The Best Rotary Tool Accessories of 2020

Dremel lawnmower sharpening accessory

With the seemingly thousands of options available for rotary tool users, it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to hunting down the perfect option for your job at hand. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of my personal recommendations for the best rotary tool accessories in 2020. The list includes my most used, and favourite accessories, as well as a few novelties that you might not have even known existed!

I’ve had a little Ozito rotary tool for a while now.

Ozito 170W Rotary Tool body with flex attachment
You can read more about my experience with the Ozito rotary tool here!

While I don’t have any complaints with the tool itself, in fact, I’ve actually been quite surprised by it, the accessories that it came with were a little lacking in quality. Which is why I found myself quickly upgrading them to aftermarket ones shortly after buying the tool itself.

Wait, is this a Dremel ad?

The short answer is no: I’m not sponsored by Dremel in any way shape or form, I just appreciate an accessory that doesn’t fall apart in two seconds flat.

But, be forewarned, you are going to see a lot of Dremel accessories in this list. Trust me, I have tried cheaping out and buying the large packs of other accessories – but in the end, it really didn’t save me any money considering the longevity or quality of the accessories I ended up with.

I will usually only purchase Dremel accessories now unless there is a very good deal on another brand that I would like to try. In my experience, there isn’t anything I have come across in the rotary tool accessory range that compares to the quality of Dremel. If you’re reading this and are one of the lucky ones who has found a good, cheap accessory on Amazon, please let me know, I’m all about saving the moolah!

Before we begin

If this is your first time using a rotary tool and it didn’t come with a kit of accessories, I do recommend that you get your hands on an el cheapo set like this one to begin with.

(I know, I know, I just said that I don’t buy off-brand anymore, but bear with me) For one, buying a large set of various accessories will allow you to determine what you use most (kind of like with router bits), and it will give you a standard that you can measure against the much, much better-quality accessories that you will later get.

When I originally purchased my Ozito it came with over one-hundred accessories. I quickly was able to determine what I needed better quality on, and what I didn’t use enough to justify the upgrade.

Use it properly

And one last thing before I hop right into the list, I know it seems like common sense, but please only use rotary tools in the way they were intended. This includes making sure you are using the right running speeds and materials for the job at hand! Many of these accessories will only work well if you use them in the ways that they were designed to be used. If you run a high-quality bit at the wrong speed into the wrong material and it bends or melts, that’s more of a reflection on the user than the accessory itself.

Here’s a handy list from Dremel itself that shows the correct running speeds for various bits and materials:

Source: Dremel

In general, if you see smoke and burning, your speed is too high, and if you feel the bit slowing it could be that you are putting too much pressure on the tool – if you lessen your pressure and it’s still struggling it’s a good indication that your speed is too slow.

Safety (again)

USE YOUR PPE!

Okay, one more last thing and another bit of common sense that deserves to be mentioned, rotary tools spin at really high speeds, and have a tendency to occasionally fling things at equally high speeds, remember your safety glasses. Similarly, rotary tools kick up some really fine dust and particles, so using a mask is a must as well!

With that, let’s get to it!

Accessory Categories

Generally speaking, rotary tool bits can be organised into a few categories

  • Cutting
  • Sanding
  • Material Removal and Shaping
  • Engraving
  • Grinding and Polishing

Cutting

Best for cutting metal:

Most rotary tools come with resin “cutting wheels” – if you’ve ever used one of these you know that they don’t last long – often shattering mid-project, or grinding down into nothing after one or two cuts. I’m happy to say that I will never again be going back to that relationship, because I’ve found something much better.

The best in this category is the:
Dremel Fiberglass Reinforced cutting wheel

If you’re wondering why I didn’t pick the ultra-super-duper-heavy-duty premium metal cutting wheel from Dremel well…

Fiberglass reinforced cutting wheels, such as the above, do last longer and cut better than the resin cutting disks, and they also come in packs. The pack including twenty fiberglass cutting wheels is only slightly more expensive than the single premium metal version from Dremel. While the premium metal version doesn’t have the same tendency to expand or fall apart, and Dremel advertises that it has 20x the cutting life as their fiberglass counterparts, I just didn’t find that to be the case. In fact, I found that the cutting abrasive on the wheel didn’t last as long as I needed it to in order to justify the increase in price.

The cutting speed on the fiberglass version is great and I really can’t see myself getting more cuts out of the premium cutting disk than 20 of these – which is why it gets my vote!

Best for cutting wood: 

Dremel 543 Cutting/Shaping Wheel

I love this carbide cutting wheel for slicing through small trim pieces or making internal cut outs in my projects (it’s come in great use for my caravan remodel!) As a bonus, it can also be used for fibreglass, laminate, and plastics. The tungsten carbide tipped blade lasts a good deal of time, has great cutting speed, and doesn’t seem to overheat or burn the wood in most applications.

It also has abrasive on the face of the blade, which means this cutting wheel can multitask as a shaper as well! BONUUUSSSS

Best for cutting stone and glass:

Dremel 545 Diamond Wheel

Diamond cutting wheels are the way to go when you want to be cutting ultra-hard materials. I’ve tried several different brands of these types of wheels and often found the diamond abrasive to wear away very, very quickly and/or the wheel would overheat and bend the mandrel before I could complete a job. The biggest difference that I’ve found with this Dremel bit is that the diamond abrasive lasts significantly longer.

I’ve used this bit on the porcelain tiles that I needed to shorten to install a new sink fixture and it worked fantastically. I’ve also used it, before I had a grinder, to cut away at some concrete that had shifted and was blocking the door of my shed from opening, AND, I’ve used it to cut through some carbon fibre tubing for a lightweight frame construction. It has really exceeded my expectations in all of these applications, but I suppose that my expectations were rather low after using the other non-branded diamond wheels.

It’s certainly saved me a lot of headaches, that’s for sure!

Sanding

Okay, so, if you’ve ever ordered Rotary tool accessories before, you’ll be familiar with the insane packs of sanding drums and barrels that come with an incredible 500 some pieces for 11 dollars and 23 cents or something.

Ozito rotary tool drum sander being used to shape a wooden bottle opener

I’m here to tell you not to do it. Just don’t do it. As someone who has wasted a whole lot of time changing out sanding pads that last all of two seconds (touch it to the wood for 1.5 seconds and the abrasive pad suddenly becomes as smooth as a sheet of paper) – I am begging you to learn from my mistake. There is very little on this earth that I find more annoying than having to change out an accessory a million times on a single project. Especially when the process of changing them out gets longer and longer as the drum mandrel heats and expands and the sandpaper barrels no longer fit (can you tell I am a woman who has been slighted by the multi-packs of sanding drums? Hell hath no fury!)

If you have found a kit of sanding drums that actually works – please enlighten me, I would love to try it!

Until then, I’m sticking with these:

Oh, and, they serve a multipurpose too!  My dog, Taco hates to have her nails clipped. And I really do mean hates having her nails clipped. Put these suckers on a low speed, give her nails a little sandy-sand, and it’s not nearly an ordeal as the clippers! (As a note, this really only works for us with the Flexshaft attachment, Taco doesn’t like the tool itself near her.) 😉

 

Material Removal/Shaping

Atoplee 10 Pcs Tungsten Steel Burs

If you do any power carving or simply need to remove and shape material quickly and accurately, there is nothing like a good bur or rasp used in a rotary tool. Lower the speed and you’ll have a delicate carving tool, up the speed (but not too much!) and you have a lean, mean, material removing machine.

I’m about to do something you haven’t seen yet and declare the best value accessory in this category to be one that is not Dremel. *round of applause*

I’ve used these burs on both metal and wood and have had good results. If you do really small detail carving, these aren’t for you, as they are on the large side – but I’m really happy with the results on larger carvings and material removal for the price. I’ve used them numerous times, haven’t noticed any dulling in the blades yet, and they haven’t overheated on me. (Just make sure you use the correct speed!)

I don’t know why they mention diamond in the title (probably because they want to trick people), but it’s pretty easy to tell even from the picture that these are not diamond bits. That bit of sneaky advertising aside, I have found these bits to work well for me. 

Engraving

Okay, Okay, Okay – I love a good engraving bit!  It’s just so cool to see something delicate and accurate come out of something spinning at 25,000 rpm.

You’re going to be pretty hard pressed to do any engraving while holding your rotary tool in hand though. Which is why you’re going to need, at the very least a Flexshaft attachment, and preferably with a pencil or comfort grip. My Ozito rotary tool came with a flexshaft attachment, which is part of the reason I found the kit such great value. It’s still going strong, but if it ever falls apart, I have used the Dremel comfort grip attachment at a trade show, and it is amazing. Comfortable and well balanced, it really does feel like holding a large pen. It’ll be the first thing I reach for off the store shelf when the time comes.

As for engraving bits – for glass, stone and really anything substantially harder than wood that you want to imbue with some fine detail engraving, diamond is the way to go. As with the diamond cutting disks, I found many of the cheaper engraving sets would quickly wear out the diamond abrasive. If engraving is something you do a lot of, invest in the specific diamond bur Dremel bits that you will use often. They last much longer, (the first, thin pointed bit that I bought a year and a half ago is still going!) and will pay you back tenfold both in enjoyment and cost when you don’t have to go out and buy more after every other project. For the ones that you don’t use as often, cheaper steel engraving bits are fine!

This is the best value kit, in my opinion, as it includes a diamond wheel point pit, a diamond carving bit, four engraving bits, and four grinding bits. As I’m writing this the kit is also 30% off, another bonus!!


Grinding

I’ll be honest here. I don’t use my grinding bits very much. Occasionally, if I have a substantially dull edge on something that I don’t really care for much, I might run it over the grinding bits on my Dremel – I have done this for my garden clippers, and it worked fairly well. And, I have even tried to sharpen my 1970’s lawn mower blades as well (which probably would have worked if the blades weren’t so entirely shortened from years of people running small rocks and pebbles through them.) In terms of their other use, etching or engraving, I do use them a bit more.

