I have stared at this painting for quite some time. There is a lot to unpack from this one if you have any interest in hand tools. This image is of a very organized workshop of a master craftsman plying his trade in the early 19th century. I feel he is consulting with a client about a commission they are undertaking and discussing the finer details. Click the image for a larger version and enjoy.
In the spirit of the internet Bushcraft trend of pulling out our tools and comparing I decided to join in the fun. This is the patch / neck knife I purchased back around 1986 when I first started getting primitive.
This one was made by a bladesmith from an antique crosscut saw and has a beautiful tiger-striped maple handle. This is probably its third sheath but it’s the one I’ve stuck with since around 2001. It’s been camping and on thousands of miles of field projects, not always around my neck but almost always close-by in my pack. For some reason, our society thinks you’re a little weird if you wear a knife around your neck all the time.
I rarely (I mean almost never) go out of my way to endorse a product of any kind but while considering the upcoming holidays I came across this link I saved a while back. I think it would be perfect for the workshop and is a work of art in its own right.
I can imagine it over my new workspace or even hanging on the wall in the den to be pondered while dreaming of building something worthwhile. It’s called the Chart of Hand Tools from the Pop Chart Lab, “printed using 100 lb archival recycled stock certified by The Forest Stewardship Council, this poster is pressed on an offset lithographic press in Flatlands, Brooklyn.” Sounds good so far and I love how they are actually grouped in logical sets by basic function. That satisfies the analyst in me.
Here’s some information from Pop Chart Lab’s website:
“With over 300 meticulously illustrated tools this chart celebrates the tinkerers and the doers: those who build, repair, and create. Breaking down all manner of hand tools by their basic function, this sprawling print covers the most basic, such as the humble yet mighty hammer, to the most highly specialized, such as the 24 types of files depicted here. A hand-crafted compendium of ingenious and essential devices, this chart is a complete cut-list of the tools that empower makers and artisans. —And the chart is printed with brass and aluminum metallic inks to give it a shop-ready sheen.
Size 24″ x 36″
Each print is signed and numbered by the artists, and comes packaged in a Pop Chart Lab Test Tube.
At $37 U.S. it seems like a great addition to any Maker’s house. I hope my own Santa Claus or Krampus drops one off at the shop this winter. I better start being good for the Yule-tide season.
I keep a couple tool rolls for specialty fixes but I really like this setup from over a century ago. I think I need to make and “essentials” kit like this for general travel to keep the tings I truly need in need place and handy. It might be a little heavy for the rambler on foot but could be invaluable on the cycle or in the truck.
I think I would need to make an image of each tool in its place as I have found in my other bespoke tool kit that the loops and pockets all start to look alike when there are too many empty ones at once. The only potential problem with tool rolls is that they can get thick and bulky in a hurry if you aren’t careful with what you put in them.
I find that tool rolls aren’t that valuable when working from the home shop as they take up a lot of surface but are a very handy way to travel and stay organized on the road. I use four tool rolls myself currently, one for holding large brace bits, one for wrenches (mainly for working on the scooter or truck), one for chisels, and one for carving tools.
With a little forethought, I think a traveler’s kit like this could be very useful.
A few too many camp knives?
This is what happens as you travel, receive gifts, buy better stuff, always need a good knife, etc.
From the upper left: Camillus 5-1967 (a friend carried this through Vietnam), my small Arkansas stone for field touch-ups, Buck folder, two classic Victorinox Pioneer knives (I’ve carried this style every day since high school) and a small pen knife, a lock-blade Buck made in Idaho, a 19th century bone handle knife cut down from a larger eating knife, two Gerber multi-tools (the original is from 1990 and a more modern, but heavy version beneath), a hand-made patch knife by M.P. with walnut neck sheath I’ve had since 1986, a Solingen-made high carbon Bowie knife with ebony handle, two classic Case XX folders, two small folding Gerbers, a hand-made camp knife from a fine Colorado maker, and at the bottom my “go to” Buck field knife that has worked on archaeological projects, cut up animals, dog holes, and performed about every other imaginable task.
This photo came about as I decided to organize my camping gear. While emptying packs and bags I realized there were knives in every one, usually in more than one pocket. After throwing them out on the floor and arranging for a quick photo I began to think about the ones in various tool boxes, my wood carving knives, a couple collector knives I can’t seem to part with, and others stashed away around the house. My search for minimalism is failing when it comes to good tools.
I cleaned out my recently revamped tote that holds the my key leather working tools. It was good to see the bottom of the box again and pull out the non-essential items. The less used items have their own canvas tote bag of similar proportions.
As I sort and cull my tools (and life) I want to share some past projects that may seem too simple to consider. I am not always on the path to a handmade life but I’m also never far from it.
A shaving horse is an invaluable tool if you create or work with odd-shaped objects that are otherwise difficult to clamp or need to constantly move around. A horse, in combination with a small bench of the same height can act as a fairly complete workshop that is reasonably portable and adaptable. Carpenters, furniture makers, coopers, shoemakers, jewelers, and carvers all have their specific designs and no one type will be the best at everything. With a little patience, planning, and luck a great horse can be built for cheap or free with just a very few tools.
Here are few more shaving (work) horse images and some I created over the years if you need inspiration or information on designing one for yourself. I wish I had photos of my very first horse but unfortunately, it existed at a time when I seem to have taken very few photos of my own projects. Maybe that had something to do with carrying two field cameras for work almost every day and my sub-conscience rebellion against it. But I stray from the point…
In the old days of pre-internet (some of you may recall this with me) there was very little information floating around about these simple but nifty devices. People like Roy Underhill (the Woodwright’s Shop) and Drew Langsner (Country Woodcraft) had them. I recall seeing them rotting in yards in the Ozarks or slowly decaying in the back of barns. While researching them later, the one consistency I discovered was the complete lack of consistency on their size, shape, height, length, or actual use. Obviously, every bodger, tinker, and shingle maker had his own ideas and was probably limited by material availability.
