. . . to shop for your woodworking Christmas gifts. Here I am suggesting a few ideas for family, friends and any others you might know who are woodworkers with a serious bent. These you can shop early for as they have a permanent shelf life, they never grow old, become dated and whenever they are pulled down to use, the recipient gives a nod of honourable mention in appreciation to the thoughtful giver.
At first glance, you might pass over them. Not really regard them as a serious contender in the quest of taking in tools that might not look the part. There is of course lots of growing snobbism in the world generally and so too has it become so in woodworking. I think the Shinto sawrasp is indeed such a tool. You might compare it to the Surform plane as it was once called “in the day.” That ugly cheese grater that zests lemons and grates carrots for soup so wonderfully. I’m talking the 1960s. It’s hardly a plane but for trimming sheetrock and tackling the bottom of a shed door that’s scraped the path for far too long, it knows no equal. It indeed has its place but not in the furniture-making shop. But its appearance belies its true worth. The Shinto rasp is my first gift of choice for Christmas 2021.
I think that the Shinto rasp has earned credit over the past couple of years with me. The amount I use this tool is the equivalent of 30 years in amateur realms and it is still holding up very well — indeed it’s as close as you can get to a lifetime shaping tool that cannot be resharpened. Also, compared to a bona fide rasp of European origin, it works as well for 95% of shaping work though if you are used to a good quality rasp you will always know that there is a difference between a hand made or hand-stitched rasp and one of these. Truth is, most French-made rasps are second to none and because they are so good they can be prohibitively high for many woodworkers and especially as a present for a younger aged child who might not stay with it. The Shinto costs a mere 15-20% of the cost of a good rasp, a relatively low-cost for a tool that works so very well with lasting qualities built in too. Prices vary between sellers, so shop around. They will cost between £20-30 depending on the length. Two blade lengths are available 11″ (270mm) and 9″ (230mm) roughly. Well worth the money, these tools work extremely well, and with the two-sided coarse and fine you get two rasps in one. Both sizes are handy too. The one I have thoroughly tested is the 11″ version. Downside-info is that they have not come out with a round version yet. That would be most handy, but as most rasp work is done using a flat face, this one works very well for us. Check out the prices as they do vary considerably with some suppliers charging up to 30% more than others. Amazon was not the cheapest!
A spokeshave was a first tool for each of my boys as they ‘came of woodworking age‘ and that was quite young at three years of age but it was always with full-on supervision. I would say that five is a good age for most children but you as a parent will be the better judge according to their personalities, ability and maturity. My granddaughter was not yet three when `I introduced her to her first spokeshaving task of making a spatula. It’s a hands-on-hands to get them going and the attention span wanes in seconds until they see that shaving magically appear from the spokeshave throat. These restored red versions below, vintage Marples ones, somehow became hers from then on.
You only need a flat-bottomed one. Round bottomed ones are quite difficult to register to the wood surface, especially for little children, and only work with tighter curves the like of which you will not usually need anyway. I say that so that you don’t fall for the ‘buying both to cater to every eventuality‘ thing. I use a round-bottomed about every three years. Not really worth having unless you envisage a particular type of inside curved work on a regular basis. What make? Usually secondhand will be a good option or you can buy a new Stanely 151 model from Amazon as a mass-produced one that works just fine with just a little fettling if needed and of course, sharpening. They do not require upgrades of retrofitted cutting irons so please be warned if the prompt pops up to suggest this or that iron. The standard irons will work perfectly well. I much prefer the adjustable versions especially for children but that is the type “I use all the time and it works great. Don’t be put off by those saying you need this version or that version, thick irons and such like that. You don’t. Beware tools sales staff!
Here’s an example of poor product info from Screwfix, a UK big box store:
“Useful tool for convex curves. Malleable iron handles are designed for lifetime use. Fully adjustable cutter. Manufactured from high quality steel to create and retain a keen cutting edge.
- 10″ Steel Handle
- 20° Steel Blade
- 45° Cutting Angle
- Bevel Up”
So what’s wrong? It’s a bevel down tool. Each of the tool reviews said it would not work but of course, it would if you knew what to do. If they had the bevel up, as the information wrongly said, there is just no way it would work and how would you know if you never owned one and the sales advise said it is a “bevel-up tool“?
I have been trialing these chisels solidly in daily use for almost three months now and I find them to have excellent quality and give good value for money without compromising the functionality you might expect from say a premium chisel. MHG chisels are excellent value for money at around £60 for a boxed set of six with totally useable sizes inside the box. Others can be added individually for around £10 each to fill in any gaps. These chisels are made by the same makers as my everyday-use Aldi chisels. They have those wonderful, indestructible hornbeam wooden handles that just fit any hand perfectly. I might not like the shiny, steel-looking ferrules but they are fine and I will live with them as I continue to use them long term. Again, these chisels are unfussy and unfanciful and hard to beat when it comes to functionality, edge retention, steel hardness and sharpenability and so on. Comparing these chisels to what are considered premium chisels will be a matter of personal preference to each individual. I will say this, thinking through my past and trialing different chisels from the higher-end market, of the two hundred or so Aldi chisels I have used in my classes for 10 years to date, I have never seen a snapped Aldi chisel, I have never had a handle turn loose of the tang and I have never cut my fingers on the side bevels. I have done all of the above with so-called premium chisels. MHG’s main-line production chisels, the former producer of Aldi chisels when they stocked them, are better chisels through and through and are indeed lifetime chisels.
I do recommend that you totally adopt the Thorex or Thor 712R hammer as a replacement for a wooden mallet. This is the best chisel hammer there is bar none. I have been recommending for over two decades to date and have used one myself for even longer, indeed, I use them for all of my everyday work. These hammers will treat the wooden handles of your chisels with the absolute kindness they deserve yet they will deliver the power-blow right where you need it dead-center on the centre of percussion. Think sweet spot on a baseball strike or the sledgehammer on a steel marquee peg. They are available at Amazon at the mere cost of £18 for a lifetime tool and that is with a nice wooden handle of ash too.
You can buy lighter versions for smaller people and lighter work too, but this one is not too heavy at all.
And then, of course, there is my book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. I may as well plug it now and avoid disappointment for those you will buy for. Going off what people say, this has become their most used resource at the workbench when they are struggling to understand more about the tools they are using.
It took me 53 years of experimentation and research at my workbench to bring all of the ingredients to do this, the writing, searching decades of notes, drawing the innards of planes, hands on the tools and such. It’s my life’s work to be a solution for woodworkers yet to come and much more, so I am very glad that `I was able to do this. We are the only suppliers of my books now and we ship internationally so the price is always guaranteed to be the same. We have just a couple of thousand left so please order early here. They will love it!