There are several different types of grinding bits with various profiles and grits. Unfortunately, if you are buying cheap knock offs, it can get pretty difficult to determine exactly what grits or types of grinding stones you are getting – the colours, while a good determinate of the type of stone in known brands, don’t always match with the imported knock offs, and sometimes, I’ve even found that the stones in these knockoffs are specifically coloured in order to look
like the types of stones from say… Dremel for example.

In general though, the most popular type of grinding bit is aluminium oxide which most of the time comes in white, pink, red, brown, and grey colours. The darker grey and brown colours are the big boys around town – and they do most of the work in terms of material removal and rough re-shaping. The lighter colours – white obviously being the lightest – are typically the ones used for the sharpening itself. They will wear quicker, but create a better, more refined edge.

Silicone Carbide is the other type that is commonly seen, though less commonly than aluminium oxide. It is typically green in colour and is harder than aluminium oxide, which makes it better for etching and engraving things like ceramic and glass while the aluminium oxide is better for softer metals.

To be fully honest with you, I’m still using the original grinding stones from my Ozito set, so I can’t recommend other ones in good faith. I do trust Dremel, but given how long I’ve used the Ozito ones for, I might have been convinced to give an offbrand of the grinding bits a try, but after a thorough check on Amazon and a reference to Fakespot (my go to for detecting fake amazon reviews), I really didn’t find one that I would be comfortable potentially wasting money on when the grinding bits from Dremel are actually fairly cheap. So… I’ll be ordering  this when my current ones finally wear out:

Polishing

I never really cared or used the polishing wheels for my rotary tool until the day I did…. And now I can’t stop using them!

They are the greatest thing I have found for my antique tool restorations and I recently used them extensively for my Acorn hand plane restoration.

Wool/felt polishing wheels are my favourite, and the quality is pretty varied. I hate to sound like a woodpecker here, but I’ve ordered three different kits with 50-100 pieces in them, all three of them failed to function. To use the polishing accessories, the felt piece is basically twisted onto a mandrel that has a screw-shaped protrusion. The cheap felt polishing accessories all failed to stay on that screw within a few seconds to a half-minute of use – this is at low speeds and with low pressure.  I’m pretty certain they are all made by the same brand and are just sold from different accounts. So, look, you can get 100 pieces and use all of them for a combined average of ten minutes – or you can just get the tried and tested Dremel ones and expect them to work much longer. It’s up to you, really. I use this kit:

You will notice the difference in quality the minute you pull the felt polishing bits out of the package. They don’t shed a lot of stray strands of material, they tend to hold their shape and attach securely, and I find I can get several uses out of them. In fact, I think I got through five-tool restorations on my last conical-shaped polishing tip.

When the felt tips need replaced the 422 and the 429 from Dremel are my go to.

Honourable Mention

Garden sharpening kit:

If you aren’t keen on sharpening by hand, and you also don’t want to mess with the learning curve of bench grinders, the garden sharpening kit from Dremel is a pretty cool little attachment. The attachment holds the grinding stone at the perfect angle to the blade in order to achieve a sharp, even bevel while requiring minimal effort from the user. If you already have a grinding wheel, this isn’t much use to you, but if you don’t, this thing is a much cheaper way to accurately sharpen some tools!

If you find sharpening your gardening tools to be a process that is particularly crappy/one that you literally never do, this wouldn’t be a bad idea to try out. I will say, that the first time you use a truly sharp pair of garden snips is something of a eureka moment!

Dremel lawnmower sharpening accessory
Source: Dremel

I’ll also point out that the chainsaw sharpening attachment is a huge time saver over the conventional files.

What are your favourite rotary tool accessories?

And there you have it! The rotary tool is one my favourite, most versatile tools and I’m sure that over the next years I’ll find even more fantastic accessories for the tool that will transform it into an even handier little guy to have around.

Do you have a favourite rotary accessory that isn’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments!

Table Saw Taper Jig

Taper jig using the table saw fence as the guide

Other than my crosscut sled, this straight edge/ table saw taper jig is the accessory that I use the most with my table saw. I love how simple it was to build, and how many versatile applications it has proved to have in my shop.

What does a taper jig do?

A tapering jig does just what the name implies. Whilst running a board through a table saw using only the fence, it is impossible to cut more wood from one end of the board and less from the other. The taper jig allows the user to cut a varying amount of wood (typically on two sides with most furniture) with the use of a movable fence attached to a sled.

Tapered table legs
An example of tapered legs on an end table

The design

There is a tonne of plans and examples of these types of jigs on the internet – from super-advanced with all the bells and whistles, tracks, clamps, and angles – to very simple hinged designs.

hinged tapering jig
And example of a manufactured, hinged tapering jig. (photo from Eagle America)

When I set out to make my table saw taper jig, what I was really in need of was a straight edge jig. Since I don’t have a jointer and I use a lot of reclaimed wood for my projects, I needed something that I could use to create a straight edge on one of my boards, so that I could then flip it and run that edge against my table saw fence to create a board with both straight and parallel edges.

So, I knew needed a straight edge jig, but I also knew that I was going to be doing some tapered legs for an upcoming coffee table build. This is why, instead of building a simple straight edge jig AND then later having to create a simple taper jig, I decided to go with a design that could accomplish both tasks.

Homemade tapering jig

I’m not sure where this particular design originally came from, as I’ve seen several people build similar designs. The most in-depth video I have found on this type of taper jig is from King’s Fine Woodworking.

If you haven’t seen his videos or checked out his site, I definitely recommend it. He has very informative and well-presented projects and plans.

It’s a simple design consisting of a base, a fence and three slots – one in the fence and two down the sides of the base to allow for a type of swiveling motion with the fence.

My jig varied from King’s design in one key area, and that is that I didn’t use a runner at the base of the sled. Instead, I used my table saw fence as the guide for the jig.

I did this for two reasons:

The first is that, because I wanted to also be using this jig to joint the edges of boards, I didn’t want to have a fixed capacity for the jig. Having the sled use the mitre slot as a guide meant that if I had a particularly wide board to straight joint, I wouldn’t have the room. Using the fence as the guide allows me to simply move the fence back in order to cut wider boards.

The second reason is due to somewhat of a laziness/cost factor. I didn’t want to purchase more metal runners, and I haven’t had the greatest luck with wood runners lasting any amount of time in the Australian weather.

The build

For the base of my jig, I chose a piece of 18mm BBC ply that I had left over from my waterfall bedside table build. I’ve seen other builds from MDF or thinner plywood – but I think the best material is always what you have on hand that will work for a project. 😉 I have definitely been bogged down on occasion with waiting to do a project until I had the ‘perfect’ material. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, as they say!

cutting the base of the tapering sled

I wanted a good amount of length and width in order to, as I mentioned before, accommodate for various sizes of wood. In the end, the length of my sled is roughly the length of my table saw and the width is 400mm.  These are the dimensions that worked best for me, both in terms of the materials that I had on hand and the applications that I wanted to use the sled for. I have seen numerous sleds with a much thinner base in terms of width, but for the purpose of straight edge jointing, I wanted to have a wider base for my boards.

Cutting the slots

After cutting the base of the sled and fence to size, it was time to cut the slots that would allow the fence to move and accommodate for hold-downs.

planning the slot layout for a tapering jig

I decided where I wanted these slots to be based on moving around the fence at various angles.

marking the slot positions on the base of the taper jig

I’m sure there are specific calculations, but this worked for me and didn’t take too long.

I marked where I wanted my slots and then used a Forstner bit to drill a hole at the start of each slot – only to the depth that I would be routing my slot. I have a fixed based router and I prefer to drill clearance holes as opposed to tilting the bit into the wood – to each their own if you would like to skip that step and opt for tilting instead.

drilling a clearance hole before routing the slots

A t-bolt sitting in the drilled recess
Just deep enough to recess the head of the bolt 🙂

I then used a straight edge piece of plywood as a fence and routed a wide slot with a 20mm mortising bit, just deep enough to allow the head of the bolt to not protrude, allowing for the sled to slide smoothly across the surface of the table saw.

Routing a groove for a t bolt

I followed this with a drill bit and put a hole the size of my bolt in the centre of this slot and completely through the wood.

Drilling a recess for the straight bit

Then, leaving the straight edge guide in place, I changed to a straight bit and routed a channel through the base of the sled.

Routing a slot in the base of the tapering jig

I then repeated this method to route the slot in the top of the fence for the hold-downs.

Routiing the slot in the fence of a tapering jig

If you don’t have a router, you can also cut these slots with a jigsaw!

And that was it! The build was complete! Talk about easy.

Taper jig with hold down clamps

If you’re interested, I used these hold down clamps from Powertec. They are relatively cheap and work great!

Using the jig

To use the jig, I simply place the sled on my table saw top just
touching the blade, then lock down the fence. Taper jig using the table saw fence as the guide

I tested on a scrap piece of 75 by 35 treated pine. Not an ideal leg piece, but again it’s what I had! I marked the shoulder of the leg where the taper would begin and then marked at the base of the leg how far I wanted the taper to extend.

cutting a taper on a table saw taper jig

I then lined up my marks, the shoulder at the top, and the taper at the bottom of the jig, set the fence, and clamped everything in place.

Aligning the bottom of the taper to the edge of the taper jig

After the first pass, I flipped the piece and unclamped the bottom of the fence in order to move it in to accommodate the newly acquired taper. Normally, a two-sided taper is done on two adjacent sides. This approach would be even easier as the fence wouldn’t need to be moved at all after the first cut. Simply rotate your leg ninety degrees so that the cut face is up, and then run your jig back through the saw. Since my test piece wasn’t a square piece, I simply tested putting tapers on two parallel sides. 🙂

cutting a taper

Easy done, two-sided taper.

For straight edges, the jig is super simple and effective. I simply place whatever wonky edged board I have on top of the jig and clamp it so that a continuous edge is hanging over the side of my sled. I then run this through the saw, remove the board from the jig and place my freshly cut edge against the saw’s fence to create a straight, parallel-sided board.

This view from the bottom of the jig shows the piece protruding over the edge of the sled.

edge jointing with a taper jig

straight edge from the taper jig
The best jig in my shop?

Well, look, my crosscut sled is probably my most used jig, but this is definitely one of my favourite jigs, and I use it all the time to straight joint boards either before a glue-up, or to clean up rough, reclaimed lumber for a project. I’m definitely glad that I spent the extra time to build a jig that could do both tapers and straight edges as it’s saved me loads of time and space in my small workshop!

