Archive for the Category ◊ Product reviews ◊

• 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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• Saturday, November 09th, 2013


The teeth of a traditional woodworking float, very much unlike a rasp, span the full width of the tool. The cutting surface looks somewhat like a super-wide ripsaw. Iwasaki floats share some characteristics with traditional floats but have important differences in design.

These modern floats are remarkably smooth cutting and leave an amazingly smooth surface on the wood. They have almost no tendency to “catch” on the wood. They also allow great control to produce a true surface, such as in making fine adjustments to tenon cheeks. Aside from very hard steel and very sharp teeth, these floats have interesting features that contribute to their wonderful working properties. 


As you can see from the photos, unlike a traditional float, each tooth row is discontinuous across its width. Furthermore, each row is curved so that most of the cutting edges are presented to the wood at a skew to the length of the tool. Each gap in the row is followed by a cutting edge just behind it. In this way, these tools act similarly to a segmented spiral cutterhead in a thickness planer, which is also very smooth cutting and produces small shavings and tearout-free surfaces. 

This also helps reduce clogging in the floats. The wood that does accumulate in the grooves is easily cleared by tapping the tool or, more thoroughly, by brushing.

Click on the thumbnail (below) to see the macro photograph and note that below the leading faces of the teeth is a small curvilinear bump. This acts as a chipbreaker, further facilitating a smooth cut without tearout.


It is easy to get the feel of using these tools – use a firm but gentle approach to the wood. However, keep in mind that a skew is built in to the cutting edge. Since the tool is “pre-skewed,” your natural tendency to skew it as you would a rasp might work against you. If you use a skewed stroke, the actual presentation to the wood of one side of the tooth line is being less skewed and may tend to catch. The other side is being more skewed, and the tooth line may tend to slice along its length. This is more intuitive than it sounds and you will quickly work out an effective approach with the tool for the particular task at hand.

I’ve been using the 200 mm fine flat model for a few years now, and recently bought the coarse 10″ flat model. Even this, the coarsest grade, leaves a nice fine surface on the wood. The chamfer in the enlarged photo (below) is directly from this float.


Iwasaki floats come in coarse, medium, fine, and extra fine grades, and flat, half-round, round, curved, and plane maker’s models. Woodcraft, Lee Valley, The Best Things, and Highland Hardware have good, though different, selections. They’re a good buy.

• Monday, August 26th, 2013


This is the best screwdriver I have ever used. Made by Spec Tools, the Overdriver Pro has been in service in my shop for 23 years.

Similar to many drivers, the magnetic shaft accepts 1/4″ hex bits, which makes it a versatile space and money saver, and it has a ratchet mechanism to reduce hand fatigue and speed the work, though this one is exceptionally smooth and quiet. There is room to store several bits inside the handle.

What makes this tool unique and great is its patented 4:1 on-demand gear ratio. When you want low speed with high torque, use it like a regular driver with a 1:1 gear. When you want high speed with low torque, use your second hand to grip the large collar at the top of the shaft to actuate the 4:1 mechanism, making it easy to exceed 400 RPM. The smaller collar at the base of the handle reverses the ratchet direction.

None of this would matter if it was flimsily built, but this tool is very well made and tough. It has seen plenty of use in all sorts of DIY work in addition to the woodshop. The handle is hard plastic that gives a surprisingly good grip and is very durable, but can be a little rough in sweaty hands. There is no lock setting on the ratchet mechanism, which I would sometimes find convenient when making a final torque adjustment on a screw and want to back off a little.

The model pictured above has been replaced by the OD-2001 – same tool, different color. It and the RGO-5412, which has a friendlier looking handle containing some firm rubber, are the company’s pro model straight drivers. They cost more but are worth it.

This screwdriver does not seem to be sold by many stores so I thought readers would like to know about it. Spec Tools is located in eastern Massachusetts, and you can order from their site.

This review is unsolicited and uncompensated.

Addendum: I would like readers to know that after I posted this review, the nice people at Spec Tools sent me a package of a few tools, which they insisted I keep with no expectations on their part. I did not solicit, hope for, or at all anticipate this, nor did I subsequently change the content of the post. It is not why I wrote the review. Therefore, I have kept the tools.

