Double Square, double fun

IMG_0595At Handworks two weeks ago, Sterling Tool Works announced their latest tool. The Double Square is a small machinists square perfectly sized to keep in your workshop apron pocket, and comes with a 4″ ruler marked in both imperial and real (metric) numbers, as well as a fine dovetail ruler for reaching into confined spaces. Sadly I wasn’t at Handworks, but I have been fortunate to score the first Double Square to reach English shores.

After nearly a week of using the Double Square, I am pleased to report that it is an excellent addition to my tool chest. The body of the square feels solid and has a pleasing heft that inspires confidence in the hand, while not being overly heavy for fine work. The locking nut secures the ruler with authority, and I’ve not had any worries about the ruler slipping while in use.


Having a compact precision square and ruler always to hand makes it ever so easy to take measurements and check that components are square. But it is the dovetail blade that is undoubtedly the star of the show, as the relieved end allows you to each into spaces that other squares won’t reach, particularly between dovetails or into narrow mortices. The dovetail ruler is also available separately, and is reported to fit a number of squares by other manufacturers (see the Sterling Tool Works website for more details) so is a worthwhile purchase if you do a lot of dovetailing and already have a Starrett or other brand square.

Checking dovetails (although invaluable) is only one of many operations I can see myself using the Double Square for. When fitting bridges to acoustic guitars, I check the curvature of the underside of the bridge by holding a ruler across the curved surface and looking at what light escapes underneath the ruler. The dovetail blade provides a neater and less distracting straight edge to check this essential fit, and I am looking forward to using the Double Square when fitting the bridge to the parlour guitar soon.


The Double Square is now living in my apron pocket, where I expect it to stay for a good many years. The finish and attention to detail is what I have come to expect of Sterling Tool Works, and considering that this is only the third tool Sterling have released, I am excited to see what they come up with next.

Mystery-caster; a new project begins


A week and a half ago I took delivery of the timber for a new commission. The client wanted a Telecaster with very similar specification to Laurie, and I readily said yes.

The full specification has not yet been finalised, but what we currently have is a blackguard era Tele, with:

  • Two piece swamp ash body;
  • Quarter sawn maple neck (plain, with no figure);
  • Plain maple fretboard;
  • Dyed black sycamour veneer between neck and fretboard (as I did on Laurie);
  • Black tahiti pearl fretboard makers;
  • The same Gotoh bridge and Spertzal tuners I used for Laurie; and
  • Period appropriate translucent butterscotch blonde (again as with Laurie).

I’ve also managed to source a wonderful vintage-spec bakelite scratch plate just like the 50’s Telecasters used.

David Dyke (my usual timber supplier) really knocked it out of the park with this one. I had explained that this build is for a special client, and what they delivered is one of the nicest neck blanks I’ve ever seen – straight-grained maple with no discernable figure and a beautiful even colour. The swamp ash and fretboard are similarly high quality, and the trick with this build is going to be removing myself from the equation and letting the beautiful timber speak for itself.


The swamp ash came as a single 40″ long piece, so this morning I broke it down into two shorter lengths so that it can stabilise for a month or so before I start work on the build in earnest. I marked out the kerf on the face and edge of the timber using my marking knife, and then with a wide chisel cut a shallow v shaped trench into the knife kerf. This guides the saw and keeps the first few strokes nice and straight. I really should buy a cross cut hand saw for this work, but my 16″ Bad Axe tenon saw (filed hybrid) does a very good job on this work. This saw really is unstoppable, and is a real workhorse in my shop.


Work will continue on the parlour guitar while I left the swamp ash stabilise, and thereafter I’ll be working on the parlour guitar and mystery-caster concurrently. So stay tuned for in-progress posts on both guitars.

Innuendo from the like of which there is no escape

I am a big fan of my Veritas skew rabbet plane, I really am. For cutting consistent rabbets it is unsurpassed, and not once did it let me down when I was building my Anarchist’s Tool Chest last summer. It does have one flaw however; the locking collets which fix the fence in place rarely stay put under finger pressure alone, and using a wrench (which is essential if you don’t want the fence to shift mid rabbet) slowly chews up the brass collets. No one wants chewed nuts (stop sniggering at the back) do they? It is a minor grumble, but with a premium tool I feel I am allowed to grumble.

The nut saver, together with the dovetail marker Bern gifted me with last July

All is not lost however, thanks to good friend, fellow Anarchist’s Tool Chest survivor, and awesome woodworker Bern Billsberry. As well as making larger pieces, Bern does a fine line in making dovetail markers (one of which he kindly gifted me last summer) and other shop appliances. A couple of weeks ago he featured a new tool on Instagram which quickly earned the hashtag “nut saver” (seriously, stop your sniggering!). This tool is specifically designed to tighten the collets on the Veritas plane sufficiently to avoid the fence slipping, but all the time avoiding chewing up the nuts.

