Fair Woodworking

January 8, 2013

Swiss Army knives & Kit Kat bars

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorites,Strong opinion warning! — fairwoodworking @ 12:02 am

As Christmas has come to a close, I am reminded of a Christmas when I would have been about six. I am old enough that it was appropriate that at the age of six, I could hope that Santa would bring me a knife for Christmas. I’d been looking all year for the perfect knife and in the end I was sure I’d found it. It was a Swiss Army knife, but not your ordinary run of mill Swiss Army knife. My knife had both a fork and a spoon on it as well.

This was a knife that could do everything!

How proud I was as I opened it up while sitting at the kitchen table, just itching to eat something with it. Breakfast had already come and gone, and I simply couldn’t wait till lunch time.

It then occurred to me that I had a Kit Kat bar in my stocking.

That Kit Kat was in serious jeopardy.

As I sat down to my chocolate feast I pulled out the fork. I put it to the chocolate bar and I could see then I was going to need a knife as well. As I opened the knife I realized I had a problem. While it was as much a fork as it was a knife or a spoon, it was only one of them at a time. Later on I also learned that having a fork and a spoon sticking out of the handle made it a less than useful knife.

The following year I asked Santa for a simple pocket knife.

As a new woodworker how many of us have tried to find that perfect tool that can do everything? I don’t think there is anything wrong with tools that have flexibility but it seems that it is our nature to try to get by with the bare minimum. To say, “I don’t need a bunch of planes, I’ll be fine with just one that does everything”, and in the end we find ourselves with something that is not very good at anything we really need.

Can you get by with just one plane? Heck! Sure you can, but there is a give and take. It can be easy or very difficult, and the key element in this equation is the same old nemesis of the beginner.


I’m saying this all based on my experience, when I was told the same thing that most beginners are told.

The best plane for a beginner is a Low Angle Jack plane.

As a beginner, I had a lot of trouble getting my jack plane to be a smoother, until one day it occurred to me that if a 15″ plane was to be used as a smoother, wouldn’t it traditionally be CALLED a smoother?

The thing is that much of this advice is coming from the hand tool forums. There are some very knowledgeable people there, but there are even more that are not. Raw beginners are getting advice from inexperienced beginners based on the advice they have received from other inexperienced  beginners.  How many forum tool reviews state that a tool was sharp out of the box?

I’m not saying that all of the forum crowd is all together wrong, I’m not saying that I’m right. I’m saying avoid the issue of the blind leading the blind.

Rather than ask questions, take a look around at what the hand tool heads of state are using. I’m not talking about two bit bloggers like me, I’m not talking about the princes of the forum pages. I’m talking about the big boys. The key note speakers of get togethers like woodworking in America, and stuff like that. What are they using? What sizes of planes? Are they 100 year old planes, or new, or both? Are they bevel up or down? Did they choose them because they can interchange blades among the different planes?

I think you will find a stark difference in them, to what you will get from the forums.


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