Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Shaker Cupboard Project: The Tools


When I first started working with only human-powered hand tools, I faced two challenges in my way of thinking. First was the "But I'll NEED the tablesaw (or bandsaw, jointer, planer, router etc.) to do that job" mindset. The second was "Okay, I CAN do it with only hand tools, but I'll NEED A LOT of them!" Neither of course was true, although you might not be sure about the second one if you looked at the picture of the tools I used when I made my Shaker cupboard.


I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the set of tools I used on the cupboard project. In particular, I wanted to compare the set of tools used to build the existing cupboard with the theoretical smallest set of tools required to build a duplicate cupboard. Then, just to make it more interesting, I thought I should create the absolute smallest tool set required to build a cupboard that was essentially the same, but not identical.


The Full Tool Set


The design phase of the project was very basic - overall dimensions, rough sketches etc. Most of the construction details, and techniques were worked out as they came up. Frequently, I experimented with various ideas or features before finalizing my plan. This type of "adjust as you go" building meant that I used a much bigger set of tools than would be required if I were to duplicate the same cupboard.


The first picture and list show all the tools I used during the Shaker cupboard project. (You can click on the picture for a closer look.)



Top Row – left to right:


Auger bits, shop-made hole gauge, Miller’s Falls #2 hand drill, drill index with twist bits, Stanley (Yankee clone) 12” brace, hex bit adapter for brace, hex bit Phillips driver, counter sinking bit, Yankee 8” brace, Miller’s Falls 6” brace, Worth drawknife, card scraper, Veritas spokeshaves ( flat sole and convex), Veritas shoulder planes (large and small), shop-made mallet, claw hammer, needle nose pliers, punch, nail set, rubber mallet, Phillips head and flat screwdrivers, mortising gauge, panel gauge, marking gauge (cutting), marking gauge (pin), Stanley #95 butt gauge, outside calipers, framing square with Veritas Square Fence, 12” square, 6” square, 6” combination square, awl, pencils, marking knife and Lufkin 6’ folding rule.


Bottom Row – left to right:


¼” side bead plane, 3/8” cove plane, 1” ovolo plane, Stanley #71 router plane, Lie-Nielsen #98&99 side rabbet planes, Stanley #40 scrub plane, Stanley #48 match plane, Record # 778 rebate plane, Stanley #3 smoother, Stanley #4 ½ smoother, Stanley # 5 jack plane, Stanley #7 jointer, Stanley #18 block plane, Stanley #65 low angle block plane, Narex 16mm chisel, triangular file, half-round bastard cut file, half-round single cut file, ¾” Stanley chisel.


Saw Bench top row – left to right:


Disston D8 20” cross-cut panel saw (12 tpi), Unknown “Warranted Superior” 18” cross-cut panel saw (9 tpi), shop-made turning saw, Bishop combination cabinet saw with depth stop.


Saw Bench bottom row – left to right:


Disston D8 26” rip saw (5 ½ tpi), late model Disston No. 4 cross-cut back saw (12 tpi), “Glouster”? rip back saw (8 tpi).


Ground:

main assembly of treadle lathe, sticking board.


Not pictured:

Miterbox and saw, turning tools (skew, gouge, parting)



The Minimum "Duplicate" Tool Set


The second picture and list show the set of tools that would be required to create a duplicate cupboard. This set is significantly smaller for two main reasons. Some tools were eliminated because the design feature or construction technique requiring them had been eliminated. An example of this is the 1/4" side beading plane - once I had decided to forgo the beading on the inner face of the door panels, the plane became unnecessary. Other tools were eliminated because they were not strictly required. For example, the 12" and 6" braces, although they make specific tasks easier (boring larger holes and driving screws respectively), they are not required as the 8" brace can also handle these jobs.



In the following list, the names of tools that have been removed from the set (and photograph) have been reduced in size and turned gray.


Top Row – left to right:


Auger bits, shop-made hole gauge, Miller’s Falls #2 hand drill, drill index with twist bits, Stanley (Yankee clone) 12” brace, hex bit adapter for brace, hex bit Phillips driver, counter sinking bit, Yankee 8” brace, Miller’s Falls 6” brace, Worth drawknife, card scraper, Veritas spokeshaves ( flat sole and convex), Veritas shoulder planes (large and small), shop-made mallet, claw hammer, needle nose pliers, punch, nail set, rubber mallet, Phillips head and flat screwdrivers, mortising gauge, panel gauge, marking gauge (cutting), marking gauge (pin), Stanley #95 butt gauge, outside calipers, framing square with Veritas Square Fence, 12” square, 6” square, 6” combination square, awl, pencils, marking knife and Lufkin 6’ folding rule.


Bottom Row – left to right:


¼” side bead plane, 3/8” cove plane, 1” ovolo plane, Stanley #71 router plane, Lie-Nielsen #98&99 side rabbet planes, Stanley #40 scrub plane, Stanley #48 match plane, Record # 778 rebate plane, Stanley #3 smoother, Stanley #4 ½ smoother, Stanley # 5 jack plane, Stanley #7 jointer, Stanley #18 block plane, Stanley #65 low angle block plane, Narex 16mm chisel, triangular file, half-round bastard cut file, half-round single cut file, ¾” Stanley chisel.


