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 weeks of allowing the paint to chemically bond with the metal. 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 😉

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!

Vintage Hand Planes | Acorn No. 4

Blade adjustment knob and rear sole of an acorn no 4 handplane. Displaying flaking rust and paint.

I discovered a love of old tools early on in life. There was something about the worn wooden handles, marked with the years of sweat from its prior owners, or the rusted metal that inevitably could hide the most beautiful body beneath, or the jammed up moving parts that one almost couldn’t imagine ever coming back to life again – that hooked me. That’s why whenever I am perusing the antique shop’s aisles, or meandering through the stalls at the local swap meet, I’m keeping a sharp eye out for what I refer to as “the king among antique tools”- the vintage hand planes.

“what happens when you hold a tool – your fingers form an intimate bond between you and the tool. It is a marriage of intellect and an inanimate object. Suddenly the tool becomes alive and performs…” R.J. DeCristoforo – Handtool Handbook for Woodworking (USA 1977)

Recently, I found an old Acorn No. 4 hand plane at a swap meet, which I promptly picked up for $25. Before this purchase, I had never seen an Acorn hand plane before, and I do confess to not knowing too much about the brand or company in general. This is surprising given how popular their parent company Chapman Ltd’s braces are.

Acorn no. 4

However, after much in-depth research, I was able to dig up a bit of information on the history of the company and a few pictures that helped me nail down what I believe to be a relatively accurate ballpark age for this specific plane I had come into possession of. If anyone has a better understanding of the age and history, I would be absolutely happy to hear of it!

History of Chapman Ltd

The Acorn brand name was first used by James Arscott Chapman who is simply listed as a “tool and metal plane maker” from 1924-1939 in Goodman’s guide. Chapman Ltd was located in Sheffield England and was known for its range of steel braces, but later started making hand planes under the “Acorn” name in 1934.  Around 1936 Stanley Works Ltd (Yes, THE Stanley) bought out Chapman Ltd and used the factory as its base for moving into the UK market.

After its take over, Stanley kept the Acorn line, some say as a second, cheaper version of their own Stanley line.

Early Acorn Hand Plane Design

In terms of early design, the Chapman Acorns were made with black japanning on the body, no frog adjustment screws, a brass blade adjustment nob, and from some reports a dark red colour on the rear and fore handles. As for the fixtures, the front handle was attached with a single plain bolt with a slotted head, and the rear was attached with a threaded rod and brass nut. Later models, under Stanley Works, had burgundy japanning with even later models moving to what I see as a ghastly firetruck red. Both the front and back handles on the later models were attached with threaded rods and nuts.

These are all details that I took into account when trying to accurately date my hand plane.

I’ve got a new hand plane, now what?

Upon getting this hand plane, which I have affectionately dubbed “little nut,” home, I was able to get a much closer look at the components. The initial ‘once over’ gave me most of the info that I was looking for – there are clearly no frog adjustment screws and the front handle is attached with a single slotted bolt, both good signs if I’m hoping for a plane on the older side of vintage!

The japanning itself is a bit difficult to tell. I thought it to be black, but it perhaps could be a dark burgundy. Further cleaning of the tool will be needed to give a better assessment.

The handles, though well worn, definitely appear to have a dark cherry colour to them! Another good sign, if what I dug up during my research is correct.

Dating

Given all the above info, including the potentially black japanning, red handles, no frog adjustment screws, and a single plane bolt for the front nob I would initially date this Acorn hand plane to be from the era of Chapman Ltd or shortly after the Stanley took over – somewhere from 1934-1945 perhaps.  During the restoration, I may come across some aftermarket parts, or other indicators that could change this assessment. But, part of the fun in any restoration process is doing the research to know what to look for and proceeding to make an ‘educated guess.’ Now to see if that educated guess is correct!

Stay tuned for my restoration of this Little Nut!