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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tool Addiction

This post is supposed to be about lathe tools. I will start off a tiny bit sidetracked though, if for no other reason but to get the admission of my addiction out in the open beforehand.
I don't use them as much as I'd like to, but I do have a thing for hand planes. This is funny, since I used to poke fun at a few of my friends about their own hand plane addiction tendencies. These days, I cannot force myself to pass up a flea market booth or yard sale if my eyes a glimpse of rusty gold. I have a few, and am always looking for good deals, or simply one I don't already have. I do wish to point out though, I do not buy wall hangers. If I see a plane that is so far gone that it cannot be brought back to working order, or I can't get it cheap enough to make it valuable in parts, then I leave it where it lies.
I am a man who once said he hated hand planes. Now, although I mostly work on the lathe these days, some of you may remember from some time back that I do work on things not related to turning. All that being said, although I don't claim to be a strictly hand tool kind of guy, I do find a certain relaxation, an almost zen like appeal, to turning off the electron killers from time to time and simply listening to the whisping noise that a well tuned plane makes as it does its work on a piece of wood.
Here is my latest acquisition. My son brought it too me this past Saturday. It is an old number eight, or so I am told. I have not had time yet to break it down to do any research on it or sharpen it. Just the way I received it though, it created a six foot long paper thin ribbon as wide as the blade on a scrap piece of cottonwood. I look forward to seeing what it can do once I get time to give it a little tender loving care.
Speaking of sharpening, I gave up on the stone racks I made to clamp in vices and finally just screwed them to the edge of one of my benches. This will eliminate the time it usually takes me to set everything up just so I can begin sharpening tools. I came to this decision one day while I thought about the time it was going to take me to set them up for sharpening my skew chisel for my lathe. Most lathe tools are sharpened on a grinder. There are a few though, like the skew, that I like to put a fine polished edge on.
The need for these will also be explained a little later in a tool review.
Now back to the lathe.
Did I say I had a tool addiction? Nah! I did actually need some new tools for the lathe.
I consider myself still a beginner at the lathe, but I am always learning more. In that learning process, I have worn away quite a bit of material from my gouges while learning to properly sharpen them, and while finding that perfect bevel angle for my liking. It was getting to a point that I was choking the jig up mighty close to the handle while sharpening, so it was time for some replacements of my most used spindle gouges.
The first two tools to the left are replacements for my old Craftsman half inch and three eighths spindle gouges. I bought the Benjamin's Best gouges from Penn State. I sharpened them up and took them for a test drive. I am quite happy that they will perform fine for me. Time will tell, but I may even venture to say that they are better than my old Craftsmans.
If you need links, here is the half inch, and here is the three eighths.
The third tool is a quarter inch gouge from Hurricane tools. I have been thinking of getting a quarter inch gouge for some time My old Craftsman set came with the two gouges I mentioned earlier, and a three quarter inch. The thing is, the largest of the set mostly collects dust, while I often find myself wishing I had something smaller than the smallest of the set. So a quarter inch model was the obvious next step.
Since the quarter inch gouge at Penn State has been out of stock for some time, I decided to look elsewhere to find one. I ordered the Hurricane here from Amazon.
The fourth tool is a quarter inch bowl gouge. I have had the same issue discussed earlier with bowls, I wanted a smaller gouge. So I figured that, while I was ordering tools, I may as well let it get out of hand and go for the bowl gouge as well.
Again, the quarter inch bowl gouge at Penn State was out of stock, so I ordered the this Crown brand from Amazon.
The next three tools are Versa-Chisels, which I will discuss after the next photo.
This is the three piece set of Versa-Chisels. They can be found here.
I hate to describe it as "many", but I have lost track of the times I have been asked about these, the Sorby Spindlemaster, or other similar tools. So I started doing some reading up on them. From what I read, I realized that the best opinions of these types tools were related to the Sorby brand.
I do not wish to talk bad about Sorby tools, because I have never as much as touched one of their tools. The simple fact of the matter is that I am on a tight budget and simply cannot afford their fine tools.