Saw Bench top row – left to right:


Disston D8 20” cross-cut panel saw (12 tpi), Unknown “Warranted Superior” 18” cross-cut panel saw (9 tpi), shop-made turning saw, Bishop combination cabinet saw with depth stop.


Saw Bench bottom row – left to right:


Disston D8 26” rip saw (5 ½ tpi), late model Disston No. 4 cross-cut back saw (12 tpi), “Glouster”? rip back saw (8 tpi).


Ground:

main assembly of treadle lathe, sticking board.


Not pictured:


Miterbox and saw, turning tools (skew, gouge, parting)



The Absolute Minimum Tool Set


The final picture is the absolute minimum set of tools required to build a very similar, but not identical cupboard. To create this set I tried to imagine how I could slightly modify the features and techniques use on the actual cupboard. If I could think of an alternative, I eliminated the tools that would not be required. My goal was to make this set as small as possible.


Here's the photo and list:



Top Row – left to right:


Auger bits, shop-made hole gauge, Miller’s Falls #2 hand drill, drill index with twist bits, Stanley (Yankee clone) 12” brace, hex bit adapter for brace, hex bit Phillips driver, counter sinking bit, Yankee 8” brace, Miller’s Falls 6” brace, Worth drawknife, card scraper, Veritas spokeshaves ( flat sole and convex), Veritas shoulder planes (large and small), shop-made mallet, claw hammer, needle nose pliers, punch, nail set, rubber mallet, Phillips head and flat screwdrivers, mortising gauge, panel gauge, marking gauge (cutting), marking gauge (pin), Stanley #95 butt gauge, outside calipers, framing square with Veritas Square Fence, 12” square, 6” square, 6” combination square, awl, pencils, marking knife and Lufkin 6’ folding rule.


Bottom Row – left to right:


¼” side bead plane, 3/8” cove plane, 1” ovolo plane, Stanley #71 router plane, Lie-Nielsen #98&99 side rabbet planes, Stanley #40 scrub plane, Stanley #48 match plane, Record # 778 rebate plane, Stanley #3 smoother, Stanley #4 ½ smoother, Stanley # 5 jack plane, Stanley #7 jointer, Stanley #18 block plane, Stanley #65 low angle block plane, Narex 16mm chisel, triangular file, half-round bastard cut file, half-round single cut file, ¾” Stanley chisel.


Saw Bench top row – left to right:


Disston D8 20” cross-cut panel saw (12 tpi), Unknown “Warranted Superior” 18” cross-cut panel saw (9 tpi), shop-made turning saw, Bishop combination cabinet saw with depth stop.


Saw Bench bottom row – left to right:


Disston D8 26” rip saw (5 ½ tpi), late model Disston No. 4 cross-cut back saw (12 tpi), “Glouster”? rip back saw (8 tpi).


Ground:


main assembly of treadle lathe, sticking board.


Not pictured:


Miterbox and saw, turning tools (skew, gouge, parting),1/4" chisel


The original set of 70 tools has been reduced to 25. Here are some examples of the ideas I used to generated this list of tools.


  • By changing the back to ship lap rather than tongue & groove, I could eliminate the #48 match plane (I also used the #48 to create the grooves in the frame to hold the panel, so I fudged a little and added a 1/4" chisel to cover that job).
  • By further changing the back to simple beveled laps, I could also eliminate the #778 rabbet plane (The rabbets that make the tongues on the panel can be cut with a knife and chisel).
  • The #5 jack plane can work as a smoother and a jointer in a pinch, so the #3 and the #7 are not absolutely required.
  • The turning saw, which was used to create the curved elements of the cupboard base, was eliminated by switching that task to the drawknife. This would definitely be a more awkward technique, but quite doable. Alternatively, I could forgo the curves and create a more angular base using only straight cuts with the panel saws.
  • The #71 router plane, which made creating the dadoes and hinge mortises easy, could be effectively replaced by using the chisel alone.
  • A correctly sized twist bit, turned counter clock-wise, will make rough, but usable countersinks for screws.
  • Although not as convenient as the hand drill, the brace can be used with twist bits.
  • The cross-cut back saw can be used to rip (not ideal) thus making the rip back saw unnecessary.
  • The cove moulding could be replaced by a simple bevel moulding allowing the jack plane to substitute for the cove moulding plane.


I think it would be interesting to make a second cupboard to test my theoretical minimal tool set. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon. I might be able to find the time to make two versions of a somewhat smaller project. If I do, I'll post about my experience.



12 comments:

  1. Very cool post, Danno! An interesting idea, the challenge of seeing how few tools one could use. I wonder if there are folks out there making a sport of this, like trying to land a great white shark on a 7 pound test line.

    It's not quite as clear-cut (pun intended) of course. You could go with a tree and a sharp rock if you really had the determination, but how long would it take and what would the end product look like. So the challenge is more like: Build something refined-looking and beautiful with a minimum of tools, and without being insane. And personally I find it most interesting if the starting point is the tree. Not that I'm that ambitious myself, mind you! I'll watch.

