My New Cheaper-Faster-Stronger-Tidier Sharpening System and Station

When I first got into woodworking, I bought some Norton water stones. They were messy, required constant flattening and I never did get good results with them.

So I went with the Scary Sharp (SS) method. And very quickly, I got consistent, shave-hair-off-my-arm results. It’s true that SS isn’t as messy as the water stones. But, over time, it is more expensive to feed the sandpaper beast. Sandpaper on substrate doesn’t hold up well, tearing easily and requiring frequent replacement.

So after watching Paul Sellers’ How to sharpen chisels using diamond stones, I decided to switch to a cheaper—over time—sharpening system.

Besides saving money, I figured it would help me accomplish two more goals.

Goal #1: Eliminate sharpening system clutter.
Here was my messy setup.


P1.5-Woodworking-Tool-Sharpening-Station-Sprawl P2-Woodworking-Tool-Sharpening-Station-Sprawl P3-Woodworking-Tool-Sharpening-Station-More sprawl

To create a more compact system I got four EZE-LAP diamond plates in 250 (81-C), 400 (81-M), 600 (81-F) and 1200 (81-SF) grits. And to keep my sharpening space tidy, I followed Seller’s lead to build a holder for the plates.

I tweaked his design a bit by adding two more “spaces”—one for an additional diamond plate and one for a strop. A removable pine “plate” 3” x 8” x 3/8” with epoxied leather serves as a strop. A coat of polyurethane holds out hope that the MDF surface will keep clean. Rubber bumpers on the bottom corners keep the holder fixed in use. Numbers mark the grits for ease of reference.


After routing out the recesses, I used clear silicon caulking to affix the plates. The strop recess is snug to hold the pine plate.

Now while the overall linear space of my system is 3” longer than my SS setup, everything is in a compact, clutterless holder. And with the strop securely docked, I don’t waste time looking about for my hand-held model.


Goal #2: Reduce time spent sharpening.
Paul advocates a freehand sharpening system. For years I obsessed about angles, jigs and microbevels. For me, all that obsessing and jig setup took a lot of time. By adopting Paul’s sharpening method, I’ve significantly reduced the time I spend sharpening a chisel or plane iron. And that’s given me a few more benefits.

–Bonus Benefit #1: Because it takes less time to sharpen, I do it more often and no longer view sharpening as a chore.

–Bonus Benefit #2: As fast as sharpening is, “touching up” a bevel is even faster. So much so that a 30 second break on the plates barely interrupts my rhythm during a project.

–Bonus Benefit #3: My attention has been refocused on woodworking. Sharpening is an essential skill and we all have to do it. But my former methods consumed a lot of time—flattening stones, removing sandpaper, scraping off sandpaper adhesive, putting the tool in a sharpening jig and on and on. Now I have more time and mental focus to apply to my woodworking.

–Super-Bonus-Benefit: Sellers advocates the use of a convex bevel versus a micro bevel on chisels and irons. He argues that it’s both faster to sharpen and the edge lasts longer. My personal experience since adopting the convex bevel confirms this.

For years, I was disappointed in how quickly micro-bevels dulled. So much so that I abandoned it in favor of a full-faced bevel. However, sharpening a full-faced bevel takes a lot of time and effort, especially if there’s a nick to take out. So I tried the convex bevel and have found that the edge lasts longer for sure. And it’s faster to create in the first place.

Cheaper, faster, stronger, tidy. Just four good reasons that I like my new sharpening system.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.


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A Marking Knife Bakeoff for the Budget Conscious

When I was new to woodworking, I didn’t see much use for marking knives. But, people whose work I admired used them regularly, so I tried them. And my joinery improved. Marking knives have contributed to tighter, more accurate and better-fitting joints for me.

Mind you I’d prefer to own one of these exquisite beauties by Blue Spruce Toolworks:

P01-A-Marking Knife-Blue Spruce Toolworks Offerings

But the $65+ price tag was more than my limited tool fund and priorities could bear. So I drafted knives lying around. And I made a couple of my own. Soon, I had six knives cluttering precious bench space. So I resolved to whittle them down to one by testing each in pine, oak and maple end grain.

