Sharpening Gimlet Bits

Note: The content of this post has been moved to my new blog.  You can find the new post here:


Never Say Never Again

Christmas is a time of giving, right? And while my wife and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts with each other, I decided to give myself a gift this year. You could call it a New Years gift, since I didn’t have it for Christmas. But I will get a lot of use out of it in the new year.

You see, in our previous house, I had a much larger shop in the basement. There was plenty of room for a jointer, planer, bandsaw and table saw, plus my workbench, and a big area of kitchen style cabinets and counter top for dirty work and my bench top drill press. Wait, a table saw???? Sounds nothing like my current setup, right?

When we moved into our current house, I was forced to downsize. Well, maybe forced isn’t the right word. I was faced with a decision. I could keep the bigger shop setup with all of the machines and make my new home in the unheated and uncooled garage, or I could get rid of the machines and set up an all hand tool shop in a small office space attached to our family room. Since I had already been working almost totally by hand for several years before we moved anyway, I chose to ditch the machines and keep the climate control 🙂 .


But I digress. One thing that I had in my old shop that I would have to make a decision on for my new, smaller shop was a dedicated sharpening area. I only had one spot available for such a setup and I really wanted to put a standing desk in that spot for minor odds and ends and for laying drawings while I was building a project. So I decided I would pass on the dedicated sharpening area and keep my sharpening stones on the shelf under my work bench and take them out when I needed to sharpen.

I’ve worked this way for almost a decade now, and you know what? I’ve really missed my dedicated sharpening bench. So I decided that this was the year I would remedy that problem and build a new one. I repurposed the standing desk to my daughters and opened up a spot for a new sharpening bench.

Here’s the thing though. I also wanted a portable workbench for when I do demos at different places. So really what I built was a mini workbench. When it’s in the shop I’ll use it as a sharpening bench. But I designed it in such a way that it can be quickly and easily disassembled and put into the back of my hatchback. It is only 4 parts, has no hardware, and can be disassembled and assembled in less than a minute each.


However, workbenches need a solid, flat top. In order to have a rigid, heavy top in such a small package, I decided to laminate the top out of doug fir 4 x 4s. It worked, but if you’ve been reading my musings for any length of time, you know how I feel about laminating tops for workbenches. If you’re new to the blog, let’s just say that laminating workbench tops by hand for me is about as fun and probably just as painful as a DIY bikini wax with duct tape would be.

So I spent the afternoon today leveling the laminations and flattening the top. Really it was probably only about an hour to an hour and a half of work, but it was work I’m not fond of doing. Now that it’s done though, I’m glad I did it. After a few coats of varnish to seal the top up to keep it relatively clean, I’ll have a nice new sharpening bench and a second workbench for those times when it would be nice to have two.

And while I’d like to say I’ll never laminate another workbench top again, like the aging Bond, this aging woodworker now knows to never say never.


Happy 2015 everyone!

The Naked Woodworker – A Must Have for the Beginner

Naked Woodworker
Recently, my friend Mike Siemsen and the folks over at Lost Art Press put out a DVD called “The Naked Woodworker“. The DVD is aimed at the new woodworker who has no tools and no idea where to start. I picked up a copy to watch and then donate to my woodworking club’s library. After watching it, let me just say, that if you are the new woodworker I just described, you need this DVD. It will be the best $20 and the most valuable 4½ hours you can spend before you start woodworking.

The first disc of the 2-DVD sets starts with Mike at the MWTCA meet, buying tools. He tells you what to look for and what to avoid when shopping for tools. But most importantly, he focuses only on what tools you will need to complete your first two projects, a sawbench and a workbench.

This section alone is the kick in the pants that so many new woodworkers need to stay focused. I’ve long suggested that when you’re new to the craft you should focus on a project and let your project dictate the tools you start with, not the other way around. But far too often, the focus of new woodworkers is to try and buy every tool they think they might someday need before they ever cut a single piece of wood. Mike’s no nonsense approach to tool shopping shows you how to focus only on the good user grade tools that you will need to get the two projects done, without spending a fortune in the process.

In the second half of the first disc, Mike talks about how to get your new tools ready to go to work. Regardless of whether you go the new tool or old tool route, you need to know how the tools function, and more importantly, how to maintain them and keep them working like they should. All tools get dull in time, so knowing how to keep them sharp is the most important skill any new woodworker can learn.

The primary focus on this part of the disc is on sharpening plane irons and saws, but Mike does briefly discuss the setup of the rest of the tools he bought as well. Then, using a simple and inexpensive sandpaper setup, Mike sharpens the blades for all of the planes he bought in the first part of the disc, and shows you how to adjust the tools and get them working properly with minimal fussing. There’s no uber tuning and shaving measuring going on here. These tools are set up to build stuff, not show off on internet forums.

After the planes are set up, Mike moves on to the saws. The difficulty of sharpening ones own saws is so over exaggerated it can be sickening. The fact of the matter is that it’s really not that hard. It’s no harder than learning to sharpen a chisel or plane iron. It takes some practice, and while your first sharpening is not likely to result in perfection, it will still result in a saw that cuts better than a dull one. Mike shows you how simple it is and discusses both rip and crosscut saws, again, focusing on getting the saws to an acceptable working level, not striving for perfection.

