Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Desert Island Tools

"Desert Island" is a figure of speech that refers to your favorite of something (I didn't make that very clear when I first posted this, my apologies). With "Desert Island Tools", I'm asking which tools can’t you do without? You know, the ones that get a workout every time you’re in the shop. Let’s say you can choose 5 items from your shop. My list includes:

1) 18” Jet Bandsaw—used to resaw lumber, rip rough-cut boards, cut small pieces, make angled and scroll cuts, cut tenons, and shape plane blanks.

2) Lee Valley Veritas Low Angle Block Plane—for chamfering edges, trimming dovetail and finger joints, planing small boards on edges and face, and making dowels.

3) Krenov-Style Jack Plane—of all the planes I’ve made, this one, my first one (beginner’s luck), still works best, even on end grain. It cuts a very fine shaving, so I use it for final finishing and jointing.

4) 5/8” Japanese Chisel—a good size for most projects and keeps a sharp edge for a long time.

5) Shop Apron, including contents (Yeah, it’s cheating. But it’s my blog.)
a. Bridge City Toolworks 4” Square—accurate and pretty and the only item from this company that I can afford.
b. 1.5” Engineer’s Square—just the right size for small pieces and for transferring layout lines to edges. Great for dovetails.
c. 6” Ruler with 1/64” increments—I have two because I’m terrified of losing it.
d. 6" Combination Square—for marking a parallel line along the length of a board, checking depths of mortises and dadoes, finding the center of a board’s edge, and more...
e. Tape Measure—for measuring long boards. I absolutely cannot get used to a folding rule.

So...what’s on your "island"?


Fireblossom said...

Well, it is well established that if i can't cook with it, tools are no more use to me than an astrolabe is to an armadillo.


The very words themselves--"krenov-style jack plane"--sound so solid and pleasing, and to my ear, a little exotic and intriguing. That's a poet for ya. I also like to watch or listen to people who can do things I can't do.

Your blog is fun, to me it's like learning a language.



Kari Hultman said...

Fireblossom, that's an interesting point——all occupations and hobbies seem have their own language/lingo. It's cool to have a non-woodworker's perspective. I'm sure from now on, I will never say "Krenov-style jack plane" quite the same way again!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned the shop apron. I have sort of been looking for one (in the old style, preferably), but I haven't found one.

Any suggestions where I can get one?

Kari Hultman said...

Luke, mine is from Rockler and has a good many pockets. They do tend to get filled with sawdust, though. I think Chris Schwarz wrote about his shop apron some time ago. His may have had a flap over the pockets.

Nonetheless, I love mine.

Anonymous said...


Here is a link to one that Rockler sells:

It appears to be the same one you have.

Also, here is the link to Chris' article:

And finally, here is the link to an apron Chris was talking about:

The one like you have looks the most interesting to me. I don't think I care much about pockets. I do think it should be knee length.

I really like the looks of some of the old aprons that some of the guys on the www.toolemera.com site used. Long, simple, and thin. I vaguely remember Dad having an old one hanging around that was something like that.

I mostly just want something to protect my clothes a bit and, since my "shop" is my garage, I want something to remind me that I am working in the shop. You see, I am easily distracted. Whatever I get, it will have to be cool since it is nearly always hot and humid here.

Maybe I should have someone create a line of vintage woodworking clothes to sell on my site...

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, Luke, for going to the trouble of finding those links. That (the Rockler link) is the shop apron I have. You could always ask Stephen at Full Chisel Blog where he got his since it looks thin and long.

If the one you get needs to be lightweight because your shop is hot and humid, then I would not get the Rockler apron. It is thick and heavy—something I wanted so that I didn't tear it with my tools.

A line of vintage ww clothes sounds very cool to me! I think a number of other folks might be interested as well.

Anonymous said...


I made my apron from linen to match 1850's photographs of Cabinetmakers. I also wear sleeve protectors to save the cuffs on my shirts.

As for the original question, the last thing I want on a Desert Island is a hand tool, other than an ax for coconuts.

1. A large umbrella
2. A comfortable beach chair
3. A light weight, white linen suit, broad brimmed hat & walking stick.
4. A towel
5. An endless supply of beer.


