In a Bind about Tools

Here in Ireland, a common insult to someone you might be describing as a little bit inept, or daft, is to refer to them as a ‘Tool”. “Ah, Jaysus, that fella is a complete tool”. It’s a common reverse meaning found in many Irish insults. The person, unlike a tool, is in fact totally useless at whatever it is they might be trying to do.

But, yes, I agree, some tools are useless. Some very expensive tools are very useless. I ranted recently in a blog about a Veritas honing guide, that nearly ruined my plane blades. I noticed the problem just in time. But it got me thinking about what makes a good tool, and I am talking about those plastic and metal implements you have in your workshop to make things with, not that neighbor who keeps borrowing things from you and returning them broken.

I have recently been using a couple of very unconventional tools in the shop. They are two stone sculptures left lying around my house from the days when I was a full time sculptor. They came to mind in a moment of panic when I discovered that the clamping system I had divised for gluing on the tone bars and support struts wasn’t going to work, and the glue was curing fast!. I needed a flat bottomed heavy weight and these did the trick perfectly. IMG_9093One is ‘Carrara’ white marble and the other abstract piece is “blue’ limestone from Paulstown in Kilkenny. They were a good way to test the strength of the sound board and back too. They both weigh about 10kg ( thats 22 lbs for any North Americans watching). So, two new tools for the shop that cost me nothing…well, the stone was bought too many years ago to feel like it cost anything.

The other weird weight I have started using is this old anaesthetic vaporisor. I am an Operating room nurse when I don’t have enough money to do Luthery, and this was an old unit that was being chucked out. It is a great weight because it comes apart into three pieces of roughly equal weight. So I now have implements from all my various careers in the workshop!

I have, in recent weeks, spent a really large amount of money on specialised tools, because sometimes there is no way to accomplish a task properly without them. The two success stories were the ‘Binding/Perfling channel cutter, or Gramil‘ from LMI and also the ‘Rosette channel/ sound hole cutter‘ from the same company. I caved and decided to do bindings after all. I felt it was better to do something before dismissing it completely. I don’t use power tools, so I can’t route a binding channel.IMG_9097 Hence the purchase of the LMI tool and about an hour with a chisel. It all went well. I chose wooden bindings, these are ebony to match the finger board and perfling around the sound hole, which you can see were also came out well, thanks to the good tools. The simple ‘rosette’ around the sound hole was a classic example of thinking you are doing something simple, that turns out to be far harder than approaching the task in a more conventional way. I thought I would avoid the complex marquetry involved in the normal type of rosette, and do a really simple ring of ebony, to keep with my liking for an understated style. What did I learn….don’t make a rosette channel narrower than any chisel you own, or for that matter narrower than any tool in the shop!

I spent a very anxious three hours cutting the waste material from the channel, with a chisel and a craft knife, held at an angle. But it was worth the effort. I like the simple style…..even if it is more work….because you didn’t have the right tools!

Also this week I have started on the Mandolin project. Cutting the sound holes and preparing the sound board and the wood for the neck.

So what have I learnt this week….?

Really cheap tools can be great tools, really expensive tools can be great tools, but equally, really cheap tools can be crap and really expensive tools can be crap too! What is more important is the experience of knowing what might be good, what might just do and what really will not work. Oh yeah, and I learnt that every time I pick up a tool and start working wood to become part of a musical instrument, I get more and more addicted to it. Below is a pictorial story of what else we accomplished during the week.



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