Disc 2 is all about getting to work with your new tools. Mike builds a sawbench and Nicholson inspired workbench in this disc. The saw bench is straight forward, simple and inexpensive. The design gives you plenty of sawing practice, requires no complex joinery, and results in a rock solid, sturdy sawbench. Oh, and he builds it using only a pair of 5 gallon buckets to work on, because that’s probably all you will have to work with.

Then Mike goes on to build a full sized workbench, again, only using the sawbenches to build it, because that’s all you will have. Mike’s modified Nicholson bench design is really simple to build and incorporates a bunch of really great, inexpensive workholding options. Maybe I like the design because the way he built it is so similar to how I built mine, but it’s simplicity is only outdone by its functionality. Mike has made this bench so easy to build, using no complex joinery, that I’m betting my 9 year old daughter could almost build it with very little help from me. This is the first workbench every new woodworker should build.

So to repeat what I wrote above, if you are a new woodworker, just getting started, buy this DVD before you do anything else. If you follow along with Mike’s teachings in this video, you could have a basic tool kit, a sturdy place to work, and be on your way to building furniture in no more than a week or two.

Straightening a Backsaw

I get a lot of questions about straightening saws. I’ll be the first one to admit that hammer straightening a bent hand saw is as much art as it is skill. Do I think anyone can learn to do it? Absolutely! But it does take a bit of practice and the ability to get over the fear of permanently ruining a saw (it’s likely that you will ruin several during your education).

Backsaws are a bit easier though. Most backsaws that I’ve worked on have not needed to be hammered. This is because the spine typically prevents the blade of a backsaw from being kinked to the point of needing to be hammered.

A backsaw may seem more complicated to straighten, however, because they typically don’t require hammering, they’re actually easier to straighten than an unbacked saw in my opinion. The trick is to take it one step at a time in order to isolate the reason for the bend and only fix the true cause. In a backsaw the wave could be caused by a few conditions. The blade itself could be bent, the blade could be buckled inside the spine and held by the tension of the spine, the spine itself could be bent, the spine itself could be twisted, the spine could be applying uneven pressure to the sides of the blade, or it could be a combination of all of these things.

I will caution you not to just tap the spine lower on the blade to try and fix the problem. While this can sometimes work, it is a somewhat inelegant bandaid type fix that often results in the spine being knocked all the way down at the toe and pivoting up off of the blade at the heel, giving what is actually a rectangular blade the appearance of a canted blade but lacking the support of the spine along the full length of the blade that a true canted blade would have. See the link for the podcast below if you aren’t exactly sure what I’m talking about.

So with that said, here’s how I approach straightening a backsaw, in this order.

  1. Remove the handle. Clamp the heel of the saw, right under the spine, very tightly in a metal working/machinist’s vise, with smooth, flat jaws that won’t mar the saw blade. Using a hammer and a scrap block of hardwood as a “drift”, rap the back of the spine (don’t hit the blade) in an attempt to slide it forward on the blade. Sometimes the saw was dropped on its toe, moving the spine rearward or moving the blade rearward. In either case, the drop causes the blade to buckle inside of the spine. Being under tension, the spine will hold the buckle and not allow it to straighten out on its own. “Sliding” the spine forward can stretch things back to straight if this is the case.
  2. If #1 doesn’t solve the problem, remove the spine. I did a podcast on this if you’re unsure how to do so. With the spine removed, check to see if the blade itself is straight or bent without the tension of the spine. If the blade is not straight, it will need to be hammered straight before reinstalling the spine. If you’re not comfortable doing this, it might be a good time to employ the services of your nearest saw smith. If the blade is straight (or after you have straightened it), check the spine to see if it is straight. If the spine is straight, reinstall the blade per the podcast. If the spine is not straight, it will need to be straightened prior to reinstalling the blade. This is done by a combination of light hammering, pressing in a vise, and hand bending until it looks straight. Once the blade & spine are straight, reinstall the blade into the spine per the podcast. Then go back and do #1 again. Reinstalling the spine can put a small buckle in the blade so it will need “stretching” again per #1. This will also allow you to reposition the spine if you didn’t get it installed exactly in the right spot.
  3. If #1 and #2 do not make things straight, then the spine is either twisted or pinching the sides of the blade unevenly (or a combination of both). The fix for both of these issues is the same, so it’s really not necessary to identify the exact culprit. To fix these issues, I put the assembled spine/blade back into the metalworking vise, held by the toe of the spine, with the teeth facing up. Sight down the toothline and see where the wave is. Using a pair of adjustable wrenches, you need to gently apply twisting pressure to the spine opposite the direction of the wave, to line things back up straight again. This is easily over done, so go easy. You will probably have to apply the opposing twists at various places along the spine with the wrenches held at different points and varying separations between them in order to straighten things back up. There’s no real science to it. It’s kind of a feel and eye thing. Just take your time and go easy with the twisting and you’ll be fine. It will quickly become apparent where you need to place the wrenches along the spine and where you need to twist in order to even out the pressure. Just make sure to always use two wrenches to do the twisting. The vise is to hold things only. Don’t twist with one wrench against the pressure of the vise. Always use two wrenches lightly twisting in opposing directions.

Follow those three steps and you should be able to get things all straightened out. Just take it slow and don’t force things. If the metal in the blade gets stretched too much, it can’t be repaired, so it’s better to go slow and take longer to get things straightened out than to try and do it quickly by hammering or twisting harder. That almost always results in making things worse.

Once I get my computer issues sorted out, I do plan to do a podcast on this. Until I can do so, hopefully this post will help.