Here are the marking knife contestants:

P01-Marking Knife Lineup

1. Utility knife (box cutter)
2. Swiss Army knife (main blade)
3. Stanley 10-049 utility knife. Paul Sellers turned me on to this option in his post here.
4. X-ACTO blade (#26 Whittling Blade)
5. Homemade marking knife with repurposed sabersaw blade
6. Homemade spearpoint marking knife, with repurposed sabersaw blade

And here are closeups of the cutting edges:

P02-Marking Knife Cutting Edges

Round 1-Pine crosscut
P03-Marking Knife-Crosscut-PINE

Well, the utility knife (1) and both my shop-made (5, 6) knives performed poorly. The remaining three (2, 3, 4) were judged on the criterion of clean, crisp and narrow gauge. Based on that, I ranked them 3, 2, 4. Round 1 goes to the Stanley utility knife.

Round 2-Oak crosscut
P04-Marking Knife-Crosscut-Oak

All six were competitive, but again the bottom three marks were 1, 5 and 6. Following the same criterion as above, I ranked the remaining three: 3, 4, 2. Round 2 goes to the Stanley utility knife.

Round 3-Maple endgrain dovetail marks
P05-Marking Knife-Dovetail-Maple

For dovetail marking, I eliminated 1 and 5. 6 did ok for one mark but not the other. 2 also did ok but the mark was not well defined nor deep. That left 3 and 4. And to mine eye, 4 made the better cut with 3 close behind. Round three goes to X-ACTO.

And the winner is…
1. The Stanley utility knife (3.) It was the best all-around and is a very reasonably priced tool suitable for marking.

2. Coming in second was the X-ACTO knife (4) #24 whittling blade. Some users may prefer the pencil-style handle versus the flat handle of the Stanley.

3. Taking the Show Position was the Swiss Army pocketknife (2.) I liked the curved blade which consistently severed the wood fibers effectively and easily. However, its large size made it cumbersome to mark tight dovetail spaces.

I should note that both my homemade equivalents did poorly. That made it easy to get rid of them. I also found new places for the other marking tools. So today, my sole marking knife is the Stanley10-049 utility knife.

© 2015 Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.


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Fun-to-Build Curved-Lid Box

Woodworking shows mesmerize me. But now that Norm has retired, I only have the Woodsmith Shop to entertain me. One show featured a curved lid box. The project’s elegant lines, use of dyes and convex lid motivated me to paw through my wood pile to select contrasting species for two boxes.

Box #1: Birds-eye maple (front, back, bottom and lid) with walnut (sides)
Box #2: Birds-eye maple (front, back and lid) with mahogany (sides) and a felt-lined plywood bottom. (This became a Christmas gift to a dear friend.)

The birds-eye maple board I chose was highly figured.

P07-Curved Lid Box-Lid Grain-Detail

I’d never worked birds-eye maple before and experienced horrid tearout. After soliciting advice from fellow lumberjocks I put a 10 degree back bevel on the iron of a spare #4 and chamfered the iron edges before planing. That made a significant difference.

The plans call for dying the maple surfaces. But after pricing the dye ($40 for two to be mixed) I decided it was much more than I wanted to shell out for this project. That’s why I went with $2.50 brass-plated hinges from the big-box store versus $37.00 specialty hinges. The cheapo hinges don’t have a built-in stop so I added one to the lid. It’s 1” wide x 7/8” long and mortised into lid.

P06-Curved Lid Box-Lid Stop-Detail

For the bottom, I decided to leave maple-bottom box #1 bare.

P05-Curved Lid Box-Inside view-closeup

For box #2, I revised the design to take a plywood bottom and to felt that over. Like hell if I was going to cover over a beautifully-figured birds-eye maple bottom with cheap felt.

P11-Curved Lid Box-Felt Liner-Detail

That required modifying the placement of the dowels by eliminating the ones for the bottom and adding one (for a total of two) to each of the sides.

I really like the slanted sides. I think they would look cool with carved scrolling on the front/back edges, but I have no carving skills whatsoever. The original plans call for ebonizing them but I selected dark, contrasting, non-ebonized woods instead. I just can’t bring myself to ebonize birds-eye maple.

Box #1 has walnut sides.

P02-Curved Lid Box-Back side

Box #2 is configured with mahogany sides.

P09-Curved Lid Box-Mahogany-Side-View-Detail

To add a decorative element to Box #2, I added a mahogany inlay strip.

