold-downs and Wonderdogs

While not utterly traditional, you can't have enough of these super-handy workholding devices.  Very cleverly made and very useful.

At some point I am going to have to learn to sharpen my saws.  This vise is an essential part of that operation.  It is possible to build one from scratch, and I might go that route, but a plywood jalopy is not quite as photogenic as this rig.

 Another "nice to have" item, and one which Chris Schwarz recently evicted from his shop to make room.  However, I am not as confident in my abilities to mill tongue-and-groove joints for my upcoming workbench shelves and tool chest bottom.  I would pick the 3/4" model but the 1/2" is tempting, too.  

Certainly not a necessity, since I already have a cheap hardware store hammer which works ok... but these are what I want instead of a sports car or yacht.  I would probably only consider the larger of the two, but they are both a little rich for the likes of me.  Still, this is a "wish" list, right?

Also very high-priced but an engineering object worthy of much admiration.  Believe it or not, it is quite difficult to find a bevel gauge which truly locks its position.  The one I have is so frustrating that I refuse to use it.  I doubt I will ever be able to bring myself to buy one of these, but it is nice to know they are out there.  I am probably resigned to try one of the mass-produced versions such as this:

And on that note, all of these tools are expensive.  I probably do not have to explain that they are meant to last more than a lifetime, and are made by small firms with great senses of craft and ethics.

With that out of the way, here are some less shockingly priced "stocking stuffers" that may not break the bank but still provide much joy:

Books:  My to-read list is long, but these are near the top:

How to Build Shaker Furniture - The Completely Updated and Improved Classic
by Thomas Moser

by Bob Flexner

by Paul N. Hasluck

by Bob Flexner


Chris Schwarz pack:

Little Tools:

These are a really nice design tool. A beautiful way to incorporate "sacred geometry" into woodworking. 

The plain screwdrivers I have do work, but yes I have already deformed some of the slots in my tools by using them.

Again, these are all relatively luxurious tools which are not strictly needed to do great work. Those tools are a bit too personal and subject to different working styles to prepare a list for.  At the same time, these luxury items which a person is not as likely to purchase for themselves can make the best gifts, reminding the user of the giver with every use.

Whether you engage in gift giving or not, and whether you celebrate winter holidays or not, I wish you a fine new year of mirthful woodworking!

I encourage readers to add gems they have discovered recently in the comments.  If any are seductive enough maybe I will add them to my own list.


  1. A while back I threw down the gauntlet and told myself I would no longer buy cheap tools to get by, but would instead save my pennies for more expensive, high quality tools. I kept to that, for the most part, but at some point reality smacks you in the face. You need to build things. And sometimes you need a tool for the job but don't have the funds to buy the one you really want.
    Because of this little predicament I've bought more vintage tools that I thought I would. Still high quality, but at a cheaper price. (Home Depot, Harbor Freight, hardware stores are still not a consideration).
    So here are some alternatives to your list-since you sort of asked.
    Lapping plate - Atoma 400 at It is terrific and considerably cheaper than the DMT.
    Spokeshaves - consider a vintage Stanley with a new blade from Ron Hock or Lee Valley to get you working right away. Josh Clark and Walt Quadrato are you sources here.
    I like the look of vintage calipers and dividers myself. Josh and Walt typically have some.
    The Lie Nielsen high angle frog and saw would be terrific to own, but things I would consider specialty items - but it all depends on the type of work you do.
    I might consider some vintage wooden match planes that Josh has from time to time. Patrick Leach sometimes has them as well, though I'm sure the LN varieties are terrific tools.
    With the saw vise, consider making your own from wood. There are lots of examples out there on the web. I used vintage ones, the Gramercy, and shop made ones in a class, and they all performed equally well. The Gramercy one seems to keep rising in price, unfortunately.
    I commend Joel for making a warrington style hammer here in the U.S., but it is expensive. If I bought one it would be more to support the cause of american manufacturing than anything else.
    Anyway, good luck with your list. I should get back to my own list, which never seems to get any shorter.

  2. This has to be the most specific list I have ever seen! Shopping for you would be easy as pie! No guess work from broad hints like my family. A workshop is a thing in motion and always needs improving. I didn’t know they made Tongue and Groove planes. I need half the stuff here. I only have one plane and no chisels at all!
    Too bad can’t have a buy two for one deal!
    You are inspiring me to write my own list, if only to set some goals and look forward to something.

  3. Eric- some good thoughts you've provided, thanks!

    I'll repeat that this is not an actual list I am sharing with anyone (other than all you fellow woodworking geeks... I don't think my family actually reads this and as I mentioned, we don't really do gifts). I just like to provide some seasonally appropriate content and food for thought.

    By the way, did you take a close look at the Golden Mean dividers? They are not typical dividers for measuring and transferring, they are set to show the "golden" relationship between two segments. The large gap is to the whole the same as the small is to large. Pretty great layout tool, though its more fun than utterly useful.

    Cedarpinewood, thanks for the comment and happy holidays. Please not again that these are almost all luxury items, just fun things I wanted to point out to those who are interested in woodworking tools. If you just have one plane and no chisels, start there!

  4. You also inspired me to post a little 'wish list' of my own. This then lead me to do a price comparison of Lie Nielsen tool prices between the UK and US.

    I wish I hadn't now...

  5. Simon, maybe you need to spend that $400 difference on a plane ticket?

    In a case of "the grass is always greener", I have always imagined that the UK's shops are much better than ours. We don't even have a place like Axminster. Yes, Lie-Nielsen is in Maine, but I have never seen their tools in a retail setting. Our hardware stores tend to have not even a single traditional woodworking item of merit, even a low-quality "gent's saw" is a very rare thing to see. I get the sense that woodworking is much more of a lost art here than across the pond.

    Anyway, thanks for reading, and I am glad I inspired something, even if the results are depressing.

  6. I use the Gransfors carpenter's axe and I think you'll find it has both sides of the blade bevelled - a knife edge.
    If you want one face flat I think it's a side axe you need - I've been looking for one myself but they cost a fair bit more than the carpenter's version.

  7. Rob - Thanks for pointing that out, I was not aware! Its low on my list of purchases but I will make sure I get the style I want when I do seek one out. I am surprised they use that term.


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