Archive for the Category ◊ Product reviews ◊

• Monday, April 11th, 2011

Veritas Tools, the manufacturing arm of Lee Valley, makes excellent tools, delivers outstanding customer service, and has added numerous innovative products to the woodworking world. However, the totes (rear handles) on their planes are another matter. Maybe some woodworkers like them, but I, like many others, can only wonder, “What were they thinking?” I feel that the Veritas tote is graceless and unfriendly to the hand, especially for a long session of planing.

After experimenting with options to accommodate Veritas’ two-bolt mounting system, which I wrote about here, I decided it was better to stick to furniture and leave this job to an expert, especially after getting in touch with Bill Rittner, who already was producing handles for vintage Stanley planes. I came to realize that making excellent plane handles is harder than it first seems.

Bill and I corresponded for months as I tested his prototypes and gave feedback while Bill sweated every nuance of a comfortable and functional tote and knob for these planes. His handles have subtle shaping that really matters to a craftsman. Furthermore, he came up with a simple, effective solution for the Veritas mounting system that permits a more curvy, friendly handle than the OEM.

Bill’s toolmaking skill and insight was evident throughout the development process, just as it is in the final product. Wow! The handles feel great right away and just as superb after a long session of planing. They install with zero fuss and lock down as snug and solid as you could want. And don’t they look great?! I’ve got them on my Veritas bevel-up smoother, low-angle jack, and large scraping plane. Even the finish is just right – silky smooth but not slippery or glossy.

Ahh, relief at last. Now I enjoy my Veritas planes without misgivings. What else can I say? Dump those OEM clunkers but don’t go it alone. Contact Bill at and have him make a set for you. I think you will be very pleased.

[As usual, this review is unsolicited and unpaid.]

Addendum 2/3/2012: Bill’s great plane handles are available from his Hardware City Tools website

• Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Before using this unimposing little plane I was doubtful that it could get much work done but having put it to work in the shop I am convinced that it really performs. It brings an effective combination of toughness and control to curved work and hollowing.

The plane has a bevel-up A2 blade bedded at 20̊ and a 3 1/2″ long double convex sole with a shallow 27″ radius along its length and a steeper 3″ radius across its width. The blade is secured with a simple cap and thumbscrew mechanism and is adjusted by hand or by tapping with a small hammer. Nothing complicated with this tool, it goes right to work.

The “squirrel tail” handle is the key to controlling the plane. The dome of the tail nestles in the lower part of the palm of the hand while the fingers surround the plane’s body with the index finger settling on the round depression at the front of the tool. This allows one to adjust and balance hand pressure toward the front or back of the tool as needed in order to engage the blade to cut on a curved surface. I find this makes it easier and more natural to control than other convex sole tools such as a spokeshave.

The mouth opening is quite wide which, along with the curved blade, and lightweight handiness of the plane, allow quick back and forth strokes, much like the action of a scrub or jack plane. I find this tool is best used as a sort of mini jack plane for hollowing. The photo below shows an example.

I bandsawed a shallow lengthwise curve into a 27″ long piece of plump 5/4 9″ wide cherry which will be used as the top of a wall cabinet. I used the convex sole plane to efficiently remove the bandsaw marks and refine the curve. The plane felt like an extension of my hand allowing me to work intuitively as I formed the curve to my liking. The shallow scallops that remained were easily removed first with a curved Surform rasp followed by an Auriou curved “ironing rasp,” hand scraper, and sandpaper.

[I will mention that removing a substantial portion of wood from one side of a board like this is likely to create problems as the internal stresses in the board become unbalanced. I plan to discuss in a future post how I anticipated and worked around this sneaky problem.]

While I’m very happy with the L-N convex sole plane and recommend it, I would consider some design changes if I could have my preferences. It is a bit undersized for medium scale work, although an increase in size might sacrifice some of its handiness. A slightly larger radius across the width of the sole would suit more of my work. Perhaps a choice of sizes and soles could be made. Finally, knurling or a coarse surface on the widest parts of the sides would allow a better finger tip grip. I guess I can add that myself.

This tool review is unsolicited and uncompensated.

• Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Sometimes an inexpensive tool can be designed and made perfectly well enough to do its job.

I wanted a new crosscut saw for breaking down stock, something faster than what I had been using. I found it at my local Woodcraft store: a Pony brand 22″ handsaw, manufacturer’s model #66221, for $15.99. For the inelegant task of rough crosscutting, this tool vastly exceeded my expectations. It cuts like a Tasmanian devil and tracks surprisingly well.

The diamond ground teeth, 8 ppi, each have 3 bevels which make them essentially Japanese cross cut teeth with a negative rake. The induction hardening makes them unable to be sharpened in the shop, so when they dull, no doubt after a very long time, the saw will go to the metal recycling pile. The manufacturer states that the saw cuts on both the push and pull stroke, though the push stroke does most of the work. Not surprisingly, the saw does not rip very well.

