“Work is one of our most useful learning tools; children love to imitate adults at work. It is drudgery that needs eliminating, not work.”
— William S. Coperthwaite, “A Handmade Life” (Chelsea Green)
The first time I met Frank Klausz we were both demonstrating at a woodworking show outside Philadelphia. I was flattening boards by hand with a panel plane when Frank walked up, snatched the plane off my bench and walked away.
I stood there like a slack-jawed mouth-breather for a few moments, and then tried to finish up my demonstration.
About 20 minutes later, Frank returned to my bench with my plane. He had taken it apart and polished some corrosion off the chipbreaker. He had eased the sharp corners of the iron with some sandpaper. And he had wiped the entire body with a light coat of oil.
“A craftsman takes care of his tools,” Frank said with a serious look on his face. “No rust. No sap.” Then he gave me a great big smile and walked back to his bench.
That day was a turning point in my relationship with my tools. I stopped looking at them as just a chunk of something that held a pointy bit. Instead, they were something to be cared for, like a pet or a child. Every part of the tool became important, not just the cutter.
Why am I telling you this? Since May I have been on a marathon streak of teaching, and I have dealt with the tools of almost 100 hand-tool woodworkers. And I’ve spent a lot of time removing corrosion, oiling adjustment mechanisms and scraping crud off chipbreakers.
And so here is my brief guide to the care and feeding of tools.
1. Own the fewest number of tools possible. The fewer tools you have, the easier it is to keep them in good shape. Think of tools as cats. Do you really want to be the lady down the street with 63 cats and all the problems that 63 cats have?
2. Have some permanent tool-care products. Get a bottle of oil (any non-drying vegetable oil or light machine oil will do). A rag (I use a micro-fiber cloth, but an old sock is also good). A rust eraser (you need only one – the medium grit is fine). A paint brush for cleaning out the escapements of your planes. An old awl for dislodging fossilized gunk from corners. An old toothbrush for cleaning crap off threads.
3. Every time you take a brief break from your work, wipe the soles of your planes and remove any dust from the escapement and under the bevel. Wipe the dust and pitch off your chisels and saws. Clear any shavings from the mouths of your moulding planes.
4. When you are done for the day, break down your planes. Take apart the iron and chipbreaker, de-crud them and wipe them down. Clean out the mouth of the tool with your brush. Make sure the sole of the plane is clean and undamaged. File or sand off any dings. With your chisels and saws, wipe off all the sap and dust before you put them away. Same goes with your knives, awls, dividers – anything that’s ferrous.
5. Every month or so, oil the adjustment mechanisms of your tools. Students are always amazed at what a drop of oil on the threads can do to improve the way their tools work.
6. Store your tools so they won’t get coated in dust. A tool chest, wall cabinet or Tupperware will do.
7. If you are overwhelmed by all this, go back and read tip No. 1. Or bundle up your naked body in an old housecoat and haul the 50-pound bag of cat food out to fill the buckets on the front porch.
— Christopher Schwarz