Harry Sawyers - This Old House magazine — Your DIY interests extend beyond assembling Ikea products, but you don’t feel the need to use a pneumatic nailer to hang a picture? This Old House has a bead on the non-power tools you should keep handy.
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Instead of a Router, Use a Molding Plane
It’s not just nostalgia that makes traditional hand tools appealing. The only fuel they need is muscle power, and they produce less dust and no noise. Good hand tools don’t let you take shortcuts; they force you to work more safely and thoughtfully. And the attention they demand just might make you work more skillfully.
Razor-crisp decorative cuts like this corner cove could only be the work of a molding plane. This one’s body accepts interchangeable soles and blades, including V-groove, beaded rib, and rabbet profiles. If there’s another profile you want, stay tuned: New soles will be coming every six to eight weeks for the next three years.
Plane body, approx.$249; seven profiles, approx.$139 each; fence system, approx. $129; available from Bridge City Tools
Instead of a Sprayer, Use Brushes
By the time you set up a power sprayer, mask against overspray, and get the nozzle adjusted just so, you could have brushed on a coat of varnish or shellac. These handmade, supersoft ox-hair brushes are perfect for any finish where you want a brushstroke-free, glossy-smooth surface. Quality brushes like these are built to last.
Approximately $20 for 1-inch, $35 for 2-inch, $55 for 3-inch; $100 for a set of three. Brushes (and shellac flakes) available at Tools for Working Wood
Instead of a Chain Saw, Use an Arborist’s Saw
When there’s a 3-foot-diameter tree across your driveway, go ahead and fire up that chain saw. Just remember, there’s a reason it plays a part in so many horror movies. The rest of the time, this 221/2-inch arborist’s saw slices through branches and brush quickly, quietly, and with much less risk to life or (human) limb. Its teeth cut on the pull stroke, with deep gullets to clear chips fast.
Tip: When pruning live trees, wipe down saw blades with alcohol between cuts to disinfect the steel and prevent the spread of disease within the plant.
6 tpi; approximately $54; available from Garrettwade
Instead of a Miter Saw, Use a Miter Box
Don’t let a power miter saw’s profligate consumption of space, money, and electricity stand between you and your dreams of crown molding. This all-steel German miter box guides a captive, 14-tpi blade through a 90-degree arc to make smooth, narrow cuts in molding up to 4 inches high and 5 inches deep. Cheap miter boxes have slots to guide a handsaw blade, but this box locks at any angle within its range-meaning you actually have a chance of cutting a tight joint.
Approximately $120; from Garrettwade
Instead of a Power Sander, Use Scrapers and a Sanding Block
Palm sanders can’t be pushed into a corner or wedged against a molding profile. Not so with a cabinet scraper, a flat piece of sharp-edged steel that leaves a surface mirror-smooth. This one has a ball-joint handle that lets you fine-tune the scraping angle.
We also like the handy Sand Devil, a shapely block that reaches into molding contours with sanding belts instead of sandpaper sheets. Not only are belts quick to install, you make efficient use of every bit of abrasive by moving it around the block as it gets clogged.
Approximately $20; from Sand Devil
Instead of a Drill/Driver, Use Gimlets and a Yankee
With a set of gimlets, you don’t run the risk of a bit skittering away or accidentally drilling too deep, as often happens when using a power drill. Just give these slim tools a few easily controlled cranks and they’ll quickly bore pilot holes between 5/64 and 3/16 inch in diameter. Approximately $14 for a set of 7; Garrettwade
To drive screws into those holes, pick up a Yankee driver. Its shaft spins as you push the handle, for a driving motion that’s as gentle as it is quick.
Approximately $64; from Tools for Working Wood
Instead of a Circular Saw, Use a Handsaw
A circular saw can’t be beat for ripping a sheet of plywood, but for those short crosscuts in which the only clamp in place is your knee, a good handsaw is safer, easier, and (when used properly) more accurate. Ditto for working on a ladder or a roof. Besides, this Wenzloff and Sons reproduction of a 1797 British handsaw is a pleasure to use, cutting as smoothly and gracefully as any we’ve seen.
Approximately $265; from The Best Things
Instead of a Jigsaw, Use a Bow Saw
Compared with a squat, heavy jigsaw, a bow saw is an elegant piece of sculpture that turns on a tighter radius and won’t scorch wood sides. This one, based on a 17th-century design, has a slender 12-inch blade resting on brass pins in a tough hickory frame. You tension the blade by turning the toggle, which twists the braided line at the top taut.
Approximately $140; from Tools for Workingwood