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  2. Great post Dan. When I started switching from power tools to hand tools, I faced the same feeling that far from needing to spend less on tools, I actually needed to spend way more to get all the things I need.

    I'm slowly coming around on this, and I think there's a lot to be said about your absolute minimum toolkit. Not as an ideal situation, but to avoid discouraging people from getting started. Before I got a block plane, I used to clean up the end grain of my handsawn parts with a chisel. I'm sure I could make a nice piece of furniture with one saw, one chisel, a mallet, and a combination square if I really set my mind to it.

    Now having said that, I'm off to browse the Lie-Nielson catalog. :)

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  3. First, that's a very handsome cupboard. Very nicely done!

    Super tool analysis. Emlyn has it right in seeing this analysis as one that could help other people get started. Being able to produce fine work without all the tools in the LV catalog is really important to us who have not yet collected everything that you show in the first picture. Sure, collecting tools is great fun, but being able to build something with a minimal tool set can also be great fun.

    THANKS for the analysis.

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  4. Josh - Thanks! Hmm, I like the challenge idea - Tree to Furniture with a minimum of tools. Reminds me of Dick Proenneke, although I am not too sure how much furniture he built.

    Emlyn and Bob - Thank You! You two picked up on my main motivation, which was to not discourage those just starting to work with hand tools. I enjoy having just the right tool for the job, but there is a lot to be said for versatility. You don't need a huge assortment of tools to successfully enjoy human powered woodworking.

    Tool sets or kits are interesting to me - I think it would be great to be able to see a list of tools used to create various historical furniture. I suppose the contents of tool chests might be a place to start...

    Anyway, thanks for the comments!

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  5. Excellent post Dan! I always try to tell new folks to the craft to pick a project and design your starting tool kit around it rather than just continuing to buy tools without knowing what they will be used on (if anything). It's amazing how much can be accomplished with very few tools. I have an idea I'm hoping to work on this year that is right along those lines. Now to find the time....
    Bob

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  6. Dan: Only if I could win the lotto and Build up my Arsonal of Handtools like that I would be one Happy Man...

    An even Happier man if i knew how to use them all. I was thinking of the Plans... I've seen some Demos and People useing the Pull Plans, This would be the type that I would use.

    Being in a Wheelchair, pushing forward isn't much of an option, not much Strength as in pulling towards you.

    Got to Save "Da money" so i can get some!

    Handi

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  7. Bob –

    I think your advice about for those getting started is great! Pick a project, figure out what techniques will be used and what tools are required for those techniques. Get those tools and learn how to sharpen and use them. I’d like to stress the sharpening part – there is nothing more frustrating than trying to learn how to use a tool that is setting you up for failure. Of course, that includes saws… 

    I’m eager to see what your idea is… I assume you will blog it?

    Handi –

    Well, the lotto would be great! But you can build a very functional tool set with a minimum of expense if you are willing to:

    Only buy what you need.
    Send time on Ebay looking for deals on what you need.
    Stop at every junk/antique store that “Looks like it might have old tools…” that you need.
    Send more time on Ebay looking for better deals.
    Spend another chunk of time on the internet learning more about old tools in a effort to be better able to spot the few deals on what you need that come along on Ebay.
    Spend yet more time on Ebay…

    Of course, if you are lucky enough to live where there is access to tool auctions, sales, associations etc. than you could be way less dependant on Ebay than I am living in Alaska. Plus you’d have the benefit of meeting like minded individuals in person.
    Regarding pull planes – I am assuming you mean the Japanese type? I can see how that might work better. Another option you might want to experiment with is using regular western/Stanley type planes in a pull configuration. I occasionally pull my planes, and it works fine. Probably not optimal, but it might be a less expensive option (I am assuming that Japanese style pull planes are more expensive - but since I don’t know much about them, I could be wrong…). You could also think about making your own wooden planes – there are some great books (and probably web sites) about this.

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  8. Dan: Thanks for the Advice... I will have to Read up on Planes and all. I've been interested in building my Own Planes or at least a few of them, but didn't know how to go about it.

    I've also been interested in some of the Deco Planes that you can create Modling and beads and roundovers and the likes, Simular to a Router, but less Noisy! :)

    Anyway, I will check out what I can... If you goto pbs.org on "The Woodwrights Workshop" Roy Underhill, has an Episode on there that talks about the Japannes Plans... Really neat.

    Thanks,
    Handi

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  9. Hi Dan

    I enjoyed your site and postings. The topic has become quite relevant to me as I leave in a few weeks on a volunteer mission to Africa, where I will be building wooden swing sets for kids. And of course no electricity will be available where we will be working. I've been hastily reconditioning my grandfather's tools that haven't seen use in 50 years.

    On of my biggest problems has been finding quality ship auger bits with hand brace square shafts. (7 and 9 sixteents). I say you have a hex shaft adapter. Who makes them . . . I've been searching everywhere for one?

    Thanks

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  10. Paul,

    Just sent you an email regarding the adapter, augers etc.

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  11. I just really impressed to see your tools set.

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  12. Thanks Jolie - it is fun hunting down (and usually restoring) old tools. It is a little hard to stop...

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