One of my most essential tools for joinery is one that I never talk about: my magnifier lamp.
This fluorescent, articulating light fixture allows me to see my layout lines, any undesirable tracks left by my handplanes and the bevel of whatever tool I’m sharpening at the moment. The light fixture drops into my dog holes so I can move it anywhere on my bench, though it rarely strays from the area of the benchtop that has my leg vise.
I’ve burned through three of these fixtures since I started woodworking – most of the ones you get at office supply stores are just junk. Their springs are weak and soon the lamp won’t stand upright. Plus they get damaged easily when you drop them.
About five years ago I bought a magnifier lamp that was built in the 1960s. It was “new old stock” (thanks Slav!), meaning it still had the sales tags on it when it came into my shop.
This sucker is bulletproof. And I don’t care what I paid for it (about $45) – I’d pay twice that in a heartbeat. You move it, and it stays put. It laughs off knocks and dings. And the switch didn’t break in the first week.
My magnifier lamp was made by Luxo Lamp Corp., which is still around – though I haven’t inspected the company’s modern merchandise. I really should take a look at the different lamps available (sounds like a tool test, eh?).
I can say this: I’ve never been happy with the student-grade stuff, so you might want to stay away from it. I’d check the stores that sell old office equipment. Buried among the manual typewriters, adding machines and metal shelving units just might be your next favorite woodworking tool.
— Christopher Schwarz