Got my first premium tool and I’m feeling kinda… meh

Lie-Nielsen chisel review

My new Lie-Nielsen 3/4 chisel, right, next the Harbor Freight version it was replacing.

I got my first premium tool today: A Lie-Nielsen ¾ inch bevel-edge chisel.

From everything I’ve read about Lie-Nielsen, I knew this would be an exciting day… a milestone that marked a new phase of working wood. I’ve lost hours in the Lie-Nielsen website and catalog, imagining the day I’d open my first LN box and hold the tool that would immediately raise me to a new level of craftsmanship.

After reading a great blog series on building a quality tool collection slowly (sorry, I’ve lost the link), I decided I would take the author’s advice, and start with one high-quality chisel. While a full set of Lie-Nielsen chisels isn’t in my budget, it seemed reasonable to build a collection of the tools I really use, one by one. The author made an excellent point: I probably don’t need the full set anyway. He suggested starting with a set of two: three quarter and three eighths.

It made sense.

So a few weeks ago I plunked down my $60 plus shipping to upgrade the one chisel I reach for time and time again: My cheap-ass 3/4-inch Harbor Freight chisel, which came in a set of six for 8 bucks.

It’s not you, chisel: It’s me.

These are the chisels I learned on: Cheap chisels that allowed me to learn how to chop, pare and, most importantly, sharpen, because I wasn’t afraid of damaging them. If I ruined one, I could replace the whole set for 8 bucks. Properly sharpened, these tools have served me well, and I could only imagine what there was to gain by upgrading.

My entire kit is made up of used planes and vintage saws, vices, mallets, etc., cobbled together from Ebay and yard sales. I’ve enjoyed learning about the tools by taking them apart to clean and condition them. They work great, and I love the feeling of working with tools that carry the sweat and energy of other craftsmen. I have a mortise chisel from the 18th century, and I am awed every time I pick it up. Each time I use it, I wonder what this single chisel has made in the 300 years it worked before finding my hand, how many people have used it. Who were they? What did they build? Is any of their work still around?

But still I’d find myself deep in tool lust as I saw the gleaming Lie-Nielsens on other woodworkers’ benches, and I’ve dreamed of the day I’d get to use one. The sound of my 1940s Stanley No. 4 shicking across a board is sublime: What would it be like with a premium plane?

Don’t know yet, but I know my reaction to my Lie-Nielsen chisel. Meh.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s beautiful. The edges bevel to nothing. The back is dead flat. It’s mofo sharp without even honing it. The handle gleams.

It’s not you, chisel: It’s me.

It doesn’t feel right. The balance is all wrong because it’s not like the janky one I’m used to. The handle is too small, too slick. I ran it along a piece of pine, then a piece of mahogany, then walnut edge grain and it cut beautifully. But so did my Harbor Freight. The only difference I could tell was that the LN felt wrong in my hand.

Then there’s the fear factor. I’m afraid to hone it. I’m afraid to drop it. I’m afraid to touch it. After working with it and looking at it for about 10 minutes, I laid it on a shelf, then picked up my Harbor Freight and continued working on my project.

It’s an awesome tool in every way. It’s just that it might not be the right chisel for me. But what does that say about me? Have I just not learned enough to judge tool quality? Or is the tool you use really the best tool money can buy?

I’m open to suggestions.

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Guide to the best woodworking videos on YouTube

reclaimed wood

Whatever style of woodworking you want to learn, you can find it on YouTube, if you know where to look.

YouTube is a valuable resource for beginners looking for a simple way to learn woodworking for free. But finding the good stuff can require hunting through a lot of bad videos. During my journey as a beginning woodworker, I’ve burned a lot of hours watching woodworking videos on YouTube. In this post, I will point the way to what I believe are the best free woodworking videos. I’ll also let you know which paid woodworking videos are worth investing in.

YouTube is the new master

Most woodworkers I know credit tool makers like Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen for driving the new woodworking renaissance. Others say it’s because magazines like FIne Woodworking and Popular Woodworking have put a new emphasis on hand tool woodworking.

I think YouTube is a stronger driving force. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for YouTube woodworking pioneers like Marc Spagnuolo, Steve Ramsey, Paul Sellers, Jon Peters, Shannon Rogers and others who regularly turn out excellent woodworking videos. These guys have been my virtual mentors and cheerleaders. They have provided inspiration simply by allowing me to watch them work.

Woodworking is a skill that I believe anyone with interest, patience and discipline can learn. But it’s difficult to learn from a book. You really need to see someone perform the work. YouTube provides a simple way to learn woodworking that is an alternative to expensive seminars, furniture making programs in art-and-design colleges and boutique mastership programs. This education is free, on-demand, and—if you do a little work find the best videos—you can structure a workable curriculum to learn the basics of woodworking.

There are hundreds of woodworking content producers on YouTube, but only some are worth your time. Over the past few months, I have spent many, many hours watching woodworking videos on YouTube, so I feel competent to share my list of what I believe are the best.