Do you have a favourite design for a taper jig? Let me know in the comments!

 

Antique Hand Plane Restoration | Acorn No. 4

Fully restored vintage acorn no 4

Little Nut is finally finished and in operational order!

Before photo of an acorn handplane being treated for rust with vinegarFully restored vintage acorn no 4

I purchased this little gem of an Acorn no. 4 hand plane several months ago at a swap meet. He didn’t look great at the time – severely rusty and completely unusable, but I was determined to see what lay under the grime and dirt, and perform a complete hand plane restoration on the little guy. I’m definitely happy with what I found!

You can read more about the research I did and Little Nut’s history here

Taking it apart:

Several of the components of Little Nut were severely rusted in place, and as such, I needed to figure out a way to remove them without damaging the soft metal of the screw heads.

I began by spraying them down with WD-40 in the hopes that it would soften some of the grime and rust and make for easier removal. It took several coats and lots of waiting, but eventually, they did loosen enough to remove without too much damage.

Removing the fitting screws from an acorn no 4 hand plane

Rust Removal

The next step was to remove the rust.
For this hand plane, I decided to try good ol’ fashioned white vinegar. I knew that a rust removing agent like Evaporust would be easier and potentially quicker in the long run, but I had never tried vinegar on a tool this rusted and was curious to see how it would work in comparison.

To remove the rust, I took the components of the hand plane and gave them a good scrub with a wire brush to remove some of the dirt, grime, and the easily removed large flakes of rust. I then soaked them in a plastic container filled with white vinegar. I left them overnight and came back the next morning armed with steel wool, sandpaper, and some wire brushes.

I was pleasantly surprised with the results! While it definitely took more effort (ie. manpower) to remove the rust, it did slough off fairly easily after the vinegar soak.

Vinegar rust removal for an antique hand plane restoration

With the components of the hand plane now more visible, I was able to assess the actual condition of the parts. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the frog, chip breaker, cap iron, and plane iron were in a condition that would be easily salvageable. I had been concerned about pitting given the severity of the rust across the plane parts, but I was happy to see that there hadn’t been much corrosion to the metal itself and the pitting was minimal.

You can read more on rust removal and pitting here.

Painting

The Japanning, which is a type of paint often seen on older hand planes,  was in poor condition, with it chipping in sections and being entirely gone in other sections. I knew I would have to remove the remaining japanning and repaint it.

I wanted to remove most of the original jappaning in order to get a good surface for the new paint to adhere to.
I used a chemical paint stripper to help with the process. This stuff was harsh! I ended up having to double up with a pair of surgical gloves as well as rubber kitchen gloves while removing the paint. It did its job though, and I was left with a mostly raw metal surface to add paint to.

Prepping to repaint the body of an acorn no 4 hand plane

While there are ways to re-japan the body of the plane, they often require several thin coats and then weeks of allowing the paint to dry. If this was a hand plane that I wanted to restore as closely as possible to the original, I would be keen on those methods, but I wanted to get this thing working as soon as possible! The reason that jappaning was used on plane bodies in the past was because it was a hard wearing type of covering that protected well from rust. These days we have enamel paint that does much the same thing.

Painting the body of an acorn no 4 handplane

I ended up choosing a black Rust-oleum enamel spray paint for the body.

After taping up everything that I didn’t want to paint, I sprayed several coats onto the body of the handplane. From my research, traditionally the front sole of the handplane is painted, but the back was not. I kept this detail in Little Nut, as I did want it to look as close as possible to what it would have orginally been. I also chose to paint the base of the frog at this point as well.

repainted acorn no 4 hand plane

The sole

For the sole of the plane, I took a known flat surface and used adhesive spray to attach a heavy grit sandpaper to it. I then ran the sole of the plane over the sandpaper several times in order to flatten it.

To check for flatness, I drew a crosshatch pattern on the sole of the hand plane before putting it to the sandpaper. After a few passes on the sandpaper, I could then check to see which areas were registering off the sandpaper and which weren’t. When I drew my last pattern on the base, sanded and checked, no marker should remain. At that point, I could start sanding at higher grits until I got a nice, polished sole for the plane.

Flattening the sole of a hand plane

Since I wasn’t planning to do any shooting with this hand plane I wasn’t too concerned with the sides of the hand plane body being perfectly square or flat. I simply gave them a light sanding on the flat surface until they were sufficiently polished.

Lever Cap

The lever iron on the Little nut was either chromed or nickelled and the remains of that coating were in poor repair. It took me a long time to try to remove what was left of the cracked chrome, but once finished I took 240 grit sandpaper and worked at the metal until I was satisfied that it was sufficiently smooth. I then proceeded to move up in grits until I settled on the last sanding with 600 grit.

Restored Acorn no 4 hand plane lever cap

Chip Breaker

The chip breaker was thankfully in pretty good condition! After the rust had been removed, I worked it through the sandpaper grits to bring it to a shine, and then put a new edge on it.

Restored Acorn no 4 handplane parts

Plane Iron

I was also super thankful that the iron itself seemed to have a lot of life left in it. It did have some pitting at the top, but largely inconsequential. After removing the rust and working at it with sandpaper to bring the shine back, I was able to see the original stamp. “Made in Sheffield Vanadium Steel” – Awesome!

Plane Iron Pitting

All that was left then was to grind it down to remove the single chip at the blade, and then give it a nice, sharp, new edge.

Now he really ZINGS!

Polishing

Another use for my little Ozito rotary tool! I used the soft cotton wheel with a polishing compound to really buff up the brass rear tote nut and the depth adjuster. They were so shiny you could barely look at them in the Australian sun after I was finished!

Totes

There were luckily no severe cracks or repairs in the front and rear totes. All that was needed was a good sand and several coats of boiled linseed oil to bring the life back into them.

Acorn no 4 hand plane totes being refinished

Finished!

As I mentioned at the start, I am super stoked with how this project turned out! It’s hard to believe that Little Nut started out so filled with rust that I could barely remove the fixtures or see any markings, and now he really shines.

Fully restored acorn no 4 hand plane

And he works too! Little Nut is light in the hand and really works in every way a little number 4 hand plane should.
Not a bad $25 spent at the swap meet I would say!

Restored acorn no 4 hand plane

If you want to read more about the advantages of old tools and where I personally find my vintage tools, you can read about it here.

Fully restored vintage acorn no 4

Thanks for following along on Little Nut’s adventures! If you have any questions or just want to complement Little Nut on his glow up, leave a note in the comments 🙂

How to Paint a Sink

It is incredible how a bit of paint can transform something old and ugly into something looking brand new. Today’s article is on something that you might not immediately think of when you are looking for things to spruce up with the old paint bottle – a sink!

Read on for how to paint a sink in 4 easy steps!

My mother-in-law is currently in the process of trying to sell her house, and as every day goes by, she seems to come up with new, incredible, sometimes absolutely hairbrained ideas for sprucing the place up.

From using double-sided tape to fix her cinderblock wall (“I promise it will work, Raff”) to wanting to spray paint her floor – she is constantly looking for quick fixes, often ones that I have to desperately try to persuade her to avoid.

Recently though, she was adamant that she wanted her stainless-steel laundry sink spray painted. I was hesitant at first, based purely on the wearability of spray paint and how well it would hold up in the future, (and also because I didn’t think the sink was that bad in the first place) but I was persuaded, because, look, you don’t mess with your mother-in-law.

So, today, I’m going to walk you through the 4 easy steps to paint a sink, and the results we achieved, so that you can decide if it’s the right option for you!

Step 1: Clean it!

It’s surprising how much dirt, grime and grease can build up on a sink, so it’s important to remove all of these things before going any further in the painting process.

But look, a simple soap and scrub isn’t going to cut it here, buddy.

Methylated spirits used for degreasing a sink

Many stores sell cleaners with the specific purpose of degreasing, but methylated spirits (denatured alcohol for those of your in the US), which is also used in the automobile industry for degreasing metal parts and cleaning tools, will arguably provide just as adequate results for this purpose. I gave the sink a good scrub down with spirits and a scouring pad then wiped with a rag soaked in mineral spirits as well.

To be honest, after the clean, I thought it looked spruced up enough to leave it at that aha!

Paint prep for a stainless steel sink

Step 2: Scuff it up

Stainless steel is notorious for not being an easy surface to paint. This is because the shiny, smooth surface of stainless steel makes it difficult for the paint to fully adhere to it and causes chipping over time.

In order to help that stubborn stainless steel really bond with the paint, we need to scuff up the surface.

Scuffing up stainless steal with sandpaper before painting

I used a 240 grit sandpaper and went to town on the metal of the sink. Using a circular motion with the sandpaper, I ensured that I gave the entire surface a thorough scuffing. When finished it was much less shiny – which is exactly what we want.

Step 3: Prep Time

I always tell people that your prep time when painting (depending on the size of the job) is often greater than the time you spend actually painting – it’s good to expect this and be prepared for it. As it happens, my mother-in-law is impatient and didn’t see why it was so necessary, so it was a fight to even get the edges of the sink taped up, much less cover the walls and cabinets.

However, I stood my ground and insisted on the tape job – albeit a rushed one.

Prepping the surrounding area before spray painting

Spray paint isn’t ideal indoors, both from the overspray angle as well as the ventilation issue. I made sure to cover the surrounding areas in plastic, newspaper, and cardboard – opened the door, and aimed a fan for some ventilation.

Once everything was taped up, I gave the sink a quick vacuum and wiped the it down once more with mineral spirits to remove any dust or debris that had settled there. A tack cloth would also work for this stage, but I didn’t have one on hand.

Step 4: Spray it!

Spray paint can look amazing. The outcome, when done properly, settles into a smooth, uniform surface that looks like something factory-made. However, it can be a bit finicky! Which is why, if this is your first-time spray painting, I recommend grabbing a piece of cardboard, a scrap piece of metal, or anything you don’t mind getting ruined, and practicing on it first.

