The Final Piece of the Puzzle

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Holdfasts have been central to the way I have worked over the past four years, and they are a critical workholding strategy for the Roubo bench. A hefty bench, such as my oak Roubo build, deserves a big hefty holdfast. The distintive holdfasts detailed in With All the Precision Possible are much larger than many modern designs, and I wanted something which would fit the overbuilt vibe of the bench. Specifically, I wanted a Crucible Tool holdfast, or one of Peter Ross’ amazing full scale “Roubo” holdfasts.

Unfortunately Crucible do not ship internationally, but a tip-off over Instagram led me to Hyvlar – a Swedish tool seller who stock Crucible tools and are happy to ship across Europe. My Crucible holdfast arrived today, and while I do not yet have any 1″ diameter holes to test it in, it appears to be an impressive tool. The design is very similar to the engravings in Roubo’s manuscript, and the large size and rough cast texture will complement the oak bench nicely. Of course, none of that matters unless the holdfast can steady workpieces, but everything I have heard from folk who use these holdfasts is that they hold like the dickens. I’m looking forward to putting this holdfast through its paces, and will report back once the Roubo bench is in use.

I’ll be keeping my current 3/4″ holdfast, and may well bore a 3/4″ diameter hole in each of my saw benches to assist with holding stock in place.

A quick lathe stand (and a cautionary tale)

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The lathe fits nicely on the Jet stand, but there’s no way to attach the stand extension if you hjave the extended lathe bed!

Last October I ordered a new Jet 1221vs lathe and bed extension. The Shopsmith had been a great first lathe, but I was after something more compact, and also at a much more comfortable height. After much indecision I decided to order the stand and stand extension Jet make specifically for the lathe – while it was extra financial outlay, I’m time pressured in the ‘shop at the moment, and building jigs or shop fixtures is something I generally don’t enjoy that much. So I decided to take the quick option and get a stand which I assumed would be good to go after following the assembly instructions.

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That turned out to be a bigger assumption that I realised, because Jet have at somepoint in the past couple of years changed the design of their lathe stands, and neglected to inform Axminster (with whom I placed the order), or in fact any of their other UK stockists. After a frustrating evening of picking through the various parts, and reviewing conflicting sets of instructions, it turns out that Axminster stock the “new” style Jet stand, but the “old” design of the stand extension (and the stand extension is an essential purchase if you have the bed extenstion for the lathe). Rather unhelpfully, these two design iterations will not fit together without drilling and tapping new holes, which is not what I want after spending a decent amount of cash on a readymade solution. To be fair, Axminster were fantastic and kindly arranged for a courier to collect the stand and provided a full refund within days of my initial query. But that left me with a lathe and nowhere to put it. I called round every other UK Jet stockist, and they all reported the same stock issue, so this may be a consideration if you’re thinking of ordering a Jet lathe.

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Dry fitting the internal dividers before assembling the stand

After several months of resting the lathe on my saw benches, I’ve got to the point where I need to reclaim some floor space for working on the larger elements of the Roubo bench. I played around with several ideas for suitable lathe stands, and while Rich was visiting for the Midlands Woodworking Show, we got talking about solutions. The key criteria for the lathe stand were that it had to offer mass and rigidity (no one wants a lathe dancing across the floor), to provide storage for my Dewalt thicknesser and other workshop kit (you can never have too much storage), and be quick to make.

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This build is held together with a bucketload of PU glue and 10mm dominos

We quickly came up with a 34″ high, 60″ long and15″ deep cabinet which could be made by laminating two layers of 3/4″ ply to achieve suitable rigidity, and the following weekend I found myself ordering more sheet material than I’ve ever bought in one sitting. There is nothing elegant about this build, but it has been a quick and effective way of solving an immediate storage problem. The ply was laminated using a bucketload of PU glue (horrible stuff, but perfect for this application), and the casework was then assembled using 10mm wide dominos. While I prefer handtools, the Festool Domino is a wonderful machine – intuitive to set up, dirt simple to use, and super effective.

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Cutting the domino slots for the dividers

To reinforce the casework and prevent the top sagging, I fixed horizontal backboards of 3/4″ ply to the rear edge of the top and bottom, again using dominos. A base of 1×2″ pine was rescued from my scrap pile, and fitted using more PU and a pneumatic nail gun (another great problem solver for workshop fixtures and DIY).

