Archive for the Category ◊ Product reviews ◊

• Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Veritas slow adjuster

Another thoughtful refinement from Veritas, this adjuster advances the blade in smaller increments than their standard adjusters. It’s a hit.

Veritas bevel-up (BU) planes use a Norris-style adjustment system, which means that one adjuster controls both blade depth and lateral alignment. In a lesser quality tool, this system could be balky but the design and execution by Veritas makes theirs function very smoothly.

Now, just for fun, the lead screw of the slow adjuster has 58 threads per inch by my count, which translates to .0172″ of linear blade advancement per turn of the knob. The increase in depth of cut produced per unit of linear advancement of the blade is represented by the sine of the blade’s bed angle, 12° in this case.

.0172″ x sin12° = .0172″ x .2079 = .0036″ depth of cut increase per one turn of knob

This works out to .0009″ or about 1 thou change in shaving thickness per quarter turn of the knob.

Veritas bevel-up smoother

This may sound like too tentative an approach but in practice this exceptionally smooth mechanism is not only precise but also pleasant to use. I am usually using the BU smoother for difficult wood where small differences in cutting depth really matter. I suggest Lee Valley use the slow adjuster as standard in their BU smoothing planes, or at least offer it as an initial option.

The Veritas bevel-up jack plane, on the other hand, is used for tasks that require less precision in the cutting depth, so there I prefer the original, quicker adjuster.

With the Norris adjuster, side set screws that control the blade registration near the mouth, lack of a chipbreaker, and an easily adjustable mouth opening, you can practically set up a Veritas bevel-up plane with your eyes closed.

Just as a reminder, if the handle and knob on my BU smoother do not look like the Veritas versions, it is because they are not. They are wonderful retrofits made by Bill Rittner of Hardware City Tools.

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• Thursday, September 01st, 2016

drawer lock chisels

Well, I painted myself into a corner and now a half-mortise lock must be installed in an already assembled box in tight quarters and on a schedule.

No problem: just call Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. The nice folks there put a set of their drawer lock chisels on their way to me that same day. Thanks to Chris Becksvoort for his excellent design of these handy tools.

The chisels have square, raised corners (ends, really) so the hammer or mallet makes true, solid contact and the force of the blow is properly directed. My Glen-Drake #4 brass mallet came in very handy for this work, supplying more umph in a small space than the side of a hammer.

drawer lock chisels and Glen-Drake mallet

The chisels in the pair are mirror images of each other. In use, it soon becomes apparent why this is helpful. The larger edge, 1/2″ wide, is parallel to the length of the tool, while the 1/4″ edge at the other end is perpendicular to it. Again, only an experienced, thoughtful woodworker would know to incorporate these design features, which turn out to be so right in the hands of the user.

Yes, they are are fairly tedious to sharpen – the 1/4″ edge is like sharpening a hand router blade – but they do come well ground, which mitigates the task. The steel is A2. O1 would be easier to sharpen but I don’t know how it tolerates being struck and how it responds in the manufacturing process. Lie-Nielsen must have good reasons for their choice.

drawer lock chisels and half-mortise lock

These chisels probably would have come in handy long before my recent purchase but I bet they will soon come in handy again. Woodworkers are fortunate to have wonderful tools like this available to us.

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• Monday, June 13th, 2016

Woodturners Wonders lamp

Good lighting is one of the most under-appreciated assets for fine woodworking, especially handwork at the bench. It is a shame to see an elaborately equipped shop with nothing more than fluorescent ceiling lights illuminating the workbench.

Basically, the properties of lighting are intensity, distance from source to the object, angle of incidence, and quality, which includes the color cast (color temperature). Without delving into technical detail, for detailed tasks such as hand cutting joinery, you want a strong light that is adjustable for distance and angle, and has a pleasing whiteness.

The Super Nova lamp from Woodturners Wonders delivers big time on all counts. It was developed by woodturner and inventive guy Ken Rizza for use with a lathe but is just as useful for general woodworking. The three LEDs in the lamp head together use 9 watts of power to generate 870 lumens.

This is a heavy-duty lamp. The 30″ flexible stainless steel neck, covered with a black flexible, non-reflective shroud, holds its adjustment in any position. This is the key to the effectiveness of a lamp like this – the light can be adjusted to the exact location and direction desired and it stays put. The heavy rectangular base houses a switchable magnet that holds with 286 pounds of force! The base is large enough to easily accommodate a clamp to secure it to a wooden surface.

