Overview: The editors of American Woodworker magazine
An offcut's throw from our shop is the
office and shop of American Woodworker
magazine. I know the editors there, and
believe me, they've been around the
woodworking block a time or two.
Recently, I asked the guys to tell me
about their favorite tools. Here's what
they had to say.
A 4-1/2-in. grinder for fine woodworking
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4-1/2-in. disc grinder
Randy recently purchased Milwaukee's new
6130-33 4-1/2-in. disc grinder for $60.
Its compact size and light weight
make it easy to maneuver.
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Close-up of disc grinder
A disc grinder makes sculpting and shaping wood much easier.
My first woodworking projects as a kid
involved a lot of carving and chopping
with axes, spoke shaves and big chisels.
I eventually learned the finer side
of precision furniture building, but for
the sheer pleasure of working wood,
nothing compares to sculpting and
shaping wood by eye and feel.
I discovered early on that a 4-1/2-in.
disc grinder is perfect for shaping gently
curved projects. Equipped with a 24- to
36-grit sanding disc, the grinder is
aggressive enough for most of my projects.
You can get a grinder for about $40,
but spend more if you plan to use it a
lot. It’ll last longer and be more comfortable
to handle. I do final sculpting with
100- to 120-grit, which also leaves a surface
smooth enough to finish-sand with
a random orbital sander. This Windsor
chair seat took about an hour to carve
with the grinder.
Meet the Pro! Randy Johnson
Randy owned a cabinet/
furniture shop for 20 years
before trading his Unisaw
for a computer, eventually
becoming the chief editor
of American Woodworker.
His other passions are
sailing and making goat
cheese with his kids.
Keep chisels sharp for $12
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Honing guide in action
This little gem firmly holds chisels up to 1-1/2 in. wide
and plane irons up to 2-3/4 in. wide. The guide is
adjustable, so you can choose virtually any bevel
angle, and it’s precise enough to set micro bevels.
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Close-up of honing guide
The honing guide has a small wheel that runs along the sharpening stone.
When I started out in woodworking 30
years ago, sharpening chisels and plane
irons used to take forever. I had trouble
holding the tool at a consistent angle as
I moved it back and forth on the stone.
Sharp edges eluded me until an old salt
turned me on to a $12 honing guide.
Once the tool is locked in the guide,
you just move it forward and back on
the stone until the edge is razor sharp.
You can get honing guides at any woodworking
store or online. The No.
60N01.05 shown is at leevalley.com.
Meet the pro! Tim Johnson
Tim has spent 25 years
restoring antique furniture
and building custom
pieces. Harvest tables
are a specialty—he's built
more than 50 of them.
Tim co-founded the 4th
Street Guild, a cooperative
Caliper for the common man
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Slide caliper in action
A slide caliper is Tim's favorite tool for accurately
measuring board thicknesses, inside widths of miters
and depths of stopped holes.
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Close-up of caliper
This caliper has 1/64-in. increments as well as decimal numbers.
Slide calipers are typically
graduated in decimals.
That’s perfect for engineering,
but my old-school brain
is wired for fractions, so converting
measurements is always a
struggle. That’s why I’ve latched on
to a fractional caliper, which reads in
fractions instead of decimals.
The dial is clearly marked in
1/64-in. increments, and finer measurements
are possible as well. One
complete revolution equals 1 in.
(Digital fractional calipers are also
available.) A thumbscrew operates the
mechanism. Separate jaws allow you
to measure both inside and outside
dimensions. A plunge bar extends
from the bottom to measure depths.
By the way, this caliper reads in decimals,
too, for measuring such things
as paper-thin shims and fine veneers.
I bought this Oshlun 6-in. caliper
(No. 36575) for $44 from Rockler
Premier hand planes
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Bench plane in action
My favorite bench plane is my No. 4-1/2 smooth plane from
. At $325, it's near the top of the food chain.
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Close-up of bench plane
Bench planes shear the wood in fine shavings.
When a top-quality
bench plane is in my
hands and I hear the
away, then feel the ultra-smooth
surface left behind, I’m
in shop heaven. I’m connected
with the wood in a way no
power tool could ever deliver.
Of course, I didn’t figure out
how to use a plane overnight. It
took a long time to learn how to
tune the tool, sharpen its blade
and push it the right way. Using
a plane requires skill earned the
hard way, but that’s also part of
its appeal. When I pick it up, I
feel like a pro baseball player
going up to bat. The crowd is
cheering, the bases are loaded
and I’m swinging for the upper
Meet the pro! Tom Caspar
Tom started making furniture
right out of college in
a friend's farm outbuilding,
with no electricity. His first
love is hand tools. He has
a side gig, The Unplugged
wannabe hand-tool users.