Quest for Tools

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that, if you want to build stuff out of wood, you’re gonna need some tools. Aside from a bunch of screwdrivers, socket wrenches, pliers, and electrical tools, I had none, and it’s not like the soldering iron and crimper are gonna help much with woodworking. When I was still living in Chicago, I got myself a toolbox and gradually started to pick up some smaller things that would probably be useful, such as clamps, a mallet, and a claw hammer.

At some point, I needed to drill something and drive some screws, so I got a cordless drill and a set of twist drill bits. I added a brad-point set later. However, the drill was more of a necessity for non-woodworking tasks. I’d decided by that point that I’d steer clear of a lot of power tools, especially when starting out. Electricity is nice and all, but it’s pretty impersonal, and some of those tools are really dangerous.

As a whole, my approach is going to be one of reading a boatload of stuff about woodworking, then gradually getting the tools as I need them. This is practical for a number of reasons; first, there’s no need to buy anything that I’ll never use; second, there’s no use in buying something that I don’t know how to use; and third, I don’t exactly have a lot of space anyway. Understand that I live in an apartment in a big city. Solving the workshop space problem is already a work-in-progress; I don’t need a bunch of stuff encroaching on my living space.

One my earlier discoveries in woodworking is that, as the beginner, the modern world has generally conspired to deprive you of good hand tools that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Yeah, there are some very high-end tools that you can buy new for hundreds of dollars. And guess what–they are about as good as the same stuff that sold for $3 back in 1930. But most of the new hand tools on the market are garbage, and that means that you have to figure out a way to stock your set with stuff that’s about 70-80 years old.

When you try to do that, you run into these people who collect rare old stuff, driving up the value of this “rare” old stuff, and the weenies who try to fob off old stuff because you might be a collector and hey, “it’s old, so it has to be worth something, right?” Wrong. They made bazillions of these things, so there’s no reason to think that it’s King Tut’s Tomb or something. Sadly, this leaves you with eBay, yard sales, and flea markets, each of which can have its own excessive (and unique) depression factor.

I got four hand saws for practically nothing at a garage sale shortly after I moved to San Francisco. These two ripsaws and two crosscut saws were in decent shape. The two crosscut saws are very unspecial “Warranted Superior” saws, one with a skewback. One ripsaw is another “Warranted Superior,” but a bit better-made; the handle is carved and the blade has a nib. The final ripsaw is a plain old Disston D-7, probably about 70 years old. One thing I immediately liked about these saws, at least in the case of the ripsaws, the previous owner obviously knew something about using them. Unlike any other handsaw that I’d ever seen while growing up, the teeth were actually sharp and not mangled in any way.

With this (and some other miscellaneous non-wood related stuff) in the toolbox, two weeks ago, I made a list of the remaining hand tools that I’d probably need to at least start doing some damage to wood. The items are as follows:

– Try square
– marking gauge
– Tenon backsaw with crosscut teeth
– Saw set and files to sharpen saws
– Mitre box
– Bailey #3/#4 smoothing plane or equivalent
– Bailey #5 jack plane or equivalent
– Bailey #7/#8 jointer plane or equivalent (not a pressing need)
– Shoulder plane (not a pressing need)
– Firmer chisels
– Mortise chisel(s) (not a pressing need)
– Some sort of sharpening paraphernalia (oilstone, waterstone, or “scary sharp” sandpaper/glass)

Keep in mind that this stuff is for the very first project that I have in mind, a bookshelf. I’ll get into more detail on that later.

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