I measured the saw plate, which is straight enough, at 0.040″ with 0.004″ set, each side. The plate is not taper ground (of course, it’s $15.99!) so it is helpful to keep it waxed to avoid pitch build up from some woods and thus slower sawing. The soft-grip handle is adequate, though it tends to lure my hand into a hammer grip rather than a better grip with the index finger extended. The handle acts as a 45/90 square, quick and handy for stock breakdown.

Several times in this blog, I’ve made the case for buying the best quality tools one can afford, going beyond tools that are just “OK.” Yet, I really like this saw because it does its job, which requires more power than finesse, very well and with ease. I think that makes it a good saw even though it lacks certain refinements that I can do without. That leaves more of my woodworking budget to devote elsewhere. Where? Take your pick of great saw makers – Lie-Nielsen, Bad Axe, Wenzloff, Lunn, etc., or what I own several of: Gramercy.

[As with other tool reviews on this blog, this is unsolicited and unpaid.]

• Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

I imagine it is possible to do good woodworking with mediocre tools, but who would want to if better options are available? Yet, it would be a rare woodworker who enters the craft with a full set of tuned, high quality tools.

Trying to coax good performance from a fundamentally poor tool is futile. A chisel made of lousy steel or a table saw with a wobbly arbor will never work well. Stay away from these.

At another level there are tools that are OK. They usually get the job done, maybe without a struggle, though not often with ease. These tools are not likely to inspire confidence. A woodworker reaches for this kind of tool not with eagerness but for lack of something better. Practically, however, used with a bit of finesse, these tools may be good enough, or maybe they just allow us money left over to buy other tools or to eat. My drill press falls into this category. That’s life, and so on.

Then there are the tools you really want, those that inspire confidence and are dependable. These are the shop players that you give the ball to in crunch time. While no one would reasonably contend that tools alone make the craftsman, these tools can help make you a better craftsman and are likely to extend your skill and range as a woodworker. Get them on your team.

The odd thing about all of this is that these thoughts gelled due to my recent experience with a very simple tool, a birdcage awl, also called a square blade awl. I had been using a widely available “OK” version without feeling particularly deprived. Then, at a recent Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event, I was demonstrating at a bench next to Bob Zajicek and his array of Czeck Edge tools. I knew it was only a matter of time – I picked up one of his awls, tried it out, and . . . so that’s how the song should be sung! I could feel how this type of tool should really work. The handle is more than beautiful; it facilitates placing, pressing, and twisting the tool. The precisely formed edges of the blade do the actual cutting and allow it to fly into the wood.

So I bought it, and back home in the shop it is becoming a go-to tool for a variety of tasks including marking and starting holes, boring small holes, and other marking tasks. An excellent tool!

[As with other tool reviews on this blog, this is unsolicited and unpaid.]

• Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

When I was shopping for a new bandsaw last year I was not able to find much written by Minimax E16 users so I am posting this to help woodworkers looking to buy a new bandsaw. I’ve been happy with the E16. It is a very important tool in my shop and I’d buy it again. This is my view of the machine, unprompted by the company in which I have no stake.

The MM16, which has a 4.8 HP motor and resaw capacity of 16″, is probably the better choice for many woodworkers, but I bought the E16 based on its price and size that fit my needs. The E16, with a 2.4 HP motor and resaw capacity of 12″, is about 200 pounds lighter and has a smaller table, making it more maneuverable in my small shop, a critical consideration for me.

The performance of the saw has been excellent. The E16 has ample power to handle everything I’ve thrown at it, showing the moxie, for example, to accurately and smoothly resaw 10 inch wide walnut and some very dense 8 inch pear using a Timberwolf VPC 3/4′ x 0.25″ x 2-3 tpi blade. The blade runs true without barreling. A carbide tipped blade also can be used on this saw.

Set up involved a lot of clean up, though that did give me a chance to learn about the saw. I think this is typical of most major woodworking machinery. You will need to obtain and wire your own power cord. The mobility mechanism, using the lever bar, is easy to use, plants the machine steady on the floor, and saves the hassle of buying and fitting a separate mobile base. The doors do not open separately as was described by the seller, but I really don’t mind.

The manual is poor and, while I have long experience bandsawing, it could be a problem for someone new to it. Virtually everything on the saw can be adjusted as needed and I found most of the tuning to be straightforward and intuitive. The Minimax folks were knowledgeable, helpful, and responsive when questions arose.

I like the simple, heavy cast iron rip fence which is easily adjustable for drift. The table tilt mechanism is solid but can be a bit balky when making large angle adjustments. The trunnions give the table good support. The table insert is easily leveled. Tracking the blade has been easy and so far I haven’t even had to change the factory setting for the lower wheel position on its axis. Blade changes are about as easy as I can imagine on a bandsaw. (It still would be nice if they magically changed themselves!) The spring and frame are easily strong enough to tension the resaw blade. The tension gauge, just a printed sticker, could use an upgrade, but at least it allows for approximate repeatability once you determine good tension for each of your blades.