Kari Hultman said...

Stephen, thanks for the info on your apron and sleeve protectors.

As for the desert island answers, it sounds like you had already put some thought into that!

If I were making a list for items to take to a desert island, mine would be (excluding the obvious axe):

1) 75 sun block
2) a chef
3) sunglasses
4) a grass hut fully equipped with modern conveniences
5) an endless supply of Diet Code Red Moutain Dew

Anonymous said...

Hi Kari,

The tool that see most use and abuse in my "shop" is my workbench :-) OK, now seriously.. I think it's a Stanley 7, and one of my handsaws. I have some other planes, but I feel more confortable with the mass of this bigger one.

Anyway, my comment was mostly just for sending hi, and congratulations for your excelent blog, and of course, for the awsome job you do on wood.

Cheers from Argentina!

Kari Hultman said...

Mariano, hello to you in Argentina! Actually, a workbench is an excellent choice for a "desert island" tool. Where would we be without a work surface? : )

Thank you for reading my blog!

Anonymous said...

On my island I would have:
1) an axe
2) a cross-cut saw
3) a drawknife
4) a 1/2" auger
5) a magical file that never gets dull.

With these five items I can make anything else that I want. First order of business would be a shaving horse. Although I'm not a drawknife-oriented kind of guy, normally, it's a tool that can do a whole lot of different things, including making pegs to use in the 1/2" holes that the auger makes, and wedges to use with the axe to get your wood supply processed into something you can handle with the drawknife. With the drawknife you can also make shaped sanding blocks which can be used with sand (deserted islands usually have sand available) to shape the concave surfaces that a drawknife is not known for successfully creating. So with these five tools you can build yourself a Windsor Chair. Eventually. If you want to measure stuff then either use body parts or just put marks on a stick. As long as you're consistent it will all work out.
The magical file is to keep the auger and drawknife sharp.

Kari Hultman said...

Metalworker Mike, that was certainly well thought out!

Please tell me your resource for magical files....and does your resource have magical chisels and plane irons that never need to be sharpened????? ; )

Man, wouldn't that be a awesome breakthrough in woodworking?

Anonymous said...

The closest thing to a magical file I have is an old diamond file which might be over 10 years old (I can't remember for sure) which is still kicking along. There are ceramic materials from which blades can be made which are very, very hard and wouldn't need sharpening in your lifetime, providing you never hit a nail in a board (which I suppose would be an unlikely occurrence on a deserted island).
The tools that I probably actually use the most right now when I get shop time are my 4" double square, over-size dovetail saw from Medallion Toolworks, Veritas low-angle Jack plane, and Veritas Cabinetmaker's Mallet.
When considered against my 'deserted island' tools, the double-square would be unnecessary because I wouldn't be doing fine joinery, and if I decided to try then I'd make special-purpose gages, probably involving a 1/2" drilled hole and a pair of tapered 1/2" pegs which when driven against each other bind in the hole so as to set the extension of the gage. The dovetail saw loses pride of place to the cross-cut saw because it would be very irritating to cut down a tree with a dovetail saw, particularly since it is a backed saw so it can't cut more than 2.5" deep. The plane would not be needed because the drawknife would be used for those tasks. The cabinetmaker's mallet would be easily (though not as satisfyingly) replaced with a wooden mallet, though drilling the hole for the handle would be tricky... 1/2" isn't big enough, so I would have to drill a couple of holes in the endgrain (making it in the style of a carving mallet) and then make a chisel from fire-hardened wood, or maybe knapped from stone, to enlarge the two holes into a single elongated mortise which the drawknife would admirably make a handle for. Of course, I'd have to use a rock for the chisel work until I had the mallet done.
Yes, all in all I think this selection of tools has potential.

Vic Hubbard said...

I'm with Mike on desert isle tool selection. Providing the island has trees, you could build your house create other tools etc. On the subject of vintage shop clothing, I used to own a very cool linen shirt with the half "preacher" collar. I wore it to death! I've never been able to find another. As long as you're not bothered by wrinkles, linen is the perfect fabric. If you could blow up my photo, you'd know wrinkles don't bother me.

Kari Hultman said...