Paul Sellers

Paul Sellers is a world-class furniture maker with 50 years of experience. He bills himself as the last of the joiners turned out by the traditional English apprenticeship system before industrialization took over furniture making. He is an excellent craftsman and teacher, and he was one of the first to discover the power of Internet video to increase his educational reach beyond the few people who had the time and means to study with him personally in his U.K. and U.S. schools.

Sellers’ focus is on real skills: not ideal, rarified techniques but the real stuff used by real, working joiners. Following Sellers’ instruction has taught me that the beauty of hand-tool woodworking is not esoteric: It is more efficient, safer, quieter and more enjoyable than machining wood. Watch Sellers with a chisel and you will immediately know why learning to read grain is a fundamental skill that will save you time, energy and frustration in the long run. Watch his videos on sharpening and on using a limited collection of flea-market tools, and you will be convinced that you do not have to spend a lot to begin working wood. He’s no-bullshit, real woodworking.

Sellers teaches through several channels. His website, PaulSellers.com features several free high-quality videos. He also has an excellent educational site, woodworkingmasterclasses.com. Here you can view several free instructional project videos. He also offers a paid subscription program for $15 a month. But his free YouTube videos are an excellent place to start learning the basics of tool and timber selection, reading grain, working with a core set of tools, and sharpening.

Steve Ramsey: Wood Working for Mere Mortals

Steve Ramsey is a dude in his garage shop who is a passionate promoter, teacher and cheerleader for beginning woodworkers. Ramsey has released a new video almost every Friday for the past five years on his site and his YouTube channel. And on his MereMinutes channel, he puts out an additional video blog episode every weekend. Ramsey is a power tool guy. His projects are simple and his energy is infectious, and I believe he sincerely wants everyone to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with learning a new skill and producing things with your own hands. (Here’s an excellent playlist of his beginner’s projects.).

I have never corresponded with the man, but after watching his videos for months, I honestly feel like he is a buddy of mine, and I look forward to his updates every weekend. A lot of other people must feel that way, because he has more than 125,000 subscribers for his YouTube channel. A key aspect of Ramsey’s approach is that he is committed to free woodworking content. He doesn’t charge for anything; and he frequently lambasts those who do. If you want to support his efforts, you can do so through a voluntary donation or subscription or by buying his stuff. (But not his wood working projects: He auctions those on Ebay and donates the money to charity.)

Which brings us to the whole issue of charging money for access to videos. As someone who works in the media industry—and who values education—I have no issue with people charging for high-quality content, and there are several virtual wood working teachers who are worth the investment. At various times I have paid to access content by Paul Sellers and Rob Cossman, and I think I have gotten good value from both (though Cossman’s videos can sometimes seem like infomercials for his tools and other products.) And I will probably pay to join Marc Spagnolo’s Wood Whisperer Guild.

These guys invest a lot of time and money into producing this content. There are hundreds of guys making woodworking videos with their iPhones. The few who invest in the equipment and skills required to produce quality content deserve some form of compensation, whether it comes from selling project plans, promoting their woodworking businesses to gain commissions and sell their work, promoting their tools, receiving sponsorship and advertising money from companies that want to reach their hard-won audiences, or simply charging for access.

Marc Spagnuolo: The Wood Whisperer

Of the paid-subscription producers, Marc Spagnuolo and Rob Cossman produce the best videos I have seen, and they are the best at structuring their videos into true curricula that allow you to build skill upon skill in a natural progression. In the video above, Spagnuolo even shows beginning woodworkers how to buy wood and what to expect on your first visit to a lumberyard. This may seem basic, but it’s the type of instruction I needed as a beginning woodworker.

Spagnuolo is the Wood Whisperer. His site and YouTube channel feature plenty of excellent free content. He and Sellers have been my go-to teachers. He is not only a great woodworker but an engaging host who entertains as he teaches, without being (too) cheesy. His approach (and his book) is hybrid woodworking, meaning he is not an evangelist for power tools or hand tools, but rather a craftsman who recognizes the sense in using the right tool for the job. Sometimes that tool has a cord; sometimes it doesn’t. The Wood Whisperer’s Guild is Spagnuolo’s paid site. Here you can subscribe to specific projects or purchase an annual subscription for around a $125. I would prefer to see a monthly subscription option, but based on his free videos, I am convinced the $125 would be a good investment.

Rob Cossman

Rob Cossman is an excellent teacher but also the most aggressively self-promotional woodworking teacher on YouTube. Paying to access his educational videos was definitely worth it. But even after you’ve paid, you’ll still see pitches to buy his products. It gets tiresome. Most of his YouTube videos are promotions for his tools or his paid site. On his paid site, Cossman teaches power tool skills and hand-tool skills, but in separate tracks. $20 a month gets you access to his hand-tool content; $25 for the power tool track; or $40 for both. Cossman is an excellent teacher with challenging projects that any woodworker would want to build.

