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Woodworking Tools: Right Selection And Care Will Save You Money, Part 2

Woodworking: Tools Of The Trade, Part 2 - Tools For Cutting

A civilization's maturity and intelligence is judged, in part, by the diversity and sophistication of its tools. When it comes to woodworking, the human race is quite advanced. There are general tools that work well in many situations, and there are specialty tools made for one specific purpose. There are tools that require only manpower and a rudimentary knowledge, and others that utilize computer programs, a wide range of knowledge, and a powerful motor. We have even learned how to harness power for our tools and package it in a small battery component, giving us the freedom to take our tools wherever we need them.

It is truly amazing and wonderful to contemplate the vast number of tools and all that woodworkers are capable of doing and creating with the help of these tools. And for many people, working with tools is one of the thrills, or even obsessions, of woodworking.

Woodworking and related tools have become so popular that there are numerous companies that manufacture these tools and thousands of places to purchase them. Combine that with the vast numbers of different types of tools and it can get overwhelming, especially if you are new to woodworking. Our experts helped us focus on the basics to develop an overview of those tools needed to get a good start in woodworking.

In the most basic terms, a woodworker needs four kinds of tools. They need a place to work, tools for cutting and shaping, tools for assembly, and finishing equipment. This simple statement provides the basis for the following discussion of woodworking tools.

The tools listed and described here represent just the tip of the iceberg. In keeping with the philosophy that it is best to learn the basics first, and to not invest large sums of money until a person is certain that they have an ongoing interest in woodworking, the emphasis is on hand tools, with a few basic power tools thrown in. These tools should prepare you for a variety of beginner projects and give you a solid foundation of equipment and knowledge to build upon.

Tools For Cutting
For the most part, cutting of wood is done with a saw. Typically if a woodworking cut is needed, whether it be straight or curved, it is done with a saw.

There are many different types of saws, each made for a specific purpose, but they generally fall into three categories. Handsaws are used to convert large pieces of wood into the appropriate lengths and widths. Usually made with a triangle-shaped blade, they include the ripsaw and crosscut saw. The ripsaw is for cutting with the grain, such as when you need to cut thin trim pieces from a full plank. As the name implies, a crosscut saw is for cutting against the grain. It usually has more teeth than a ripsaw to provide for a finer cut.

Backsaws are for the majority of joining work you will do on projects. In this category, the tenon saw and the dovetail saw look similar. Both have square blades and a back strip to hold the blade in place. This strip is usually made of brass in a good quality saw. The difference between the two is that the dovetail saw has more teeth per inch to make finer cuts, such as a dovetail. A tenon saw is for more basic joint cuts such as a bevel. It will likely get used a great deal. A third type of backsaw is the bead saw, which is often used for carving miniatures.

Narrow-bladed saws are for cutting curves. The thin blades with many teeth allow for fine cuts and advanced maneuvering. There are several different types, including a bow saw and a keyhole saw. The coping saw, such as that shown here, is perhaps best known. It has a swivel handle and is often used for cutting holes in plywood and getting the right curve on trim and small project pieces.

Many woodworkers prefer the fretsaw, which is similar to the coping, but has a deeper U-shape and clamped blades, which allows for more versatility in blade selection. A keyhole saw is similar to a handsaw except the blade is long and narrow. It is ideal for cutting curves and holes.

Selection Tips
When buying a good manual saw, it is important to look for a removable handle that will make care and replacement easy. If the handle is held on with rivets, it is not easily replaceable. Be sure the handle feels comfortable and fits your hand well. A thin blade is best for woodworking. Test the quality by holding the ends and bending the blade. It should bend evenly and smoothly. Also, tap it to see if it produces a pleasant, clear ring.

Care & Maintenance
Even if you start with a new saw, you will eventually need to give it a tune up. The following is a checklist to perform general maintenance on your saw.

  • Sight down the length of the blade to see that it is straight and free from kinks. If the saw blade has a crack, it cannot be repaired. If it has a small buckle or kink, lay it flat on a block of wood or metal plate with the buckle side up and strike it firmly with a flat-faced hammer. If straightening a backsaw, remove the brass backing first. If the buckle is severe, replace the saw or take it to a specialist for repair.
  • Remove the handle, use a wood cleaner to remove dirt and check it for damage or rot. If it is cracked, you can break it along the crack to create a clean break and glue the pieces back together. Rotted handles should be replaced, and can either be purchased or made from a pattern drawn using the old handle.
  • Check the blade for rust and debris. Clean brass pieces with polish and the blade with fine steel wool. Some people treat the blade with a wax material that can be made or purchased from a hardware store. Wipe clean with a soft cloth. If the teeth of your saw are no longer sharp or are uneven, it is best to bring it to an expert for sharpening and jointing until you have been taught the proper way to perform this essential and delicate maintenance. If done incorrectly, it can ruin your saw.
  • Proper storage of your saw can help maintain its quality. Hang from a hook so the blade stays straight, or make or buy a holder that keeps the blade straight, teeth protected, and handle stabilized.
Power Saws
Expert woodworkers typically are divided on the need for a power saw. Several feel that beginners could do just fine without the power equipment, while others feel that a handheld circular saw or even a table saw was an important investment. If you have the budget, have worked with the basic manual saws, have a project in mind that requires many cuts, and are likely to stick with woodworking for a number of years, a circular saw or table saw can be a good investment. They range in price from about $40 for a good circular saw to several hundred for a table saw.

A huge area of woodworking consists of creating plaques and figures using a scroll saw. If you plan to work with these types of projects or designs where you need to make many curving cuts and patterns, you will likely want a scroll saw.

Tool Summary
This completes part 2 of the condensed overview of some of the tools that are commonly used in beginning woodworking projects. As you can see, this topic could and has provided the content for entire volumes of books and in order to fully understand the possibilities in woodworking and create quality projects, it is critical that you develop a more in-depth knowledge of the tools you plan to use.

It is also important to note again that each type of tool has its own care and maintenance needs that are often more specific than what has been touched on here. The details have been left out of this book to avoid overwhelming someone who is brand new to woodworking. However, their omission does not mean they aren't important.

"Failing to care for your tools is ridiculous from a financial standpoint," stated shop teacher, Kevin Warner. "Why spend $20 on a good quality handsaw or clamp and then allow it to go dull or rust? Not only will you loose money, your work will suffer because your tools won't perform as intended. And it will take you more time in the long run. Taking good care of your tools is one of the first steps in becoming a serious woodworker."

Copyright © 2005 by Ferhat Gul. All rights reserved. You may redistribute this article in its unedited entirety, including this resource box, with all hyperlinked URLs kept intact.

Ferhat Gul is the publisher of the brand-new "Woodworking Beginner's Guide - Tips From Experienced Woodworkers to Help You Get Started", made just for people who love woodworking. This comprehensive, yet compact woodworking introduction for beginners is easy to read and helps to save time, money and effort.

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