Hand Tools

Hand Tools and Toy Chests

I started to take woodworking more seriously as a hobby when we moved into our first house. I bought a collection of cheap power tools at an auction, some of which I still have, and setup a small workshop on our back stoep. This being a townhouse complex, I was limited as to how much noise I could make, and greatly restricted by how often I could get my wife to come and hold a piece of wood while I cut it. Despite the restrictions I made a couple of pieces of furniture including a bed-set complete with bed base and side tables. I also made a cot for my brother’s first born girl. Looking back, I don’t think either were very elegant, but they were fit for purpose and matched my skill level. I also learnt a great deal building those; mostly that if I was going to get anymore serious about this hobby, I was going to have to invest in more tools and gain some serious skills. Over the years I have been fortunate to accumulate a lot more of both.  

Until recently, most of the tools I have acquired have been power tools. Power tools are simple way to get the job done in as short a time as possible. There is a short learning curve to figure out how to use them. With the wide range of tools and prices to suit almost any pocket, anyone can get started as a maker. YouTube and other websites are a great source of learning materials, and other social media sites like Pintrest and Instagram are amazing sources of inspiration. 

However, I have recently started to experiment more and more with hand tools. This has partly been driven because of a desire to make better quality pieces, but also out of necessity.  Two recent factors contributed to me learning how to use a hand plane. The first was  when one of my workhorse tools, my Ryobi planer/thicknesser died.  It had served me well for over ten years and, like all my Ryobi tools had performed above and beyond what it was made for. It would no longer feed wood through the thicknesser and when I stripped it to find out why, I discovered that the shafts on the gears had worn out. I guess I could probably have replaced them, but decided it was time for it to be retired. 

My wife  found a Makita thicknesser online and purchased it for me as a “late Christmas, early birthday, now stop bothering me and go to your workshop”, present. That solved one half of the problem. I still needed to be able to flatten and joint boards. I was about to start working on a project making a toy chest from Kiaat, at the time that my Ryobi planer/thicknesser died.

I own two hand planes: a German made  No. 3 plane I inherited from my wife’s grandfather and a Stanley Bailey No. 4 that belonged to my dad. Besides shaving doors to fit into door jams, I had never had any success with planes in the past, mostly from ignorance and lack of skill. (In fact it was for fitting new doors in our old house that I originally borrowed the No. 4 from my dad, and had failed to return it. I guess after 15 years, he is not going to miss it and I can consider it mine. Sorry Dad.) The second factor was Eskom. No power means no power tools, and load shedding was having a devastating affect on my woodworking efforts.

That weekend, I hauled out the No. 4 and after a couple of YouTube tutorials, figured out where I was going wrong. I sharpened the blade, set it, tested it and suddenly, was jointing boards by hand. I also figured out that this was the wrong plane and started hunting for a No. 7.  It took about 2 minutes online to find what I needed. It seems that there are a large number of people selling old tools on online platforms, and high quality and vintage tools are easy to come by. I found a seller, and made a deal. That Monday, after work, I passed by his place and collected my new plane.

My "new"Stanley No. 7 on the way home.
My “new “Stanley No. 7 on the way home.

It was not in working order, and needed a little TLC to bring it back to life. Like my vice, it was rusted and a little rough around the edges but a solid vintage tool. I stripped it back to bare metal and cleaned up the rust. A couple of coats of hammered enamel later and a few hours of work flattening the sole and it looked like new. The only problem was I couldn’t get a decent edge on the blade. The blade was too large to fit into my honing guide and wider than my sharpening stone.

It looks a little rough, but these tools were made to last a lifetime, or two.
It looks a little rough, but these tools were made to last a lifetime, or two.

A trip to the local hardware store turned up a really neat sharpening wheel that attached to the drill. It was water-cooled so did not overheat the metal. I tried it on my chisels first, figuring I could always fix those easily if I messed it up. It gave them a neat, clean edge that I could hone using water-paper and a sheet of glass. My No. 3 and No. 4 blades were next and I soon had a collection of silky smooth wood curls collecting at my feet. But the No. 7 was just too large to fit into the rig. I had to improvise, and built my own sharpening jig using some carefully angled wood. Once I had that sorted was able to bring the plane to full use.

My newly refurbished No. 7 ready too go. This is a beautiful tool.
My newly refurbished No. 7 ready too go. This is a beautiful tool.

And so I learnt how to joint and flatten boards by hand. It is a lot of hard work, and not something I intend doing very often. I have a great deal of respect for craftsman who earned their living this way in the pre-power tool era. Power tools are great at getting a board to 90% ready for a good finish, adding hand tools  gives me that extra 5% for a great finish. Skill will eventually get me that last 5%. 

Jointing boards by hand is not for the feint of heart. it takes some serious effort, but the end result is well worth the effort.
Jointing boards by hand is not for the feint of heart. It takes some serious effort, but the end result is well worth the effort.

I managed to finish my project on time. It was for a couple that were expecting their first baby. They asked for a toy chest. The Kiaat was reasonably flat to start with but not flat enough for the thicknesser. A couple of passes with the No. 7 got it flat enough to go through the thicknesser to get it to size. I jointed the sides using the No. 7 and ran them through the table saw to get them perfectly square. A few passes with the No. 4 and the saw marks were cleared creating a tight fitting joint. These were joined into panels using biscuits and PVA wood glue. More biscuits and some pocket-holes got the chest assembled. A few passes over the joins with the No. 3  to clean the edges and it was perfect. A live edge lip completed the lid and 4 coats of polyurethane for a long lasting satin finish completed the piece. 