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Fitting the base – more PU and a nail gun

The build only took a few evenings, and the most painful stage was actually decanting half of the workshop so that I could move the rubber flooring out of the way of the cabinet. The lathe fits comfortably on the stand, and so far there is no sign of any sag or movement under the weight of the machine. Storing the Dewalt in the cabinet adds further mass, and the two narrower compartments will be fitted with shelves and drawers on an as-needed basis. The only remaining work will be to clean up and paint the cabinet, and to drill mounting holes so that the lathe can be bolted to the top. I’ve not yet decided whether to fit a pine face frame – it would smarten the unit up plenty, but also add a reasonable further time investment to what is at the end of the day a workshop fixture. If you have strong opinions on face frames, then cast your votes in the comments!

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A Gift for the Apprentice

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The Apprentice’s very first tool

As I’ve written about before, I don’t always find it easy to navigate the tension between the (deeply rooted) need to stand at my bench and make things, and with the desire to be the best father I can be. Family time is the most important thing in the world, and even though I make sure that I prioritise being with the Apprentice and Dr Moss, there are definite moments when I feel guilty for being at my workbench. I’m also realistic enough to know that not pursuing woodwork (which feels more of a vocation than a pass time) is not a viable choice, and so I carve out pockets of time to be in the ‘shop and am grateful for a supportive and encouraging spouse.

While I was at the Midlands Woodworking Show I also decided to use woodwork trips as an opportunity to do something tangible for the Apprentice. She has been showing an increasing interest in the workshop, and really enjoyed helping me on the boot bench last autumn, and so I’ve resolved that everytime woodwork takes me away from home I will pick up a tool for the Apprentice to use in the ‘shop with me. The criteria are that the tools need to be high quality, and ones which will last for a lifetime, or at least as long as she’s interested in using them. I’d been giving thought to the most appropriate starter tools, and Mortise & Tenon Issue 5 had a very helpful article on exactly this subject. So, for her first tool I picked up this delightful spokeshave by Lee Valley – it is perfectly sized for a soon-to-be-four year old, very safe, and I knew that she’d like the look of the decorative casting. After honing the iron, and sanding some flashing from the inside edges of the handles, it was ready to go.

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Making shavings with the Apprentice

Last weekend the Apprentice ventured into the ‘shop to use her spokeshave for the first time, and we spent some very happy minutes rounding the edges of a piece of scrap pine. I’ll never pressure her to come into the workshop, or to do woodwork, but the door will always be open to her, as will a small collection of her own tools. This moment probably meant 10,000% more to me than it did to her, but I confess that I was a very proud dad. So I’ll take that as a win.

The Only Bench Plane You Need?

The following is based on an article originally published in Furniture & Cabinetmaking Issue 280.

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The Lie-Nielsen No62

When it was first unveiled in 1905, Stanley’s No62 bench plane must have caused quite a commotion. Looking like nothing else in production, the No62 married the bevel-up blade orientation of a block or mitre plane to a bench plane sized body, measuring 14” long by 2” wide. While Stanley ceased manufacturing the No.62 in 1942, bevel-up bench planes have enjoyed something of a modern revival, thanks in large part to Karl Holtey’s revolutionary No98 smoothing plane, which prompted a reconsideration of bevel-up designs as being highly practical instead of an evolutionary dead end. So popular has the bevel-up concept become that premium plane manufacturers Veritas and Lie-Nielsen now manufacture a whole range of bevel-up smoothing, jack, and jointer planes. Returning to the plane that started it all, there are woodworkers who claim that the No62 is so versatile that it can replace the full set of traditional bevel-down planes. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to test this claim by putting away my usual set of planes and spend several months using just a No62.

An Introduction to Blade Geometry

Before we delve into the test, it is worth explaining blade geometry, and the claimed benefits of a bevel-up bench plane. Traditional bench planes orientate the iron so that the bevel is facing downwards towards the bed of the plane, and the back surface of the iron is facing to the front of the plane. In this arrangement the cutting angle of the iron is determined by the angle of the frog of the plane, rather than the angle of the bevel honed on the iron. In contrast, a bevel-up orientation places the back of the iron against the bed of the plane, and the cutting angle is derived from adding the bed angle to the angle of the bevel.

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Jointing oak

Blade orientation itself does not affect the performance of the plane – the wood does not care whether your plane is bevel-up or down, all it sees is the cutting angle. But different cutting angles will have different effects on the planed surface, and this is where the benefits of a bevel-up plane become apparent. A low cutting angle of 37 degrees is effective for cutting end grain, while a high cutting angle of 62 degrees will help to smooth difficult interlocked or figured grain. Because the cutting angle of bevel-down planes is determined by the frog angle, changing the cutting angle requires fitting a new frog, or honing a back-bevel to the plane’s iron. In contrast, the cutting angle of a bevel-up plane can be adjusted by honing a different bevel angle to the iron, or keeping a set of irons with different bevels for different tasks. Woodworkers enamoured with bevel-up planes suggest that having a single plane and collection of irons to achieve different cutting angles saves both space and cost when compared to a set of traditional bench planes, and by swapping out the irons, can achieve the same level of utility as a set of three bevel-down planes.

