There used to be a saying regularly used in the workplace ‘a bad tradesman always blames his tools’ but after many years experience I came to the conclusion those who did make excuses generally were the real problem and they all had the same in common, they just lacked pride in their work. They just lacked the dedication to excel in their trade even though they often were the first to big themselves up, whilst the quiet one’s always worked with quiet confidence striving for excellence allowing their work speak for itself.
I speak to many craftsmen who have have or had distinguished careers who I would describe as simply ‘True gentlemen’, they are genuinely nice people with bags of experience. In most case when we meet it’s usually soon apparent there is a common theme to the conversation with stories about the good, bad and ugly of our experiences and achievements in our trades. These conversations give me privileged access to a wide selection of opinions and therefore a better view of what happened throughout in my career, that’s another story though.
Anyway, the first and foremost important thing to any good tradesman is TIME but in some ways in this quest it’s clear some things have be forgotten, especially when it comes to understanding tools.
With so many cheap poor quality modern toolmakers with jello type steel, it’s just what it is and all part of the throw away society created to make people’s lives easier, or so it seems on the face of it.
The reason i’m writing this today was because I had a batch of modern chisels that came in with some other tools and thought it was worth experimenting how they performed. The chisels seemed reasonably sharp and I decided try it out on a piece of rosewood but was pleasantly surprised to see the chisels perform worst than expected. It wasn’t so much the edge was lost but the whole end looked like it had been used on a concrete slab. The cutting edge was so badly damaged it had to be reground losing approx 2mm of the chisel. I also noticed how easily it ground down and how dull the final edge was compared with a vintage high carbon chisel.
So having assessed the chisels were not suitable for hardwoods I though i’d try a wood more suitable in the form of soft pine. It cut OK to start with but again soon lost its edge and needed attention several times over a relatively short period.
It’s obvious that these chisels were targeted at the DIY market but who in their right mind wants to spend even more time than necessary renewing an edge? Given that this process is regular with these cheap tools the lower purchase cost is soon outweighed by extra time needed to maintain them, after all time is money right!
Those who know me will also be aware of my thoughts on plastic handle hardened tipped saws, yes they may be available instantly sharp and easy to replace and these can be handy when cutting plywood or something else that may prematurely dull the saws I sharpen myself. However people tend forget time is needed to buy another saw when it becomes dull and going to your nearest DIY store isn’t as quick as freshening up a good quality saw that is in good shape.
Maintaining a tool’s sharpness is all part of the woodworking profession or hobby and regardless how difficult it may seem at first, when mastered, it’s what makes one woodworker stand out from another. This requires a good set up of course, especially when trying to do it in limited space, but it is achievable when you are organised to do this operation efficiently.
Try to set things up so each sharpening operation can be placed on a bench with all the stones and leather strop in position, ideally on a board as they can quickly be used and put away again after use, effectively creating a constant consistent set up. The same can be done with saw sharpening equipment, positioned in a well lit area although I do tend to use an anglepoise lamp to help with this, along with some Mr Magoo X6 glasses.
The first and foremost important thing for any good tradesman is TIME but in some ways in this quest it’s clear some things can be forgotten, especially when it comes to maintaining tools and actually experiencing how good tools can be.
It’s easier to disregard some tool maintenance skills as old hat and succumb to using cheap throw away tools as the norm extinguishing the need to learn skills that enlighten the user to a true understanding of what is achievable. It could be said that many have never experienced anything other than throw away tools as their jobs, DIY, or Hobbies do not require anything other than this but it does have its limitations.
Productivity still plays a part with all aspects of work and requires a deeper understanding which is only achievable firstly with knowledge but also requires tools for each aspect of the job. Sometimes tools are specifically used for one job, created for that one purpose or are a duplicate of the same tool set up differently if it’s used regularly. Having control over this requires skills often inhibited by the use of cheap throw away tools as is your understanding of the tool steel required for each variation of material used.
Getting started to extinguish the constant replacement of cheap hand tools requires the refinement and practising of those sharpening skills that every woodworking apprentice had to endure years ago but soon you will realise those poor quality tools have no other purpose other than to tackle jobs that are unkind to those quality tools you own.
There are loads of tool maintenance video’s on YouTube but once you have got your hands on a properly sorted quality vintage tool and can achieve good results with them you will only wish you hadn’t done it sooner.
I blame poor quality tools for for their limitations, their impact on the environment and their wastefulness of natural resources, I also blame manufacturers of these same cheap tools for hiding these facts and for misleading people into thinking they are getting good value when quality tools can last a lifetime with the right skills. I might be blaming these cheap tools but NOT as a bad tradesman but in fact the opposite.