Another consideration from my workbench musings.
In the pandemics dogging the world, working wood and being creative has become even more than ever the safer place to be. My small garage space, 18 square meters, is, to me, my certainty of greater sanity levels. It’s here, mostly, where I feel that I continue to grow the most. Currently, I am working on a series of blogs on the tools that I have found work best for any woodworker to use. What I look for in that process is any new work coming to light in the enhancement of what already exists or indeed, though quite unlikely, any new tool that didn’t exist in some form or other before. An example of this might be the Shinto rasp which I naturally would compare to more traditional rasps.
Some tools are a false economy but might still provide that necessary step for many to get going. I think of the four-in-hand rasp that have recommended to people starting out in woodworking and especially woodworking with children. My reasoning? I felt that spending pots of money on a tool might not be practical for the majority. A good rasp can cost up to and well over £100. If you are just making a spoon or a cutting board for a one off or for the first time, this would make rasps for woodworking and especially woodworking for children prohibitive. And it should also be considered that someone exploring the possibilities may find that woodworking is not for them. It’s unfortunate, but using a good tool with maximised capabilities might actually be the tipping point that many would-be woodworkers never know, yet, had they known good tools to start with, they might have found a rewarding craft for life. Monied people often access the best from the beginning, others cannot stretch beyond buying from the so-called bargain shops like Harbor Freight and the Pound Stretcher. Now that we have the Shinto option that compares very favourably as a highly effective tool as an alternative, it’s good to be able to recommend them even if they are one of the ugliest tools on the market.
I want tools that improve on what is established but still has needs. Many innovative designs seem to result in an ultimate failure. As another example, the disc marking gauges that look like a bearing on the end of a rod is very innovative-looking. I see and hear how people swear by them as the best thing since sliced bread but in the hand and at the bench I have found them to be neat-looking tools but less practical in actual use. Why? Well, the cutting edge of the wheel beds itself into the wood with a wedging action according to the wood type that grips the disc as it moves forward in the marking. This most often stops the marking capability in its track. This is a very natural propensity of the disc-type gauge. Add to this the same proclivity to follow grain lines rather than ‘surf’ it means that if the tool is pushed, it’s often apt to form a wedge of the wood between the stock of the gauge and the disc, tightening all the more if force is used. Alternatively, if the grain goes the other way, the disc can steer the gauge out of parallel following the grain with the stock away from the edge of the wood. Though the disc does look as though it rotates in use, it is not actually rotating… Perhaps if it did it would help but the wood resists this possibility anyway. Lightening up on the applied pressure is the answer, but the fineness of what is effectively a cut line is often too thin to offer the guidance we rely on as the grain closes up behind the cut as the gauge passes along the wood. You can read more that I have written by going to a blog that still holds good today here.
Another serious factor to be considered, in some woods, with the grain sometimes having that sticking element as we push the gauge forward along the wood, the disc begins to ‘bed in‘, tightening as said, leaving part of the disc edge embedded in the wood. This then cannot be corrected by any amount of sharpening. That said, the gauge is still fully functional. So, what many might see and consider to be innovative, is often misrepresented as an improved version when a well maintained vintage version with a well honed conical point will deliver exactly what we really need. My favourite marking gauges are varied. I mostly use the standard combination gauges we’ve come to know and love; two gauges in one, the marking gauge and the adjustable mortise gauge. I have spoken recently of the Chinese-made version made from hardwood with well-fitting brassware and steel parts. Unfortunately, because of disingenuous marketing wordage used by the Chinese manufacturer, you can no longer look up such gauges as vintage as in times past because the Chinese makers list their brand new ones as vintage too. If you don’t care where your gauges come from you have many choices. A broken-in, genuine vintage gauge operates smoothly and efficiently, but you can introduce wear and tear into a new one with a little abrasive and some shellac to refinish before waxing same with furniture wax. I am far from convinced that hardwood gauges made from more exotic and dense grained hardwoods work better than say beech or similar. I have gauges I bought in 1965 as an apprentice that will likely outlast me. I have many others twice and three times that age still in daily use.
The important things about traditional pin-point marking gauges are how to maintain them, and how to use them. Short pins are less versatile than long ones. Why? Well, the longer the pins the more you can ‘trail’ the pin by leaning the gauge so that the pin slides along the surface. When the pin is nearer to perpendicular, the fore-face of the pin is more abrupt because of its uprightness and the more the pin tends to dig in. Trailing the pin as shown makes the passage along the surface much, much smoother, easier to control and crisper too. Notice the length of the pin in this picture of the Stanley 5061 marking gauge. I have written on this amazingly well thought through design here. This pin trails easily and because of the geometry of the design of that gauge, the trailing pin can be readily followed by eye all the way through the process. In most other gauges the pins are often if not always obscured from view by the gauge stem. If you want to convert an existing marking gauge to work exactly as the 5061, I show how in another brief article here.
Worse still than that though! How come for two hundred years before did no one think of sending the pin through corner to corner as above rather than through from mid flat face to mid flat face? How come no maker today sees the efficacy of this improvement? What an amazing oversight.