As editor of Fine Woodworking I saw thousands of woodworking tools and gizmos come and go, but a few stand out as must-haves for any aspiring woodworker. Together they form an awesome holiday gift guide. Treat yourself, or treat a friend.
Each of these tools is not only affordable but also guaranteed to take your craft to the next level. Now that’s value!
Here are my favorite holiday woodworking gifts, sure to bring a smile to the faces of young makers and old grizzled vets alike.
Protect your ears and eyes
There are tons of gizmos for this, but you simply must protect your ears and eyes from power tools. Eyes are obviously priceless, but a lot of people on’t know that hearing loss is cumulative. That means all those roaring tools and pounding hammers take their toll, and the damage simply adds up over the years. So you wake up in your 40s or 50s and realize you have a big problem.
Here are two of my favorite new devices for protecting eyes and ears. There are lots of glasses and goggles, and if your glasses are polycarbonate, you can probably get by with just those. But here is a new set of German goggles that will make you the envy of your local makerspace.
And finally, you can’t beat these high-tech earmuffs for comfort and convenience. They are not quite as effective as full earmuffs that sit on your head, but they will do the job for most power tools.
Called SensGard, they use a proprietary air chamber to muffle loud sounds but let in soft ones like voices. What I like is that they can just sit around your neck until you need them. There are ear plugs on headbands that do the same thing, but ear plugs are a pain to stick in your ears.
SensGard has small soft cups that are easy to place over your ear openings and comfortable to wear. When you want to hear your boom box again, you just drop the headband onto your neck.
Best of all, Home Depot has these for under $20!
Protect your lungs too
While we are protecting eyes and ears, why not protect your lungs, too, for a safer 2017! For some outdated reason, a lot of tool makers still don’t provide dust ports that connect to standard hoses. That means you are stuck with that useless little canister they attach to tools. Not only do those not work, but for tools like sanders, they actually make the tool work worse because the wood dust gets in the way of the abrasive action.
Attach a shop vac to you sander and the paper starts lasting way longer and working way better, and better yet, the dust disappears instead of ending up all over the shop and down in the deepest regions of your lungs (wood dust is a carcinogen in big amounts BTW).
This ingenious adapter set is Rockler’s gift to the world, one of many clever problem-solvers you’ll find at Rockler.com. It fits all vac hoses and almost every tool in the shop, going on and off in a jiffy. I especially like it on my miter saw and sanders.
Greatest. Sanding. Block. Ever.
Everyone hates sanding but there is no more foolproof way to get surfaces buttery smooth and ready for a beautiful wood finish. Enter the “Preppin’ Weapon,” which is a steal at under $20 on Amazon. Born in the auto-body world, it grabs a long 1/4-sheet of sandpaper quickly and securely, and sits beautifully in your hand as it works its magic. The ergonomic shape, quick paper clamps, the spongy bottom, and the long, effective shape simply can’t be beat.
The work goes fast and the results are beautiful uniform as you work your way up through the grits to 220 or beyond. Combine it with my shopmade sandpaper slicing jig and take your sanding game to a ridiculous level!
Struggle with sharpening no more
Combined with almost any sort of sharpening stone, the Veritas Mark II honing guide will guarantee razor sharpness.
Traditional handplanes and chisels can be amazing weapons, but only if they are razor sharp. And the only reliable way I know to get there is to use a honing guide. And the best one I know BY FAR is the Veritas Mark II. Get the standard set.
This guide not only holds almost any woodworking blade perfectly, and also tools smooth and level. But best of all is the little setup guide that attaches to the front to set the honing angle. Check the top of this page for a video on how the setup guide works.
Trust me, you need one of these if you want to use hand tools. By the way, I would combine it with a coarse diamond plate or a bench grinder for forming the edge, and a set of waterstones in the 1,000. 4,000, and 8,000 grits for honing the secondary bevel. Grind at 25 degrees, hone at 30. That will work for almost every chisel and handplane you will ever buy.
Add machinist precision to your work
A lot of people take on traditional joinery and use only traditional tools to execute it. That is a mistake. I couldn’t live without my dial calipers, which you can get for a measly $22.50 (!!) from Grizzly.com. There are digital versions that can switch between fractions and decimals, but I like the simplicity of the decimal version. Once I’m working with thousandths of an inch, I don’t bother converting back to fractions usually.
Get the six-inch version of dial calipers, which is plenty big enough for woodworking tasks.
Want to know exactly how big something is, like a dado or screw and then size your shelf or drill bit to fit it? Grab the calipers. Planing a shelf to fit a dado, or a tenon to fit a mortise? Grab the calipers. Trying to plane a board to the thickness of some others? Having trouble reading those tiny numbers on the side of a drill bit? The answer is always the same.
They can take inside and outside measurements, and they read in .001 of a inch, which is more than enough for the finest woodworking. There is even a depth gauge on the end for reaching down into holes and mortises.
Why struggle with tiny ruler marks when you can know exactly what you are dealing with? Once you have one of these, you’ll be kicking yourself for not having one sooner.
Lie-Nielsen has all the block planes you’ll ever need
You may or may not ever use a big smoothing plane to prepare your wood surfaces for finishing, but you will darn well need these two block planes. Start with the a small standard block plane, like this one from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. This little $100 plane should be the beginning of any hand tool collection. It is beautiful and cuts wood like butter. And like all Lie-Nielsen tools, it comes tuned up for action. Just give the blade a light honing and go.
Edges, end grain, corners, whatever, this plane will handle it all. For starters, use it to break the sharp edges on all of your projects for a finished look and feel. You are a true craftsman now.
When you are ready to tackle real joinery, you’ll be making mortises and tenons. Make the mortises first, and plane the tenons to fit. You can shape the tenons however you like–tablesaw, bandsaw, handsaw–but leave them a little thick and then plane them for a piston fit with this rabbeting block plane, also from Lie-Nielsen.
Some folks use traditional shoulder planes for the job, but this plane is wider and helps me do most tenons in one pass. And it still trims the shoulders of the tenon even with each other.
The secret, and the reason it is called “rabbeting,” is that the blade extends all the way to the edge of the tool, meaning it can cut all the way into the corner of a rabbet, or trim the entire face of a tenon right up to the shoulder. A normal block plane won’t do that.