The Challenge

My usual stable of planes consists of a No.3 smoother, No5 jack, and No8 jointer – see “Curing Plane Addiction” for a detailed explanation of how to select a set of bench planes, and the purposes each one fulfils. Replacing those planes was a Lie-Nielsen No62 kindly loaned to me by Classic Hand Tools. The Lie-Nielsen plane is of comparable dimensions to the Stanley plane on which it is based, and the same size as a No5 bench plane – 14” long with a 2” wide iron. The mouth aperture is easily adjustable by twisting the front knob to allow the front plate to be slide forward or back for a tighter or more open mouth. The bed angle is 12 degrees, which means that honing a 35 degree bevel (as I do for most of my planes and chisels) achieves a 47 degree cutting angle very close to the “common pitch” cutting angle of most bevel down planes 45 degree. This low bed angle also explains why bevel-up planes are also commonly referred to as “low-angle planes”. Honing a primary bevel of 25 degrees results in a cutting angle of 37 degrees, which gives excellent results on end grain, and a 50 degree bevel results in a 62 degree angle for smoothing tasks. A 90 degree bevel effectively converts the plane into a large scraper.

So much for the theory, but what I wanted to know was would the No62 be able to discharge all of the tasks I used my familiar set of planes for?

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The No62 works well as a jack plane, although you need to hone a significant camber into the iron to get it performing sweetly in this role

In Use

Broadly speaking, bench plane work falls into three categories – coarse, medium, and fine work such as flattening rough stock, jointing edges for gluing, and smoothing surfaces for finishing (see “Coarse Medium & Fine” ). In order to give the plane a thorough test I needed to press it into service on all three categories of work. Fortunately, I was about to start building a child sized stick chair in hard maple, as well as preparing larger sized stock for the Back to the Bootbench project, and a bookcase in maple. Between these projects, and working on an oak chair I was finishing off, the No62 would get plenty of use across a number of different operations.

First up were the coarse operations – flattening hard maple for the seat blank, and the larger pine and maple boards. Opening the mouth wide and setting the iron (honed with a 35 degree bevel) to a rank cut, I found that the No62 works as a respectable jack plane to hog off material and flatten rough stock. As with a bevel-down jack plane, a cambered blade makes processing rough stock a more efficient experience. The toothed blade definitely helps tame difficult grain at a “common pitch” cutting angle, and would be invaluable if rosewoods or heavily figured maple were part of your daily workflow. As it was, flattening stock was a straight forward process for both maple and pine, and I didn’t miss my usual Clifton No5 jack plane in the slightest.

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Italso functions well as a shooting board plane

Next came the “medium” work. Jointing the maple seat blank was also straight forward, closing the mouth and using the same “common pitch” cutting angle iron made short work of getting a square and straight joint on 2” wide, 17” long boards. At 14” long, I found the No62 a bit too short to use as a dedicated jointer plane on larger stock – the bookcase required 42” long edge joints to blue up panels, and while it is certainly possible to do this with a shorter plane, I did long for my 24” long No8 jointer for this work. One advantage of the No62 over my usual planes was the centre of gravity. The lower angle of the iron together with the lack of frog, means that the centre of gravity of the No62 is lower than for a bevel-down plane. While not critical for many operations, this lower centre of gravity was a real boon when planing 45 degree chamfers around the perimeter of the chair seat – a task I find can be awkward with a bevel-down jack plane.

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The low centre of gravity is an excellent attribute when planing chamfers

Finally was the “fine” work, and it was when shaping the chair seat and legs that the No62 really came into its own. The seat is trapezoidal in shape, with nearly 12” of end grain on each side to plane. I smoothed the top of the seat with an iron honed to 50 degrees, and quickly achieved that familiar glassy surface that can only be the product of a really sharp smoother on hard maple. Switching to a 25 degree bevel angle rapidly cleaned up the large expanse of end grain and left a very clean surface behind. The lower centre of gravity was also really beneficial when shaping the legs into tapered octagons, as it was easier to balance the plane on the narrow faces of the workpiece and plane at a consistent angle. Smoothing the larger pine and maple panels was an equally satisfying experience, and the No62 worked really well as a large smoother.

The Only Bench Plane You Need?