Below is not trick photography. The base is holding unyieldingly to the even the 2mm sheet steel of the bandsaw cover, while the neck does not sag a bit when fully extended. Wow!

Woodturners Wonders lamp

The LEDs are rated for 50,000 hours life (8 hours/day every day for more than 17 years). The lamp is equipped with a generous 9-foot cord. Unfortunately it ends with the obligatory transformer but at least this one is small and light. A minor complaint is that I wish the switch button was placed on the back of the lamp head instead of on the side of it because I tend to switch the lamp off when grabbing the head to adjust it.

This bad boy lamp is not cheap at a regular price of $159 (look for sales) but a good light is one of the most important tools in the shop. It is by far the best lamp for detailed bench work that I have ever used or seen. Several cheaper “good” task lamps have frustrated me over the years. I cannot at this time attest to its durability but it certainly seems sturdy and does carry a two-year warranty. Smaller models are available.

I suggest trying a top quality task light in your shop. You may be surprised what you have been missing as you experience the improved visual feedback for detailed handwork, and using a raking light for surfacing and finishing.

This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no affiliation with Woodturners Wonders.

• Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Sensgard Zem hearing protectors

These Sensgard Zem hearing protectors are the best I have ever used. Before elaborating, I will explain the problems I have had with some other protectors.

I do not like stuffing things into my ear canals. This includes foam plugs that are first compressed with the fingers, which are often dirty, then jammed in where they are uncomfortable and then tend to work their way loose. Various silicon, latex, or high tech torpedoes that are also held in the ear canal much as a cork is held in a wine bottle are also unwelcome in my ears.

Bulky, cumbersome earmuffs are at the other end of the range of options. I have top-quality Peltor muffs but even with their soft padding, they squeeze the temples of my eyeglasses uncomfortably against my skull. It isn’t long before I decide the noise is more tolerable than the headache.

Finally, all problems are solved with Zem hearing protectors by Sensgard. The replaceable foam cuffs of these extremely lightweight protectors comfortably skirt the entrance to the ear canal. The acoustic chambers (the arms) vault my eyeglass temples – no more skull aches. They go on and off in a snap, and when not in use, hang around the neck or fold compactly for storage.


Sensgard Zem

All these advantages would be enough but here is the best part: the noise reduction is phenomenal. I powered up my DW735 thickness planer, measured 100 dB(A) at 2 feet under no load, and then put on the Sensgards. I was flabbergasted at the dramatic but even, pleasant noise diminishment. The nominal NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) is 31 but they are far more superior to my Peltor model, listed at 28, than the numbers might suggest.

I actually had to accustom myself to remaining alert to the ferocity of woodshop machinery while enjoying the auditory peace. Yet, I could adequately hear important shop sounds such as speech.

More information about the Zem technology is available on the Sensgard website. I have the NRR31 model in easy-to-find lime green. Put them on according to the simple package instructions; that makes a big difference. I found the lowest price on Amazon. Extra foam cuffs are good to have.

Sensgard extra foam cuffs

[This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no connection with Sensgard.]

• Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Corradi rasps

These Corradi rasps are the ones I reach for most often. Several years ago, I wrote on choosing and using rasps, highlighting the excellence of hand-cut rasps, specifically the Auriou brand, based on the feel and feedback they provide.

In this regard, for a 10″ cabinet rasp in the finest grain, I still prefer the Auriou #13. However, I’ve come to prefer the Corradi rasps in the coarse and medium ranges. Furthermore, I don’t think there is a big difference between the finest Corradi #10 and its close equivalent, the Auriou #13. Practically, I tend to save the Auriou for the most sensitive work, much like a carefully tuned smoothing plane.

The Corradi rasps have uniform, densely packed, machine-cut teeth with a surface hardness of Rc 65-66, which the manufacturer claims is harder than the best hand-cut rasps at Rc 59-60. In my experience, which is not controlled testing, the Corradi rasps have indeed maintained their sharpness better than the Aurious.

The swirl pattern of the teeth produces a very smooth cutting action, though again, just slightly lacking the superb feedback of the Auriou in the finest grain models. In the medium and coarse grains, I prefer the consistent smoothness of the Corradis. I do, however, wish the Corradi cabinet rasps were shaped to a point like the Aurious.

