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.
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. Randy Johnson
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.
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. Tim Johnson
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 Woodworking (rockler.com). Tim Johnson
My favorite bench plane is my No. 4-1/2 smooth plane from lie-nielsen.com. At $325, it's near the top of the food chain.
When a top-quality bench plane is in my hands and I hear the shavings shearing 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 bleachers. Tom Caspar