*** This post is courtesy of Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench ***
A few years ago, a colleague of mine at work stopped me in the hallway. She had just returned from an extended leave of absence due to the passing of her father. “Tom, I don’t know if you know this, but my dad was a woodworker. We have his collection of tools, and I was wondering if you wanted to take a look at any of them for your workshop.”
Wow. I was floored. That was quite an honor to be considered to receive something so precious from my coworker’s dad. I told her I would come out and, even if I didn’t take anything, I would help give her an idea of what each of the tools was worth. I drove to her condo that weekend and she led me to a storage shed for her unit. As she cracked the door to the shed, I have to confess that my mind raced with the thought of being able to expand my meager tool collection and fill some needs in my shop. The reality was quite different. As we pulled tools out of the shed, they were caked with years of rust. Insects had taken up residence in warped 1970s vintage plastic cases. Wooden handles on tools were cracked, warped and, in some cases, completely falling off.
“What happened?” was the question that raced to my mind – and reflexively slipped from my lips. My coworker said that her dad was slowing down in his old age, and the neighbors were afraid he might hurt himself working with the tools. So, they took them to an old barn and just let them sit for about a decade. Apparently, the barn wasn’t as weather tight as they had expected. No one ever checked on them… decided to put them up for auction… or cared for or maintained them. I told her that if there was something special from his shop (there was a well-worn square that was protected in a case), she should save it as a memento, and that the rest of the stuff was just too far gone to salvage.
As I drove home feeling disappointed – at the tools and myself for being a jerk – my thoughts turned toward my own collection of tools. How could I prevent my tools from ending up like those poor, rusty specimens? That’s when I decided to throw myself into the maintenance mindset. It doesn’t take hours of slavish devotion to keep your tools in tip-top condition. Actually, I follow a pretty simple regimen to help keep my investment shiny new and working great.
Shop cleaning is such a turn off for many woodworkers. I mean, wouldn’t you rather be in the shop creating beautiful pieces of work than scrubbing the teeth of your table saw gears with a toothbrush? Yet, simply using proper dust collection, vacuuming dust from your tools and scraping off any dry glue beads from your clamps can keep them working like new for years.
Woodworking is mostly about making big pieces of wood into smaller ones, then – in many cases – figuring out how to attach them to other pieces to build a project. None of these tools works well if they aren’t clean and sharp. Plane irons, router bits, chisels, table saw blades… they all deserve good treatment. Not only will your work look cleaner, but sharp tools are safer and put less strain on power tool motors.
In Florida, I’m always battling humidity and I sharpen my tools with water-lubricated diamond stones. I always make sure my tools are dry before I store them, and I keep a rag dipped in furniture paste wax nearby to wipe them with to keep rust at bay. There are lots of products out there to help you get rust off your tools or to put a barrier up to prevent it from forming in the first place.
I once read a comment by a woodworker as to what he hopes happens to his tools after he passes. “I want my children to fight over them like ravenous jackals battling over a zebra carcass on the Serengeti.” While I hope my two sons have better manners, I hope one day they find the tools in my shop in good shape and ready to help them if they would like.
*** Specials thanks to Tom Iovino, a true Shop Monkey, for this post. He will be providing posts on a monthly basis for Eagle America, check back again soon. ***