Heresy, some may say, but I’m only telling you what the wood and my hands have told me. These comments, unsolicited and uncompensated, are only meant to help readers make their own choices.

Corradi 5, 8, 10 grain

My set of Corradi 10″ half-round cabinet rasps consists of the “Gold” #10 and #8, and the Cabinet #5, from right to left in the photo above. This set is an excellent value at a current total price of $134. By comparison, a single 10″ half-round Auriou #9 costs from $110 – $135, and the finer grains cost still more.

For reference, in 10″ rasps, I estimate the Corradi #10 about the equivalent of the Auriou #13, though the latter is probably a trace finer. Either allows a very easy transition to scraping or sanding.

At the coarse end, the Corradi #5 is about equivalent to an old Nicholson #49 (below, at left and right, respectively), but broader and better. (The Auriou #9 approximates a Nicholson #50.) Looking at the photo above, it seems like a fairly large jump from the Corradi #5 to the #8 but in practice the transition works well.

Corradi 5 grain vs Nicholson #49

The three 10″ half-round Corradis – #5, 8, and 10 – plus an inexpensive Shinto double-sided “saw” rasp and a cheap Surform Shaver, with the modification described in an earlier post, form a versatile basic set. I wish Corradi made “ironing” rasps in the form I described in a recent post.

Aside from cabinet rasps, I like the Corradi Gold 6″ #10 flat (“hand”) rasp with one safe edge for smaller scale work such as rounding over tenons. The 4″ Auriou half-round #14 remains the finest rasp in my drawer.

Rasps are often underestimated but high quality versions, skillfully employed, are capable of sensitive, refined work.

• Monday, September 28th, 2015

Suehiro Gokumyo 20,000

My new, new (ugh) favorite fine finishing stone, the Suehiro Gokumyo, is a real thoroughbred. Nominally 20,000 grit/0.5 µ with a tight distribution of particle size, it can produce magnificently sharp, clean edges.

This is a very hard stone in all respects. A hard, tough binder makes it extremely wear resistant, so it retains a flat surface very well and requires little maintenance. It is virtually non-porous, so no soaking is required – just splash and go.

When first using the Gokumyo, do not expect the genial feel of a Chosera 10K or a soft waterstone. The hard feel of this stone under the steel is initially formidable. However, once you tune in to just how awesomely fast and smooth it is removing steel and adjust your sense of feedback, it becomes an efficient joy to use. Nonetheless, to get the most out of it, you do need good sharpening skills.

The Gukomyo comes with a 1K/3K nagura but I prefer my shop-made 1200-grit diamond nagura to quickly enhance feel and performance. I have not encountered the grabbing or stiction that many of the Shapton stones tend to produce, and one does not need to baby this stone like the Chosera 10K.

Having worked with this stone for several months now, it produces great edges in all the main steels in my shop – ­A-2, O-1, and Japanese blue and white. I transition from the 8000/3µ DMT Dia-Sharp diamond stone, used with a light touch, to the 20K Gokumyo. True, that is a sizable leap but it works, and it minimizes the number of stones and speeds the process.

The Gukomyo 20K is discussed fairly widely on the internet among straight razor aficionados but has not received much attention from woodworkers. The best and least expensive source for Suehiro Gukomyo finishing stones is Tools From Japan, which is actually based in Japan. Proprietor Stu Tierney is tremendously knowledgeable and generously helpful. [This review is unsolicited and uncompensated.] Yes, this is an expensive connoisseur’s stone but at 20mm thick and so wear resistant, it should last an extremely long time.

With this and the transition to diamond stones, the revolving door of sharpening stones in my shop seems to have thankfully reached an end.

By the way, anyone want to buy some used Shapton glass stones or other sharpening gear at a nice price? (Please send me an mail.)

• Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Mini Gorilla dust collector

For many years, dust collection in my shop had been the basic bag-over-bag single-stage collector familiar to most of us small shop woodworkers. A few years ago I upgraded to the Oneida Mini Gorilla, a cyclone collector, and it has been excellent. I’ve received many inquiries about it from woodworkers considering upgrading their dust collection system, so I hope this report will be helpful.