Jon Peters

Jon Peters is an artist and cabinet maker who produces excellent YouTube instructional videos on both topics. Video instruction is not a business for him, but it is a good way for him to build his name recognition in both of his areas of expertise. I found Peters when I was looking for my first project: Installing wainscoting. His wainscoting video led me to his cabinet videos, and those convinced me that I could do more than just build utility bookshelves. For this I am grateful, and one of my early projects was making a frame for one of Peters’ prints, which sits on the standing desk I made, which is where I am writing this post.

Shannon Rogers

Shannon Rogers produces videos as The Renaissance Woodworker. He has great blog, and a paid online video program called The Hand Tool School. On YouTube, Rogers presents detailed project videos and he has several long series, including this one on building a Roubo bench. His paid program promises a detailed curriculum approach, but at $200 for the first “semester” and an extensive list of required tools, it’s a little pricey for my budget right now. I’d love to hear from anyone who has gone through this program.

The teachers above are my go-to guys, but there are a few others whose work I enjoy immensely. The Drunken Woodworker is a hip newcomer who produces a weekly video guide to the best woodworking videos and also some way cool project videos. Matthias Wandel is the crazy genius of YouTube woodworking, shooting videos of mind-bending jigs and mechanical contraptions made of wood. Frank Howarth is YouTube woodworking’s resident artiste, producing videos that are lessons in film making and stop-motion animation in addition to beautiful woodworking projects. And Stumpy Nubs is the class clown of woodworking videos. All are entertaining, inspiring and educational. I have a lot of respect for David at The Drunken Worker, Howarth and Stumpy for experimenting with different formats and raising the bar on what a YouTube video can be.

How to learn woodworking from YouTube

Here’s the key to learning woodworking on YouTube: You have to think like an apprentice.

People used to learn woodworking from people who knew how to do it. Boys learned enough from their fathers to build and fix the necessities. Professional joiners learned through apprenticeship, in which the fledgling craftsman performed the drudge work of his master’s shop—sweeping floors, heating animal hide for glue, sharpening and cleaning tools, performing rough milling—practicing each step until the master deemed the apprentice’s skill suitable to begin the work required to start learning the next skill. The apprentice performed this work in exchange for the education that would provide him with his livelihood.

To learn from YouTube teachers, you have to follow the same path. Start with the videos that teach basic skills like sharpening, planing, milling, and how to cut to a line. Practice these skills until you feel confident in them, then move to the next skill. This is how I’ve learned. I spent months making nothing but sawdust and scrap wood as I practiced cutting to a line. Then I spent months practicing dovetails before I got one that worked. It’s taken a level of patience and discipline I never knew I had in me, and I still have a long way to go. But I love the process.

Of course, learning and doing comprise only half of the master/apprentice relationship. The missing piece here is feedback. For that, I recommend joining a local club or getting involved in a woodworking forum like LumberJocks. There you’ll find a community of supportive woodworkers with all levels of experience who can give you feedback and answer your questions.

I hope this gives you a good start. If you begin with the resources listed here, you’ll have hours of quality videos to watch and you’ll save hours of hunting through crap. I’m sure there are many other excellent teachers on YouTube, so if you know someone I’ve missed, please let me know. Leave a comment below so other people can enjoy them too.

 

Dutch Tool Chest Part 4: Top, tool holders and finishing

My power tool exclusion broke down when it came to making the top for chest. I still don’t have the hand tools I would need to make the tongue and groove to make the traditional bread-board ends, so I wound up using a doweling jig and power drill to attach the breadboards. Other than (or because of) that, the top went together smoothly.

Dutch tool chest components

Main components of the chest.

I planed the boards flat and even for the main panel and jointed them to create spring joints, then glued them up and clamped them, then stood there trying to figure out how to attach the ends. I made a quick trip to Harbor Freight to get a biscuit joiner but wound up stumbling on a $15 doweling jig that turned out to work surprisingly well. HF is always a crap shoot, but in this case it turned out great. The jig was aligned correctly out of the box and I had the holes bored and the breadboards placed in about 15 minutes.

All the main pieces were built. What I thought would take hours has already taken days. I usually spend about 2 hours a day working on the chest during the week, and maybe 4 on the weekends, so I figure it’s taken me about 20 hours to get to this point, but I knew this would be a learning exercise, and I can already see how I could have cut that time in half.

From there I moved onto the tool holders for my chisels, marking gauges and saws, then decided to make a small drawer unit to hold miscellaneous items like pencils, dovetail markers, small files, etc. I pulled all of the materials for these pieces from my scrap box, so it’s a bit of mix and match, but I like the outcome.

The interior pieces came together easily, but the saw till inside the lid turned out to be a challenge. I went through three designs and builds before finding one that worked, and even then I had to make adjustments inside to allow the lid to close properly.

As a finish, I wound up going with General Finishes milk paint in Coastal Blue, which seemed close to the photos I had seen of actual Dutch tool chests. After a few tests, I settled on a mix of one part paint with 1.5 parts water and added a dollop of tung oil to smooth it out.

Here she is all put together, minus the top.

dutch tool chest construction

All together now… but still topless.