My recommendation for a project such as this is Rustoleum 2x Ultracover. This paint is advertised as a primer and topcoat in one and can bond to metal, wood, and plastic. I have always found good bonding from this product without having to use a separate primer – which significantly decreases the time spent on a project! For this project,  my mother-in-law went with a glossy winter grey colour.

Rust-oleum 2x Ultracover used to paint stainless steel
This is a can I had around the house, not the colour we used, but I forgot to snap a picture at while there, doh!

When spray painting, you want to ensure that you keep the bottle at an even distance from the surface being painted throughout the entire process. I find about 20 cm to be a good distance if no wind is present, but again, you should test first!

Remember: It’s in the body, not the wrist! 

Move with your body instead of your wrist as moving from the wrist will change the angle and the distance that you are spraying at. Instead of holding the nozzle down throughout, practice stopping the spray at the end of each stroke – this helps to avoid over spraying in the same spot.

spray paint

As always with spray paint, you want to do several thin coats as opposed to one thick coat. Because spray paint is so thin if you do a heavy coat you are bound to get runs – something that should be avoided at all costs!

Check the directions on the back of your bottle – but generally around 20 minutes, or after it is touch dry, you can add another coat.

I ended up doing three thin coats all within an hour and half of beginning the project.

Step 5: Clean Up

After the paint is dry to the touch, remove any tape and coverings. If you have any overspray, now is the time to try to clean it up with mineral turps. Ideally, you won’t have any if you have done your prep properly!

Results

I have done a fair amount of spray painting in the past, and so I’m aware of how great it can look, but I’ll admit that I was surprised by just how great the sink looked when finished. It came out beautifully, looks spiffy, brand new, and definitely helped to spruce up the room.

Spray painted stainless steel sinkSpray painted stainless steel sink

It remains to be seen how well the spray holds up to the sink being used and abused – but I think it will do nicely at least until a new sink can be procured.

Have you ever spray-painted a sink? If yes, or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments!

The Low Down on Rust | Best way to remove rust from tools

Rust on iron

If you have tools, you’ve encountered rust! Here’s the low down on what’s causing your beloved tools to rust, the best way to remove rust from tools, and the best way to prevent them from prematurely rusting in the first place.

You pop out to the shed, pick up your favourite chisel and see shocking red stains across the previously shiny metal.

You reach for your beautifully repaired hand plane and see perfect replicas of your fingerprints in a rusty shade of orange – marring the once polished sides of the sole.

Your trusty adjustable wrench no longer moves with ease because the shifter is gummed up with those dastardly, dusty, and grainy flakes of red.

Any of this sound familiar?

Rust is something every owner of tools will struggle with at some point, but there are ways to lessen the struggle and save ourselves from some of the frustration!

How does rust form?

When we say “rust” what we are actually referring to is an “iron oxide.” Iron oxide occurs when iron is exposed to both oxygen and moisture. This exposure starts an electrochemical process which changes the material at a molecular level – essentially the metal fuses with oxygen molecules and creates the new material – Fe2O3.

Iron oxide weakens the bonds of the metal – which is why when rust is bad enough, you can literally break a once solid iron bar with your bare hands.

Rust on iron

An interesting side note: When iron oxide is created it takes up more volume than the original iron, which causes it to expand or “puff out” on the original piece. If you’ve ever seen cracked concrete that has metal rebar exposed, it likely occurred because of the expansion of the metal as it rusted. This is called “oxide jacking.”

How long does rust take to occur?

The first thing that comes to mind for many of us when we observe a heavily rusted item is “wow, that must be old.” This is why it is surprising the first time you return to your workshop and see a brand new tool already working its way towards looking like you picked it out of a box of your great-uncle’s old tools.

But, the reality is rust doesn’t take a long time to form. If you leave your cast iron table saw top unprotected with a piece of green wood on it overnight, you can expect to come back the next morning and see a thin layer of rust already formed! (oops… again)

A great video from the Canadian Conservation Institute shows how quickly flash rusting can occur when exposing a simple iron putty scraper to moisture over a period of 4 hours.

Two types of rust that I watch for

In the case of my tools, and antique restoration, there are two types of rust corrosion that I usually look for to distinguish how much I can expect to be able to restore the tool to usable order.

The first is surface rust. This is the orange, dusty rust that can easily be brushed or scoured off with minimal effort. While some discolouration of the metal beneath the rust often occurs after surface rust is cleaned away, it rarely affects the strength of the underlying metal to a high degree.

Surface rust on iron

Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure if it is surface rust is to brush it down to the bare metal.

The second type of corrosion is the more nefarious type – pitting. Pitting is a concentrated type of corrosion that forms holes or ‘pits’ in the metal.

To really understand the process that causes pitting, let’s go back to what causes rust in the first place and dig a little deeper.

In order for rust to develop it requires an anode (for us, a piece of iron that gives up its electrons), an electrolyte that can move the electrons (water, humid air, etc), and a cathode (another piece of iron that accepts the electrons.)

In the case of pitting, the corrosion is caused by a lack of oxygen in a particular area of the metal, which causes this area to give up its electrons more readily (an aspect referred to as anodic), and the surrounding areas, which have a bit more oxygen, are readily accepting of these electrons (cathodic). Since rust already requires the above exchange of electrons, this localised form accelerates the progression of the rust in a very concentrated area.

Because pitting occurs in a localised area instead of over the entire surface of the metal and extends deeper into the metal, it is often harder to detect and much more damaging to the integrity of the piece.

The results of rust pitting on a cleaned up plane iron
This photo of my Acorn hand plane iron shows the effect of pitting after all the rust has been cleaned away. Notice all the pockmarks in the metal!

Unfortunately, once pitting has occurred the only thing that can be done to “fix it” is to remove the rust from the holes and then fill them with epoxy or weld.

This isn’t the greatest option for our hand tools – but depending on how special/expensive your tool is you might be apt to try it.

Rust removal strategies

There are many ways to remove rust from your tools – from harsh chemical removers to regular household cleaning products, to more in-depth procedures like electrolysis.

Great: Vinegar

For many of my tool restorations, I have used plain old white vinegar. That’s right, the same stuff you have in your cupboard for salad dressings, or beneath your sink for cleaning is also phenomenal for rust removal.

To use vinegar as a rust remover, I believe the best method is soaking the tools in a tub with pure white vinegar. Some people add salt to the mix, but I have never found this to be any more effective than just vinegar – which means it’s just an added, unnecessary step for me.

I’ve left rusted tools in the vinegar anywhere from a few hours to a couple of months (I got distracted, okay?).

Vinegar used for rust removal on hand plane parts after two months
Two months of vinegary goodness

A couple of months was TOO LONG (oopsy). While the acid in the vinegar softens the rust and makes it easy to remove, it also eats at the metal – so it’s important to check your soaking tools regularly and remove them when the rust is easily scrubbed off with fine steel wool or an abrasive pad.

The metal on a plane iron eaten away by vinegar
You’ll notice the edge of this plane blade has lost a lot of metal from the acid.

After removing the tools from the vinegar and giving them a scrub, it’s important to thoroughly wash them to remove the acid from the vinegar. I’ve given them a good rinse in water as well as a dip and scrub in baking soda/water solution. The water itself works fine, but the added baking soda helps to neutralize any excess acid and the bubbling also works at getting beneath any areas of flaking that were left over.

Before photo of an acorn handplane being treated for rust with vinegar
Before and after photo of my Acorn hand plane after the metal parts went through a vinegar treatment.

After photo of rust removal using vinegar on an acorn handplane

I’ve soaked my tools in vinegar several times and always have good results (except for the above mentioned time when I got distracted and left them for too long) – granted it might take a bit more scrubbing after the fact than the following methods, but it’s cheap and readily available.

Better: Chemical rust remover – Evaporust

There are many chemical rust removers on the market, such as CLR and naval jelly,  but the one I have personally used and observed others using with good results is Evaporust.

There are a load of great things about Evaporust, but my personal favourite is that, unlike the vinegar and many other products, it doesn’t use acid to remove the rust. Therefore, I’m not going to run into the same problem of it attacking the metal itself if I leave it a bit too long. It’s also reusable, which means I can use it for several tool restoration products without worrying about too huge of a cost. And, it’s not as toxic or harsh as many of the other products on the market – I still wear gloves when I use it (because I’m paranoid), but Evaporust itself states that gloves and eye protection are not necessary.  If you’ve ever used other harsh chemical removers before, you know how caustic they can be – so this is a great bonus.

To use it, I simply give my tools a cursory scrub to remove loose flakes of rust and dirt – I mostly do this so that I don’t have to spend time afterward trying to really filter out the liquid before storing it for my next use. I then place the tools in a bucket of the Evaporust, put a lid on, and wait. I’ve never had to wait longer than 24 hours for fantastic results. It does leave a dark residue on the tools, but some quick polishing removes it.

Does the added cost make it worth it over the plain old vinegar? If you’re only doing a few rust removal projects here and there, don’t mind waiting longer for results, and putting a bit more work into scrubing after the soak, then I think the vinegar is more than adequate for your purposes. For me, the Evaporust has saved a lot of time and hand power in my restoration projects.

Best: Electrolysis

I’m convinced that electrolysis is the ultimate rust removal method. While I’ve only gotten to see the results of this procedure twice in person, I am excitedly awaiting the day when I can pick up a battery or charger and am able to use it for all of my rust removal purposes.

The process of electrolysis for rust removal requires passing a small electrical charge through your rusty metal. This charge stimulates an exchange of ions while the tool is submerged in an electrolyte liquid, effectively stimulating the exact opposite chemical reaction seen in rusting.

diagram of electrolysis for rust removal
Please enjoy my artwork

I was initially turned on to this process when I was lamenting some very rusted auto parts that I was dealing with, and my mechanic pal, who had all the necessary materials, told me to come over to see some magic. Jeeze Louise, it was magic. The rust just sloughed right off my headers and oil pan. I was immediately hooked.

You’ll need a car battery charger, a plastic or glass bin or bucket, washing soda, and a strip of metal to attach to the positive electrode.


WARNING:

It’s very important to have a well-ventilated area for your electrolysis procedure, as the process creates hydrogen and oxygen gas, which are highly explosive if ignited. Ensure that no sparks or open flame are anywhere near the setup, and that no spills of water can come into contact with the battery.