• Sunday, January 20th, 2013

The Lie-Nielsen bronze #4 has for years been one of my favorite tools in the shop, but is now even better with an aftermarket tote and front knob made by Bill Rittner. Now, this is not a situation like I have previously described with the Veritas totes. The L-N OEM tote is very good. The upgrade, however, is in another category: heavenly.

It may be hard for readers to understand my effusiveness about a shaped piece of wood without being able to reach into the above photo and pick up the plane, so I recommend visiting Bill’s website and reading about his tool making background and how he has refined plane handles. In working with Bill last year evaluating some prototypes, I was amazed at the level of refinement to which he has brought this work.

As demonstrated in the photo below, the tote does not have any flat on its side. (Check your planes’ totes.) The cross section is actually elliptical, which fills the hand satisfyingly.  The fit and finish are superb. If you enjoy and appreciate the nuanced work of a sophisticated craftsman, this is a luxury that is well worth it. Really, I find myself eager to use the plane just so I can hold it.

As I have mentioned in several other tool recommendations on this blog, this review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I just like to support craftsmen making honest offerings of great products.

• Saturday, September 15th, 2012

It is tempting to judge this saw on its looks, and there it is certainly a winner. Moreover, the range of choices available in the handle wood, saw nuts, and back allow the customized aesthetics of this tool to be especially pleasing. More substantively, the fit and finish are magnificent; there isn’t a hair out of place. My Bad Axe 10″ dovetail saw has a .018″ plate, 16 tpi rip teeth, set about .002 each side, with a mesquite tote, blued steel back, and brass saw nuts.

However, a tool must be ultimately judged by its performance, which simply means how it can help you make things out of wood. I’ve used this saw for about nine months now, and, despite some excellent Western and Japanese alternatives to which I had become accustomed, the Bad Axe has become my clear favorite.

When I pick up this saw and approach the wood, it feels just right in my hand. Though relatively beefy for a dovetail saw, the handle contour, low hang angle, and especially the balance work together to impart eagerness to go at the layout lines. When the saw does bite into the wood, the truly superlative sharpening completes the functional integration. In many side-by-side tests with my other saws, I  have gotten the most consistent accuracy and feel the most confident with the Bad Axe. It is now the saw I reach for.

A bit of relaxed tooth rake toward the toe of the saw helps start the cut. The tooth line is canted about 1/8 from toe to heel. These are both helpful features, though, to find quibbles with the design, my preference would probably be an increase in both of these.

The Bad Axe Tools Works website gives detailed technical information on the saws, and, ultimately, you will have to get one of these saws in your hand to appreciate how well it works.

There is something more important that I want to tell you about this tool. I think of it similarly as my Japanese Daitei chisels and French Auriou rasps. The Bad Axe saw is a tool with a soul, but in this case it is a characteristically American one. This is born of the personal commitment of its maker, Mark Harrell, a man who has spent much of his life serving America. Mark understands saw making history, listens to the input of many woodworkers (disclosure: including me), and is passionate about innovation, refinement, and excellence in producing a saw that you will not mistake for any other. Further, he allows for a range of your choices in saw plate, filing, handle size, and materials.

Yes, the soul of the tool is meaningful and I sense it when I bring the Bad Axe saw to the wood.

• Thursday, November 03rd, 2011

This is the best shooting board I have ever used. I believe it is probably the best available anywhere. Tico Vogt made it and he can make one for you – the Super Chute 2.0. A shooting board is an extremely useful, almost magical, tool that can greatly elevate your control of woodworking processes. After watching Tico develop and improve his version of this tool, I finally had a chance to use it last week at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

That’s Tico in the photos using his Super Chute 2.0.

It was like slicing baloney with a sled on an ice track. Tico showed me the tool’s incredible quality details and nuances that only could come from a seasoned woodworker who knows from experience what really works in the shop. To elaborate on all of them here would make this post too long, but I will point out a few highlights.

The plane rides on a track of super-slick UHMW plastic. Importantly, the work piece sits on an angled bed which facilitates a strong stroke with the plane and distributes wear and cutting resistance over a greater width of the blade than a flat bed would. The 90̊ and instantly-installed 45̊ fences register in eccentric bushings which make their angles micro adjustable. The fences are also laterally adjustable to completely eliminate end grain spelching. To my mind, these user-controlled features respect the skill and intelligence of the craftsman using the tool. A donkey ear miter attachment that installs easily is also available.

