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.


Dutch Tool Chest Part 3: Finishing the case


With the dovetails cut and the sides and bottom attached, I honestly believed I would finish the chest in one day. What I had not yet learned about woodworking is that the closer you get to the end, the further the end recedes. There’s always another step, and as the work starts coming together well, I would move more slowly and deliberately to keep from screwing something up. I had too much invested at this point. But I motored on (without any motors.)

First, I had to cut the dadoes for the shelf that splits the Dutch Tool Chest into an upper and lower compartment. This is a straight-forward operation: Cut the sides of the channel with a cross cut tenon saw and chisel the waste. Except I was so nervous of cutting the channel too wide, that I cut it too shallow and was having a hell of a time widening it without a side rabbet plane.

By coincidence, it was at this point that decided to post on a photo of an old plane I picked up at a flea market and asked for help identifying it. It’s a side rabbet plane.

I sharpened it up and set to work. After a few tests and trims, the shelf slid home. The sawdust faeries were looking out for me. But it was still two days later.


From there I added the front and rear boards with a few brad nails. My plan is to use cut nails to complete the construction, so the brads are temporary. In Christopher Schwarz’s version, the back of the chest is constructed of shiplap boards that run vertically. I simply don’t have the tools for that, so I went with two horizontal boards. I don’t foresee a lot of temperature or humidity changes in the chest’s future, and the cut nails should be able to handle any slight wood movement.


With the shelf and back in place, I cut the notches for the sliding board that will lock the unit together when the lower front is attached. Should have done the one on the bottom before gluing up the dovetails, but it came out fine anyway. For the bracket on the inside of the removable front piece, I used a piece of mahogany that I got in an Ebay grab bag. Marked the notch to fit the lock board, made several stop cuts along the length of the notch and chiseled the waste.

Well into my second weekend, it was starting to look like a chest. 


Dutch Tool Chest Build

Shortly after I began my journey into working wood, I decided my first hand-tool project would be learning how to build a Dutch Tool Chest. I fell in love with the Dutch Tool Chest after seeing Christopher Schwarz present it on this episode of the Woodwright’s Shop, a show I loved as a kid and rediscovered after searching my cable provider for every woodworking show I could DVR.

How to build a Dutch Tool Chest

Roy Underhill checks out Chris Schwarz’s Dutch Tool Chest on an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop

This project seemed to have it all: Romance, utility, challenge, history. After watching the video a few times and Googling photos of Schwarz’s and others’ Dutch tool chests, I decided there were several reasons it would be the one of the best projects for a beginning woodworker.

  • It’s a perfect balance of simplicity and complexity. Dovetails connect the bottom to the sides, but the remaining joinery is done with fasteners. It would test and develop basic skills of design, measuring, marking, sawing, planing and joining without causing me to over reach my abilities and get frustrated.
  • Other than the 30 degree angle of the top, no dimensions were discussed and, at the time, no plans were available. (Plans were later made available in the Aug. 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking, but I was well into the build by the time I discovered this.) I would need to figure out the dimensions on my own. For me, problem solving is one the main draws of wood working so I avoid plans and either build from my own designs or mentally reverse engineer things that I like.
  • I could customize it to fit my needs.
  • It’s the type of project an apprentice woodworker (as I imagine myself) would tackle early on.
  • I particularly liked the simple yet clever lower compartment and locking cleat system that held on the lower front.
  • I liked the look.
  • It would provide a home for my slowly growing collection of vintage hand tools.

So  after months of trying (and failing) on an almost daily basis to cut dovetails by hand, the day finally came that I slid a pin board and tail board together… and it worked! It was time to start the Dutch.

woodworking hand cut dovetails

My first successful hand cut dovetail

Here’s the sketch I started with.

dimensions for a dutch tool chest

The first rough sketch

For dimensions, I started with the depth. Using 1 x 12 stock, the sides would be 11 1/4 inches, plus 3/4 inch added apiece by the front and back boards, for a total of 12 3/4 inches. I figured out the width by looking at a video of Schwartz hoisting the chest. We’re about the same size, so comparing his arm span to mine, I figured it to be about 30 inches. I then measured my cross cut and rip saws, which would be kept on the inside of the cover. I added a few inches for clearance and came to a final width of 33 inches. For the depth, I simply worked from the tools that would have to fit inside.

I planned to hang my chisels at the back, store my planes at the front and store my saws standing in the center. I came up with roughly 14 inches for the back and 7 inches for the front, then used the one piece of information I did know–the 30 degree angle of the slope from back to front–to determine the actual dimensions.

After several tweaks, here are the final dimensions for the Dutch tool chest that I wound up with:

  • Carcasse:
    • Width: 32 5/8
    • Depth: 12 3/4
    • Front height: 15 1/8
    • Rear height: 22 3/8
  • Top compartment:
    • Front height: 6 3/8
    • Rear height: 12 5/8
  • Lower compartment height: 8 9/16
  • Top: 33 3/8 x 15

Finally, I set a few rules for myself:

  • For historical accuracy and skill development, I would build the chest entirely using hand tools and traditional woodworking techniques… as far as my limited tool collection would allow.
  • For stock, I would use common pine and pull as much as possible from my ever growing scrap pile. I’m not confident enough yet to risk screwing up with expensive hardwoods, so I’d have to build this using home center pine. Not the most durable or romantic wood, but it’s utilitarian, cheap and easy to work. If you’re starting out, I suggest sticking with it for a while…. especially while all you’re making is sawdust and scrap.

Now, for the dovetails.