Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


Jim Tolpin's Straightedge


The more time I spend working exclusively with hand tools, the more I find myself looking for--and eventually finding--highly efficient ways of getting rid of waste.

For example, I’m making a straightedge to give away on Instagram (to the person who first solves a riddle I’m posting in celebration of reaching 10,000 followers) and I don’t have a bandsaw to cut the curved shape. In fact, I don’t have any power tools at all in my tiny shop.

I could use a bowsaw for this task, but I find them slow, tedious and prone to wandering In my not-so-experienced-with-bowsaws hands. So instead I’m taking a carpenter’s hatchet to it. It's interesting:  While a straight edge must be finished up with a plane blade set to nearly .001 inches (to create the precision edge), I’m starting out with a blade that isn’t set at all!

In the video, notice that I’ve not only marked the outline of the curve (with a fine point sharpie), I've also drawn lines out (with a wax/grease china marker) from the curve. This gives me a clear indication of the material being removed as I hack my way down to the line. The basic steps to this hack job is to chop kerfs into the side of the workpiece and then slice them off with a sweeping down cut with the grain. The kerfs help prevent the blade from splitting away too much material at once. This strategy becomes increasingly more important as you work your way closer to your cut line. You also need to keep a careful eye out for grain lines that dive in from the waste area into your keeper area. With practice I find I can reliably chop away the waste to within about an eighth of an inch of the line. From there, I switch to a drawknife and then final-smooth with a spokeshave.