Rust Prevention

So, we’ve cleaned all the previous rust off and our tool is shiny and clean and ready to go right? You set it down on the table and turn around for two minutes only to find a thin layer of rust already developing!

After rust removal, the bare surface of the metal is especially vulnerable to flash rust. That’s why it is important to immediately protect it from further rust.

Fully restored Acorn handplane
After fully removing the rest and restoring this beauty, we definitely want to make sure we keep it that way!

We know that the combination of moisture and oxygen with the metal is what causes rust to occur. So, in order to prevent that, adding a protective layer to the metal that stops moisture and oxygen from contacting it is necessary.

My go-to when finishing the rust removal process is to wipe my tools with Camellia oil. I apply the oil on a rag which I store in an old, metal Altoid box – this makes it easy to grab and use whenever I am finished with using my tools. Camellia oil, unlike other machine oils, doesn’t have the tendency to stain the wood that you’re working with, which is a huge plus! After using any of my planes or chisels, I always clean them off and then wipe them down with the oil-soaked rag before storing them.

For my table saw surface, I avoid the use of oil as it easily attracts dust, instead, I thoroughly clean the surface with mineral spirits and then apply a dry, silicone-free spray such as Bostik’s Top- Coat or Boeshield T-9, I’ve used both with good results that tend to last longer than a paste wax. After spraying, I give it a good wipe down with a paper towel and I’m good to go!

Proper storage of your tools is another good rust-preventive strategy. Ideally, your tools would be stored in an area with very little moisture exposure. However, since I live in an area with heavy humidity and no environmental control in my shed, I’ve found the silica-gel packs (those little packs that come in the packages of many products and have “do not eat” written on them)  to be a good way to prevent moisture from getting at your tools if you are storing them in boxes– toss a few in with them and the packs will suck up the moisture in the air.

The silica gel packs lose their effectiveness over time, but I find they work well if being changed out on a semi-regular basis, or after “reviving” the packs by heating them in the oven to dry them out once they have lost their effectiveness. Give it a try!

If storing your tools in the open air, I find the best way to keep them from rusting is to hang them – while trying to keep them from touching any raw wood – raw wood just loves to seep moisture out onto your vulnerable metal tools!

You can kick rust to the curb

Rust is something as a tool user that you will always be trying to keep ahead of.  But, now that you know the strategies to prevent it, and the ways in which it can be removed, you have the power to keep your tools shiny and clean for years to come!

If you’ve found this information helpful, or have any questions or comments on rust removal and prevention, please leave us a comment below!

Hearing Protection for Woodworking

Woman wearing over ear protection

It’s time for a serious talk about ear protection! For a long time as a hobbyist, I was fairly lackadaisical with my hearing protection for woodworking purposes. If I needed to make a quick cut with the circular saw or do some pruning with a recip, it was often the last thing on my mind to grab the earmuffs from the shed. In addition, over the course of my time perusing the web for different ideas or tutorials I have seen countless videos and pictures of people operating heavy power tools without any ear protection.

There are a lot of things around this mid-life era where I’m at now that, looking back, I would do differently. I don’t want not wearing ear protection to be one of them.  Which got me to thinking about a lot of the questions that I’ve heard – what level of protection do I actually need when using my tools? Am I even doing enough work to risk damaging my ears?  Are noise-canceling earphones enough? This led to an OCD level deep dive into the research behind ear protection and dangerous noise levels.

So, if you want to know about hearing protection and don’t want to spend the hours and hours of time that I spent to understand it, here’s my summation of everything you need to know about hearing protection for the woodworking crowd.

Woman wearing over ear protection

How is sound measured?

When I began digging around to find what was an adequate amount of protection, I first had to find out how noise is measured and what a dangerous level of noise was – I mean, my dog , Taco, has a pretty loud bark, do I need protection for that too?

In the simplest terms, sound is measured in regard to its intensity or volume, which is measured as decibels. The decibel scale measures from 0, or the lowest sound our ears can pick up, to 180dB – which is the sound measured from the launch pad of rockets.

An important thing to know when considering hearing protection is that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale. Unlike linear scales, where the value between any two points is always consistent, logarithmic scales rely on exponents.

For decibels, every 10-decibel increase equates to 10 times the corresponding lower number. 30 decibels is, therefore, ten times louder than 20 decibels and one hundred times louder than 10 decibels.

The A-weighted scale

In terms of hearing protection, we regularly use an “A-weighted” decibel scale (dBA).

Think of all the times you wanted your test scores bell-curved, and you’ll get a bit of an idea of what dBA is. Essentially, it takes into account the various factors related to how the human ear processes sound and frequencies. Because our ears have trouble picking up very low and very high-pitched sounds, A-weighted decibels and the machines that are calibrated to them, specifically measure for the range of sounds that our ears are actually sensitive to.  That’s why dBA is used as the primary measurement for environmental noise and hearing protection. It’s meant to be as accurate an interpretation of what our ears are truly hearing that the current research can get. When you see the safety warnings for certain levels of noise under The Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (OSHA) they have always been measured as dBA.

What is a dangerous decibel level?

The risk of hearing damage in relation to noise levels has several variables. How loud the noise is, how long you are exposed to it, how much time your ears are given to rest between exposures, and your individual vulnerability to noise all play a factor in what a dangerous noise level is for you.

However, the Centre for Disease Control has listed a recommendation that anything over 85dBA should be considered levels of noise that are potentially harmful for hearing loss, and efforts should be taken to reduce the noise, wear protection, or limit exposure to it.

To determine what level of hearing protection you need, you need to know what dbA your specific environment is putting out, and the amount of time you will be exposed to it.

diagram from NIOSH showing the noise exposure exponential increase per dB raise
(Picture from NIOSH via CDC)

(For the purpose of this article from now on when I refer to ‘decibels,’ they are always A-weighted or dBA)

The recommendation is that any time you are exposed to noise over 85 dBA, you should wear ear protection.  In addition, you should never be exposed to any noise level over 140dB (as heard in gun shots and explosions – such as fireworks) as this amount of noise can cause nearly instant permanent damage. (I can see now why my poor dog, Taco, is so averse to fireworks!)

An array of fireworks that far exceed the safe limit for noise exposure
Fireworks can easily pass the 140dB mark, and depending on how close you are to them, can well exceed safe noise levels.

To put dangerous levels of noise into a more day to day perspective, if you listen to your headphones at full volume it can often exceed 100 decibels, which is enough to permanently damage your hearing within only fifteen minutes of exposure!

And look, I know we don’t all have the equipment to measure the sound level of our environment but if you are having to raise your voice to be heard from one meter away, or if a specific noise hurts/makes your ears ring then the noise may be capable of damaging your hearing. So, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

What dBA are my tools putting out?

Now that we know what a decibel is and how sensitive our weak, little human ears are to them, we can take a look at what some of our more common woodworking tools are putting out.

In a study titled “Noise Levels of Common Construction Power Tools,” written by Gregory Callahan of the University of Florida, a Porter Cable circular saw came in at a decibel of 92.7 when measuring its noise level from the ear level of the operator in the centre of a room.

Circular saw used with a carpenters square as guide

So, we can clearly see that our power tools have the capacity to be well above the safe decibel level!

An interesting note in this study also showed that using power tools in enclosed spaces, or in the corner of rooms dramatically increased the recorded decibels (in the case of the Porter Cable saw it was up to and over 114 decibels when measured in the corner of the room!) This was chalked up to the amplification of the room and the soundwaves bouncing off of close surfaces. This means that, when you have the option to use your tools in an outdoor space, it’s measurably better for noise reduction.

Most sound information I have found on power saws and planers puts them in the 100+ decibel range.

The answer then to “do I need hearing protection for my power tools?” is yes. Every time.  Exposure to noise and the damage that it causes builds up over time, and there really should be no reason to risk your future hearing for your laziness today. (Giving my former self a hefty slap on the wrist for that!)

What is adequate hearing protection?

We know that our tools can put out enough noise to be harmful, so what are our hearing protection options? In order to get to that, we have to know about the regulated rating system that is used to determine the effectiveness of each piece of hearing protection.

Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)

If you’ve done any shopping for ear protection you’ve probably come across the acronym NRR, which stands for Noise Reduction Rating. NRR is a standard of measurement, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which determines the adequacy of hearing protection to perform its desired purpose – sound reduction in a working environment.

NRR label

The higher the NRR the better the noise reduction; and therefore, hearing protection that the specific product will provide. The highest current NRR measured in a product is 33dB

How is NRR determined?

The NRR that you see on the labels of all regulation hearing protection is calculated in a laboratory under very controlled settings. The test is the same regardless of where it is done. The NRR rating is calculated based on the average amount of reduction in noise that is provided by the hearing protection device when test fitted to at least ten different people, who are each tested at least three times. These ten different people don’t put the hearing protection on themselves – instead they are fitted by the laboratory team.

The above fact is important to note and is the reason that you can’t take NRR at its face value, because research has indicated that the laboratory results severely overestimate the actual real-world effectiveness of the device.

And that, my friends, is why we unfortunately have to do some math.

The MATH

Because the number seen on the NRR rating is the maximum
level of decibel reduction that was seen in the laboratory setting with ideal conditions, under the circumstances where the product is perfectly fitted and worn correctly, and with no outside environmental effects, we can’t just use the NRR number to calculate the total protection we are getting from a specific product in the real world.

A pair of ear plugs with an NRR rating of 25
Notice the NRR rating of 25dB displayed on these 3M earplugs.

For instance, if your hearing protection has a rating of NRR 25dB and the noise level of your environment is 95dB – wearing your ear protection doesn’t result in a decibel level of 70. To account for real-world conditions there is an equation we can use to determine an adjusted number that is a more accurate representation of the decibel reduction you may expect from your hearing protection.

(NRR-7)/2

To get the actual decibel reduction for the hearing protection you subtract 7 from the NRR rating and then divide the result by 2.  This number can then be subtracted from the environmental decibel rating.


Ex. NRR of 25dB and environmental rating of 115

(25-7 )/2 = 9

115-9 = 106 is the adjusted decibel level when wearing the protection.