P10-Curved Lid Box-Mahogany-Lid-View-Detail

And here are the finished boxes in review.

P01-Full view-Front P03-Curved Lid Box-Top view P04-Curved Lid Box-Inside view P05-Curved Lid Box-Inside view-closeup P08-Curved Lid Box-Mahogany-Top 3-quarter View

The project was so much fun that now I’m toying with the idea of building one more—complete with dyes and specialty hinges. I figure the cost of the dye is simply the price of learning how to work with it.


© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

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Tooling up with estate sales #5-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

In this last installment, I talk about other treasures to enrich your life.

Bonus Tip #11: Look for other stuff too.
Once you’ve made two rounds in the tool-rich areas (garage, basement, outside shed), take a moment to just look around. Seek out items congruent with your hobbies and interests. Are you a gamer? Collector of tobacco tins? Want to spruce up your bar area with vintage liquor/beer signs, mugs and glasses? Estate sales are an economical way to do just that.

For instance, I enjoy a scotch and soda from time to time, so I look for good vintage decanters and pick them up for a fraction of their cost even on eBay.

P8 Chrystal Decanter for 5 bucks at estate sale

This fine crystal decanter would easily fetch $80 or more at an antique store, a sum that I would never have paid. But because it was sitting at an estate sale, and priced accordingly it now resides on my bar, forever filled with Johnny Walker Red. I’ve never gotten more pleasure out of a $5.00 purchase in my life. I love the quality of the glass and admire the sophistication of its design. Not to mention the feel of it in my hand as the golden elixir splashes into the tumbler below.


And that’s it. Ten-plus-one simple tips to help you frugally tool-up your shop with quality vintage hand tools. After a while, you’ll reach the threshold where you can build most of your projects with the tools you already own. And you’ll have gotten there at lower prices plus a whole lot of adventure.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

End of Estate Sale Series

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Tooling up with estate sales #4-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #10: Don’t leave before fishing out the good deals.
In my experience, my competitors usually go right to the tools. Remember the estate sale I showed up to only to be greeted by the guy with 10 handsaws in his box? That deflated me a little. But I resolved to continue looking around. Come to discover that the 10-saw man left the Jorgenson clamps and forstner bits untouched. At $4.00 each the clamps were a good deal. At the same price the 1” and 2” forstner bits, respectively, were a steal. My point is, that just because the hand planes, saws and chisels have been snatched up doesn’t mean that there aren’t other colossal deals in your midst.

Take hardware for example.

I’ve stocked up on wood screws at estate sales. Especially brass wood screws. Go to your nearest big-box store and price brass screws. Talk about outrageous. Not so at estate sales. Oh, and while you’re at the store, price cotter pins of all things. Two for $0.98 for many of them. But at an estate sale, I picked up a whole container, maybe 300 cotter pins of all sizes, for a whopping $1.00. For one, single, solitary, all-by-itself dollar, I covered my lifetime needs of cotter pins.

You know what else is great at estate sales for us woodworkers? Wood. You’d be amazed at the wood boards I’ve picked up for $0.50. I got a very nice mahogany board for $1.00. (That board has since become a beautiful box for a buddy’s wedding gift.) Given that most people don’t know mahogany from walnut from maple, you can pick up nice hardwood boards at cut-rate softwood prices.

And I’ve picked up nice plywood too. The older plywood is of better quality with fewer voids…and of course, you get them at pennies on the dollar. Sometimes, the price is even better—free. Several times I’ve heard, “Please, take all you’d like. We don’t want to have to haul it away.”

In addition to these items, do yourself a favor and sort through the bins you’ll often find on tables. There, you’ll find small gems for your tool kit.

For example, I found a near-mint Stanley No. 750 ¼” chisel for $2.00 in a box sitting on top of a workbench.


Sure it was missing its handle. But did I mention that the tool is near mint? And I know from experience that chisel handles can be found at estate sales for a buck or two.

Another great example is tweezers.

A quality pair of Swiss tweezers can set you back $20.00 new. But not at estate sales. No sirree. There, you can pick up all sizes and types for $0.50 to $1.00.