So I read a little deeper, trying top find out if there really was a difference between Sorby's brand and others like it. The big difference I read about was the out of the box condition of them. The Sorby brand, from what I read, comes from the box ready to be put to wood. It is sharpened and polished. To sharpen it, you only hit the top, flat edge on a diamond stone to represent a fresh cutting edge. As a matter of fact, it is suggested that you never touch the bevel on a Sorby Spindlemaster. If the bevel needs sharpened, such as if it was dropped, you are supposed to send it back to Sorby to be repaired. Other tools though, not so much.
Anyway, I went with the Penn State version called the Versa-Chisel. I bought the three piece set so I could get a good idea of the overall usefulness of the tool style.
Out of the box, with the reading and understanding of this tool that I have done, it was my opinion that the finish on the Versa-Chisel is indeed unusable. To test this theory, I tried it right out of the box. It was a scraper. That is the best way I know to describe it. I just simply could not get it to perform the way I believed this tool was supposed to.
Next, and this explains the use of my sharpening stones I showed earlier, I decided I was going to need a similar angle (thirty degrees) and polishing, like the Spindlemaster.
In the above photo, the left Versa-Chisel is how it looks out of the box. The right one is one after I spent about an hour sharpening and polishing it.
Now I must stop here and tell you, I was told that it was impossible to polish these up to a usable state. So everything I say from this point forward may be completely wrong. If you believe that to be the case, please recognize this as my own opinion and stop reading now. While I am not saying my now doctored tools is as good or even comparable to the more expensive Sorby brand tool, I am saying that I believe some time working the edge has brought it to a point that I can honestly give my opinion of the usefulness of this style tool, and that is all I am really trying to do here.
So after spending several hours working the edge of the three Versa-Chisels, I put a piece of scrap wood between centers and went for a new test drive.
Here is where my opinion of this style tool gets kind of shady. Please let me explain.
This tool has been explained to me many times as a tool that magically gives some people the power to no longer have the need to learn to use an actual skew chisel. So let me start there and give you my opinion of a skew chisel.
The skew chisel, in my opinion and the opinion of just about every piece of literature I've ever read on the subject, is the hardest of the lathe tools to learn. The one and only trick to it is practice, practice, practice, and then when you think you have, practice some more. It is an essential tool at my lathe, but one that will only you will only learn the usefulness of when you learn to use it properly. Until you learn to use it properly, it will aggravate you. I like a challenge though. I went through a phase where I decided I did not need a skew. Then one day I made up my mind that a tool was not going to beat me, and set my mind to learning it. I suggest anyone who wants to turn much to do the same.
Now, back to the tool review.
The Versa-Chisel is advertised to perform as a chisel, a gouge, and a scraper, all in one tool. While it does do all of that, it does none of them (again, in my opinion) as well as an actual chisel, gouge or scraper. Yes, it is a good tool to have in your arsenal of options to do projects with. I do not ever though see it replacing my favorite gouge, scraper, or especially, my skew chisel.
If you are interested in this type tool, I absolutely think they are worth buying. It is an interesting concept. You could, if you wish, grab one tool and make whatever spindle turning you wish with that one tool. That is where it gets grey for me. While I think it is a great tool, I do not think it is as great or magical as I have been told. I still do not see myself ever doing anything with just this one tool. If I want rough and quick rounding, I'll get my gouge. If I want to gently scrap off a tiny amount of a surface, I'll grab my scraper. If I want a fine cut, I'll grab my freshly sharpened skew.
Now, about that idea of this replacing the skew for people who have trouble with the skew. I can see where that idea comes from. It does not seem to grab quite as badly or as quickly as a skew would if you roll it too much one way or the other. However, to get a good clean cut, I needed to execute my technique just as I would a skew. If anyone can get a clean cut with a Versa-Chisel, then I believe they are well on their way to knowing how to use a skew.
So, in reviewing my long winded rambling way of telling things, my review of the Versa-Chisels are mixed. It is a good tool to have. I would absolutely recommend it to some people, especially beginners who don't have a wide variety of tools or experience with those tools. Would I say it is a replacement for other tools and proper techniques? I don't think there is a such thing as replacement for proper tools and techniques.
Until next time my friends, happy turning!!!


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