NRR Subject Fit (SF)

Because of the variance that can be seen in the laboratory testing to real-world environments, new testing parameters have been introduced in some areas. In these tests the subjects themselves, as opposed to the testing staff, fit the protection.  In this way, some of the variance of user error is omitted from the test.

NRR (SF) is now used in Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil and is OSHA compliant as a new rating system that doesn’t require the above calculation corrections (No math, yay!). So, if you see an NRR (SF) label, you can subtract the number directly from the decibel rating of the sound you are trying to protect yourself from.

 

What protection should I wear?

Good question! If we know that many power tools can reach the 100dB range, we should be finding ear protection that is at least NRR29 which, given the above adjustments, would bring a 100dB sound down to approximately 89, and then doubling up with both in-ear and over-ear to bring that down further.

Unfortunately, doubling up protection doesn’t actually double the amount of protection. While there is conflicting information on the exact amount of added protection you gain from doubling up, most research simply adds 4-7dB of added protection to the NRR rating.

Which certainly does help, but not as much as you may have thought! Even so, leading health organisations suggest doubling up anytime the expose is over 105db.

This means, when you are using tools such as a table saw that can regularly go over 105dB, you should be doubling up for safety. Especially if you are using it for long periods of time.

And as for my earlier question of whether audio earphones were enough? I’m sure, at this point, you know the answer is no! Not only do they typically not provide enough protection, oftentimes people will up the volume in order to hear their music above the sounds being generated around them – which is dangerous in itself!

How to wear protection?

As always, a piece of equipment is only effective if it is used in the way it was intended.  Research has indicated that up to one-half of people who use hearing protection are receiving half or less of the potential NRR rating listed on their device. This is due to improperly fitted equipment as well as the protection not being worn continuously throughout the noise exposure.

Proper fitting of ear plugs for hearing protection
Earplugs should be inserted all the way in order to properly seal the ear canal.

Improperly fitted equipment won’t create a full seal and therefore will not protect against dangerous noise levels. This is why it’s important to always follow the appropriate instructions provided when fitting your chosen hearing protection! If you are wearing earplugs a handy way to check if your fit is proper is to place your hands over your ears – if the plugs are fitted correctly the noise level should not significantly change when you do so.

Over-ear protection should form a full seal around the ear. Glasses or long hair can easily get in the way of this and ruin the level of protection provided.

Lastly, it’s important to keep the protection on for the duration of the activity that you are protecting yourself from. Removing it even for a short while can drastically reduce the protection level for the entire time you are using it. Crazy, eh?

What does this mean for woodworkers?

It means that every time you reach to turn on the saw or spend some time with the power sander, you should also reach for the ear protection, and the ear protection you reach for should have adequate NRR and be properly fitted. We know from research that every exposure to dangerous decibel levels, no matter how long, can eventually add up to a permanent hearing loss.

It also means that I have something to say to a lot of the very popular crafters about their videos and pictures which lack hearing protection:

You have a platform that is widespread, and a reach that requires you to hold yourself to a certain standard.  By portraying yourself as an expert in your field, and by not practicing safe measures you are insinuating to your followers that it isn’t necessary for the hobby woodworker to make the effort to pull on a pair of ear protection before cranking up the saw. I really don’t want to have to start yelling at the next generation of hobbyists because they followed your example and now, instead of choosing not to listen to me, simply can’t hear me.

So, wear your PPE friends! 

This has been a friendly neighborhood PSA from your truely.

 

Homemade Wooden Christmas Gift Ideas

DIY hardwood magnetic keyholder shelves hung with wall anchors

With only a little over a month left until Christmas, now is the perfect time to get your hands a little dirty and start crafting up some gifts for your loved ones! I’ve compiled a list of 10 of my absolute favourite homemade wooden Christmas gift ideas so that you can stop racking your brain for ideas and get right to the building. This list includes simple, but beautiful projects that require minimal tools to complete – so that even a beginner without a slew of equipment can test out the crafting bug this holiday season.

But first:

Why homemade gifts?

Here’s the thing, buying gifts is fairly easy (If you have the money, that is. First-World problems, amiright?) You make a trip to the store, wave your plastic card and head on home with a sense of accomplishment for having finished your Christmas shopping on time.

In contrast, handmade wooden gifts  involve you giving something more valuable than your money – your time. They have the potential to be used for years to come and are, in my opinion, so much more valuable than any that you could spend hard cash on. As they say, time is money – and the time you pour into the projects you choose to gift is time truly well spent.

Sentimental value aside, homemade wooden gifts also have the potential to be more eco-friendly and less wasteful.

We live in a world of excessive consumerism. Every year billions of dollars are spent around the holidays, and if we are honest with ourselves, more often than not, those gifts end up being re-gifted, not used, or worse, thrown away within a short period of time.

(As a side note: I’m convinced that’s why candles are such popular gifts – they live out their lives in the perpetual cycle of regifting. Sorry to the friends and fam that may be reading this and are just now finding out where their gifted candles actually ended up. I’m sure it was to a loving home.)

So, in the interest of saving our planet from more plastic garbage and delighting your friends and family with a truly unique gift this year, I’ve compiled a list for you of simple, handmade wooden gift ideas that even a beginner can put their hand to.

Puzzle Piece Coasters:

I love this twist on the traditional coaster. Not only is it beautiful, it is also versatile. You can use a single coaster or put them together to act as protection for larger pots and bowls.

Wooden puzzle piece coaster

In order to build, you’re going to need a jigsaw or scrollsaw (you could get away with a coping saw if you are game to do it by hand) to cut the blocks – finish with some sandpaper and a good water-resistant varnish and your friends and family will be awed at this thoughtful gift!

While I find the hardwood look absolutely gorgeous, some people even use plywood – which can make the cost go down and still looks fantastic!

Wooden puzzle piece coaster made from plywood

Wooden Cheese/Charcuterie Board:

Everyone loves a good wooden cheese board or serving tray. And, the great thing is, you can make this as simple or intricate as you like.

You can choose to go about milling a piece of raw wood into a beautifully shaped piece, you can include routed corners, inlays, and epoxy rivers

charred wooden blank used as charcuterie boardLong wooden board crafted into charcuterie board

Or go the simple route and finish a piece of wood from the hardware store.
Either way, this homemade piece is sure to bring you to whoever’s mind is stacking it with all the cheese and cured meats at the next gathering.

The one thing to keep in mind, as with most things you’ll be using in the kitchen to potentially cut on, is to use a food-safe sealant such as mineral oil or a beeswax and oil mix when you finish this piece up.

Bedside Accessory Stand

We all know that friend or loved one whose items and accessories are strewn about the house haphazardly. This is the perfect gift of organisation for that person!

Again, the design can be as simple or as difficult as you want it to be. Cell phone charging port, watch hanger, coin and ring tray – the great thing about homemade gifts is that you can think of the person you have in mind and make it perfect for them!

Bedside accessory organiser

Wooden Kid’s Toys

Have some nieces and nephews that already have way too many toys? Wooden toys are long lasting and have the special touch of having been made by someone they love. They may even turn into family heirlooms! I still have some of the wooden toys my grandpa made, which I’ll regift to my children one day.

Wooden blocks, puzzles, trains, cars, balls, rattles -the list is endless and kids love them.

Carved wooden children's rattle toy

I once carved this box with rolling balls out of wood for my two-year-old niece. She was quite enthralled and carried it everywhere with her, constantly flipping the box around to get the balls to roll from one side to the other.

PSA:
Important to remember with this gift is to make sure both the wood and any finish you may put on it are safe for kids to potentially put in their mouths!

Wooden Spoons

These were the first handmade wooden gifts I ever gave away – and I remember the feeling of seeing my mom’s eyes light up when she exclaimed: “you made this!?”
If you know someone who loves to cook, having a custom-made wooden spoon or spatula is an extra special gift that is sure to bring you to their mind every time they pick it up.

Hand carved wooden spoon
My first carved spoon – Forgive the grainy picture, circa 2009!

Carved wooden spoon with cherry heartwood

I used only a hatchet and carving knives to make my first spoons out of raw wood – but a jigsaw, bandsaw or scrollsaw and any blank piece of wood would make this project even simpler. Just make sure to research the type of wood to make sure it’s food-safe, and only finish with an equally food-safe oil 😉 My favourite food-safe finish is mineral oil. 

Necklace Stand

This is the perfect gift for the special someone who needs a better way to store their jewelry than in one giant heap which needs constant detangling. (Not me, I swear)
There are many designs online from super simple like this stand

simple wooden necklace stand

To my favourite – this tree stand that is both beautiful and useful.

Wooden necklace tree stand

Key Shelves

Since making these for myself, I’ve made several more to give as gifts and they are always a huge success. Just think of never having to hear “Babe, have you seen my keys?” ever again and you’ll dive into this project with some serious gusto.

DIY hardwood magnetic keyholder shelves hung with wall anchorsWalnut stained Meranti wood key holder shelf with rare earth magnets

Wall Art

If you have some friends or family whose walls need some serious love, wooden wall art is the perfect unique gift. Customize it to whatever their particular interests are or go with something abstract/geometric. It’s sure to take a place of honour on their walls and be a point of conversation every time someone sees it!

Wooden wall art

Picture Frame

This is another one that I often find myself gifting. Once built, find a special picture for it and give the person a truly sentimental gift that will always bring a smile to their face when viewing.

wooden picture frames

Bottle Opener

Got some friends or family that love popping bottles? This one is a unique, easy to make gift that they’ve probably never received before and will actually love. Especially because it’s handmade by you! Just make sure you choose a hardwood that can stand up to the abuse 😉

I’ve written about this little bottle opener project here!

Homemade wooden bottle opener

Hope you’ve found a few ideas here that suit your needs! If you have any go-to homemade gifts that aren’t mentioned in this article, let us know in the comments!

The 5 Best Youtube Channels for Beginner Woodworking Tips

A man, outdoors on a sunny day, using a wood rasp on a rough wooden beam

Here’s the truth: Youtube is one of the greatest resources of the current generation (don’t quote me on that).
But really, how amazing is it that a video tutorial for whatever you are currently struggling to learn at a seemingly arduously slow pace can be at your enthusiastic little fingertips at the click of a button.

