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If you don’t know what to get for the woodworkers on your holiday gift list, we can help. We recently asked the FWW staff and our contributing editors to name their favorite tool that’s priced below $50. Turns out, we came up with quite a list:
Dial Caliper: $16Asa Christiana, FWW editor:When it comes to good-looking joints and tight gluelines, thousandths matter. Grizzly offers a 6-in. dial caliper for $16 so you no longer have an excuse for ignoring this essential tool. Not only is a dial caliper accurate, but it also measures simultaneously in three ways–outside, inside, and depth (at its far end). That makes it simple to trim a tenon for a piston-like fit in its mortise, or to rout a recess just shallower than the inlay, or stack your dado set to match a shelf’s thickness, and so on. I can’t think of another tool that will improve your woodworking as much (other than maybe an 8,000-grit waterstone to get your hand tools truly sharp).
Magnetic Featherboard: $38 to $50Tom Begnal, FWW associate editor: The featherboard from MagSwitch quickly earned a place within easy reach of my tablesaw. This important safety tool attaches to the top of a tablesaw with remarkably little effort. And it can be located anywhere on the top, as long as it’s in contact with metal.
Read Begnal’s MagSwitch review from FWW #192.
To use it, just butt the featherboard against the stock until the fingers spring slightly, then turn the two knobs. Each knob activates a magnet, and together they hold the featherboard firmly in place. Turn the knobs again and the magnets immediately deactivate, so you can easily remove the featherboard. The pro model sells for about $50; a lighter-duty version sells for $38. Both models are available from Woodcraft.
Cabinet scraper: $5 to $15Betsy Engel, FWW administrative assistant: Since I don’t have a favorite woodworking tool, I asked my woodworker husband to name his favorite. He immediately said a cabinet scraper. It produces a nice finish and it’s great for removing glue squeeze-out.
To learn more about the scraper, watch our subscribers-only videos on using and burnishing a scraper.
He also sometimes uses it as a shield, to protect a surface when prying something loose. A scraper also makes a reliable spacing gauge. Cabinet scrapers are available from many retailers, such as Highland Woodworking and Lie-Nielsen.
Holdfast: $16.95Garrett Hack, FWW contributing editor I like simplicity–tools that work well and have few moving parts. Nothing could be simpler than a holdfast.
A Gramercy Tool holdfast; read Hack’s review from FWW #186.
I also can’t think of anything more useful as a “third hand” for clamping work anywhere on your bench. If you’re set up for it, you can even use the holdfast on the front of your bench to secure long stock. The hardest part of using a holdfast is drilling holes in your benchtop. The one I like is made by Gramercy Tools and sold by Tools for Working Wood.
Mallets: About $45Tom McKenna, FWW associate editor After much contemplation, I wound up choosing a rather primitive, low-tech tool that I use almost daily when I’m in the shop: a mallet.
A mallet is must-have. Read how you can build one from scratch as well.
I have two–one made of beechwood, the other a 14-oz. deadblow mallet. The wood mallet is perfect for chisel work, while the deadblow is a great help when I’m assembling pieces. It’s also great at helping to take apart ill-fitting joints and parts. What’s more, both tools can be had for under $50 from sources such as Garrett Wade or Woodcraft.
Starrett 13A Double Square: $44Michael Pekovich, FWW art director It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and is great for joinery layout as well as machinery setups–setting sawblade and router-bit heights, setting fences, and checking blade angles. It’s available from Amazon.com.
Starrett 604RE steel rule: $17Gary Rogowski, FWW contributing editor This steel rule is the one with the side scales for setting router bits in a table or blade heights on your tablesaw. It is indispensable for my layout of joinery, templates, and fence settings. It has a stiff blade, so even if you put it in your back pocket it will remind you of its presence before you bend it. It has markings in eighths and sixteenths on one side and thirty-seconds and the optometrist’s sixty-fourth scale on the other. It’s available from Amazon.com.
Stanley Low-Angle Block Plane: $45Roland Johnson, FWW contributing editor I can easily buy Stanley 60-1/2 low-angle block planes on Ebay. A brand-spanking-new one will run about $45, but the old ones are better and have a ton of character to boot. The 60-1/2 excels at taking wisps of shavings off doors and drawers for that perfect fit, and it’s so efficient at shaving end grain (especially if you resharpen the iron from 25 degrees to 20 degrees) that you can actually get an end-grain curl. It’s also small enough to carry around in your shop apron or in a holster on your belt.
Read a review of the Stanley 60-1/2 plane from FWW #153.
The adjustable throat makes this a plane that can be set to take heavy cuts for fast wood removal or light cuts for finishing. It will even do a credible job of surface-planing small pieces. I consider the 60-1/2 to be the open-end adjustable wrench of the woodworking world–good for tons of tasks. A Hock or Lie-Nielsen iron will really make these little gems sparkle, but those blades will cost more than the plane. For someone who already has a Stanley 60-/12, though, a good replacement blade would make a dandy holiday gift.
Flush-cutting saw, $23John Tetrault, FWW assistant art director A Japanese flush cutting saw became one of my favorite tools when I first bought one. Nothing else really compares for the task, especially for the price. Woodcraft sells these saws for under $25.
A Vaughan Bear Saw Japanese-style flush-cutting saw; read the Fine Woodworking review.
Keyway Keys, $0.30 to $50Bob Van Dyke, one of theFineWoodworking.Com expertsMy recommended gift is not much of a tool (barely a stocking stuffer!) but I use them all the time and have not seen anyone else use them–they are the “keyway keys.”
Van Dyke engraves keyway keys with their size and uses them as handy measurement tools.
These are square lengths of steel that are very precisely machined to an exact size. They’re used in motors and are available from any hardware store in the section where the individual nuts and bolts are sold. I use an engraver to write the size on it. These tools are extremely accurate and I use them to lay out a mortise, check the depth of any groove or dado, compare one depth to another, set the depth of router bit, tablesaw blade–the uses are endless!
Keyway key in use.
The handy implements range in price from $0.30 to $2.
Lee Valley tools & references: $35 totalJohn White, one of the FineWoodworking.Com experts I use a Veritas Large Saddle Square, part #05N56, all the time when laying out stock for cutting. The tool makes it quick and very easy to get a square mark from one face on a board to another. There’s a smaller version, but the larger one is just as easy to use and works with both small and large workpieces. The Veritas Miter Saddle, $12.95, transfers the line for a 45-degree miter from the edge to the face of the stock and vice versa. As with the saddle square, once you use it, you’ll wish you had bought one years ago. Finally, the Lee Valley Wood Movement Reference Guide, $7.50, makes it easy to figure out how much a tabletop or door panel will expand and contract with seasonal climate changes.
Photos: Staff, Bob Van Dyke (keyway keys); Drawing: John Tetreault
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