The rack and pinion guide post is a pleasure to use and, over its excursion, accurately maintains the positions of the bearings relative to the blade. I had to hack saw off a bit of the blade guard in the back to allow the upper thrust bearing to move into proper position for some blades. This does not affect the safety aspect of the guard. I think this is a design defect and I have notified Minimax. (photo above right)

I had wondered if the Euro style blade guides would be a problem, not having prior experience with this type of guide, but was happy to find them easy to adjust and they perform well. The hex head screw that holds the position of the lower thrust bearing was awkward to reach with a wrench so I replaced it with a thumb screw. To allow outside access to the screw that locks the lower blade guide assembly, I drilled a hole in the sheet steel and replaced it with a longer socket head screw. (photo right)

The electro-mechanical brake works fast and is a handy feature to keep work moving along in the shop. I used a file to round the rough corners of the foot pedal.

Dust collection is excellent. The dust port is not a standard 4 inch fit – it’s just a bit too big. I rigged an adapter using a short length of plastic hose.

The videos on the Minimax website are well done and helpful. Particularly instructive are Sam Blasco’s videos using the MM16 machine. Product support from Minimax has been excellent.

In summary, based on my experience with this machine, if this is the general category of bandsaw that will meet your needs, I heartily recommend the Minimax E16. The best thing I can say is that when it’s time to use it in a project, I feel confident and at ease. That’s what you want from a good tool.

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• Thursday, January 15th, 2009

In general, I have nothing against oxygen; I use it on a regular basis. I just do not like its predilection to hook up with the iron in my tools. Like all tool folk, I hate rust. Hoping to prevent this unholy molecular union, I’ve tried many methods and products over the years. Here are the proven performers: three non-toxic, virtually problem-free products.

Camellia oil. This gets wiped onto all my hand edge tools and some steel measuring tools with either an oily rag or an oil rub, a wad of soaked felt in a wooden cup. This very light oil has a pleasant fragrance, and only a minimal film is required to prevent rust. I’ve never had any problems with the oil interfering with gluing or finishing since I use a quick cleaning wipe on edge tools before putting them to wood. Freshly sharpened tools get oiled promptly after the water is wiped off, but I make sure oil stays away from my Shapton stones. One 8 ounce bottle lasts a few years for me.

Corrosion X. I use this on cast iron machinery surfaces and for other power tool applications. I much prefer it to the several other products I’ve tried, including Boeshield and Top-Cote. I wipe it on and rub it in infrequently, when I think of it, perhaps every few months. The manufacturer claims Corrosion X is non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, nonflammable (in the pump spray form), has no silicon, and has only 8.6% VOC. I find it has only a mild odor.

Bull Frog Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor. This is a yellow foam pad, about 10 inches square, containing the non-toxic, odorless VCI chemical which settles on metal in an invisible layer only a few molecules thick. The pad is rated to protect 50 cubic feet of enclosed space. I cut it into several proportionate size pieces to protect the contents of various tool cabinets and boxes. This is cheaper than buying smaller strips. It lasts at least one year and works well without a hint of problems.

Here in the Northeast US summers can get very humid. An electric dehumidifier in the shop keeps humidity moderated for the sake of my tools as well as the wood.

This multi-pronged approach has kept rust at bay in my shop. I hope it helps in yours. Go Rust Busters!

• Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

It is easy to see how the #1 bench plane might not be taken seriously as a real working tool. With a 5 ½” sole and 1 3/16″ width blade, here sitting beside the 8 pound, 22″ #7 jointer, it may be regarded as merely a nifty miniature suitable for collectors. However, I don’t collect tools, I only want gamers on my tool roster, and the #1 is fit and ready to play.

The blade is bevel down, with a cap iron, on a 45 degree frog which is adjustable to control the mouth width. There is the usual blade depth adjuster nut, while lateral adjustments are easily done by tapping with a small hammer. I use a two-handed grip as with a larger bench plane, but with only the left thumb and first one or two fingers on the front knob and the right thumb and two or three fingers gently holding the tote.

I find the #1 is useful for many tasks. The obvious one is planing small pieces where a full size plane would obscure any view of the work and tend to tip at the start and finish of the cut. It is handy to use on assembled projects where I need a light, maneuverable plane, such as in trimming joinery or truing a table top bearing part.

When I want my hands very close to the cutting edge for a sensitive feel of the blade on the wood, the #1 gives me the control I need. For example, it works well planing around the joint line at the junction of a rail and stile in a small frame. The #1 can also fix small defects in surface finish planing where a larger plane would bridge the area.

It is true that a block plane could do much of this. However, I keep the #1 tuned like a bench plane, with a slight camber in the blade, and the plane lends itself to a two-handed grip, so it feels more natural and controlled to use the #1 for these tasks. Note that because there is not much momentum behind the cutting edge, the blade must be kept very sharp.

This is certainly not among the first few planes to buy and it is a role player, but it’s not a bench warmer and it has definitely earned its place on the team.

I will continue to laud some of my favorite tools on this blog, particularly if I think they are not well known or just really cool.

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