You can learn nearly anything on YouTube – from the mundane to the absolutely bizarre.

– Need to know how to sneak food into class, because three-hour lectures are simply way too long for you to go without eating?  There’s a video (several actually) on that very topic.

– Do you want to make a dog bed out of a sweater? YouTube has you covered.

– Want to know how to turn your mountain of old high heels into a flower vase? Just click on your suggested videos.

– Desperately need to get into the new trend of Duct tape hammocks? No worries, as long as you have the duct tape, someone on YouTube has the know-how.

(please don’t ask me how I am sure these videos exist)

But, if you’re like me and you want to get some quality beginner woodworking tips? YouTube definitely has you covered.

When I was in my last year of university so many years ago, I had a bit of a young-adult crisis, stopped going to class, and converted the basement of my shared townhouse into my very own little workshop. If you ask my roommates, they would tell you they weren’t happy but didn’t want to get too close to someone in the throes of crashing and burning in order to tell me to stop– crashing and burning is contagious as you know.

The point is, I spent hours on YouTube and the internet hunting down project plans, beginner woodworking tips, and tricks, etc.

And while I wasn’t brand new to the topic, having grown up watching my dad in the shop, branching off on your own (with only the old NiCad, keep the battery charging 24/7, blue Ryobi hand drill and a chop saw as my tool chest) can be scary.

That’s why I found so much comfort in being able to watch people break things down in a way that was understandable. They made these projects feel really doable. I’m confident that I’m not exaggerating when I say that I learned more from those YouTube channels than I did from my five-year degree in Criminal Justice (but the degree did cost me a lot more!).

Since then, many more instructional channels have popped up, and the depth of information and knowledge that the budding woodworker can access is astronomical.

Here are five of the best, in my humble opinion, youtube channels for beginner woodworking tips.

1. WoodWorking for Mere Mortals

It’s hard to pick any one video from Steve Ramsey’s library of amazing tutorials, tips and tricks, projects, and safety advice as a favourite. It is equally as hard to find another YouTube vlogger who is as adept at teaching in a way that is entertaining and enlightening. His videos never feel like lectures, but you will always come away having learned something. I also appreciate that many of his videos feature relatively cheap tools and real accessibility to those new to the hobby. Steve has recently launched a “Weekend Woodworker” course that is aimed to help beginner woodworkers get started on projects.

2. April Wilkerson

April Wilkerson does mostly video projects these days, but years ago she was doing a lot more informative, theoretical stuff on how to use certain tools and how to set up certain areas of the shop, and all of that amazingly helpful information for beginners is still there on her channel.

Her new stuff is just as good as the old (if not better). Videos show her building the project from start to finish with a voice-over explaining exactly what she is doing at each step of the build – including her thought process for certain areas of the project. April shows her mistakes as well as her successes, which is an immensely important thing for beginner woodworkers to see.  She also has a website with a slew of project plans!

3. Wood Whisperer

Marc Spagnuolo, of the Wood Whisperer, has a wide variety of videos directed not just at the beginner woodworker, but also at the advanced – which means that this is an excellent channel to grow with.

He frequently answers questions sent to him by subscribers, and if the question was asked, more often than not as a beginner woodworker, you would have asked it as well! From what types of glue to use for certain projects, tips and tricks for common problems, and some awesome project builds – a beginner woodworker could get lost for hours and come out with enough knowledge to make them confidently stride out to the shed to start that new project.

4. WoodWorkWeb

I can’t begin to count the number of great tips and tricks that I have picked up from Colin Knecht’s channel, WoodWorkWeb. His woodworking hacks,  often involving reusing regular household objects for convenient shop purposes, have me finishing up a video thinking “Why didn’t I think of that really, really simple trick that is going to make my life a whole lot easier?” His years of experience come through in the way he is able to effortlessly pass on knowledge and some pretty fantastic woodworking jigs and project ideas.

5. Woodworker’s Journal

These guys are old school, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean it in the type of way where you feel like you are sitting in your Grandpa’s old shed and he is slowly, lovingly showing you how to use a certain tool. So slow sometimes that you want to shake him (lovingly), but you wouldn’t for a second take back all those golden nuggets (or the time you got to spend with him) you learned.  This channel comes from America’s leading woodworking magazine and it is chock full of information and projects. It won’t be potentially as entertaining or as easy to sit through as some of the other channels, but you’re going to learn some very useful stuff.

What are you waiting for?

That’s right! Hop online and start learning, getting inspiration, and being blown away by how accessible woodworking really is for everyone.
If you have a favourite channel of your own or a favourite video from one of the above channels, leave us a comment! We love to discover new content from all the talented crafters in the world.

6 Different Types of Hand Saws and How YOU Can Put Them To Use

artistic shot of a carpenter's saw on a black background

We get it, meandering through the hand saw aisle at your local hardware store can sometimes prove a bit daunting. After all, there seems to be a lot of different types of hand saws of all shapes and sizes. The ever-changing advertising and terminology can leave even the experienced woodworker’s head spinning.  So, today, we are going to cut through some of that confusion, (and yes, that pun was very much intended) by giving you a rundown on 6 of the common hand saws you might come across while perusing the aisles.

 

Infographic with a list of 6 different types of hand saws and their primary functions. Including bow saw, back saw, coping saw, keyhole saw, carpenters saw, and hacksaw.
The Basics

 

Back Saw: The Accuracy King

The term “back saw” generally refers to any type of saw that has a thick reinforced backing along the blade. This backing helps to prevent the blade from bending or bowing during the cut, which ensures a more accurate cut along with better control compared to the saws without this backing.

The stiff spline characteristic of the back saw

While back saws can be used for general cross cut purposes, they are better used for detail work and joinery – such as dovetails, mitres, box joints etc, because of their added degree of stability. The extra steel along the spine places an even pressure along the entire length of the blade which makes precise cuts much easier than with a carpenter’s saw.

Unlike the carpenter’s saws that most of us picture when we think of saws, the back saw has a rectangular blade and is shorter, usually around  35.5 centimeters (14 inches). Because the back saw has a spine that is thicker than the kerf of the blade, it is limited to material that’s thickness is less than the height of the blade – eliminating this saw for through cuts on thicker wood. The back saw’s teeth are closely spaced which allows for a smooth finish and clean cut – ideal for intricate work.


Best for:

Joinery
Accurate cuts

Coping Saw: The scroll saw of hand tools

the thin blade and u-shaped design of a coping saw

The scroll saw of hand saws.  The coping saw has a very thin metal blade stretched between two points on a thin, malleable, c-shaped frame with handle. Because the blade is so thin and the teeth are relatively small and closely spaced, the coping saw excels at making curved and intricately designed cuts with a fine finish – but the downside to the thin blade and closely spaced teeth is that these cuts take much longer to complete.

The blade of the coping saw can be reversed and removed which adds to the versatility of the saw – different blades can be purchased for different materials such as metal. In addition, because the blade is removable, the saw can be used to perform interior cut-outs from the centre of the material by detaching, inserting the blade in a drill hole, and then reattaching to the saw frame.

a crafter demonstrating a coping saw making a curved cut on plastic
Coping saws can cut on a variety of materials and are adept at accurate curves.

The thinness of the blade causes it to be relatively fragile and as the thickness of the material being cut increases, the accuracy of the coping saw decreases. Thicker material tends to cause the thin blade of the coping saw to wander and create wavy cuts – this restricts the coping saw to more delicate work on thin materials.

Best for:
Intricate designs on thinner materials
Curved cuts
Interior cut-outs

Bow Saw: The lumberjack

Hand drawing of a bow saw

While there are a few different versions of the bow saw, including some specifically designed for the shop woodworker, I’m going to focus on the common bow saw which we currently see most often in the hardware store.

The common bow saw we see in hardware stores is a versatile saw with a similar design to the coping saw but vastly different cutting ability. The bow saw gets its name from its design, which is shaped like…. you guessed it – an archer’s bow. It is comprised of a long, stiff blade held between two points on a D-shaped frame. Unlike the coping saw, the pistol grip handle of the bow saw is situated directly on the D-shaped frame. This location allows for more power to be directed into the cut – which gives an indication of what the common bow saw is mostly used for these days – quick, rough cuts.

The tooth layout on bow saws is unique in that they are not all angled in the same direction, which allows for cutting action on both the push and pull stroke of the cut. This, along with the low tooth count and deep gullets, results in demonstrably faster cuts than other saws. However, these factors also make for a choppy cut with a rough finish – good for quickly removing material, but not for work that needs a delicate, finished edge.

A bow saw sitting on a pile of freshly saw firewood

The bow saw is commonly used outside. Its tough metal blade, and rigid handle design make it ideal for cutting logs and green wood. Throwing back to its outdoor uses, the bow saw generally has two different blade styles to accommodate for the different wood you’ll be attacking outside –
the peg tooth: designed for dry wood
and the peg and raker toothed blade: designed specifically for wet wood.

The design of these blades is beyond the scope of this article, but I encourage you to pick the right one, or even one of each if you do a lot of outdoor work.

Best for:
Outdoor work on logs/green wood
Fast, rough cutting
Large curves

Hacksaw: The grinder

Red metal hacksaw

The hacksaw has a similar design to the coping saw and the bow saw and is primarily used for plastic or metal. It has a thin, wide blade, with a very high tooth count, which makes for exceptionally clean cuts. The blade is situated in a metal frame with a pistol grip handle, and varies in length depending on the model, though the standard is roughly 30cm. The blades are removable and there are a wide variety of types that can be purchased for use with different materials.