A cyclone collector is more efficient that a single stage collector because it involves two stages of collection based on particle size. Here’s what happens. The impeller fan whips around the intake material in the big sheet metal cone that give these machines their characteristic appearance. The chips and larger dust particles that constitute almost the entire volume of the intake fall into the collection drum below the cone.

Thus, only the finest dust – the most unhealthful – gets passed on to the air filter, the cage-like cylinder sticking out the side of the yellow cone in the photo above. This permits the use of an incredibly efficient sub-micron pleated HEPA filter without it getting continually overburdened and clogged with debris.

What all this means is that my shop is cleaner, and more important, healthier.

The Mini Gorilla easily handles the biggest producers of chips in my shop, the Hammer A3-31 12″ jointer-planer and the DeWalt DW735 planer. The only limitation is the dust gathering efficiency at the source. Fortunately, the A3-31 and DW735 are great in this regard. The Minimax bandsaw is good while the Saw Stop table saw (vintage 2005) is just fair.

Oneida rates the noise produced by this machine at 76dB(A) at 10 feet. As a practical matter, it seems noisier than what I remember of the old bag-on-bag collector but it’s not bad and certainly not a deal breaker. The Mini Gorilla is very space-efficient – notice the motor on top of the cone – so its footprint is smaller than most small single-stage collectors.

It’s not cheap. The base price is now $780, according to Oneida’s website. A mobile stand or wall bracket, steel drum, and shipping push the total over $1 large.

Oneida’s website has details about the Mini Gorilla and the rest of their large line of dust collectors. This review is unsolicited and uncompensated.

Grunt machines like a good dust collector are not glamorous and there is a natural reluctance to invest in them. However, I think they support a sense of freedom in the shop because they take good care of the dirty work and produce a better working environment. That freedom, in turn, produces more creativity, which is what this is all about.

Next: How I set up the Mini Gorilla in my small shop.

• Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Naniwa Chosera 10,000

I still think the Naniwa Chosera 10,000 is a great finishing stone for all the reasons discussed in an earlier post but unfortunately it developed a large crack across the lower area after drying from a sharpening session. Fortunately, the loose area cleanly separated with a light tap with a chisel. I epoxied it in place with System Three T-88 and flattened both faces. The top face is uninterrupted and the stone works fine.

Naniwa Chosera 10,000

So what happened?

Over months of using the stone, I had gravitated to a soaking time of 15 minutes before use, though never longer. Searching the internet produces different recommendations from knowledgeable dealers and users: 15 minutes, at least 10 minutes, 5-10 minutes, no longer than 5 minutes, and some suggest no soaking at all. Everyone agrees that the magnesia binder, which contributes to the excellent feel of these stones in use, will not withstand prolonged soaking. There is also no doubt that the stone should be allowed to air dry slowly and evenly, which I did consistently. There are reports online of hairline cracks and major splits like the one in my stone.

The stone certainly absorbs water and so does not work as nicely in a splash-and-go mode as does a Shapton. As a practical matter, I found that soaking it for, say, 5 minutes is not much better than not soaking at all – it still pretty quickly drinks in the little puddle of water placed on it. This happens a bit slower after a brief presoak but also slows down during the sharpening session even without a presoak.

So, to play it safe and practical, I no longer presoak the stone. I just puddle some water on the surface and work from there, adjusting as necessary. This works out just fine. It’s still a very cool stone to sharpen on and produces excellent results, but I just wanted to give readers a heads up on the potential for cracking and how I chose to deal with it.

By the way, Naniwa now sells the Chosera line as the “Professional Series.”

• Wednesday, October 08th, 2014

Chosera 10K

I guess I can’t quite leave sharpening alone. About six months ago I switched to using a Naniwa Chosera 10,000 as my primary finishing stone.

I had been using a Shapton 16,000 glass stone for this purpose and could have left well enough alone because it is an excellent stone. It’s fast, the grit is very consistent, it’s convenient because it requires no soaking, and it gives a great edge. However, the drawback for me has always been the lack of excellent tactile feedback from the blade on the stone surface.

This is particularly important for freehand or semi-freehand finishing of the cambered edge of plane blades where the feel of the edge on the stone is critical. Even when using a honing guide for simple non-cambered edges, the delicate feedback near the end of honing is helpful and reassuring that the angle and edge are right.