P10-Swiss Tweezers for a buck at estate sale

Don’t forget medical utensils either, things like scissors and such. There’s always a need for good surgical scissors and tweezers in a woodshop teaming with splinters and sharp stuff that cuts flesh. Bandages cover those wounds and gauze and tape needs to be cut with scissors.

P11-Medical instruments for pennies at estate sales

Then there’s sharpening stones. I picked up a concave stone for gouges at the princely sum of $3.00. The equivalent sharpening stone new from one of the catalog providers was $30.00. Hmmm.

The key takeaway here is that there are all sorts of fire-sale-priced accoutrements at estate sales other than planes, saws and chisels.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about Bonus Tip #11-Finding even more treasures.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

### End Part 4

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Tooling up with estate sales #3-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #7: Inspect each item.
I know that sounds silly. “Of course I’ll inspect it,” you’re thinking. Yeah well, in the heat of the moment, when you think you’ve found a gem, and your heart is pumping, the birds are singing and you are SO in LOVE with that tool, well, it’s easy to overlook that one detail that renders a tool useless. And the last thing you need is to spend money on a tool that is unserviceable. Not only is that money that could have gone to another good user, now you’ve got a heavy paper weight taking up space in your workshop.

So select the first tool out of your bag and carefully inspect it. Are all the parts there? Is anything broken? Is the rust manageable? Take a pair of dividers for example. I’ve found that many of them have lost their original locking nut over the years and owners have screwed in a bolt that doesn’t quite fit because their threads are not compatible with modern standards. For a plane, is the sole flat (you did bring your ruler didn’t you?) Are there any cracks? Is the tote in working order?

Remember that if an item has a missing or broken part, don’t just blow that off, saying to yourself “I can pick one of those up on eBay.” You sure can…in exchange for a whole lot of money. Alas, I’m speaking from personal experience on this issue.

Take this handsaw for instance.


She’s a beaut now and she cuts well too. But when I brought her home, I found that when I unwrapped her (I violated my own rule by not inspecting it!) that she was missing a saw nut.

The saw cost me $2.00—a fantastic bargain for a vintage, top-of-the-line Disston No. 12 user. But get this: the vintage saw nut I tracked down cost me $15.00. Now I know that what I should have done was buy another, it’s-wheezing-its-last-breath beater of a saw and salvaged the brass from that. But I wasn’t savvy about stuff like that at the time.

Still, the lesson holds. Vintage replacement parts are so expensive as to make the purchase of a jiggered tool hardly worthwhile in the overwhelming majority of cases. And if you can’t make a replacement plane tote or knob, be ready to spend $40.00 or more to buy a vintage or modern equivalent.

Tip #8: Stretch your budget by buying quality duplicates.
Whenever I see a good tool in great condition, I buy it even if I already have one. Then I clean it up and put it up on eBay. When you buy something for a few bucks it’s easy to triple your money or more. And that cash can be recycled into your tool-acquisition fund.

To keep from getting burned with this tactic, I would strongly suggest that you stick to tools/vintages/types that you know very well. At the very least, look it up on eBay before you buy something you’re not sure about. And remember, condition makes a huge difference on eBay. So don’t explain away scratches, dents and other imperfections when you’re weighing your should-I-buy-it-and-resell-it decision, because I swear by all that’s holy that your prospective buyers sure won’t.

Tip #9: Make friends with estate sale people.
When you tour the estate sale circuit you’ll bump into the same people over and over. I suggest you treat them fairly and don’t beat them up during your price negotiations. Better to make friends with them so that when you do have a really great tool, you can negotiate a great price to go with it. Now that you’re “friends” with the estate sale proprietors, they’re more likely to cut you some slack.

Secondly, by giving them your card and asking them to call you if they come across some good woodworking tools, you’d be amazed at what you could pick up before the sale even starts.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss tip #10, Don’t leave before fishing out the other good deals

©2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

##End Part 3

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Tooling up with estate sales #2-How to equip your hand-tool shop for pennies on the dollar

Tip #1: Optimize your time by scouting out good possibilities
I primarily go to estate sales listed on I also scour Craig’s List for tool-laden estate and garage sales. If you were to plot my estate sale finds on a map you would notice some commonalities. The good tools came from older, blue-collar neighborhoods. Picture in your mind the areas in your city where older woodworkers might have situated themselves.