The finish on this is beautiful. Several coast of silky polyurethane and a polish with teak oil and it creates a hard wearing surface that is water, stain, and baby resistant.
The finish on this is beautiful. Several coats of silky polyurethane and a polish with teak oil and it creates a hard wearing surface that is water, stain, and baby resistant.

For the long haul, I purchased a second hand industrial quality 8 inch jointer. It has been refurbished and I am still tweaking it, but can flatten and joint relatively quickly now. The No. 7 and No.4 are in regular use to create clean sharp sides and finish joined boards.

Happy to have a new jointer. It still needs some tuning and restoration, but it runs really well.
Happy to have a new jointer. It still needs some tuning and restoration, but it runs really well.

As for my other hand tools: I dug out the Stanley sureform that accompanied the inherited No. 3, and replaced the rasp blade. Its now regularly used to cut and rough shape pieces. I also sourced a Stanley No 80 Scraper for adding a silky smooth finish. I have started using chisels more often. My planes are now in constant use and mounted in easy reach of my vice.  I am still some way away from hand cut dovetail joints, but that is starting to look less and less intimidating.

The vice with a fresh coat of paint, waiting to be mounted

Record Vice Restoration

I  found  an old Record Vice 52 1/2 in a second hand store on Route 62 somewhere between Oudtshoorn and the middle of nowhere.  I managed to buy it for next to nothing. It was hidden behind a pile of rusty old tools, and I think the shop owner didn’t realize how valuable it was. The mechanism was jammed solid, and it had some surface rust and pitting, but was in really good condition otherwise. I had been looking for a vice for some time, and had not found anything that met my needs. This was perfect. 

It looks a little rough, but not in bad condition considering its age. Nothing elbow grease, Wynn's Clean Green, sand paper and Q20 can't fix.
It looks a little rough, but not in bad condition considering its age. Nothing elbow grease, Wynn’s Clean Green, sand paper and Q20 can’t fix.

After a couple of squirts of Q20 into the mechanism and a quick whack with a rubber mallet, I managed to get the screw turning. And then disaster. There is a spring that presses the half nut onto the worm drive. Trying to get that moving, I managed to snap the spring. A quick internet search, and I was able to find that parts for these are readily available. Problem solved and I could carry on. 

Munki-kat. She supervises many of my projects and does regular site inspections to make sure that health and safety standards are adhered to. Quality is supervised by her mother Soxie-kat.
Munki-kat. She supervises many of my projects and does regular site inspections to make sure that health and safety standards are adhered to. Quality is supervised by her mother Soxie-kat.

I stripped it down and started cleaning the parts removing the hardened grease and decades of  saw dust and rust. After a bottle of  Wynns Clean Green, loads of Q20 and a wire brush and under the watchful supervision of my cat Munki-kat, I had the pieces cleaned, shiny and ready for a coat of paint. I decided to go with a black hammered enamel finish, rather than the original Record blue. As a bit of fun, I painted the quick release green. 

Before and after shots. The broken spring can be seen next to the vice in the bottom right picture.
Before and after shots. The broken spring can be seen next to the vice in the bottom right picture.

I managed to source a replacement spring from the UK for 25 GBP. But the shipping to South Africa was 120 GBP! That was almost 10 times what I paid for the vice and almost half the price of a new one. A quick call to a friend in the UK, and he bought it for me and had it shipped free to his place.  We were meeting in Germany on our next business trip in month and agreed to the exchange over a beer. After my return, I fitted the spring and the vice made fully functional. 

I found this very comprehensive blog post about the vice at the Small Workshop.  From this post I am guessing mine is a model VI. It’s not really possible to date it beyond the model number. Being a little bit sentimental I would prefer to think of mine as being one of the first of those models, and significantly older than me.

The next issue was figuring out how and where to mount it. I found this piece of laminated pine construction lumber sitting among a pile of wood I inherited from my good friend and neighbor who had recently passed away. He was an excellent woodworker having trained as a shipwright in his youth. He made many of his own tools, and had a love for all things old-timey, especially hand-tools. I thought that if he were alive, he would have loved to see this being put to such a good use. 

Laminated construction plank
Construction plank I found in my wood stash.

I cleaned it up with belt sander before I cut it to size with a circular saw. A quick run through the jointer-planer gave me dead straight boards. I joined two boards together to make the top using biscuits and PVA wood glue. Once it was dry, I cut it to final size on the table saw and rounded the edges with a round-over bit using my table router. The sides were joined to the top with biscuits and wood glue, and because I was worried a little about the stability, I added some pocket holes for extra measure.

Cleaning up the plank with the belt sander
I used a belt sander to clean up the old varnish off the plank and make sure there were no surprises for the blades on the jointer and thicknesser.

I mounted this to my workbench and bolted the vice under it. My workbench stands a little under 90 cm high, and the final height of the bench a little over 110 cm. I am just short of 6′ tall, so the small work top makes an excellent platform for marking and assembling small parts without my back taking strain. The vice sits at a perfect height for planing wood as I can get my shoulder behind the plane. 

The completed workbench with vice attached.
The completed workbench with vice attached.

Having this simple tool has made a huge difference in the workshop, and I love the little worktop with tool storage underneath. Munki-Kat too has given it a stamp of approval with a rating of Purrrr-fect.