So, is the No62 truly the only plane you need? To be honest, given the variety of approaches to woodwork, this is an almost impossible question to answer. But here is what I found during my two months spent using only the No62. It performs well as a jack plane, and excels at planing end grain and working as a large smoother. The ability to swap out blades to make an immediate change to cutting angle is very effective, and certainly represents a cost-effective way of adding smoothing and jack planes to your tool chest. The No62 does handle a little differently to bevel-down planes, particularly the tote angle and the location of the adjuster (which I found less intuitive). If unsure which you prefer, I would recommend testing a No.62 before purchasing. Once I had got used to the feel of the plane compared to my regular jack plane, I enjoyed working with it and found it very easy to use.

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Levelling a chair leg with the plane held in the vice. This is a trick I picked up from chair makers Peter Galbert and Bern Chandley

At 14” long the No62 is larger than I would really want for a smoother to follow my hand planed surfaces, and a bit too short to serve as a dedicated jointer for furniture casework. Ideally a smoother should be small enough to reach any subtle hollows in a hand planed surface, and a long smoothing plane will remove the top of any undulations, requiring more passes before it can reach the low spots. This is less of an issue for stock that has been machined straight and flat, but makes the No.62 a little less efficient as a smoothing plane for a woodworker who wants to do all of their own planing. The toothed blade was very helpful for dealing with truculent interlocked grain, and would be invaluable if working difficult exotics was a daily part of your workflow (I have a toothed blade for my No5 for exactly this purpose).

In short, if I had a machine shop to flatten, thickness and joint rough stock, then I could easily see the No62 being my most used plane. Similarly, if most of my work was building chairs or musical instruments, then the No62’s ability to handle both end and difficult grain would make it a key tool. I would not want to be without a full-sized jointer plane for jointing long pieces, but again, if you had access to a jointer machine this would be less of a drawback.

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The low centre of gravity is also helpful when planing tapered chair legs

As it is, the No.62 has definitely earned a place in my tool chest (particularly for chair making where it really excelled) but wouldn’t tempt me to sell my existing smoothing, jack or jointer planes. For the machine-based woodworker who is looking to add a quality hand plane to their set up, a No62 would be just the ticket.

First article of 2019

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Over the autumn I put my regular bench planes away, and put a Lie-Nielsen No.62 through its paces to test whether a low angle jack really is the only plane you need. Issue 280 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking is now in print, and contains a four page article about that test, and my conclusions. So if you were wondering about the utility of low angle planes, it might just be worth a read.

Sharp Fixes Everything

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Writing about sharpening has always felt pretty redundant to me, simply because everything that needs to be written about how to sharpen has already been written – read “The Perfect Edge” by Ron Hock, the “Sharpen This” series by Chris Schwarz, and then get back to making your nicely sharpened edge tools blunt again (that’s the fun part!). So, over the five years of the blog I’ve always resisted writing about sharpening.

But this year a number of factors caused me to re-examine my sharpening routine and to change my system. So after getting acquainted with my new approach to sharpening, I thought a brief blog post was in order. I want to be clear though, there are many sharpening systems out  in the world, and all work providing you spend enough time to understand them. I”m not saying my current system is “best” (whatever that means), just that right now, it satisfies my needs. At Totness we used a Tormek followed by a fine water stone, finishing with a leather strop. After Totness I used oil stones for quite a while, because that’s what my Grandfather used. And for the past six years I’ve used Scary Sharp film on a sheet of 10mm thick float glass, lubricated with Liberon honing oil. All of those systems achieved a razor sharp edge, and I put in enough hours on each system to understand how to get my edge tools sharp. Each sharpening medium has different foibles, and there is always a period of familiarisation, which is why flitting between different systems is a recipe for blunt tools and frustration.

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Shapton Pro water stones – 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 grits (top to bottom)

Scary Sharp worked really well, and the cost of admission is very low (£20 for an A4 sized piece of float glass, and a couple of pounds for the film itself). For those on a tight budget, or who are just starting out, it is an excellent system. So why did I make the switch? Parly because the Apprentice is starting to come into the ‘shop with me, and shows an interest in doing some basic tasks. It’s going to be a good few years before she’s sharpening edge tools, but with her being in the workshop I wanted to reduce the number of unpleasant chemicals splashing around. So honing oil was out.

The other factor that started to grate on my with Scary Sharp was the need to replenish the film every so often. Peeling off the old film, scrubbing away the residue and dried swarf with a meths soaked rag, and then applying the new film, all of this takes time. No one sharpens as often as they should, and anything which presents even a minor barrier to sharpening is less than ideal. Added to this is the fact that the film sharpens very nicely when new, but then cuts slower and slower as the abrasive is worn away. Which is not to knock Scary Sharp as a medium – if you have the patience and discipline to change films often, and if this doesn’t interrupt your workflow, then it is an excellent system.

