Category Archives: Tools

Most Favorite Tool: First Aid Kit


As dumb as it sounds, this little first aid kit is one of my favorite tools.

The kit is small, it only has a few band-aids, some Tylenol, and tweezers in it, but having it in my tool chest all the time means I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to run upstairs if I get a cut or splinter.  I can keep right on working.

A first aid kit is something everyone should have in their shop, but the advantage of a kit this small is that it’s right in with the rest of my tools.  If I have to move to a different location for any reason…first aid is always close by.


Chisels: What I Wish I Would Have Known

I always thought chisels were chisels.  So long as you had good steel, you had a good chisel.

No, I wasn’t confused by all the different types of chisels.  Yes, I know the difference between skew chisels and fishtail chisels.  That’s not my issue.

My lack of knowledge centered around the lands.

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That flat area where the side bevels meet the back are called lands or shoulders.  For most tasks, the lands don’t make a dang bit of difference, but for dovetails, they can make an already tricky task dang near impossible!

For most work where a chisel is used for chopping or paring, the lands don’t interfere with the work at all, so it doesn’t matter how thick they are.  However, cutting dovetails can pose very difficult if you don’t have a chisel that can work into the tight corner where the tail meets the baseline.

The solution is finding a chisel that has minimal lands, or grinding the lands down on your existing chisels.

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The top chisel here is a  stock cheap bench chisel, the bottom has seen the grinder and will now fit into the tight corners of dovetails.  This grinding solution works, but it isn’t ideal.

If you’re in the market for new chisels, it’s best to get your hands on a chisel before you buy.  If that’s not possible, check the specs.  If the manufacturer doesn’t mention the lands or shoulders, then look elsewhere.

Yes, tool steel and hardness are important, but if you can’t get the tool to do the job you need it to do, it’s nothing more than a paperweight.

-Mike Russo

Winding Sticks

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Ever since I became interested in hand tools, I knew I needed winding sticks.  This simple tool tells you if a board has twist or wind.

With a powered jointer, you run the board over a flat table with the knives in the middle.  So long as the board doesn’t rock as it’s going over the knives, it will eventually become flat on one side, then a powered planner makes the opposite side parallel.

With hand tools, you have to remove the high corners before you can ever hope to get the board totally flat.  This is where winding sticks shine.  With the contrasting inlays at the top of each stick, it is easy to see if the sticks are parallel with each other.  If they aren’t, your board has some amount of twist.

If you are just getting started with hand tools, you don’t “need” winding sticks.  A quick trip to the hardware store will give you two of the best winding sticks you could hope for.  3/4 or 1″ aluminum angle will make dandy winding sticks.

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With my metal sticks, I painted one with the last of some red spray paint that was left over from another project.  This made it easier to see which stick was which.  However, I wanted to try a project with some inlay.  The result turned out well.

The only secret to winding sticks is that the edges must be parallel to each other.  My sticks complicate that rule slightly.  When not in use, my sticks nest together.

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At the time, this seemed like a great feature however, in use, one of the sticks needs to be flipped around.

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 This makes it a little harder to true the sticks up.  If you plane them when they are nested together, any amount you might taper the sticks will be twice as bad when they are flipped around in use.  If planed when they are in the position they are used in, then any error will be noticeable when the sticks are nested.

The only real option is to plane the bottoms flat when the sticks are nested, then use a marking gauge to make a parallel line off the bottom.  If you plane to that line very carefully, then you’ll have two sticks that are parallel when they are facing each other, and when one flipped around facing away.

Two other features of these sticks that make them an upgrade from the metal sticks are the diamond inlay in the middle and the shortened sights.

The diamonds are not decorative   They show me where the center of the sticks are.  Putting the center of the winding sticks in the center of the stock helps to get a true reading of how much twist the stock has.

On my metal sticks, the sights were all the same color across the entire piece.  One stick was silver, the other was red.  This could make it hard to tell how far off from flat you really were.  Having sticks with sights that are only about 4″ long makes it much easier to see what’s really going on.

While it’s completely unnecessary to make wooden winding sticks with inlay, it is a nice exercise in some basic fundamentals of hand tool woodworking.  The sticks can be made with nothing more than a saw, chisel, and jack plane and the skills built will transfer to many other projects.  If you’re still using the metal angle like I was, go find a few nice pieces of wood and make yourself some nice sticks.  They’ll make you smile every time you use them!