It’s the Little Things

There are some days when I head to the shop, look at my big projects in the works, and all I want to do is piddle around with the little stuff. The shop is a great place to go unwind, put things in order, and feel like I’ve accomplished something – even if it’s really small.

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know by now how much I love card scrapers. They produce an amazing finish without filling the air with dust. I’ve had a couple of them for years now, and when I get to working, I don’t always want to stop and sharpen them when they get dull (yes, I know how trivial it sounds) – I just want to pick up a sharp one and keep going.

The scraper is probably the simplest tool in the shop. Hammers are complex, intricate construction by comparison. A card scraper is just a flat piece of metal. The trick is in the sharpening, which turns a burr along the edge, and can be used for everything from removing finish to final stock prep. Old scrapers were often made out of old sawblades, just cut into rectangles. Consequently, there was a huge range of hardness to the metal. Some soft, some really hard.

A scraper’s burr is turned with a steel rod – high speed steel or carbide. And that’s where my trouble started.

A while back, I picked up a pack of Lie-Nielsen card scrapers on sale. Just plain, flat metal scrapers. When my hiatus after my injury was past, I stopped to sharpen them, and the results I got were lousy. It can be a little tricky, and I think some people make the process overly complicated, but it ain’t rocket surgery. I reviewed everything I had to read on the subject – which is quite a lot – analyzing my technique, how to file and hone the edge, how to draw the metal, how to turn the burr. Still lousy results.

For once, the fault wasn’t actually mine. My burnisher is a Crown Tools high-speed steel burnisher, in a pretty rosewood-ish handle. I have nothing against many Crown tools; my Crown chisels are perfectly good. But I’ve had a lemon or two. My Crown try square wasn’t well made, and finally became extremely inaccurate – enough to ruin a joint or two. And I finally decided that the Crown burnisher just wasn’t hard enough for the Lie-Nielsen scrapers. (Research showed me that Chris Schwarz didn’t like it either, but I don’t know his reasons.)

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The answer was to find something hard enough to handle the steel of the new scrapers. I looked at carbide burnishers, but the ones I saw were $75 and up. I wasn’t willing to shell out that much for a metal rod in a wooden handle, and I wanted to make certain I was right about the problem. Besides, I love making my own tools. The feeling of using tools I’ve made to build things I love making is amazing.

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So on searching, I found a solid carbide rod on Amazon.com for a whopping $6.95, and dug out a piece of mesquite from the scrap bin. I drilled out a slightly smaller hole in the end of the scrap, heated the rod with a torch, and drove it in. I cut the handle to shape on the bandsaw, shaped it on the belt sander, sanded it to 220, wiped it with oil, and polished it on the Beall Wood Buffer. Viola – one carbide scraper with a custom mesquite handle that fits my hand perfectly. Total: $6.95, about 20 minutes work, and there isn’t another one exactly like it on the planet.

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By the way, it works great – the Lie-Nielsen scrapers turn a beautiful burr that lasts longer than the edge on my old scrapers. Guess which one I’ll reach for in my cabinet? And I’ll smile every time I use it.

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Speaking of small stuff: I had a piece of scrap Texas Ebony, with some interesting heartwood/sapwood contrast. I’ve made a bunch of business card holders with brass hardware from Rocker for my team at the office. (Guys, if you read this before tomorrow, be patient – some of them aren’t dry yet.)

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They’re all about the wood. The design couldn’t be simpler, and they’re a nice way to use up pretty scrap. I didn’t have enough ebony for all of them, so some will be padauk, mesquite, curly maple, or whatever I have in the bin. Cut to basic shape, do the detail shaping on the belt sander, finish as desired, drill two holes for the holder, and you’re done.

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Today’s lesson… When in doubt: make something. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Little stuff like this makes people smile. Including me.

Next time: The new saw till, some plane restoration, my two new/old planes, and progress on the workbench (hopefully).

Ross Henton

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2 comments on “It’s the Little Things

  1. Carl Nobles says:

    Nice burnisher you worked up and at a great price. Always looking for bargains myself. Can you leave the Amazon link to that rod?

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