Best for:
Metal and plastic cutting
Pipes

Carpenter’s Saw: The Utility Saw

carpenter's saw with utility blade

Often referred to as the carpenter’s saw or panel saw the utility saw, is a versatile saw that can be used for a wide variety of applications and can come in several sizes. In the past, this traditional handsaw with its angular, triangle shaped blade and pistol grip handle situated at the back, came either with crosscut or rip cut angled teeth on the blade. This meant that you would often need two saws, a crosscut and ripcut, in your arsenal. However, in recent times most of these saws come with a design that holds both types of teeth, allowing the saw to cut both rip and crosscuts when necessary. These saws are often referred to as “universal” or “utility” saws – also look for saws branded as those with “hybrid” blades if looking for the utility saw.

artistic shot of a carpenter's saw on a black background

The blades vary in length but are generally longer than a back saw and have a lower tooth count. Much like the blade technology, which has changed with time, the cutting action on these saws has also changed. While most still cut on the pull stroke, as was the traditional design, there are models now that cut both on the pull and push, which allows for a much faster cut. The length of the blade results in a long cutting stroke, which also increases the speed, but at a detriment to accuracy and fine finish. Because the blade is a singular thickness throughout, unlike the back saw, the utility saw is not limited in the thickness of material it can cut.


Best for:

Dimensioning lumber
Thick material
Both crosscut and ripcutting

Keyhole Saw: The versatile handyman’s dream

Keyhole saws have a narrow, rigid blade attached to a handle. Think of this saw as the manually powered jigsaw.

The thin design of the blade allows for tight, curved cuts or interior cuts on panels, such as drywall or plywood – most often for outlets or switches. While the cuts won’t have as clean of a finish as a coping saw, the keyhole saw gets curves and odd cuts done fast.

a keyhole saw with pistol grip seen from the top and the side view

However, this little guy shouldn’t be relegated to only these odd cuts as it is a workhorse around the shop. For instance, the narrow design and sharp teeth make it ideal for cutting out quick mortises after drilling (especially if you aren’t keen on chisel work.)

Many keyhole saws come with a removable blade which opens up the possibility of using varied blades for different materials, and the saw’s relatively small design means it is easy to attach to a tool belt to be used for quick offcuts and utility purposes.

Here’s an example of an awesome use for a keyhole saw that we mentioned: Mortises!


Best for:

Interior cuts
Cuts in cramped, tight corners
Curves
Multipurpose

So, there we have it…

We hope these explanations on the common saws you see in the hardware store will help you feel less overwhelmed the next time you stand in front of the display and wonder, “Which of these saws is the right fit for my job?”

If you’ve found this article helpful we encourage you to share it with someone else who might need the info! Thanks for reading and get out there and cut your teeth on some hand saw projects! (That pun was intended as well)

 

Vintage Woodworking Tools | Worth the hype?

Vintage chisels and hand drills displayed in a workshop

As I’ve said before, I love old tools, and there is nothing better than coming across some quality vintage woodworking tools.

But what’s all the hype?

Are they really better than the tools of today?

Where can I look for, and what do I look for in vintage tools?

Beyond the nostalgic value of each vintage woodworking tool being used to create perhaps countless beautiful things by the craftsmen/women who owned them, are they really worth getting up early on your Sunday off to scour the local swap meet?

The answer according to Raff? Yes.

Tools from before the era of CNC machining didn’t have the option of having shortcuts. They were expensive, large, and heavy, simply because they had to be, and the by-product of these qualities? Well, they have inherent longevity. This means you can pick one up for a couple of dollars at a swap meet, clean it up, and likely have it working as well as the day it was produced.

Where to find Vintage Woodworking Tools:

So, you’ve decided to try to augment or perhaps fill your toolbox with some vintage tools. Where do you look?

Swap Meets

In Australia, I have found the best luck for vintage tool hunting at local swap meets or Sunday markets. A simple Google search will have you finding dozens of these in any major city, often one in every suburb. Where I reside in Perth there are no less than three Sunday markets within a fifteen-minute drive of my home. The added bonus is that these are fun, and you really never know what you might find. It’s the ultimate treasure hunt!

Market stall with various vintage items

Ebay

If you are looking for a specific vintage tool and want to do it from the comfort of your home – eBay is the place to do it. Unfortunately, for those of us on the other side of the world, the .au eBay doesn’t have nearly as large a selection as Ebay.com. Many of the vintage tools you will find on Ebay will be coming from the US, so watch for those sneaky shipping fees that can quickly add up.

Estate sales

I’ve picked up some amazing quality tools from estate sales, with the added bonus of often getting to learn a bit about the history of the tool and the previous owner. It gives me a good deal of pride to know that the tools that were used lovingly in the past will continue to be used lovingly in my own collection.

Gumtree (Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook marketplace etc)

Gumtree can be hit and miss, but I have found some good deals. Most recently, I purchased an early era Australian made Stanley Bailey No. 5 for $20 dollars. A good tip is to ask if they have anything else to sell as well. The older gentleman who sold me the no. 5 also had some brace and bits for sale that he was willing to part with at a good price given that I was already there. While I wasn’t interested in any more bits, you just might have been!

Is this rusty, dinged up thing a diamond in the rough?  

You’ve crawled out of bed well before dawn to get to the local swap meet bright and early, but as you find yourself perusing the various stalls and Ute beds, you realize that you have no idea what you are looking for!

So how do you tell what’s a good buy and what’s a waste of your hard-earned cash?

Vintage tools including a push saw, ball peen hammer, and hand drill displayed on a wooden table

My biggest advice here is to know what you want and research it beforehand. If you’re reading this, it is likely you have already started that process. Good for you! When I go to a swap meet I usually have a list of tools that I would be interested in picking up in mind. Beforehand, I’ve done a good deal of research on what the ideal brands and models are for each tool – if I’m lucky, one of those models will be lurking in one of the boxes of old, rusty tools, but more often than not they aren’t.

Don’t get too caught up in the brands, after all, we are looking for useability and not collectibility, and many old brands that aren’t as popular today put out surprisingly good quality tools.

Acorn no. 4 hand plane on a black table

I found the above Acorn No. 4 for 25 dollars at a swap meet. While it isn’t a collectible item and the Acorn brand isn’t nearly as popular as Stanley, once cleaned up I’ve found it in fantastic workable condition and much better quality than anything I could have purchased for $25 brand new. You can read about my find and the history of this plane here: Vintage Acorn No. 4 History.

That’s why knowing what to look for in a general tool is so helpful – it means you don’t have to be tied to a specific brand.

In terms of age, pre-war (WWII) is a good rule of thumb for quality, but pre 1970 is generally well thought of as well.  It’s oftentimes hard to tell the age when you are looking through a box of tools that all look pretty old, though. After all, it’s amazing how a few years in a damp shed can age a tool. A severely neglected hand plane can look fifty years old and turn out to be five! That’s why I advocate doing your research on what models of a particular age looked like/what features to look out for in order to date a specific tool.

In more general terms here are a few things I look out for:

Rust:

For vintage tools, many people get hung up on rust, but the reality is that rust can often hide a beautiful, quality tool beneath that many people not knowing any better would have avoided – that means it’s probably cheap for you!

There are two types of corrosion to look for: Surface and pitting

Surface rust is the orange, dusty rust that is easily removed with a good amount of white vinegar and steel wool to get back to bare metal.

Pitting is an aggressive, localized form of rust that leaves small holes in the metal. I generally advise that tools with pitting should be avoided. There are loads of vintage tools to pick and choose from and I find it not worth the effort to pick up a tool with mid to heavy pitting.

Blade adjustment knob and rear sole of an acorn no 4 handplane. Displaying flaking rust and paint.
This Acorn hand plane has a lot of surface rust, but once cleaned, the difference will be stark!

Blade Quality:

Keep an eye out for  my specific second-hand buy guides for tools such as the hand plane and chisels,  that I will be coming out with, but for now, here is a general guide:

For tools with blades, such as saws, hand planes, and chisels – what you go for depends on how much work you will want to put into your vintage tool before it is usable. However, there are a few things I will generally stay away from.

Check the blade on handsaws to ensure that it isn’t missing several teeth and that the teeth have enough life in them for continued sharpening.

For chisels and hand planes, avoid blades that appear to have been excessively sharpened/ground, this can appear as blades that are significantly shorter than usually seen. In the same vein, but perhaps slightly less common sense is to avoid blades that look like they’ve been machine polished.   Both of these aspects (excessive sharpening and machine polish) mean you have a higher risk of getting a blade that has been overheated.

If you find anything marked “cast steel” I would snatch it up.

Body quality:

When looking at the body of the tool look for thick metal casting where rigidity is needed: Ie, on the sole of a hand plane. No cracks should be visible, or obvious repairs. There shouldn’t be any severely misshapen areas – such as bowls on a hand plane sole or bends in a chisel blade. Use your judgment here, because if it looks off, it probably is.

Wooden parts:

Generally speaking, if I find a good brand of cast steel the condition of the handles/wooden parts won’t be the reason I walk away- as they can generally be replaced for cheaper than a brand new quality steel tool. However, it’s worth mentioning that anything rotted or cracked is going to cost you more money/time in repair – so factor that into the cost to ensure it’s worth it to you.

Are Vintage tools really better than their modern-day counterparts?

We live in the day and age of excessive consumerism.

Products are easy to buy, and just as easy to replace, which ofttimes has me wistful for a time that I never really got to see, a day when things were created to last.

However, this isn’t to say that tools of the past are inherently better than the tools of present-day, it just means that you might not have to pay as much to buy the same quality vintage tool as a new, high-quality tool of today.

For instance, if you are willing to put a lot of money down, the tools of today will run circles around the tools of the past in terms of weight, ergonomics, metal quality and ease of use. However, in the current era of mass production, CNC machining, and big box stores, more people are purchasing a $20 set of cheap chisels, a set which will end up in the garbage in a few years, than those who are purchasing an individual Lie-Nielson chisel ($100+) which will last a lifetime. This inevitably creates an incentive for companies to cut corners with quality in order to produce cheap tools that the average person will buy.

screenshot of an ebay advertisement showing the price of a vintage stanley smoothing plane
Does the 4x the cost in a Veritas smoothing plane equate to 4x the quality of a vintage Stanley? I don’t think so.

screen shot of an advertisement showing the price of a veritas smoothing plane

So, if you are like me and don’t want to spend another $500 for a Veritas smoothing plane, but you also don’t want to spend $70 on a new Stanley plane with plastic totes –  you can purchase an old Stanley for $100 (often less) which will perform arguably just as well as the Veritas once properly tuned.  If that sounds like a good deal, then vintage tools may be your saving grace.

Happy hunting!