Metalworker Mike, Chris Schwarz posted an entry about a ceramic marking knife on his blog a few days ago. I wondered if that would also work for plane blades.

Vic, let's not talk about wrinkles! You and I are the same age, after all.

Anonymous said...

So if I pick my bench as a desert island tool can I, in the same spirit as you shop pinny, also happen to stow away with me all the stuff I seem to keep on my bench (including the big shelf below)?

Kari Hultman said...

Yes!!! "Cheating" is permitted. ; )

Anonymous said...

I saw that marking knife, but I've used that material for metalworking and it doesn't take a very sharp edge. Sharp enough for a marking knife, apparently, but I wouldn't expect it to be good enough for a smoother. Maybe a fore or scrub plane.

Woodfired! said...

Good to see you all enjoying your desert island holidays. I've chosen to take Kari's interesting challenge a little less literally (spoiler warning --- it's not a real desert island, it's a metaphor) and consider my five most important tools.

1) Unquestionably my No.6 Record bench plane. I would use this for at least 99% of all my planing.

2) A marking knife - whether it's a fancy bought one or a sharpened length of old bandsaw blade I can't work without a good knife.

3) A steel rule - I suppose I'd have to pick a longer ruler if I had no other but my 30cm (1 foot) ruler would be my favourite (guess I tend to make small stuff).

4) Like Kari I'd have a bandsaw if I could. Mine would be my thumping old restored Italian job shown here. (They do have 3-phase on desert islands don't they?)

5) The last is tricky. For completeness a hammer or a clamp? Perhaps I'll use Kari's apron trick and nominate my whole set of sash cramps. Some of them are shown in this recent pic from my workshop.

Woodfired! said...

Damn! I forgot a chisel. Has the boat left yet? Mine would be an 18mm long-handled Japanese chisel (Iyoroi). Do I have to leave my cramps behind Kari or can "cheating" extend to 6 tools?

Woodfired! said...

AND I forgot a square. That's what happens when you don't pack until the morning you leave! To keep within the rules I would have to replace my steel rule with a Starrett combination square. However my favourite square is my 1.5" engineers square. Perhaps I'd better just replace the steel rule with my tool chest :-)

Anonymous said...

Bandsaws... If I was going to take a bandsaw it would be the big bandsaw at work. It's a 52" unit. 52" maximum height and 52" throat. Pretty swanky. It's got a 6' square rolling feed table on it, too. The blades are fiendishly expensive...

Kari Hultman said...

Mark (Woodfired), I'd go for the tool chest and cram it full of as much as you can! Where did you get your 1.5" engineer's square? I can't for the life of me remember where I bought mine. That's a pretty sweet bandsaw you have.

Metalworker Mike, I would like to see a photo of that 52" bandsaw.
With the worn out blades, it would keep you in scratch stock and marking knives for eons.

Robin Fawcett said...

Great blog - just became aware of it through a post on the Bodgers website (www.bodgers.org.uk). It's almost like a website/forum ?

If I was in a hurry and had to grab one thing for the Desert Island I would go for a really good knife.

I recently asked on the Bodgers Forum to name ONE book - I think they really struggled with just one !

Litcritter said...

1. Stanley 78 - can be a shoulder plane or a rabbet plane, and is just generally the most versatile one I've got.

2. Combination chisel/rasp - it's not a very good version of either, but when you've only got five tools, versatility is key.

3. Victorinox SwissTool multitool - pliers, small saw, knife, file, etc.

4. Diamond-coated sharpening stick.

5. The best axe I can find, suitable for felling and prepping trees.

If I could only take one tool, it's be the Tracker Knife:

Kari Hultman said...

Treewright, thanks for the link to the bodgers' site. I will definitely be checking that out more!

Mike, that tracker knife looks like it could handle a number of jobs...including scaring the bejeebers out of a would-be assailant.

Woodfired! said...

VC - Having actually measured my small square it has a 2" blade. (I do have a smaller one that is 40x50mm outside so the blade is about 1.3" inside.)

I can't remember exactly where I got mine either but I remember when - it was at the beginning of 1992. I know this because it was part of the kit of tools required for my wood course at the Canberra School of Art.

Which rather relates to your challenge. What did our teacher (who was trained in the European tradition) believe was the minimum vital set of woodworking tools?