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Setting the correct amount of projection to hone a 35 degree bevel, thanks to the angle block by Derek Jones

So a sharpening medium that can be lubricated without oil, and has a sustainable and fast cutting action? My solution was a set of Shapton Pro water stones (available in the UK from Knives and Tools). This isn’t a cheap option by any means, even using a minimal set of 1,000 grit (Orange), 5,000 grit (Pink) and 8,000 (Green). Adding a flattening solution to keep the stones true (I went with a DMT Dia-Flat plate) also adds to the cost. But after 6 weeks or so of using this system in the shop, I’m very pleased. Using a gentle spritz of tap water from a plant spray meets my criteria of having a non-harmful lubricant. And the Shapton stones cut very quickly, helping to achieve a keen edge in very little time. The faster it is to sharpen, the more often I sharpen. Flattening the stones with the Dia Flat is also a very quick process – the stones don’t dish particularly quickly, which means that minimal flattening is needed after each use. So right now this system works for me, and I am staying sharp.

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Honing the bevel

The rest of my sharpening kit is very simple. Honing guides are a whole other topic (and one I want to write about even less than I want to write about shaprning). After using a couple of different guides over the past six years, I’ve spent the past 3 being monogamouse to the Lie Nielsen honing guide, which holds blades firmly and allows a consistent bevel to be honed with ease. Again, it’s not better than the others, but it works for me. Derek Jones makes a very nice angle block for use with the Lie Nielsen guide, and that has been my go to for over 18 months now. I also keep a small engineer’s square in my sharpeng kit to check for square cross the width of the blade. The only thing I need to get now is a tray to hold the stones on in use.

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My simple, but effective, sharpening kit

Adding a little family heritage to the tool chest

Over the past couple of years visiting my parent’s house has become an opportunity to learn more family history, and connect with the lives of long-gone relatives I never got the opportunity to meet. While the Apprentice rampages around their beautiful garden with her Nana (my Mother) in tow, my Father will often weave more threads to the family tapestry. Some of these threads relate to relatives who had skilled trades, and occasionally the insights into our family history will be accompanied by surviving tools. There are several wooden planes now sitting on my bookcase which previously belonged to my great-great Uncle Bill, who was a pattern maker by trade.

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The Starrett catalogue entry for the No.900 Set for Students and Apprentices (screen grabbed from Instagram)

We last visited in August, and while the BBQ was cooling we got to talking some more about family history. During the Second World War my paternal grandmother worked at Lucas – a major electrical and engineering firm in Birmingham whose name is still present on some impressive buildings in the city centre. Dad disappeared into his workshop to find the micrometer his mother had made at the start of her time at Lucas, and while he couldn’t find that, he did unearth a wonderful boxed measuring tool set by Starrett.

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Great-great Uncle Bill’s set

This set belonged to another great-great-Uncle Bill (not the paternmaker) who worked as a scales engineer repairing and recalibrating shop and industrial scales. Specialist industries in the Midlands have long been focused on specific towns, including chain making in Cradley Heath (including chains for the Titanic), lock making in Willenhall, nail manufacture in Dudley, and leatherware for horses in Walsall. The manufacture of springs, and measuring scales, focused in West Bromwich. Dad believes that great-great-Uncle Bill Phillips worked for Avery, rather than Salters (the other great West Bromwhich scale manufacturer).

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I’ve not seen a Starrett set like this before, but thanks to the help of the good folk of Instagram in piecing the puzzle together, it appears to be an example of the No.900 set for students and apprentices. The fabric case marks it out as having been manufactured in the 1930s and 40s, following which Starrett switched to a wooden box. The lack of patent date on the dividers suggests that this is an early (1930s) example.

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The 6″ combination square moves sweetly and is still dead-nuts square

The tools themselves show some patina (as you’d expect from being part of a workingman’s tool kit) but the mechanisms move sweetly and the numbering is clearly legible. There are a couple of tools missing  (No.390 centre gauge, No.83 4″ divider, and the No.241 4″ caliper), and I am going to try and track down period authentic examples of each of those to complete the set.

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The set fills out a couple of gaps in my own toolkit, and thanks to the generosity of my Father in entrusting me with an item of family history, I’ve added the set to my Anarchist’s Tool Chest where I expect it will serve me well for many years (and likely outlast me – Starrett tools are both precise and built to last). So the Starrett set joins my Grandfather’s hammer and a number of other tools in my toolchest which have been passed down through the generations, adding a sense of family history and hand tool heritage. And the toolchest will preserve them until the time comes to pass them on again.

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