The New Traditional Woodworker-Project #5-Straight Edge

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Project by Brad posted 10-03-2014 02:25 PM 6592 views 24 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I first built Jim Tolpin’s straight edge (p. 81 of The New Traditional Woodworker ) about two years ago. Truth be told, I was skeptical that a straight edge made out of wood would hold up over time. Surely the changing seasons and time would warp it. But even though I questioned the tool’s utility, I still wanted to learn the skills Tolpin’s tutorial presents. So I built a 33” version. Out of poplar.

No sense using the good stuff on something that might not pan out.

However, pan it did, and years hence, it’s still tryed and true. My total maintenance investment in the tool consists of two swipes by a #8 jointer to touch up the edge. As a result, I trust it. And I use it all the time. Especially to try test long boards.

You could spend $30-$80 or more on a steel or aluminum equivalent depending upon the length. But my experience with a wooden straight edge has shown me that you can keep that money in the tool-fund cookie jar.

The 33” version is useful to be sure, but I’ve frequently wished I had a less wieldy 24” version. Having been sold on the idea of wooden straight edges, I splurged and made this one out of walnut.

From wood selection to finishing, Jim’s step-by-step process accomplishes two things. It makes it easy to complete the project and it teaches you how to do basic techniques. To give you a taste of that, I’ll paraphrase Jim’s method for dimensioning stock to thickness. I’ve tried other means, but I use his technique exclusively now because it delivers consistent results for me.

The walnut stock I had was ¾” thick and needed to be reduced to ½”. Following Jim’s process, I marked the desired thickness with a gauge, and planed angles along the edges with a jack plane until they met the lines.

Then I marked the edges with a readily visible white grease pencil…

And planed the face with a try plane until the lines disappeared…

…and I brought the stock to final thickness.

Rather than going over the build, I’ll share with you what I like about Jim’s design features.

1. The curved top edge is not only pleasing to the eye, but it also reduces the weight of the tool. Using my grandfather’s draw knife to remove large portions of waste was a blast. This was a great opportunity to hone my bevel-down knifing skills.

2. Handhold. The hand hole makes it easy to hold the edge atop the surface to be tryed. And it prevents me dropping the tool given that the width at its thickest is a bit much for my smaller hands.

3. Tapered try-edge. By tapering the business edge to ¼” it’s easier to read the flatness of the surface. The taper has the added benefit of reducing the weight further. And, it’s a lot of fun to plane an angled surface to marked lines.

4. Hanging holes. I’ve found that the only convenient way to store a straight edge is to hang it. It takes up a lot less space, avoids being banged about, and makes it easy to access. This project motivated me to make room on the peg board to accommodate both edges within arms reach.

Four coats of shellac with a final coat of paste wax and this baby was ready for use.

I would encourage fellow woodworkers to give a wooden straight edge a try. It’s fun to build, reliable to use, looks great on the shop wall, and saves precious tool dollars for other goodies.

© 2014, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

13 comments so far

View bobasaurus's profile


3743 posts in 4515 days

#1 posted 10-03-2014 02:40 PM

Do you have to use really straight-grained stock? Seems like laminating several pieces together would make the result more dimensionally stable. Does the jointer plane leave a slightly convex surface on the edge like most planes seem to? I might have to give this a try someday.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Don W's profile

Don W

20277 posts in 3899 days

#2 posted 10-03-2014 04:51 PM

They look good Brad. I just keep grabbing the levels.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View waho6o9's profile


9130 posts in 3908 days

#3 posted 10-03-2014 06:23 PM

Excellent pictorial thanks Brad!

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1387 posts in 3045 days

#4 posted 10-03-2014 07:28 PM

Love homemade tools – and this one looks especialy nice. Thanks for sharing tutorial and experiences

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 3293 days

#5 posted 10-03-2014 11:33 PM

Very nice build Brad. That handhold seems a little small to be comfortable for you, but room for three fingers is better for controlling the straightedge I take it?

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


23260 posts in 5007 days

#6 posted 10-04-2014 01:22 AM

Thanks, My first thought was it will never stay straight ;-) Nice work and a good recommendation. You should post it in reviews of his book. Cheers, Bob

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View john2005's profile


1768 posts in 3509 days

#7 posted 10-04-2014 05:03 AM

I am always intrigued when I see one of these. You may have prompted me to make one. Nicely done

-- In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

View BigRedKnothead's profile


8594 posts in 3313 days

#8 posted 10-04-2014 03:38 PM

Nice. For some reason I’ve convinced myself I need some qtrsawn exotic to make one…but it’s not true. I have made wood try squares and I much prefer working with them over metal.

-- "At the end of the day, try and make it beautiful....because the world is full of ugly." Konrad Sauer

View CL810's profile


4240 posts in 4319 days

#9 posted 10-05-2014 03:56 AM

Real nice Brad. Favorited.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View 2Dusty2's profile


71 posts in 2662 days

#10 posted 10-05-2014 04:40 AM

Brad I found your pictures and descriptions great and the project itself functional and aesthetically pleasing. This is proving to be a great sight.

-- Cheers

View Brad's profile


1148 posts in 4071 days

#11 posted 10-05-2014 06:36 PM

Do you have to use really straight-grained stock? Seems like laminating several pieces together would make the result more dimensionally stable. Does the jointer plane leave a slightly convex surface on the edge like most planes seem to? I might have to give this a try someday.

- bobasaurus

Allen, I choose to use really straight-grained stock because I’ve read that such stock should be more stable. I suppose you could make a straightedge out of laminated materials. I think it opens up some beautiful aesthetic possibilities. But I haven’t found it necessary to do the extra work associated with that to achieve a stable straightedge.

So far, my jointing hasn’t left a slight convex. I would attribute that to planing technique. Place more pressure on the toe when first starting the stroke then gradually transferring the pressure to the center of the plane as you reach the center then moving the pressure to the heel gradually as I finish the stroke. That’s gone a long way in removing any convex surfaces. It took me a bit of practice for me to ingrain that technique into my planing.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Woodknack's profile


13585 posts in 3711 days

#12 posted 10-11-2014 04:23 PM

I’ve considered making a wood straightedge but like others, I figured it would not stay straight. Might have to try it now.

-- Rick M,

View ArtisanEclectic's profile


5 posts in 2620 days

#13 posted 11-18-2014 04:19 AM

I’ve learned a lot about wood from a lot of different people and I have never gone wrong with anything I have learned from Jim Tolpin. He is a true master of the craft.

-- Develop your own style. Only read half the directions.

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