|Age old tools and methods|
Most men have a thing for tools; it feels great collecting them and figuring out what they are capable of. Most times though they end up sitting in boxes, only to be pulled out occasionally for the odd job or a spot of required cleaning. Tools are grown up men's toys. So it is not surprising many individuals who set out to be hobbyist woodworkers or DIY die-hards, end up becoming tool collectors. Nothing wrong with this but if the object is to make things, then a different approach is called for.
When I began experimenting with woodworking a couple of years ago, my principal source of information was the Internet with its woodworking blogs and many online stores. Most of these were US based and the emphasis clearly was on power tools, large roomy workshops and a variety of ingenious jigs, fixtures and work aids. I felt that I could not do proper or good quality woodworking without investing on some of these products. Today, I realise that is not entirely true.
While a number of power tools greatly aid woodworking, only a handful of them are essential. I also discovered that hobbyists in Europe, unlike their American counterparts, do not usually have the luxury of dedicated workshops or an assortment of expensive power tools. In Europe hobbyists tend to use a lot more hand tools and would make do with rudimentary work benches housed in a spare room or area. However, hobbyists in Europe enjoy a great advantage in that they can buy perfectly milled lumber locally, relatively cheaply and easily.
The Indian hobbyist, in comparison, is severely handicapped. He does have much space, expensive power tools or access to good quality milled lumber. Wood can be milled, cut and sized by hand but it is a tedious and difficult process; it is here that power tools excel. A band saw can slice through logs; a planer (jointer in American parlance) can perfectly flatten a surface; thicknessers (planers in the US) can bring down the flattened piece to a consistent desired thickness; and table saws can quickly and precisely cut wood to the sizes desired.
So where does that leave the Indian hobbyist? A decent planer-thicknesser costs more than a couple of lakh rupees, weighs 500 kilos or more and creates a hideous racket when operated. Owning one is rarely feasible. Bench top saws are cheaper and less bulky but even these might not always be an option. One solution is to get the lumber milled and cut to precise dimensions at a woodworking shop found in most areas where lumber is sold. The milling may not be perfect but it would usually be good enough, nothing that a bit of planning and/or sawing could not fix.
The other option is to work with plywood, board, MDF and finger-jointed rubber wood sheets. All these materials do not need to be planed or thicknessed; they only need to be cut to size. The third option is to occasionally take the trouble of milling and cutting wood by hand. This is not so difficult as time consuming, yet also extremely satisfying.
I find that an Indian hobbyist really requires only three power tools: an electric drill, a medium sized hand held router and a smallish circular saw. Sanders, chop saws, jig saws and what have you are entirely optional and frankly not required. It is of course a different matter if one is setting up a woodworking production unit.
All that is essential for making stuff as a hobby is a set of good quality hand tools, some sort of sharpening system and good technique. That’s it, nothing fancy, no elaborate set ups and expensive purchases. However, it is important to know what tools are essential and which need to be top notch.
Measuring and marking tools
Without these making decent projects in wood is simply not possible. Measuring and marking accurately is the first step in the process. The tools required include a combination square, a decent straightedge, an accurate tape measure, a mortise gauge and a sharp marking knife. Dividers, a calliper, a 3 inch square, a level and a depth gauge would make good add-ons.
A large rip saw, a fine toothed backsaw, a set of bevel edged chisels, a couple of mortise chisels (1/4 and 3/8 inch would do fine), a small hack saw, a coping saw, a couple of gouges would be more than enough.
Finishing and Shaping Tools
A hand plane is both a finishing and shaping tool and come in a bewildering assortment of varieties. The essential ones in my view are three: a block plane, a No 4 smoothing plane and a long No 7 or No 8 Jointer plane. A couple of files and rasps, a steel scraper and sanding pads would complete this list.
There are many methods for sharpening hand tools but in India sharpening is almost invariably done with a double sided abrasive stone. There are two grits available on these stones: one rough (225 grit) and the other fine (600 grit). This is enough for most jobs but for super sharpening a different method is called for. One good method is to use a range of sandpapers, ranging from 120 to 2000 grit. The other methods include the use of water stones and diamond stones. Some methods clearly are more expensive than others.
Just hammers and a few screwdrivers of different sizes will suffice - no need for cordless screwdrivers and automatic nailers.
Clamps of all kinds are absolutely essential for any kind of woodworking and a few basic ones should be purchased at the outset. A nail set (used for hammering nails below the surface), a nail remover tool and so on are useful.
A hobbyist is usually in no hurry to complete projects and is not into churning out pieces by the dozen. The aim is to derive satisfaction from producing something useful, pleasing or aesthetic. For this, nothing beats the hand tools approach.
Unlike power tools that generate huge amounts of wood chips, fine dust and so on, with hand tools there is no need for complex dust extraction systems nor is there any need to have large areas (preferably sound proof) within which to work. Working with hand tools is also much safer – thousands of accidents take place in the west because of power tools. People routinely loose body parts and receive serious injuries. According to one statistic, power tools are the cause of 400,000 emergency room visits every year in the US alone. So why go down that route? Learn to make good use of hand tools and you could be surprised at how easy is to make great projects in wood.
11 May 2013
11 May 2013