Holiday Tool Review: No-Frills, Unsung Heroes
I’m building a few Shaker-style occasional tables in the hopes that I can find a few people looking for a special gift in time for the Holidays. The project includes one small side table in walnut, plus a slightly larger cherry one and a companion hall table. Nothing complicated, but with mortise and tenon joinery including drawbore pins made of ash, they’ll be built to last 200+ years. I’ve built plenty of tables like this, but have never used drawbore pins to beef-up the joints. This project allowed me dig into my Traveling Anarchist’s Tool Chest and use two no-frills, heavy duty tools from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.
The first is a 1″ wide, 3/16″ thick bed float. It’s a sharpened flat piece of steel held with a basic wood handle with 90 degree teeth milled across the cutting surface. Typically this is used for plane makers, but it is a fairly functional tool for furniture making. Deneb Puchalski at L-N suggested I use this instead of a standard cheek float for cleaning up mortises. Plus it can be used to true tenons right to the shoulder because it’s cutting surface is only on one face, unlike a rasp whose cutting surface wraps around the edge. And with a little practice, its flexible enough to cut and smooth chamfers on a table edge by hand. This tool came in handy when cleaning up my mortises, making final fitting a breeze.
The second is a dowel plate used to pound out round drawbore pins from square stock. I’ve made a crude version out of simple steel bar stock and a horribly out of round hole. It worked well enough for some massive ones on my workbench, but for fine furniture, I decided to purchase one from Lie-Nielsen. This afternoon I spent an hour banging out (bad pun, I know) about 50 pins of various sizes for the Shaker table projects. Simple but very satisfying work, and the results are far better than my previous shop-built predecessor.
Both tools come in at ~ $60 each, and are pretty much the starting point for any functional tool from Lie-Nielsen. Sometimes asking for woodworking tools for the holidays can be pricey. These are a pretty good way to go if you want something you’ll enjoy learning to use.