Hand Tool School – winding sticks project
I’ve gotten onto two kicks recently. The first is making tools from scratch or from kits (since I’m lazy), the second being developing my hand tool skills. So it was appropriate that signing up for Shannon Rogers’ (The Renaissance Woodworker) Virtual Hand Tool School led to our first assignment delivering on both of these.
This first assignment is intended to build skills in planing down some rough stock to a flat, co-planar board as well as some basic chisel technique. I won’t delve too much into the details of ‘how’ you do these things (join us at school if you want to learn it first hand…it is worth it) but I will talk about my personal take on the experience.
First off, flattening the boards. There’s a delicate balance of luck and laziness in choosing the material for this project. I have a bunch of off cuts of exotic lumber in my wood rack that were begging to be used in a project like this. Of course, these exotics are not the easiest woods to work with. Naturally I chose purpleheart. I am quite sure that if these boards had not already been relatively flat to begin with, I would likely have scrapped it as the primary material. It is really tough and my plane irons are now in need of being resharpened. I lucked out though and had only to remove enough stock to get rid of the tools marks left by the mill’s planer and knock down one high edge.
Chiseling out the rabbet to hold an accent strip was another story altogether. I had no problem scribing the line with my wheel marking gauge and getting a good deep groove to start with, but once I started cutting in with a wide chisel, I found that the grain of the wood was less cooperative than I expected. I did incur a few splintered edges and could have taken more time in establishing the depth of the rabbet (lesson learned) to get a cleaner edge. While the purpose of the exercise was to develop more comfort with a chisel, and it achieved that, I was curious to see how long it would take to get a similar rabbet using a hand tool meant for this purpose – a rabbet plane. I will just say that the rabbet plane makes for a much nicer rabbet than using a chisel…but that does not dismiss the idea of using a chisel for a rabbet. A rabbet plane will not fit into every space and using a chisel is a very viable alternative, it just requires more patience.
The purpose of winding sticks, if you’re not aware, is to give a quick and easy visual cue to the flatness of a board. The winding sticks are placed on the board in question and when you sight down the board across the tops of the winding sticks, you will see if they are parallel or not, giving you valuable information for flattening boards and panels. The easiest way to distinguish between the two winding sticks is if they have a strip of highly contrasting wood across the top (one light, one dark seems to work well). For these sticks, my light strip is ash. The dark strip was technically not necessary as the purpleheart itself was plenty dark enough compared to the ash, but for the sake of putting a full effort into the project, I chose a strip of bloodwood to inset into the second stick. These were finished with a couple of coats of shellac.
Now I’m eagerly waiting to put them to good use checking the flatness of boards. Given the amount of time I’ve been thinking about my anti-hand tool workbench, there may be some work for these winding sticks in getting a prototype of my hand tool friendly workbench makeover up and running…but that’s for another post.