While my first horse was designed primarily around wood scraps found in the shop an it’s ability to fit cross-ways in a truck bed with ease, it was perfectly functional. Experience and use taught me the good and bad points about this model and the result has been these better and later designs…
Another action shot fixing the tiller on someone’s bow at Winter Count. I wouldn’t normally have a giant, heavy stave leaning on the horse but the photographer insisted for some reason. I was just hoping it wouldn’t bean me with a very sharp draw-knife in my hand (hence the rasp).
Not my herd (above). Here are a few others I encountered at a bow making class in the Midwest several years ago. I liked the simplicity of these made for teaching new bowyers at the Bois d’Arc Rendezvous. You could probably make one of these with nothing but a few well-chosen scraps and a few bolts.
And my favorite…
Finally, the horse above has been my more-or-less permanent workstation for the last few years and has traveled many miles around the western U.S. Used in conjunction with a small saw bench (built Winter 2015), I have a very complete work setup that packs into the bed of the tiny Toyota pick-up.
With all the gentrification of woodworking that has grown out of some fine blogs and books of the past few years I think it’s important to remember the roots. Not everyone needs to own every tool, jig, or gizmo nor should we want to. Few amateurs can have an enormous, dedicated work space surrounding a one-ton French-style Roubo split-top workbench, nor will he need one. Once you figure out what you want to create, then the tools can follow as needed.
Reposted from 2008; what a different life it seems now.
Here is one of my favorite old shave horses. It is made from a plank chainsawed from an enormous pin-oak limb that came down during a storm years ago.
It weighs quite a bit but the weight means more stability when using it as a work bench. All my other horses have had an adjustable table but this one is set to a good angle strictly for working bows.
There are plenty of depictions in old art and many made specifically for every occupation in Diderot’s Encyclopedia from the 18th century. I made my plans for this one based on several I measured over the years and made lots of adjustments to my first one to get the right “fit”. My second and third attempts got better and better. Total cost estimate: about $5.00 for bolt and a few screws.
Talk about convergent timing … It seems that Paul Sellars was reading my mind when he put up another useful video early today.
This is a bit of a ramble I’ve been pecking around on for a while now. Sometime in the 1980s we seem to have forgotten how to sharpen our own tools. That was an era when the woodworking and camping gear market was flooded with jigs, guides, angle-finders, and other contraptions came in a flood to the common shop. Suddenly, a whetstone and strop were out of fashion. I can’t even count how many times I was scolded for sharpening a plane iron by hand! An excellent carpenter friend of mine wouldn’t even attempt a chisel without his low-speed Japanese wheel system with an automatic water drip feed. Anything else was impossible. I was a carpenter/rigger and semi-serious college student by then and needed a knife every day.
I had fortunately learned to sharpen tools from my grandfather and expanded on this knowledge with the aide of several knowledgeable Scout Leaders throughout my youth. There were even tests in the Scouts to make sure you learned about safety, handling, and maintaining tools. On the home front, a dull knife was met with gentle but stinging ridicule.
In our early teen years, it became a matter of some pride in my little circle of friends to carry a well-tended, razor-sharp pocket knife for everyday tasks as we camped, hunted, and fished. For this, you had to learn your way around a whetstone. For many years, I had only three stones in my life; a two-sided mechanic’s black stone, a small medium-hard Arkansas whetstone, and a very old two-sided razor stone. With these few tools, and a good bastard file, there is nothing I own that cannot be sharpened; from lawnmowers to axes, chisels, or knives. It is a skill I am glad to have acquired.
The missing element is TIME.
This is NOT a “how-to” post for sharpening but encouragement for someone intimidated by the whole process. There are plenty of print resources and good information on the Internet as long as you know that sharpening takes time, patience, and attention to detail which only comes from practice. Big Box sporting good and hardware stores can lead you to believe you need several-hundred dollar sharpening “systems” before you can do anything at all. These are labor-saving devices, not magic pills.
And finally, there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.
There is no one way to sharpen or polish an edge onto steel and this leads to some belief in “right and wrong” ways to accomplish he same outcome. Even recently, I had a young bushcrafter tell me he didn’t think I was “doing it right” when he saw me touching up a blade. When I asked why he thought this it was because he had learned a different method in a half-day class and wanted to know “who’s class did I learn that in?” In an ensuing discussion it was posited that there was no way to hand sharpen a knife to an edge comparable to a modern wheel system. This is advertising propaganda gone wild. Think Japanese sword polishers or old-time straight razor makers; it just requires the skill and time.
Learning is an ongoing process, not an event.
Different tools require different approaches but the essential are the same; finding the angle of the edge, direction of motion, consistency, lubrication, etc. It becomes a real Zen thing to practice. I’m not shooting down the contraption-based sharpening either. They have their place, especially in a busy shop. As I said before, sharpening takes time. For this reason, and probably a certain level of laziness in the family, we sent things to specialists like the knife grinder. Growing up in South St. Louis, we still had a knife grinder making a circuit around the neighborhood who got our business of kitchen cutlery and grandma’s best dress-making scissors. This isn’t him, but I’m glad to see the business still flourishes.
Back to the point.
Don’t be intimidated or misled about sharpening your tools. You can certainly do it without an expensive setup. If it becomes too much, there are sharpening services at sporting good stores and elsewhere to help you out. It’s easier to maintain a sharp tool than it is to start from scratch so keep it sharp! Your ancestors did it and so can you.
Now, have a look a Paul Sellars newest video. As always, it’s excellent stuff.