Our favorite hand tools
We love power tools; but many times a hand tool does the job better and quicker and always with less noise and dust. Here are eight "unplugged" tools that seldom leave our workbenches and where you can buy them.
5" Pocket Saw
I keep this mini handsaw nearby for cutting small project parts that would be impractical or even dangerous to cut with a power saw. In spite of its stubby length, the handmade Pocket Saw has a full-size, quartersawn hard-maple handle that feels comfortable in my hand. Its durable blade is thicker than most small saws, with 16 teeth per inch and a folded steel back for rigidity. It makes quick work of rips and crosscuts in small workpieces.
—John Olson, Design Editor
Starrett folding wood rule
My favorite tool was also my kids' favorite: a 6' Starrett rule. It has seen as much action over the years in sword fights and light-saber battles as it has in the shop. (Okay, so they broke a few, but I quickly replaced them because I couldn't imagine working without one.) It's spot-on accurate, the brass extension reaches into tight spots, and it's perfect for checking carcase glue-ups for square.
—Jim Heavey, contributing craftsman
No longer in production; modern equivalent: Lufkin folding wood rule
1" crank-neck chisel
I find this paring chisel useful for flush-trimming wood plugs, shaving tenon cheeks, and—I'm sure this will make a few purists grumpy—slicing glue squeeze-out off a joint. Its bent neck lets you rest the back of the chisel on the workpiece while maintaining a good grip on the handle, and it reaches places that regular bench and paring chisels just can't.
—Kevin Boyle, Senior Design Editor
Stanley #140 rabbeting block plane
My grandfather bought this plane in the early 1900s, and I'm its third-generation user. That speaks volumes about its usefulness and durability. The Stanley #140 functions as two planes: a low-angle block plane (above left) that slices end grain as well as edge grain and, when you remove the side fence (left), a rabbeting plane that cleans up tenons and rabbets. Its blade cuts at a skewed angle, greatly reducing tear-out.
—Erv Roberts, a longtime WOOD magazine contributor
No longer in production; look for used models at auctions and online. Modern equivalent: Lie-Nielsen #140 skew block plane
Japanese hand saw
I grew up using Western-style saws for hand work. But the first time I tried a Japanese hand saw, I couldn't believe the difference. Like all Japanese saws, this general-purpose model cuts on the pull stroke rather than the Western-style push, so it's easier to start a cut and tracks straighter. Its thin blade flexes slightly for making flush cuts and leaves no errant scratches on the wood because the teeth have no set. Still, the blade is stiff enough to hold true for joinery cuts. I could probably never go back to the Western saws now gathering dust on my shelves.
—Lucas Peters, Digital Content Manager
#5 1/2 Jack plane
For years I used a #4 smoothing plane and #5 jack plane and got along fine. But then I tried a #51⁄2 and was immediately hooked. Now it's my go-to bench plane, seeing action on almost every project I build. Although about the same length as a typical 5, this plane measures nearly 1⁄2 " wider and weighs about a pound-and-a-half more. I like that extra heft because it provides momentum to power through cuts without feeling cumbersome—making less strain for me in the long run—especially in figured or knotty wood. And if you prefer to buy a used Stanley model (made until the late 1950s) online or at auction, rest comfortably knowing that you almost can't find a bad one (unless it's broken).
—Bob Hunter, Tools Editor
6" Dial caliper
Whether checking the thickness of a tenon, the depth of a mortise, the spacing of box joints, or the diameter of a counterbore, this handy caliper delivers precision like no measuring tape or rule can. The large dial's 1⁄64 " graduations make it easy to read, and when I'm feeling really picky, the inner dial provides 1⁄100 " increments. It also comes in handy for setting up machines, such as dialing in router bit and tablesaw blade heights.
—Bob Saunders, WOOD magazine contributor
Veritas apron plane
I have two standard-size block planes, in regular and low blade angles, but I always reach for this compact plane to do light trimming or shaping tasks. Veritas' apron plane perfectly combines size, weight, and nimbleness, especially when I need to get in tight on a small project part that needs fine-tuning. Its low angle shaves end grain as easily as edge grain, and the blade adjusts quickly and holds an edge for a long time.
—Matt Seiler, a custom furnituremaker and WOOD contributor