Yes, there have been an estate sale or two located in well-to-do neighborhoods. But I’ve found the prices tend to match the surroundings and have only picked up a good late-model tool or two (clamps, tweezers, sharpening stones) at places like that.

Tip #2: Look for key words in the ad that say “woodworking tools” to you
After going to a few estate sales and coming up snake eyes, I started to pay closer attention to ads. When searching online I use keywords such as “woodworking…” or “vintage tools” or “Disston.” I also read the ads to get a feel for the type of work the person did. A machinist’s vintage tools will be very different from a woodworker’s workshop.

Sometimes an ad will give me a sniff that smells like “hand tools.” Now a sniff alone isn’t enough to dedicate two hours of to and fro driving, so I’ll follow up with the estate sale proprietors via email.

Here’s an exchange I had regarding one sale. “Your ad mentioned hand tools, what kinds of tools do you have?” Answer: “Some power hand tools, axes and a Stanley #60 miter box”

Now wait a minute. That miter box wasn’t in any of the pictures…nor any descriptions…but it is now in my garage.


Turned out that it was in phenomenal shape. Price? $15.00 for the saw and box. No shipping. Just me lugging the heavy, dusty thing a half-block to my car wearing a big smile.

Tip #3: Study pre-sale pictures to evaluate the opportunity
I rely heavily on pictures and have gotten adept at deciphering them. The panoply of tools can say “I was a woodworker,” or “I was a serious/tinkerer or occasional woodworker.”

Online pictures are typically bad, so consider copying and pasting them into PowerPoint so that you can enlarge and study them. What brand names do you see? Are the tools late-model examples? Recent Chinese junk? And of course, do you see any specific items that you want to pick up?

Recently I saw a picture of a tool cabinet in a man’s small shop. I saw planes (I’m pretty stocked up on those,) handsaws (I’m good there too,) chisels and, whoa! Chisels?! They looked vintage to be sure and there were five of them. They even could have been Stanley 750s. The reason I say “looked” and “could have been” is because by the time I got to the garage, moments after the estate sale opened, they had mysteriously disappeared. My gut tells me that a family member may have picked them up before the sale, or even someone working the sale. But my point is, that by zeroing in on what you want, you’ll increase the odds that you’ll be the one to buy it.

Tip #4: Go early or don’t go at all
This is absolutely critical. In this age where armies of retirees are combing estate sales to find stuff to put up for sale on EBay or in their antique mall booth, you simply must show up on the first day of an estate sale, preferably within the first half hour of it opening.

I showed up at one estate sale 25 minutes late. When I walked in, I saw people standing in line to buy a 5lb sledgehammer (on my want list) and a nice ax. After going directly to the garage, I saw another galoot with the only decent chisel in the lot firmly grasped in his hand.

When I left at 10:40, I was holding a Millers Falls 321 12″ brace, plus some other goodies. So if you showed up at 11:00 (one hour after opening) your selection would have been severely limited.

Remember the eBay/antique booth scavengers I mentioned above? I was at another estate sale, 15th in line to enter the home, and by the time I got to the garage, one guy had all 10—that’s T E N—of the sale’s handsaws already in his “to keep” box. So much for the pictures showing plenty of “inventory.”

Tip #5: Your estate sale “tool kit”
You need to tool up to go vintage tool hunting. Bring a sturdy bag (more on that later), a ruler, a magnifying glass or loop, a flashlight, handy wipes and of course cash. It doesn’t hurt to bring a friendly attitude either. Making nice with the estate sale staff will serve you well in your negotiations.

Tip # 6: Go to the garage first
When you get in, go immediately to where the tools are. Usually, that’s the garage. Now listen carefully. The moment you see specific tools that you want pick them all up and place them in your bag. Then keep looking around. Carefully look over the room, tables and shelves for any other items that interest you. As you find them, place them in your bag. And don’t forget to look above you. Sometimes woodworkers keep their wood supply up there. After you’ve scavenged the garage, go to secondary areas: sheds, basements (sometimes there’s workshops down there) and such.

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve got all the “possibles” secured, find a quiet place and sit down.

Next time we’ll cover Tips 7-Inspecting for success, 8-Stretching your tool-buying budget by picking up and selling quality duplicates, and 9-Making friends with estate sale purveyors.

© 2015, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

### End Part 2

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