From memory the list included:
300 and 600mm steel rules
2", 3" and 6" engineers squares
combination square
depth gauge
sliding bevel
No. 6 bench plane
3 high-speed steel blades for the bench plane
block plane
2 tenon saws (one cross, one rip)
dovetail saw
triangular files for saw sharpening
coping saw
2 sets Japanese chisels (one dovetail chisels)
set mortise chisels
square and gooseneck scraper blades
800, 1200 and 6000 grit waterstones

There are no doubt a few I've missed.

The workshop had an abundant supply of clamps. We made a marking knife, marking gauges and a dovetail template in the early weeks of the course.

This turned out to be a very useful starting set of tools. Of course many more were accumulated along the way. I was one of a number who couldn't resist a fancy compass plane - not the most used tool in my collection :-)

Treewright - like your blog! My partner is from High Wycombe and her father was a furniture maker. When we visited in 2003 it was great to see the heritage they still maintain. I was given a miniature wheelback chair for my birthday while I was there.

I love the stylised Green Man from your local. Close friends have been big GM fans since their grand European tour in the 70's and gave me a wonderful pencil drawing of the 1240 carving at Le Mans cathedral for a recent birthday. I'll post an image on my blog sometime (when I de-frame it to take a decent photo) and would like to include your image if you don't mind.

Kari Hultman said...

Mark, thanks for the list of tools. That would be an interesting magazine article--a starter handtool set and how each tool is used. A few of the women who have taken my classes have asked what would be a good starter set. It's hard to whittle it down to a small list!

will said...

Slightly off the topic but a few years ago I was involved in writing 'how-to' videos and it was suggested we do one on the basic toolbox specifically for women. After many meetings and discussions the project was killed because there was no agreement as to what constitutes a difference in tool choice or need based upon sex.

Kari Hultman said...

I agree with you, Bill. The tools don't care what gender you are and female woodworkers want the same thing as male woodworkers: tools that work well.

However, some women in the club have said that they would like to see smaller-handled tools or lighter-weight tools.

A few years ago a company called "Tomboy Tools" started up and marketed to women only. They painted everything pink (yuck).

But, the company is still around and my guess is their customer base consists of women who just want to hammer a nail on occasion or hang a picture——not serious woodworkers.

Kip said...

I love the subject of stranded on a Desert Island. My list is the same as Metalworker Mikes except I would Have files to sharpen the saw and draw knife in my pocket as a multi-tool. And would replace them with a 1/2" Mortising chisel. The boring bit would be 5/8" instead of 1/2" more conducive for timber framing.

Kari Hultman said...

It's a fun mental challenge to whittle down your list to just a few tools. I have an old drawknife I bought when I first started woodworking and never used it because I didn't know how to sharpen it properly. I need to pull that out again and give it a try. Thanks for the reminder!

Dan said...

Okay, here goes – the Top Five Tools in my shop. This is NOT a complete kit, or even tools that would necessarily work together as a team well. I am going to try to stick with VC’s goal of selecting the tools that get the most use. I am adding to that however, the criteria that the tools are ones that I really enjoy using. So my marking knife, which gets used all the time, but is nothing special, doesn’t make the cut – no pun intended – no really…

#5. “Worth” Brand Claw Hammer: found it with a broken chunk of handle in the eye – rehandled it and it’s kinda ugly, but it’s well balanced and fits my smallish hands.

#4. Disston and Sons D8 20” Panel Saw: was an unwanted part of a bundle of tools I bought on eBay just to get one tool I did want. Well, now I can’t even remember what the desired tool was – but this little champ with the split handle is the one I learned how to sharpen on and it still works great.

#3. North Bro. “Yankee” 2100 10” Brace: The pinnacle of the work-a-day brace world. Just a plain sweet user. And of course, since it needs bits: Russell Jennings Spur Auger Bit Set – double sweet!

#2. “Worth” Brand 10” Drawknife: the first one I bought and still my favorite. You might think that I have a particular preference for Worth tools, but honestly I hadn’t even thought about it before…

#1. Any Wooden Molding Plane: these are my latest passion – and my neglected Stanley 55 is green with envy.