Castile Soap Cream for Finishing
I advocate using Castile soap for finishing some pieces of furniture. It’s non-toxic, easy to repair and gives light-colored woods a whitish glow.
Never heard of soap finish? I’ve written and recorded a lot about it. Here’s an introduction.
The only problem people ever have with soap finish is making it. I use soap flakes from the Pure Soap Flake Co. plus boiling water. Different ratios of water:soap will give you a different finish. Sometimes I hear from people who just cannot get the soap to make anything other than a watery goo.
I’ve had that problem with really old soap flakes (those that are more than a year old). But some woodworkers have had the problem with fresh flakes. Weird, I know. I don’t know how to fix their problem from afar except by suggesting they buy the Castile Cream Soap, which is already mixed. It’s $10 for an 8-ounce jar, which will get you started on a single project.
It is mixed to have a consistency like hand soap. Scoop it out of the jar with a soft cloth and rub on a thin coat on the bare wood. When the water dries, buff it off with a clean, soft cloth. It will leave a matte and soft finish behind.
No, it’s not durable. It’s soap. But it is easily repaired and renewed.
If you need an introduction to this kind of finishing (the kind that doesn’t kill you and looks better with wear), please read this.
Japanese ‘Bank Paper’
I write a lot of stuff down every day on paper – sketches of future projects, notes on joinery, Megan’s lunch order, and dimensions, dimensions, dimensions. For the last decade I’ve mostly used the free throw-away pads that our lumber supplier would bring us every month for my scratchings.
When the pandemic hit, however, the sales visits stopped. And I ran out of free notepads.
One day I went into a local writing supply store to get a new notepad and came out a changed man. I discovered Japanese “Bank Paper.”
Look, I know that a lot of you must be paper snobs and will pooh-pooh my love of the Bank Paper. But this stuff brings the same joy of touching the skin of a lover. It’s so smooth and yielding. It accepts ink and pencil with the same facility. And it’s just a joy to use and touch.
And it’s not terribly expensive, either.
OK, yes, $26 is a lot to pay for a pad of 100 A4 sheets (but if you’re willing to pay a little more still, try to find the pad via a local supplier). But I will gladly visit my local writing supply store again for another when I use up my current pad. The funny thing about nice paper is that you use it up utterly. I write on both sides. I leave no space empty. And I enjoy every minute of it.
Look, I can’t explain it. It’s tactile. If you won’t spend $26, will you perhaps spend $19.95 on this A5 notebook? Or come visit us, and I’ll give you a sheet of mine to try.
Editor’s note: My favorite paper is a type Chris bought to try years ago and hated, so he gave it to me. It is also a little spendy, but… Karst Stone Paper. My Parker Jotter (my favorite pen, by the by) glides delightfully over its slickery surface.
The Sharpie PRO (or the Fancy-pants Sharpie T.E.C.)
I feel like a fool for having used regular Sharpie markers in the shop. They are…OK. As long as you don’t expose them to water, alcohol, pretty much any solvent or even a stern look. Face it: The ink in regular Sharpies is not durable enough for workshop use.
I’ve used them for years to mark important settings on my machines, for marking glass and plastic bottles for mixing finishes, and for marking cutting edges while sharpening.
And pretty much, the regular Sharpie marker sucks at all these tasks. But I didn’t know there were other options.
Enter the Sharpie PRO. It sucks so much less. It makes a far more durable mark on plastics, metal and even wet wood. It even smells more dangerous and professional, like you shouldn’t sniff it for too long.
Mostly, however, it’s what a workshop marker should be – at baseline. The cap has a heavy-duty clip, so it clings to your shop apron and stays there. The marker has a rectangular cross-section, so it doesn’t roll off the bench. The ink takes a little longer to dry, but it stays put. Even if you wipe it with alcohol, you won’t lose all the ink on the surface.
Question: Is it available in an ultra-fine tip? If it is, I’m unaware of it and can’t find it. But the big Sharpie PRO works fine – as long as you aren’t trying to do calligraphy.
For the space nerds, check out the Sharpie T.E.C. (trace element certified). This one has ink that really sticks and smells completely dangerous.
The Anarchist’s Gift Guide – comprised only of stuff I have bought and used in our shop – starts today and runs over the next two weeks.
I started this “gift guide” years ago (read past recommendations here) after watching a woodworking TV personality’s “gift guide” for one of his sponsors. Clearly, he’d been given a list of worthless stuff that they wanted gone.
I thought: What if some poor spouse/child/friend actually took this crap advice?
This gift guide is – as always – unsponsored. Toolmakers who ask to be included in the guide (and they sometimes do) are automatically excluded from it. We don’t make money from these recommendations – there are no affiliate links. I paid full price for these items. And I’ve sought out at least a few things that your children could afford to buy for you.
Marshalltown 829 Masonry Brush
This brush was suggested by a reader. It’s a U.S.-made masonry brush that is just the right size and stiffness to make a great bench brush. And it’s less than $12. I bought two, and I plan to buy a few more for our machine room.
Most bench brushes have fibers that are too fine for my taste. A bench brush needs some coarse fibers to deal with chips – not just fine sawdust.
The Marshalltown 829 (shown above) is made using Tampico fiber, which is harvested from cacti in northern Mexico. The fibers come from inside the cactus leaves. And the fibers are what makes this brush a gem (the hardwood handle and block are nothing special). The fibers are bundled in a way that makes them just right for bench work. You can brush up fine sanding dust. And you can also wrangle those weird cross-grain chips that elude fine brushes.
The Marshalltown 829 is not pretty. But it works exceptionally well.
I am always looking for ways to make workholding simpler and less expensive. It feels like a duty after writing 36 books on workbenches.
I love my Benchcrafted Hi Vise – we own five of them. But not every woodworker can afford the hardware. And you have to build the vise with wooden components, which requires some time, skill and machines.
The less-expensive option is this Taiwanese-made carver’s vise, which you can find at many woodworking suppliers. I got mine on sale from Infinity Tools. StewMac sells a version that they have upgraded and that luthiers love.
No matter where you get it, I think you’ll be impressed. The vise’s swiveling jaws will hold almost any shape. And because the jaws are coated with a tough urethane, the grip is incredibly tenacious.
The vise attaches to the workbench via a long post that threads through a dog hole or holdfast hole in your workbench. You can cinch the bolt below the benchtop tight so the vise won’t move. Or you can leave it a little loose so it swivels.
The only real downside to the vise is that you have to have a hole in your workbench to make things work. The Hi Vise can clamp almost anywhere (even to a truck bumper).
This vise is an excellent substitution for a shaving horse. It’s a little slower in use, but takes up almost no space.
— Christopher Schwarz
Publisher’s note: This is the final entry in our 2022 gift guide. Every year we think that *this year* will be the last. That we couldn’t possibly come up with a new list for the following year. If we do manage to do a gift guide for 2023 it will be our 10th gift guide.
To read previous entries in the gift guide, click here.