I had read reviews claiming the feel of sharpening on the Chosera 10K stone was outstanding and that is just what I have found. That’s the big difference and it really matters. Moreover, it cuts just as fast as the Shapton, maybe faster, but is practically more efficient because I have fewer do-overs. There is also no tendency for the blade to skip as on the fine Shapton.

The Shapton is 16K and the Chosera 10K, so does this mean a step down in edge quality? Grit number is just one factor is producing edge quality. Others include the particle shape and how it fractures, the consistency of particle size, the density of the particles and how they present at the surface, and the properties of the binder. In practical shop use, the Chosera has been producing edges not one bit less sharp or otherwise of lesser quality than the Shapton. In fact, I think it’s better, if only because I can better feel those last whispery kisses of the sharp edge on the stone to get it just right.

The minor downside of the Chosera is that it needs pre-soaking. Various recommendations can be found for this including that soaking is optional. I’ve found it needs 15 minutes. Less soaking, 5 or 10 minutes, makes the stone too quickly drink up the water you splash on when starting to sharpen. When finished sharpening, I flatten it while it is still wet with the Shapton diamond lapping plate.

I still use a 1200 grit diamond stone as a nagura and remain convinced this enhances the action and feel of finishing stones including the Chosera 10K, as well as the quality of the finished edge. (More to come on this soon.) I did not find helpful the nagura that comes with the Chosera.

This is an expensive stone but at more than one inch thick, it will last a long time. The bottom line is that it has made my sharpening more assured because of the excellent feel.

• Sunday, May 25th, 2014


Just a few woodworking machines have the adaptability and almost the friendliness of hand tools. Chief among them is the bandsaw, but the compact router, especially the DeWalt DWP611, also earns a place in that category.

In the stage of building where the big machines have been unplugged, the radio is on, and the hand tool work is proceeding, it still is handy to call on a controllable, precisely adjusted tool that has more power than a horse.

For example, in mortising for hardware, I will clear the bulk of the waste and produce an accurate final depth with freehand routing. Rather than set up a jig or fence for the router, I simply chisel to the side layout lines, though this has been made much easier by the router.

On the other hand, for the socket part of a short sliding dovetail, I make a dedicated jig and use a bushing. The only chisel work is to square the end.

My general approach is to use the power of the compact router and, when convenient, its precision, especially in depth. I take advantage of its maneuverability for freehand work and use jigs and fences when necessary or when there is a clear advantage in overall time spent.

The best feature of the DWP611 is the precision cutting depth adjustment. The indicator on the large black adjustment ring moves more than 1/4″ along the adjacent yellow scale ring for each 1/64″ of depth change. When adjusted in the upright position, backlash is minimal but even that amount can be easily cancelled by resetting the zero mark on the scale ring, which is movable. After the depth is dialed in, the cam clamp holds it reliably. In this way, cutting depth adjustments rival the precision of a paring chisel or router plane.

DWP611 adjustment

This is a larger and heavier tool than the Bosch Colt and the Ridgid model but I found neither could be adjusted in cutting depth with the precision of the DeWalt, which is still easy to maneuver with one hand. I’ve used the DWP611 for about three years now and it is my clear favorite.

The 1/4″ collet is a two-piece self-releasing type, a must for any router. Unfortunately, bit changing involves one wrench and a shaft lock, a sadistic system, though I suppose DeWalt can be forgiven considering the tight quarters of a tool this size. The clear plastic sub-base has an extension on one side that improves stability for edge routing. The base can be repositioned for an optimal configuration of hand grip and sight line. I also bought the accessory base for standard bushing inserts.

The two LED lights that straddle the collet are invaluable for freehand work. The soft-start, 7 amp motor gives surprising power for a small tool.

This tool feels so friendly in hand that it might cause you to let your power-tool guard down. When routing, I remind myself that this little guy really does have more kick than a horse. Also, there is a tendency with this type of tool to get in close to the spinning bit and flying chips, so safety goggles are a minimum must.

A set of 1/4″-shank carbide straight bits down to 1/8″ cutting diameter is helpful for freehand work. Use good judgment and very conservative depths of cut for narrow bits. I also have a 1/16″ bit but I avoid using it.

So, hand tools and power tools can play together. I like to use the advantages of each to find simple and reliable ways to get the work done.

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