Years ago I had a set of Barr Tools bench chisels that I loved but were a little frustrating. I loved them because the steel was amazing – as good or better than any Japanese chisel I had encountered. But they were frustrating because the chisels were heavy. Chopping with them all day wore me out.
I reluctantly let them go when Lie-Nielsen began making chisels. The steel isn’t as tough as the stuff in Barr tools, but the Lie-Nielsens are lightweight and balanced.
Last year I decided I’d had enough of my vintage wide chisel. It was a beautiful specimen, but the steel was terrible. It folded like aluminum foil after a few minutes of use. I ground the edge back significantly to see if the steel got any better. It didn’t.
I pondered rehardening and tempering the tool, but then decided to stick to woodworking that week and bought the Barr 2” cabinetmaker’s chisel ($147) instead. After a few weeks of use, I remembered how much I loved the steel Barr uses. It sharpens in seconds and holds an edge for much longer than I think it should.
And when it comes to a wide chisel, the extra weight is welcome and appreciated. The weight helps when I pare with the chisel, much like the weight of a timber framing slick. The handle has a hoop on the end, which implies that the chisel can take a beating. It can.
I used this chisel to bash out all the mortises in my most recent workbench and I didn’t have to sharpen once. Crazy.
I love the tool so much that I bought Megan Fitzpatrick one for her birthday. (I don’t think that’s what she wanted for her birthday, but that’s how enthusiastic I am about this tool.)
The Barr tools are handmade, so there can be a little bit of a wait at times. But it’s worth it.
Sometimes love just ain’t enough. Wave goodbye to the crucible improved pattern dividers.
Today at 5 p.m., I’m going to start up something I’ve never had before. I’m adding a simple shopping cart system to my website. And while it wasn’t planned this way, there is a sort of symmetry (or is it irony?) embodied in the first batch of tools offered for sale through the site – which is likely the last-ever batch of improved pattern dividers we designed for Crucible Tool back in 2016.
This design — which is loosely based on a pattern made by blacksmiths a century or two ago — is easily my favorite divider pattern, bar none. The ergonomics, the weight in the hand, the easy adjustability of tension in the pivot joint — all these features contribute to making them one of my favorite tools ever, full stop. Furthermore, in the 18 or so months we were actively making and selling them, I don’t believe we ever managed to keep a single unit “in stock” for more than about 120 minutes, despite the fact that we were forced to increase the price by about 75 percent from when we started until we pulled the plug.
All of which begs the question: why, then, did we stop making them?
That’s easy. Because no matter how much appreciation they might generate, they’re simply a nightmare to make. And therein lies the hard lesson for me, the fool who tried like hell to find a way to keep them alive far too long. At the end of the day, they’re lightyears too finicky and demanding to make a whit of sense as a mass-production product — but with not nearly enough character or hand work to justify survival as a bespoke, custom offering — there just isn’t a place for this tool in the world we live in today. And no amount of love or tilting at windmills was ever going to change that. And so over the past several weeks, I’ve been assembling and tuning the last few dozen of these leftover from our last production run. And to be clear, there aren’t a lot. A few dozen at best. So if you’ve ever wanted one, now is the time.
Our Indiana warehouse is running behind in fulfilling orders because of the holidays and staff reductions because of the pandemic.
While we usually ship out orders within 48 hours, it’s taking longer these days. So if you placed an order in the last two weeks and are wondering where your stuff is, it’s probably working its way through the warehouse system.
Our warehouse isn’t a giant automated operation, like Amazon. It’s a family-run business that started out by selling wall calendars. Our books are fulfilled by a small team that knows our products inside and out. They make few mistakes compared to every outfit we’ve worked with since 2007. And I know they’ll pull through this challenge.
So thanks in advance for your patience with us. If you do think your order has been lost (or some other problem has occurred) the best place to get assistance is firstname.lastname@example.org. Messaging us on social media or in the blog’s comments will delay us in helping you because I don’t have access to our ordering system.
The last item or two in every Anarchist’s Gift Guide are a little more expensive than the others. I feel bad recommending expensive gear, but I’m passionate about these particular selections. This year is no exception.
First is the Brown & Sharpe Dial Caliper. I use dial calipers throughout the day and am picky as hell about them. Many imported calipers are difficult to read, they move roughly and they’re fragile. The Brown & Sharpe has none of these problems.
I’ve had this pair for about 10 years. The dial is easy to read with silver numerals on a black background. The gears move just as smoothly as the day I bought the tool. And they have outlasted all the other brands we’ve had in the shop.
Some hand tool enthusiasts might scoff at a dial caliper, saying it’s a machinist tool. I make no apologies; I love the things. They are invaluable for toolmaking – we have to hit certain specs for the Crucible parts we make here. Plus the tools are great for diagnosing woodworking joinery problems. When I have a tenon or spindle that is too tight, the dial caliper shows me where the problem is. And it can point out how much material I have to remove.
When I’m fitting shelves in dados, the caliper can tell me how many passes I need to take with a smoothing plane to get the part to fit in its dado. And on and on.
Plus, when you have a contest to see who can saw the thinnest slice off the end of a board, the dial caliper can declare the winner.
The calipers come in a hard-shell plastic case. The case isn’t the best (the locking mechanism is kinda crappy), but if you keep the tool safe in its case when not in use, it should last your entire woodworking career.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Thanks to Thomas Lie-Nielsen for introducing me to these excellent dial calipers.
Here’s another tool I wrote about earlier in the year. We mix a lot of shellac in our shop (among other things), and getting the flakes to dissolve quickly is always a challenge.
Enter the Intllab Magnetic Stirrer. This $30 gizmo dissolves flakes in short order with little effort on my part. I put the alcohol in a jar, dump in the flakes, drop in the magnetic stir bar and turn on the machine. Then I walk away and work on something else for a little while.
As several people have pointed out, another solution is to grind the flakes into a powder with a coffee bean grinder (which is about the same price as the magnetic stirrer). I’ve seen this done, and it works, too. But here’s the problem with that solution: It doesn’t use magnets, which are cool. (Also, I don’t own a bean grinder.)
I also use the magnetic stirrer for mixing milk paint powder and stirring the flatting paste into lacquer. (Try putting flatting paste in your coffee grinder.)
Is a magnetic stirrer essential to your workshop? No. But it’s a nice luxury and is great fun to play with.