Bern was kind enough to send me a prototype nut saver, and I have been giving it a workout over the past couple of weeks. Essentially the nut saver is a loop of leather sandwiched within a hardwood handle, with the loop sized to tightly grip the collets on the plane. Look behind this simple appearance however and you will find there are some clever things going on.  The version I received was made of bubinga to match the totes on the plane, and the handle has a lovely smooth feel, with no sharp arises.


Bern has shown a real attention to detail with the two curves carved into the end of the handle which holds the leather loop. The radius on each of these curves matches that of the collets, and as you turn the handle of the nut saver, a curved edge engages with the collet (through the leather) and increases the torque available. Having curves on each half of the handle means that the handle operates equally well in both directions for tightening and loosening the nuts.

Over the past couple of weeks it has become second nature to reach for the nut saver when adjusting the fence on my rabbet plane, and the leather is much kinder to the collets than a wrench, while still offering plenty of torque. It is a shame that the depth stop nut is a different size to the fence collets, as the current nut saver does not fit the depth stop nut (which still needs to be tightened with a wrench). But this is a small complaint and not a failing of the nut saver.

Bern recently did a “how to” tutorial on Instagram showing how he built the nut saver, but he is also taking orders for these. Given how effective this tool is, if you use a Veritas skew rabbet plane I would highly recommend dropping Bern a line (using his Instagram handle Berncarpenter) and buying a nut saver from him.

Community is… now in print!


My latest article is now in print and can be found at pages 42 and 43 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking (issue 232), available at all good newsagents (and in e-reader formats if that is your thing). Discussing the benefits of community in the woodwork crafts, I was very fortunate to receive contributions from some of my favourite woodworkers, including Jamie Ward, Anne Briggs Bohnett, Phil Edwards of Philly Planes, luthier Sue Johnson, Chris Kuehn of Sterling Tool Works, Chris Schwarz, Alex Primmer of Classic Handtools, Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works, and Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage Woodworks.

A big thank you to all of the contributors, you made this article what it is.

Be sure to check out the hash tag communityis on Instagram for further discussion of community within the craft!

Nipping at your heels, part 2

IMG_0501It seems like a long time since I started carving the heel for the parlour guitar (last August in fact!). In many ways carving the heel is a great demonstration of the benefits of dividing a task into coarse, medium, and fine stages, as taking a three stage approach promotes a very efficient way of working. Although many woodworkers naturally gravitate towards fine work (with those lovely wafer thin plane shavings) there is a real place for coarse work where quick removal of stock is desirable, before becoming progressively finer as less material is removed.

In my first post I wrote about the process for roughing out the heel shape, using a coping saw and chisels to hog out much of the waste. Now, with the rough shape established, I started to fair the curves and remove corners left by the chisels using a series of rasps. At this point in the process I was still using a relatively coarse rasp (9 grain 10″ cabinet maker’s rasp by Auriou) to remove the majority of the chisel marks. One of the key challenges when carving the heel is to avoid touching the centre line once the sweep of the heel is established, as this will encourage the centre line to wander and re-establishing it accurately will be the devil’s own job. Treating the centre line as sacrosanct and avoiding hitting it with any tools makes for a much less frustrating experience.

DSC_0085At this stage, maintaining the symmetry of the heel is critical, and there are a number of techniques to make this easier. Using raking light across the workpiece will throw the profile of the heel into sharp relief, and highlight any areas where more work needs to be done to keep things symmetrical. I keep a bright IKEA gooseneck lamp near my bench for this task, as it is easier to move the lamp then to unclamp and re-orientate the neck as I work different areas. Secondly, a piece of the backing off some double-sided sticky tape, held against the neck will highlight if the curves transition at different rates on each side of the centre line. Finally, much of the work on the heel is done looking down on it from behind the heel block (as with the photo at the top of this post), and it pays to occasionally stand at the headstock and sight down the neck towards the heel.

DSC_0659With the shape coming close to the final design, I switched to a 7″ 13 grain modeller’s rasp to remove the marks of the larger 9 grain rasp, as well as a 6″ 13 grain rat tail rasp to make very fine, localised, adjustments. The heel shape is now finalised, and as the 13 grain rasps leave a very fine surface all that will be required is some gentle finish sanding prior to spraying the lacquer.

DSC_0662Once the heel was carved I relieved the interior of the heel block. This was a simple task of marking out the waste area of the block, and making a number of relief cuts into the waste before chiselling it out. The corners were rounded over and softened, again using the 9 grain and 13 grain rasps. In the past I have spent more time carving a gentle curved relief into the heel block, which is more aesthetically pleasing but less practical if you then decide to fit a battery holder to the block for any internal pickup or microphone system. As no one will see the heel block (apart from the readers of this blog, obviously!) I decided to go for a more utilitarian heel block shape and save myself the heartache of trying to attach a battery holder to a curved surface.