Tico uses CNC technology and sources components manufactured with a high degree of sophistication to a produce a product with quality evident throughout. No, it’s not cheap; excellence never is. This is Lie-Nielsen-type quality in a shooting board.

A plane such as L-N’s sweet #9 makes shooting all the more of a pleasure but don’t feel you must have a dedicated miter plane to start shooting. A well-tuned and well-sharpened jack plane, bevel-up or bevel-down, can shoot very effectively. Shooting is a gateway technique, easily learned, that will allow you to produce precise ends on components of casework. It is a must for making precision high-end drawers with hand tools.

This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I just think the Super Chute 2.0 is a heckuva tool.

• Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

When I want an absolutely reliable reference measuring tool, I reach for a Starrett. It’s that simple.

We’ve all had our frustrations with tools that seemed promising when new but proved to be deficient in design or construction and thus do not perform. I particularly avoid tools that are unnecessarily complicated or are merely solutions chasing a problem. Worst of all are tools that are made just to be pretty. On the other hand, don’t get me wrong, there are some great small-scale toolmakers out there making high quality, useful, and often innovative products.

Reliable primary references for straight and square are necessities in the shop – specifically, a straightedge at least 24″ long and a combination square (a large machinist square is a more expensive and less versatile alternative). Don’t skimp on quality for these; they are lifetime tools. Get Starretts and be done with it. (A flat reference, such as a granite surface plate, though not a must, is also helpful and can be had economically.) My Starrett tools include a 24″ straightedge, a combination square with a hardened head and 12″ and 18″ blades, a 6″ adjustable square, and several others that would be considered more optional than basic.

The integrity of most shop procedures and tools can be traced to verifications using these reference tools. Examples are a flat jointer table with a square fence, the soles of handplanes, a table saw crosscut jig, shop-made jigs, and so forth. Things such as these allow you to start a project on a reliable basis rather than dealing with fundamental inaccuracies that will be carried like an infection through the building process.

Top grade straight and square reference tools are like the Constitution of your shop and you’re the Supreme Court.

Starrett is a solid American company with a proud history, and is technologically current and innovative. They continue to manufacture most of their precision tools at their Athol, Massachusetts plant, working to unsurpassed tolerances. Every one of their measuring tools that I own or have seen has been exquisitely well finished. A Starrett is a mensch at the bench.

• Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I had no specific purpose for this square, but because it looked like it might be a player, I added it to a larger order from Lee Valley Tools. After unpacking the shipment, I nonchalantly placed it aside into the tool well of my workbench.

Over the next few weeks, I found myself picking it up over and over for all sorts of measuring and squaring tasks. This may be the best way to assess the usefulness of a new tool: leave it on the “bench”, like an extra player, casually go to it now and then, and as you become increasingly impressed with its performance, promote it to the starting line up.

Here’s how this tool earned its role as a starter for me. First, it is very handy – small and light. The clean graduations with a sensible height organization and the satin finish make it easy on the eyes. The scales on both legs start at the inner and outer corners and are the same on both faces so I don’t get confused or make errors. I generally prefer to visually split 1/16ths rather than use 1/32-inch gradations but it is helpful to have the 1/32nds on the small legs for fine work.

It works beautifully as a short hook rule, such as to check stock thickness. Also, either leg butts securely against a surface for accurate inside or height measurements. Overall, I like handling the “L” shape more than using a 6-inch rule.

When I evaluated it using a Starrett combination square as the standard, I found it far exceeded Lee Valley’s statement of accuracy. It was straight and square within 0.001″ over its full length.

And, it’s got a 38″ vertical leap and clocks 4.4 in the 40. Just kidding.

As for dislikes, I find the large relief on the inside corner to be unnecessary, and it prevents penciling a line all the way to that corner. (Veritas seems to like this inside corner design. I find it very annoying on their otherwise excellent saddle square.) Also, a flat square like this will be inaccurate if it is held so as to occupy more than one plane when checking a corner. This is not a criticism of this tool but just a reminder of the nature of a flat square and that it does not replace a regular square.

In summary, this little guy is a gamer, a go-to tool in the shop.

[This review is unsolicited and uncompensated.]